Understanding Green Energy for Your Home and the Planet

Published on: August 15, 2013

The phrase green energy has become popular as a kind of industry and media buzzword – and popular marketing strategy – for many products and services these days. When this happens, of course, the words tend to lose some of their true, original meaning. So what is green energy, really?

An Energy Alternative

Renewable or green energy refers to power not generated from fossil fuel sources. It has become a hot topic for a number of reasons, especially over the past decade. The focus on finding and using more alternative power and fuel sources stems from, in part, the economic need to become less dependent on foreign oil sources. The attention paid to green energy also arises from the need to conserve the planet’s dwindling resources.

Drilling and other damage required to access fossil fuels in the ground (or under the sea) can effectively ruin the local landscape. It can also kill off animal species as well as plants and trees that affect the delicate balance of the Earth. Some species disappear and others run rampant. Plants that provide food sources to much of the world and lead to the development of new medications can also be decimated. Over time, people have begun to wonder if the tradeoff is worth it, or necessary.

Besides the damage to the surface of the planet and its inhabitants required to get at fossil fuels, using them also damages our health and that of the planet. As we witness weather patterns changing, debate global warming and worry about nuclear fallout, green energy has become more attractive. Efforts to develop different ways to power our homes and vehicles has become big business. To keep the modern world humming along and our daily lives safe and comfortable, we’ve also turned to nuclear energy – which has proven to be dangerous in many cases.

In essence, the green energy industry has grown up to find a better, cleaner, less destructive way to generate power. There’s more focus than ever on maintaining clean air and protecting the environment. Along the way, the hope is that sustainable power generation (or green power) can help spur the economy and save people money on energy costs as well.

Types of Green Energy

Solar Energy: Solar energy from the sun’s rays is collected, converted to electricity by photovoltaic cells (made of semiconductor materials) and stored in batteries. Stored electricity can be used on cloudy, rainy days and at night. Solar energy has garnered a lot of press over the past couple of decades. Even back in 1979, President Carter had solar panels installed on the White House roof. Despite perhaps being the best-known green power source, solar energy is underused in the U.S. because of the (mistaken) impression that it’s expensive or complicated to install. In fact, today’s solar energy systems are practical and affordable. HVAC contractors have responded to increased residential solar energy demand by creating affordable modular installations. 

Geothermal Power: The constant temperature just below the surface of the Earth provides a source of heat, hot water and steam, producing geothermal energy. Geothermal heat pumps can provide efficient, economical and comfortable heating – and cooling – to homes as well as provide hot water during the cooling season. The ground (or groundwater like a nearby well or pond) acts as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer.

Wind Power: Modern wind turbines collect the kinetic energy of air movement into an electricity generator. Wind farms are now filling giant swaths of open prairie land and supplying portions of community energy needs. For the Southeast, wind energy potential is most abundant for wind farms off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Hydropower: Hydropower uses rushing water to generate electricity. Often, hydroelectric power plants accumulate water in a reservoir, behind a dam on a river. Water is released from behind the dam and flows downward to spin a turbine, which then turns a generator and produces electrical power for large and small communities across the country. Micro-hydropower is a green energy option for some property owners.

Biomass: Energy is created when organic refuse in landfills is burned in huge boilers, creating steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. Burning the organic material releases carbon into the atmosphere (bad). However, if trees are planted to replace what’s been used, new plants/trees will consume carbon (good), hopefully producing an overall neutral effect. Biomass produces heat, steam and electricity for communities and is processed into gas, synthetic fuel, biodiesel and methanol to power vehicles, generators and other machines.

Green Energy Benefits

Some homeowners hesitate to buy green HVAC systems and products because of erroneous concerns that they’re expensive or don’t work well, compared to conventional equipment and systems. These days, that’s not true. Residential green energy benefits include:

  • Dependable: Green technologies, products and services offer reliable and efficient power for cooling, heating and more. There’s no supply problem with renewable energy.
  • High-performance: Green energy provides comfort equal to or better than older, traditional home heating and cooling systems.
  • Cost-effective: Green home comfort solutions are less expensive to operate long term than traditional HVAC equipment due to efficient design and low operating costs. A green energy system also increases the energy-efficiency of your home and saves you from ever-higher power company rates.
  • Earth-friendly, renewable, sustainable: Green energy systems, including HVAC systems, don’t contain or emit excess chemicals harmful to the planet’s health or our own.
  • Encouraged (with incentives providing more savings): Green energy incentive programs, including government initiatives such as tax credits, reward homeowners (and business owners) for using (and developing) Earth-friendly products. Current federal tax credits for qualified geothermal and solar systems expire on Dec. 31, 2016. Many manufacturers also offer financing programs to assist consumers who install green energy products. Consult your local HVAC professional for details of current offers.
  • Scalable: With solar installations, a basic system can be installed at first and can be added on incrementally, as your needs and financial resources grow.
  • Affordable: Up-front costs for home generation and use of renewable energy, primarily solar and geothermal, have come down dramatically in recent years. Technology is better and cheaper, and installation costs are lower. Ongoing operational costs have been and remain low. Surplus solar energy generated on your property can even make you money, by being sold to the power company.

Is Green Energy Right for You, Right Now?

To find out, first determine the efficiency level of your current home comfort system. Your local HVAC contractor can help you learn how much energy your A/C and furnace use.

Your technician must also conduct a careful analysis of your actual home energy needs and calculate your home’s heating and cooling load. With this information, he can guide you to the best green energy system for your home and family needs and explain available options.

Green Energy Installations  

Solar energy may be an effective green solution to supply some or all of the home energy needs determined by your heating/cooling load. Your solar energy contractor will assess the roof space available at your home and the amount of direct sun the roof gets, as well as your current electrical system and local grid. Other factors your HVAC contractor will weigh before making a solar recommendation for your home include the roof orientation, angle and condition, seasonal and daily shade patterns and more.

A geothermal energy system is another option for going green. The outdoor loop system of a geothermal system may be installed horizontally or vertically with loops of piping in the ground or leading to a nearby on-property well, pond or water source. Whether one of these installation methods will work for you depends upon factors including area/size of the property, amount of mature trees and foliage compared to open area, and the geological composition of the soil/land. Your local geothermal HVAC expert can visit your property and provide more details. According to Energy.gov, you could use up to 50 percent less electricity with a geothermal system than a conventional heating or cooling system.

Other green options: Small wind turbines require a minimum of one acre of land and access to strong winds. Micro-hydropower might even work on your property, although water rights and other issues may come into play. Green home heating options also include wood-fired options such as adding a fireplace or pellet-burning wood stove for your home. Specialized contractors in our area can help if you’re interested in these green energy options.

Local Green Energy Contractors, Ready to Help

For expert assistance choosing the best green home comfort system for your residence here in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi or South Carolina, please contact us at AirConditioningSoutheast.com. We offer free online tools to help you locate an experienced HVAC professional in your area.