How to Choose a Renewable Energy Source for Your Home
The landscape of renewable energy possibilities can be hard to navigate. That's why in this article, we break down the advantages and limitations of various renewable energy sources, from environmental benefits to cost savings for you as a homeowner.
We’ll discuss the factors to consider when choosing the right renewable energy sources, including your location, energy needs, and budget.
The road to renewable energy: A guide for homeowners
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 90% of the world’s electricity must come from renewable energy by 2050. That places some responsibility on you as a homeowner. But why the need?
The fact is that the energy sector plays a critical role in our climate crisis. It has the power to both exacerbate and resolve the issues we face. Burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat generation produces greenhouse gases, which are the primary culprits for warming our planet.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas substantially contribute to global climate change, generating over 75% of total greenhouse gas emissions and almost 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions.
The scientific community agrees there’s a drastic need for action. To prevent the most catastrophic outcomes of climate change, we’ll need to cut emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero status by 2050.
We must break free from our dependence on fossil fuels and channel resources into alternative, renewable energy sources to reach these milestones. Aside from being clean, these alternatives should be affordable, readily available, sustainable, and dependable.
Are we reaching clean energy milestones?
In the U.S., the work has begun. Renewable energy use quadrupled between 2010 and 2020. Clean energy states like California have committed to becoming entirely carbon-free by 2045. In the latest budget, the federal government announced the renewable sector is set for a frenzy of investment, with hundreds of billions of dollars in new subsidies designed to incentivize renewable electricity.
So, the momentum is there, but what does all this mean for you as a homeowner? You might be considering the switch to a renewable energy source, but perhaps you’re not sure of the benefits, or you may not be aware of your options. Choosing the best renewable energy source for your home depends on several factors.
For nearly 40 years, SunPower has been a transformative force in the renewable energy sector. We firmly believe in empowering homeowners to make responsible choices, and that's why we're here to help you navigate the complex renewable energy market.
In this article, we aim to:
Explore the different renewable energy sources available for homeowners
Provide tips to help you choose the optimal solution for your home
But first, let’s outline the benefits.
What are the benefits of switching to a renewable energy option?
Adopting renewable energy brings numerous benefits, and they go beyond the ethical benefits of protecting our planet. Choosing clean energy sources brings environmental, economic, and social benefits to communities across the U.S.
Renewable energy significantly curbs greenhouse gas emissions, one of the leading causes of climate change. Solar power alone can decrease your carbon footprint by a staggering 80%, contributing to a healthier planet for future generations.
While there can be substantial upfront costs to installing renewable energy systems, long-term savings can be significant for you as the homeowner. Of course, there is the benefit of reduced electricity bills that comes along with less reliance on more costly fossil fuels. Over and above cheaper monthly energy bills, many states offer other financial incentives encouraging those looking to make the change.
For example, Massachusetts residents can benefit from a SMART program and net metering, meaning they can effectively receive money for the excess energy their systems generate for the electricity grid. States nationwide offer incentives that make renewable energy sources more accessible and cost-effective to help the U.S. meet its clean energy targets. And that’s in addition to the 30% federal tax credit for installing solar.*Federal and state tax credits vary and are subject to change. SunPower does not warrant, guarantee or otherwise advise its customers about specific tax outcomes. Consult your tax advisor regarding these solar tax credits and how they apply to your specific circumstances.
Alternative energy sources not only power your home; they also propel job growth and strengthen local economies.
Renewable energy is a burgeoning sector of the jobs market, with manufacturing, maintenance, and installation roles increasing across the U.S. There are nearly 8 million jobs in renewable energy today. In 2021, energy jobs grew faster than overall U.S. employment. As the sector grows across various states, more and more people see renewable energy as a prominent recruiter.
