Although alternative fuel sources and power generating methods, from solar panels to waste heat recycling to biodiesel, have been on the rise over the last decade, the recent presidential election has promised to change this trajectory—possibly marking a return to the era of coal and crude rather than hydroelectric power or natural gas. Fortunately, there are a few actions you can take now to improve your own home's eco-friendliness and energy efficiency, regardless of what the future may hold for federal energy policy.
For homes that receive regular sun, the installation of rooftop solar panels may be a wise investment. These solar panels are covered with a thin, reflective sheet of glass and contain multiple solar cells designed to absorb light. This light is then converted to electricity and stored in an attached battery, allowing solar energy to power your home even long after the sun has gone down. Depending on your home's current efficiency and electricity needs and the size and angle of your roof, you may be able to supplement or even replace your home's reliance on the central power grid.
Solar panels aren't right for every home—if you live in an area that gets more rain or snow than sun or are on a shaded lot, you may find that these panels are little more than expensive shingles. You may want to take advantage of one of several websites allowing you to enter your geographic information and receive a customized report indicating how many solar panels your home's sun exposure can support and where you should place them.
Geothermal heat pump
Another eco-friendly option for those tired of gas or oil heat may be the installation of a geothermal heat pump. This pump operates by extracting heat from the earth's outer layer (generally through buried pipes that allow water to flow through), rather than using a compressor or other refrigerant system. This allows a geothermal heat pump to operate using significantly less energy than other types of heating and cooling systems, saving you money while preserving natural resources and minimizing potentially harmful emissions.
Despite its name, the heat pump also provides air conditioning during the warmer months – its ability to harness the earth's constant cool temperature can ensure it produces cool air in summer and warm air in winter. Installing a geothermal heat pump can be a hefty investment, but the reliability and low ongoing energy costs of these pumps can help you break even quickly (or improve your resale value if you're planning to sell within the next few years).
Biodiesel vehicle conversion
For vehicles already equipped to run on diesel fuel, converting to biodiesel (whether purchased or self-distilled) can provide a cleaner-burning fuel at a lower cost than retail diesel. Biodiesel is generated from animal and vegetable fats (rather than crude oil), significantly lowering the particulate emissions that can exacerbate smog and cause health problems in vulnerable individuals.
Biodiesel can be distilled relatively easily using a few large plastic barrels, a catalyst (like methanol) and a supply of waste oil (like filtered restaurant fry oil). By mixing the methanol with the filtered waste oil and allowing the chemical reaction to take place, you'll be left with biodiesel and glycerin; draining the glycerin off will provide you with a holding tank of fuel ready to be used in your diesel vehicle. Most vehicles won't require any retrofitting or refurbishing to handle running on this fuel, although you may want to ease into it by mixing some biodiesel with regular diesel fuel.
As a bonus, a couple of the above energy-efficient upgrades (like solar panels and geothermal heat pumps) can qualify for a federal income tax credit (until or unless this tax law is changed); purchasing now will ensure you have access to this credit in the event it's eventually repealed.
For more information about these and other options, contact companies like ML Solar.
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