The Advantages of Renewable Energy

I got myself in trouble the other day with the editor of our local paper. When we picked her up for a trip to a school board meeting she said, "Boy, was this a bad day to be working on a computer."

As I had been working on my computer that day, I asked, in all innocence, "Oh? Why?" To which she replied, "Well, the power kept going on and off all day. I'd get halfway through something and 'Boom' the power would go off and then come back on and I'd have to start over."

"Oh", I said, trying not to look too smug, "I wouldn't know." When Helen remembered why, she almost beaned me with her notebook.

You see, my wife and I power our home with renewable energy, specifically photovoltaic panels and a wind generator. We don't experience the frequent power outages so common in this area, especially during bad weather.

Renewable energy has commonly been thought of as practical only for truly "remote" homes. Cabins built far into the wilderness miles from the nearest power line. But the cost of renewable energy has come way down from its early days and the technology has improved significantly.

There are many different ways of producing energy to power a home. Colorado has the perfect climate for photovoltaic panels (electricity from the sun) and wind generators. If you have the good fortune of having running water on your property, micro-hydro power plants can provide a steady reliable source of energy 24 hours a day.

One of the advantages of renewable energy is the ability to customize an energy system to the needs of the individual homeowner. Do you need to run power tools or have a home business that requires you to run a computer all day? You can design a system that will meet those needs quite easily. Do you have modest needs and a modest budget? You can easily find a system that will fit both your needs and your budget.

Another big advantage for the budget conscious, land located far from power lines generally costs much less than land near a power line. You could save enough money on the purchase of the land alone to justify a renewable energy system.

The power company is "one size fits all", you pay for the power line and get a monthly bill in the bargain. Many people in our area have paid dearly to have power run to their homes and still have a monthly minimum bill that far exceeds their actual energy use. With renewables you pay once and get just what you need, and can upgrade easily if it ever becomes necessary.

And if the upfront cost of a renewable energy system gives you pause, consider this, the only other expense you will have for the system will come 8-12 years after installation when you have to replace the batteries. You will spend more money maintaining your cars during that time than you will ever spend on your power system.

The system we use in our house cost $10,000 and it powers a home entertainment center, satellite dish, computer, electric refrigerator, tools and all our water pumping and lighting for a 2200 square foot home.

Nowadays anyone looking at a hook-up charge from the power company of more than $5,000 should take a serious look at renewables. A modest power system can be purchased for around $5,000 with the benefit of no additional utility bills.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to the power company. For large commercial operations or businesses that require large amounts of power, the power company "grid" is the most practical solution. For homeowners with special needs or who want to have a home that has need for lots of energy, the grid will probably be the best bet.

Plus, let's face it, there are some folks who just don't want to be bothered with a system of their own, they are far more comfortable letting the power company take care of it. And that's fine, the power company is certainly here to stay and always available for those that desire it.

But renewable energy is here to stay also, and I believe that there are many of you out there who would like to give it a try, but don't know enough about it yet. This column will try to answer your questions and give you some food for thought. If any of you have specific questions or issues you would like me to address, please e-mail me at and I will deal with them in future columns.

All Contents © 1997
Wagonmaker Press
Thomas W. Elliot


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