Further, choosing to use abundant, alternative energy sources offers plenty of human health benefits for local communities. Renewable energy sources create less carbon emissions, meaning cleaner air and reduced air pollution. This long-term trend will have considerable health benefits as we subject ourselves to fewer pollutants in the air that we breathe.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers various tools quantifying the multiple, interrelated benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. These tools help guide state and local governmental policy, but they are readily available for you to research and build a better picture of why to switch. Check out this guide that outlines the multiple environmental, economic, and social benefits.
We’ve talked a lot about renewable energy, but what do we mean? Let’s unpack what constitutes renewable energy and the different sources available.
What renewable energy sources are available to you?
Renewable energy sources, also known as clean energy or green energy sources, refer to natural sources of energy that won’t ‘run out’ because we can constantly replenish them.
Unlike coal, gas, or oil-driven energies, which are finite and produce harmful emissions when burned, renewable energies are sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to meet electricity demand.
The most common types of renewable power include:
Geothermal power plants
Hydroelectric power plants
How do these renewable energies generate electricity?
Let’s quickly run through an overview of how these alternative energy options generate energy-efficient electricity.
Solar energy - Solar panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. These systems are versatile and can be installed on rooftops or open lands. For example, California is an ideal location for solar power due to its abundant sunshine. A homeowner in Los Angeles with a south-facing roof could install a 5-kilowatt solar panel system, generating about 7,000 to 8,000 kilowatt-hours annually.
Wind energy - Wind turbines harness the kinetic power of the wind to generate electricity. They are more suited to rural areas with plenty of space and fewer obstacles to wind flow. Consider Texas, the leading state for wind power in the U.S., where there is a lot of empty lands where giant wind turbines can make the most of reliable Texan gales.
Geothermal energy - Geothermal systems utilize stable temperatures below the ground to heat and cool homes. Typically, areas with consistent volcanic activity or hot springs are good candidates for geothermal energy sources.
Hydroelectric power - Hydroelectric systems generate power from running water. These are suited for areas with homes near fast-flowing rivers or significant dam projects. For example, Washington State, the leading producer of hydroelectric power in the U.S., is home to many water sources that drive much of the state’s clean energy.
Biomass - Biomass systems burn organic materials to produce heat and electricity. These organic materials are crop waste or wood pellets. Biomass is a fantastic renewable energy source in states with a significant agricultural economy to provide the necessary resources to make biomass worthwhile. Iowa generates some of its electricity from biomass.
Each renewable energy source offers a fantastic alternative to fossil-fuel-generated electricity, but how do you choose which energy source is suitable for your home?
How to choose the right renewable energy source?
There are several factors to evaluate when considering the perfect renewable energy source for your circumstances. You’ll need to think about your:
Specific advantages/limitations of each source
Now, let’s look at each energy source in relation to these factors. Keep in mind, every circumstance is unique, and we’re talking in very general terms. It’s always best to research and consult a renewable energy expert for advice tailored to your situation.
Location - Works best in areas with abundant sunshine and for homes with limited shade on the rooftops.
Energy needs - Good for medium to high electricity usage.
Budget - High initial cost, though many states offer financial incentives. Long-term savings on utility bills.
Advantages - Renewable, abundant, low operating costs.
Drawbacks - The amount of energy generated depends on sunlight. Panels require space for installation.
Other factors - You may benefit from net metering policies.*The availability of net metering varies by location and is subject to change. Your SunPower Dealer can help you determine if you qualify. You can also visit the dsireusa.org website for detailed solar policy information.
Location - Best in rural or semi-rural areas with consistent wind, like Texas.
Energy needs - Suitable for properties with high energy demands.
Budget - High initial costs to set up wind farms, but they offer long-term savings.
Advantages - Renewable, abundant in certain locations, low operating costs.
Drawbacks - Requires significant space, can raise noise and aesthetic concerns.
Other factors - Unrealistic to consider wind power for stand-alone systems as you need a lot of space for a personal wind turbine.
Location - Areas with geothermal activity, like Idaho.
