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Adding solar or wind power to complement your home’s primary natural gas energy source can help reduce energy bills and your carbon footprint.
Looking to reduce your energy costs at home and have taken all the obvious steps—sealing air leaks, insulating pipes, replacing windows, adding storm windows and doing an energy audit? Incorporating some form of renewable energy into your home as a supplement to natural gas is one sure way to save on energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint.
Most houses cannot run only on renewable energy. With solar for instance, your roofline and roof size make a difference in the amount of energy that can be captured by the sun. Many of us also live in well-established neighborhoods where tall trees dominate the skyline and block the sun. Other factors to consider when looking at incorporating solar panels are temperature, latitude, degradation of panels and orientation. But introducing some solar panels, no matter how few, can make a difference for the better in your energy bills.
According to the EPA, technology of solar panels has come a long way in the past several years, and innovative new solar financing is an option today. If your home can't support a rooftop solar system, your community may have a shared solar energy project, where neighbors come together to purchase a collective solar energy system. “Each community owner gets a share of the power generated by the solar installation and a credit on their utility bill,” notes Erin Pierce, communications specialist for energy.gov.
Live outside of the city on more than an acre of land? You may be able to get permitting for a small wind turbine. More popular in coastal areas, wind turbines can reduce energy costs up to 90 percent. As with solar panels, wind turbines are also coming down in cost. Be aware that the conditions have to be right in order for the turbine to work but they can be very cost effective. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in wind into clean energy, says Pierce. A turbine can be connected to the electric grid or stand alone, called “off grid.”
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed a tool that estimates solar photovoltaic array and wind turbine electricity production based on your specifications of system size, location and other variables. The “In My Backyard tool” uses a Google Maps interface to allow you to choose a system location with pinpoint accuracy. It then draws data for that location from one of NREL’s renewable resource databases to estimate your potential electricity production according to the EPA.
Another way homeowners can participate in renewable energy is to purchase renewable energy certificates or RECs, which represent the property rights of the environmental, social and other non-power qualities of renewable electricity generation. RECs provide buyers flexibility in procuring green power across a diverse geographical area. This flexibility also allows organizations to support renewable energy development and protect the environment when green power products are not locally available, according to the EPA.
The District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility currently offers a Residential Energy Efficiency Program. The program provides financial incentives to District residents who install energy-efficient equipment in their homes. Qualifying items include refrigerators, clothes washers, boilers, water heaters and furnaces. Appliances and lighting equipment must be ENERGY STAR-rated according to DC.gov.
Residents in parts of Maryland and Virginia may also be eligible for energy-efficient appliance incentives. A helpful resource on available incentives in your area can be found at dsireusa.org.
No matter what you're able to add to your home in terms of renewable efforts, every little bit helps cut down on your carbon emissions and create a greener community!