Which renewable energy source is most practical for you?

  • Posted: 06.20.2017
A home with a geothermal loop system
Geothermal heating and cooling is a renewable energy source.

From geothermal systems to wind turbines to solar panels, reducing the size of your carbon footprint is becoming something to brag about, as well as being forward thinking. All three help the environment, but which is the most practical for you to install at your home?

If your motivation is purely environmental, then any of these options are outstanding. But if, like most homeowners, you’re looking for a way to help your budget as well as the planet, or if you’d like to see maximum impact for your investment, read on.

Wind energy
Wind is actually a form of solar energy. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth’s surface, and rotation of the earth. This wind flow, or motion energy, when “harvested” by modern wind turbines, can be used to generate electricity.

Wind turbines are now spreading beyond wind farms to people’s homes. Homeowners are able to generate their own electricity, and in some cases may produce more power than they consume. Contact our office to understand the full details of our Net Metering policies for consumer-owned wind generation BEFORE installing your wind turbine.

A typical turbine system can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $60,000, depending on size. This high price along with moderate energy returns makes financial payback extend into decades, although government rebates may help to shorten that time.

Solar energy
As for solar panels, the sun generates enough in one hour to power the electrical demand of the entire world for one year. The key is capturing this energy and converting it to a usable form.

Solar panels are made of thin layers of silicon that generate electricity in sunlight. Unlike wind turbines, which some homeowners find visually obtrusive, solar panels are subtler. And like wind turbines, homeowners may sell back excess energy. Contact our office to learn about our Net Metering policies, specific to consumer-owned solar generation, prior to installation of your unit.

Payback for these systems are much shorter, but until cells become more efficient or less expensive, payback time is still long at 15 to 25 years, depending on location and size. Rebates are also available to shorten payback.

Geothermal heat pumps
In many cases, not everyone has a strong enough wind or solar resource to make either investment cost-effective. Usable solar radiation occurs only from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., even on sunny days, rendering a solar panel ineffective for the majority of time. Moreover, wind turbines are not feasible in many neighborhoods and cities.

Geothermal heat pumps, on the other hand, can provide heating and cooling 24 hours a day, all year long. Geothermal systems can be scaled for a single-family home to entire city blocks or more. And unlike the other options, geothermal is viable and currently in use in all 50 states.

It’s interesting to note that although all three solutions compared here seem very different, they're actually different ways to capture the same solar energy. Geothermal units tap into the stored solar energy just below our feet. The earth absorbs roughly half of the sun’s energy, and a geothermal heat pump simply collects and moves that energy.

The cost of the unit is not much greater than a new traditional heat pump. It’s the cost associated with installing the series of underground pipes (a loop) that makes this option more expensive. But even with added loop costs, geothermal systems are so energy-efficient that the payback period is remarkably brief. A study by the Air Force Institute of Technology calculated that it takes on average just eight years or less to recoup costs.

Since these units don’t use combustion or any fossil fuels, they are great for the environment. More than 1 million U.S. households now heat and cool their homes with the stored solar en­ergy in their own backyards. According to the non-profit group, GeoExchange, these homes currently eliminate more than 5.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually or take the equivalent of nearly 1.3 million cars off the road.

And the most attractive aspect is that geothermal can lower your bills enough to offset any monthly installation expenses. For example, a homeowner may spend $50 a month to finance an installation; yet the geothermal system may lower bills by $75 a month ― effectively paying the homeowner $25 a month to install it.

So which green technology is the most practical? Without a doubt, the winner at this point is geothermal heating and cooling. It’s a constant, reliable resource that is available in virtually every environment. It has a short payback period and helps reduce both our dependence on oil and our carbon footprint.

Used with permission from WaterFurnace International

For more information, contact Iowa WaterFurnace representative Rick Rockacy at rick.rockacy@waterfurnace.com or (260) 442-2262 

Editor's Note: 

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, a new notification requirement went into effect. This new requirement applies to the owner of an alternate energy production facility which will be attached to an electric transmission or distribution line. Alternate energy production facilities are defined as solar, wind turbine, waste management, resource recovery, refuse-derived fuel, agricultural crops or residues, or wood burning facilities used to generate electricity.

Under this requirement, the owner of the facility is required to provide written notification (Form of Notice Required Under Iowa Code 476.6A) to their utility of the intent to construct or install the facility at least 30 days prior to construction. In the written notice the owner must provide information on the type of facility and the anticipated completion date of the construction.

Contact our office for more information about installing an alternate energy production facility.