Energy needs - Good for constant heating and cooling needs.
Budget - High upfront costs, but long-term savings through reduced HVAC costs.
Advantages - Reliable, efficient, and low operating costs.
Drawbacks - High installation cost, site-specific feasibility.
Other factors - Can provide heating, cooling, and hot water.
Location - Properties near rivers or streams, like in Washington State.
Energy needs - Depends on the flow and drop of the water source.
Budget - High upfront costs with the potential for long-term savings.
Advantages - Renewable, reliable, low operating costs.
Drawbacks - Requires specific geographical features and raises potential environmental concerns.
Other factors - The scale of energy generation can vary greatly.
Location - Ideal in areas with plenty of organic waste products, like agricultural regions.
Energy needs - Suitable for homes with high heat energy demands.
Budget - Varies based on the type and availability of biomass used.
Advantages - Renewable, can utilize waste products, can be carbon neutral.
Drawbacks - Requires consistent supply of biomass, raises potential air quality concerns.
Other factors - Can be used for heating or electricity generation. Scale can range from small household systems to larger community projects.
What Is the best renewable energy source for your home?
Though each renewable energy source offers unique benefits, solar energy often emerges as a hassle-free and efficient solution for most homeowners across the majority of homes in the U.S. With decreasing installation costs, increasing efficiency, and options for financial incentives, solar panels are often the most suitable and cost-effective way to make a significant environmental impact right from your rooftop.
How to plan for a home renewable energy system like solar?
Ready to go solar and wondering what your next steps should be? Before you get started, take a moment to learn more about the pros and cons of solar.
Evaluate your energy consumption
Review your utility bills to assess your energy usage. Information related to your electricity consumption at various times for things such as water heating, air conditioning, and other usages is the first step in understanding the size of the solar system you’ll need. Solar companies often call this an energy audit.
You’ll need to work out areas on your property with sufficient sun exposure for solar panel installation. Factors such as roof orientation, tilt, and shade will determine the effectiveness of your solar panels and their energy generation capabilities. Solar companies, like SunPower, will work with you to help you get the most out of your panels.
Familiarize yourself with local policies, regulations, and incentives
Understand everything about building codes, zoning laws, and clean energy incentives. Net metering policies can benefit homeowners with solar systems, as they provide credit for surplus energy returned to the grid, reducing your energy costs.
Explore your financing options
Consider the various methods available for financing your solar installation, such as solar leases, power purchase agreements (PPAs), and loans to determine what will work best for you and your financial situation.
Choosing your renewable energy source
SunPower is your trusted partner in the transition to renewable energy. With nearly four decades in the solar industry, we can help you navigate the complex world of renewable energies and make a well-informed decision.
Choosing renewable energy is a journey we’re eager to undertake with you as we aim to change the way our world is powered.
If you're ready to contribute to a greener, clean energy future, reach out to SunPower today, and we’ll kickstart the process with a free consultation to see how much you can save with solar.
FAQs: How to choose a renewable energy source for your home
How can I compare the costs and benefits of different renewable energy systems for my home?
Start by evaluating upfront and maintenance costs alongside expected energy output. Research incentives or rebates that may be available for each system in your state. It’s also worth checking the lifespan of each system and the potential savings during that time. Putting all this together will help you determine if a system will be cost-effective for you.
How much space is needed to install a renewable energy system on my property?
Your chosen renewable energy source determines the space required. Efficient solar panels can produce enough electricity to power your home with minimal roof space as long as they receive adequate sunlight. Wind turbines require more space due to the need for clearance around the turbine. Geothermal systems are primarily underground, but you'll need space for the indoor portion of the system.
Can I connect my renewable energy system to the grid and sell excess energy?
Yes, most areas in the U.S. allow grid connection, and may in fact require it. This allows you to benefit from "net metering," where you can return excess energy to the utility for credits or some other form of reward. However, policies vary by state and utility, so you must check local regulations.