Dear Energy Wiz,
We will be building a new home this year and would like to make the home energy efficient. We are looking for ways to incorporate wind and solar projects into the design. Could you please help us in getting started with this project? What is the availability of grants or other types of assistance?
Between wind and solar energy, wind is probably the most economical at this time. There has been good progress in increasing solar efficiency of late, but it is hard to say when we might see that progress on the market. At present, solar panels are only about 20 to 30 percent efficient. What that means is that of all the possible solar energy available, solar panels are only able to capture around 20 to 30 percent of the energy.
I would suggest that you consider a little of both, wind and solar. As you are probably aware, there are times when the wind doesn't blow, and times when the sun doesn't shine. A combination of both energy sources, might make your energy supply a bit more consistent. Since neither of these two energy sources is constant, you will probably want to look at a battery backup system. In this way, you can charge your batteries when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, and then use that charge when the wind and sun stop. A combination of these two sources will require a good knowledge of electricity, and a good contractor that can tie the systems together. It might be an advantage if you can find a contractor that supplies both wind and solar, as well as battery backup systems.
There are a few manufacturer's that are making windmills for residential wind energy, and the same is true of solar panels. While we do not recommend specific products or manufacturers, we do recommend getting several quotes for any project. What you are looking for is the most kilowatts (1000 watts) for the dollars you're spending, and of course reliability and service. Don't be afraid to ask for past customers you can contact, and possibly visit. Find out how long the company has been in business. Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
Now I would guess that you will not be able to purchase either of these two systems and have electricity for less money than the utilities can provide. You will however, gain a certain independence, and will be helping the environment. One way to reduce the cost of a system such as this is by reducing your energy requirements, and that is where efficiency comes in. You will want your home to be well insulated, well sealed (within reason, "seal it tight and ventilate right"), and you will want to use energy efficient appliances and Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment. As a minimum, you will want your contractor/designer to meet the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which becomes state law on July 1, 2005. One approach could using Energy Star Energy Star® as a guide. You can ask your contractor/designer to design an Energy Star® home Energy Star® New Homes, and insist on Energy Star® appliances Energy Star® Find a Product.
You can also go beyond Energy Star. You can increase insulation values beyond Energy Star® requirements (it is possible to increase your insulation to a point where your heating and air conditioning requirements are equal, which negates the need for backup with heat pumps). You can research appliances and not simply buy those with an Energy Star® rating, but buy the most efficient within those. You can go beyond the Energy Star® HVAC equipment to the most efficient geothermal equipment (proper HVAC sizing is essential, Manual J as a minimum). You can go beyond Energy Star® windows and buy the most efficient windows (Energy Star® windows have a U-value of 0.35 or less, but windows with a U-value of 0.25 or less are available for nearly the same price). You can go from incandescent lighting to florescent lighting, which uses 1/4th the energy (note that it is important to use high Color Rendering Index (CRI) florescent lights to maintain correct color of lighting - a CRI of 100 is near sunlight, anything above 90 is very good). Now of course all of this comes with a price, but in most cases the extra cost for the more efficient equipment will pay for itself in the long run. This is especially true in new construction!
I would suggest you start with a book called Residential Energy, by John T Krigger. This book is the text for the Nebraska Home Energy Rating System, and will help to guide you to energy efficiency in your new home. Click Here for a list of web sites that will help you to select the most energy efficient products. This list also has a toll-free number for ordering Mr. Krigger's book.
I do not know of any grants for residential solar or wind applications.
The Energy Wiz