Get Off the Grid: Renewable Energy at Home
This article in New Scientist features interviews with people who've green-powered their homes by making them energy efficient and using solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc. Storage is still a problem- space and cost- but improvements are being made and things are getting cheaper. Save the planet for future generations, reduce corporate and government control of energy, end resource wars- Peak Oil is here.
The biggest energy savings will come from properly insulating your home to minimise heat loss. That done, you'll need to work out what is eating up the rest of the power you consume. The easiest way to do this is to buy an energy monitor that can provide a live display of your total energy consumption or that of individual appliances (see "What's guzzling the juice?"). This will help you focus on reducing consumption to the bare minimum, not just by switching to low-energy light bulbs and energy-efficient white goods, but also by turning unused appliances right off rather than leaving them in standby mode. With a bit of effort and investment, you should be able to get by on a few hundred kilowatt-hours of electricity a year.
Now you are ready to start replacing this with home-grown energy. Some 80 per cent of off-gridders rely on the sun to do this, with good reason: it blasts our planet with enough free energy every hour to power the world for a year and you don't need to live in the middle of nowhere to get it. The simplest way to tap into this is to use a solar collector for your domestic heating or hot water. In the summer, solar thermal devices installed on a south-facing roof or wall (north-facing in the southern hemisphere) could provide all your hot-water needs. Even in winter, solar collectors can make a worthwhile dent in heating bills, even if the water needs top-up heating from the grid or from a stove that runs on logs, wood pellets or other biomass.
The sun blasts our planet with free energy and you don't need to live in the middle of nowhere to get it
For electricity generation, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are also a good option. They convert the sun's rays into direct-current electricity with up to 20 per cent efficiency, and most are guaranteed to retain at least 80 per cent of their original efficiency after 25 years. A 2-square-metre panel rated to give 1 kW per square metre in peak conditions could provide up to 1500 kWh per year in the UK. In more southerly and reliably sunny latitudes - somewhere like Texas, say - it would probably provide 2000 kWh per year.