Determining the Energy Sources That Power Your Home

It’s 1:15 AM in the night when I finally crawl up to the bed when I realize that my AC could literally be powered by the waves on the beach I visited earlier today. If you have read my earlier posts, you might already be aware of the complex paths that the electric power travels before it reaches your homes. However, let me walk you through the numerous sources of power in case you are still curious.

Firstly, sources of electric power can be classified into two broad categories – renewable sources that are available in abundance in nature and are inexhaustible; non-renewable sources that primarily consist of fossil fuels and would take up to millions of years to get replenished.

Renewable sources are generally environment-friendly, and pollution-free. You might be surprised to know that you can choose any of these sources to power your home depending on your requirements and convenience.

  1. Solar Energy

The energy of the sun is harvested using collector panels, which is used to generate power. However convenient solar power might seem, there are only certain geographical locations that get enough direct sunlight for long enough to generate usable power from this source.

  1. Wind Energy

Windfarms use large turbines to employ fast-paced wind as the power to turn; the turbine can then turn a generator to produce electricity. Similar to the problems faced in solar energy, wind farms can actually be realized in very few locations.

  1. Geothermal Energy

Steam that is produced by the heating of water due to the hot rocks below the earth’s crust is used to rotate turbines and generate power. It can be used by residential units or on a large scale for application in industries.

  1. Hydrogen Energy

Water consists of two-thirds hydrogen, and one-third oxygen. Once separated, hydrogen can be used as a fuel for vehicles, homes, industries and rockets. Being completely renewable, it does not cause any polluting emissions as well.

  1. Tidal Energy

Tides are employed to convert kinetic energy of tides into electrical energy in the coastal areas. The generation of tidal power happens primarily around coastal areas. Even though tidal power plants require a lot of investments, and offer the limited availability of sites, they can produce large magnitudes of energy even when the tides are at low speed.

  1. Wave Energy

Wave energy is produced from the ocean waves. It is harnessed in the coastal regions of many countries and can actually contribute a huge deal in reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign electrical power. Although renewable, cultivating wave energy can damage the maritime ecosystem and cause noise pollution.

  1. Hydroelectric Energy

A majority of our towns and cities rely upon hydropower. Dams are erected to block huge bodies of water to a great height, and the energy of the falling water is used to rotate turbines and generate electricity.

  1. Nuclear Power

The energy that is created via specifics nuclear reactions is harnessed and used to power generators. Although efficient and renewable, nuclear power poses a significant threat to the surrounding ecosystems if not checked and managed efficiently.

  1. Fossil Fuels (Non-Renewable resources)

Majority of the power supplied to the world is through fossil fuels. Oil is converted into various products like gasoline, and natural gas, mostly for heating purposes is now being used to power vehicles. However, these fuels impose huge levels of pollution on the environment and are limited in reserves.

Clean Water is Good, Wasting Energy to Get it = Bad

When it comes to electricity, every aspect of our lives is relevant from buying groceries to getting a new rechargeable car. So, why just settle in for fossil fuels when it comes to your energy needs? While you might not realize it, there are perfectly affordable and convenient alternatives out there that are easy to install and require less maintenance. Plus, if you really know your electricity, you will find it easier to work around it and know just what’s right for you. I hope to explore a few in simple terms for the layman so you can all employ different principles to achieve the same end result. We need electricity to operate our kitchen appliances, our electric blanket, various devices like shavers and hair dryers, and so much more. It goes from the macrocosm of a city grid system to the microcosm of your bathroom.

While electricity from a practical perspective, the topic can get mundane. There are two types: DC current is direct, which means electricity flows in only one direction while AC current is alternating and flows in both. Alternating current is used for electricity in the home is as you can easily change the voltage of the power with a transformer. In the United States, 120 volts is what comes out of the wall. Alternating current switches back and forth at a rapid rate; in the U.S. it switches 60 times per second. Is this more than you wanted to know?

But it does impact household decisions. Say you are buying a new water filtration system. You will no doubt select one that draws energy in the most economical way. Nowadays there are UV lights and osmosis units; you can set timers to increase efficiency. Sure, it is about saving money but also our natural resources. That is reason enough to explore alternatives, which you can do here.  You can choose gas for example. It is popular for water heaters so why not filtration systems. Batteries are always a possibility.

