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Renewable Energy

Conserving energy is certainly the place to start, but what if you want to do more? What if you're ready to take the next step and are looking for reliable resources to help make the best decision?

Renewable or “clean” energy comes from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, tides, waves and geothermal heat and is virtually unlimited.

Solar PV

This application of solar power uses photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into energy. This abundant resource is the fastest growing sector of energy and has doubled every year since 2007. Though there are several systems available to generate solar power, the most common in our area are grid tied and grid tied with battery backup systems. A grid-tied home is hooked up directly to the power company. Energy generated from the solar system is consumed first, and excess energy is pushed back to the grid. If the solar system doesn't generate enough power for the home's need, or during times where there isn't enough sunlight available to generate power, the home can tap into the grid for the electricity in needs.

In some cases when a home generates more power than it needs and pushes that excess electricity back to the grid the homeowner may receive a credit from the power company through a process called net metering. In the Roanoke Valley, customers have access to net metering through Applachian Power. Generally, the power company purchases the energy at the current wholesale rate.

A home that is grid-tied with battery backup uses batteries to store excess power for use when the solar energy is not being generated.

Some things to note about solar PV:
  • Grid-tied systems offer the most consistent power supply, but if the grid goes down - such as a power outage due to a large storm - a grid-tied system will not generate power. This is a safety issue so that a damaged grid can't be furter compromised by electricity generated from your solar panels.
  • A grid-tied system offers the lowest cost of entry for households considering getting a solar system installed.
  • A grid-tie with battery back-up system will assure you power even if the main grid goes down, but does mean you won't be able to tap into the grid if your home system has a problem or your battery is drained.
  • According to the folks at the local Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicle Association (REEVA), the typical payback for a solar PV system in this part of Virginia is 8.1 years.

Solar Thermal

Aside from using sunlight to generate electricity, it can also be harnessed in small systems to provide thermal energy which can be used to heat water or provide climate control in other ways. They are much cheaper to install than solar PV systems, and according to local provider Solar Tech the energy they save is significant - equivalent to the power generated by 140 nuclear power plants nationally. Solar thermal systems don't require a tie to the electric grid and are relatively low maintenance.

Some things to note about solar thermal:
  • A common application of solar thermal is called passive solar. This can be as simple as having a south-facing home with additional windows to provide a base level of heat in your house during the winter. Pool covers that heat the water in a pool by collecting heat from the sun are also forms of passive solar.
  • Using window film to reduce heat gain on windows can also be an effective application of solar thermal.

Wind

Wind power has been increasingly utilized and developed by countries around the world, capturing 20% of the energy market. It is rapidly becoming more popular in the United States. Wind power can be very effective in the proper location and the technology is improving, making it more available for residential customers. There are a assortment of sizes and styles of wind turbines to suit a variety of situations.

Some things to consider with wind:
  • Wind in the Roanoke region can be tricky, and not every home is a good candidate. Residential wind power needs the right kind of topography and steady wind to keep the blades turning enough to generate power. Make sure to work with a qualified wind installer to make sure your property is a good candidate.
  • The Virginia Wind Map at James Madison University's Center for Wind Energy can give you a sense of what your wind potential might be.

Links

  • Department of Energy
  • Rebates for solar hot water from Energy Star
  • REEVA - Renewable Energy Electric Vehicle Association
  • James Madison University's Wind Center