I don’t want to get into the mechanics of electricity as that would take all day. Most people aren’t into the science part of it and just take it for granted. They do care, however, about being green and understanding how to control usage. That is an entirely different matter, and I am completely on board. You can’t say enough these days about conservation and waste. We all must do our parts. It is bigger than turning off the lights when you leave the house. It is about supporting local policy and extending your concern to the international arena.

How Does Energy Get to You?

Today, I decided to take a long walk home from a coffee shop that I had visited with a couple of my old friends. After loading up on a good deal of carbs, I thought that it might be a good idea to ditch the cab and put my feet to use. But halfway through the journey in the sweltering heat, all that I could think of was how I would grab myself a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator and lie down within the air-conditioned walls of my room.

After all, I had walked a long way, right? But, are you aware of the long journey that electricity undertakes before it fires up your air conditioning? I bet all of you are aware of the concept of power plant – places where electricity is generated.

However, there are a lot of ways in which this power can be produced. Such plants are majorly classified depending upon the sources they use to generate electricity – renewable sources such as air, wind and hydro-power that are abundant in nature and can be easily replenished.

Non-renewable sources, on the other hand, include fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas which are exhaustible in nature. It is important to mention here that in addition to being inexhaustible, the renewable sources are pollution-free and hence, environment friendly.

Now, the route for electricity from the power plant to the confines of your home involves passing through a series of transformers that can increase or decrease the voltage of the current depending upon need. The process is called ‘stepping up/down’.

For example, the power generated at the power plant was first stepped up to raise its voltage in order to enable it to travel great distances through transmission towers that can be spotted along the freeways. When the power reached my city, the transformer substations stepped down that high voltage so that it could travel through the medium voltage circuits.

This energy was circulated through my neighbourhood via elevated power lines and underground cables. Before this electric power reached my home, it was stepped down yet again in the transformation system to meet the voltage regulations of various household appliances, such as my refrigerator!

As a result, the electricity that was produced at the power plant passed through a series of step ups/downs before it reached my home. This complex system of electricity substations, transformers, and power lines that connect electricity producers and consumers, is generally called the grid. Most local grids are interconnected, as it helps improve reliability and coordination.

The next time you switch your room’s light on, you would know just where you are getting that energy from!

Going Off-Grid for Your Power Needs

Despite employing numerous hacks and tactics to cut down the electricity bill, the results are never as effective as I wish they would be, and I’m left wondering of all the possible ways in which I might generate my own electric power in a clean and non-polluting way.

Utilizing off-grid power is as simple as they come, and I have put together a little list of alternatives to help you out about the same!

  1. Solar Energy – The most common source of renewable energy, solar power can be used to power everything ranging from individual appliances to entire neighbourhoods. All that it requires is the installation of photovoltaic solar panels to convert solar energy into electrical power for your homes.
  1. Wind Power – Windmills can be used to harness the power of the moving wind to generate electrical energy to power your homes and be stored for later use. However, wind turbines need frequent maintenance due to the friction between moving parts and are only viable for locations in breezy climates.
  1. Hydroelectricity – Hydropower employs the kinetic energy of streams and ocean tides. Similar wind energy, hydropower requires periodic maintenance but provides steady supplies of power.
  1. Geothermal Energy – Geothermal energy uses the tectonic plates to generate and store power. Even though it is yet to be popularized as a steady off-grid alternative, geothermal energy is efficient enough choice for powering individual appliances rather than the whole household.
  1. Magnetic Generators – Efficiently utilized magnets can be designed to form a generator that is quite capable of generating electric power sans sunlight or even air. With adequate knowledge or professional assistance, you can build your own magnetic generator at home for reasonable expenses.
  1. Backup Generator – On occasions when renewable energy falls short, or you need additional magnitudes of power for work, batteries that use a gasoline generator can be employed to produce approximately 3.5 kW-hours of electric power per gallon.

This provides an efficiency of approximately 10%, with a fuel cost of about $1.00 per kW-hour.

Tips to Reduce Your Electric Bill

Every morning, the rush to reach work on time seems to be a blur. There is always one chore or the other that has to be sacrificed if you have to catch the bus on time. It is only a natural side effect of the fast-paced lives of us millennials.

I have to keep reminding this to myself every time I catch a glimpse of my precious succulent that has been on the verge of death for a couple of weeks. “Tomorrow, promise!”, I remind myself while I switch off the lights on my way out.

I have been raised in a financially-conscious family. Even though there was never the dearth of resources, since my childhood, it has been ingrained in me that I must strive to save every bit of power that I can. This is how I have kept on with the habit of curbing hefty electricity bills!

  1. Comparing prices – There are a lot of independent websites that can compare the relative expenses of electricity, gas and solar power from all available energy retailers, depending upon your requirements.
  1. Draw the blinds – Shutting of the doors and keeping the curtains closed are a great way of beating heat-waves without spending the extra money for expensive air conditioning systems.
  1. Remember to switch off – For a person like me, who tends to spend about 70 % of my day outdoors, switching off the lights, fan and AC saves up a large portion of my bill! Why pay for it when you aren’t there the use it?
  1. Efficient cooking – I prefer to defrost the frozen food items in the refrigerator before cooking. This helps lower the energy consumed by other cooking appliances. Likewise, cooking with the lids on and using the dishwasher only when it is full helps a lot too.
  1. Switch to LEDs – Replace halogen bulbs with LED powered lighting since they are comparatively more durable and consume very less power to provide a much better lighting.
  1. Mark the Off-Peak hours – Off-Peak hours include early mornings and late night when power load is low and electrical retailers tend to charge less for the energy consumed. Generally, I tend to wait until after 6 pm to cook, or even to do laundry.
  1. Steady temperature – I tend to set my thermostat 2 degrees lower in the winter and 2 degrees higher in the summer. This actually helps to cut down the bill as it lessens the load on the thermostat, and thereby, the power consumed.
  1. Clean your AC – Well-maintained and clean air conditioning systems not only are a basic requirement of hygiene but also tend to work more efficiently and consume less power.
  1. Air dry – Air drying clothes and dishes cut down the usage of the dryer in your dish washers and washing machines. Additionally, I tend to give my hair dryer a bit of rest on those lazy weekends when I have no plans.
  1. Smart buying – I prefer to invest in computer peripherals like a scanner, printer that go into sleep mode automatically, or turn off when it isn’t being used. This, of course, ensures less power consumption even on the days when I’m too exhausted to actually get off the bed and turn these off (which is like, most days – call me lazy Ryan)

Solar vs. Wind Energy: Which is Better?

Life on earth would not be the same without energy.

Till even a decade back, we mostly banked on non-renewable resources to give us the required amount of energy for all purposes. When it was discovered that they are fast reaching the point of absolute depletion, the whole world began to panic as to what the future might hold.

Environmentalists began to experiment with a variety of alternative sources of energy. They tried to use renewable resources to create energy which would be as efficient as the energy generated from non-renewable resources.

Standing in 2018, one can say that solar energy, hydro energy and wind energy have gained a lot of popularity in both urban and rural areas.

Solar power and wind-generated power are more easily available. If you are looking to switch to an alternative source of energy, the chances are that you cannot decide which to go for.

Both these forms come with their own set of benefits, and preference varies among people.

Wind energy:

Wind energy is generated with the help of turbines which convert mechanical energy into electricity. The turbines are usually located high above the ground level so that the wind flow is not blocked by anything else.

Since the generation of wind energy does not depend on any limited external power, it can work twenty-four hours a day. Some people prefer wind energy over solar energy because it can be produced only during when the sun is up.

To create wind energy, on the other hand, the turbines need to be exposed to heavy and steady wind streams.

Wind energy is generally preferred by large factories and corporations who have the means to raise a wind farm. Since the turbines have moving parts, they are likely to wear out and need good maintenance. In return, they provide more energy. If you have a large area where you need power, then you can go with the wind!

Solar energy:

It is generally agreed that suburban homes are better off with solar energy systems. Not only is it easier to maintain but also they are lower maintenance because they have no moving parts which would need frequent check-ups.

Solar energy is limited by time but is reliable in the sense that one can be assured of the Sun shining for a certain period every day. Wind flow, on the other hand, may not be equally effective on all days. With a solar energy system, you do not need to worry a lot about monitoring because it gives a predictable energy output.

If you live in an area where the wind is rather slow and a turbine would stand out too much, then solar energy will be your best friend.

Solar energy system installations are quick and can be protected from damages caused by lightning and high wind. In fact, if you follow the basic principles of care, you wouldn’t have to worry about maintained as well.

Conclusion:

Both wind and solar energy will fulfill your purpose and help you make a mark in making the Earth a better place. However, your preference between them will depend on your geographical location and circumstances.