What's Your Energy Consumption?

Most people have no idea how much power they actually use on a monthly basis. Getting the answer is actually pretty easy though. Just take your power bill and look for how many kilowatt hours of energy you consumed. If you take the past few months and average the consumption together you'll have a pretty accurate estimate of how much power you're going to need to produce.

For those who've never heard the term before, a kilowatt hour is 1,000 watts of power used over the space of 1 hour. According to surveys conducted by agencies in the United States, the average house consumes about 8,900 kilowatt hours of power a year. That is a lot of power to harvest, even with the best new technology on the market at your disposal.

Solar Panel
Credit: Morguefile image

Is Solar Energy The Answer?

Solar power is the go-to response for people who want to generate clean, green electricity in their homes. You can't just put up a few solar panels and kick up your heels though.

Why not?

Well, for starters, the average commercial panel puts out 175 to 235 watts on a good day. That's assuming that the panel gets all of the sunlight it needs, and that its situated to catch as many solar rays as possible. Generally speaking the amount of energy a solar panel will produce is determined by A) the potential of the panel and B) the solar insolation of the property the panel is on. A solar insolation map (like the one right here) can help you make the estimates you'll need.

No matter how much power you need, you'll still need a lot of solar panels to produce that much electricity.

Credit: MorgueFile Image

How About Wind Energy?

Assuming that you have $10,000 and a friend on the zoning board to install a huge, industrial sized windmill for your house then yes, you can probably cover all of your electricity needs with wind energy. If you're planning on using smaller wind turbines (like the kind you can install on your roof with no permits or problems) then you might still be struggling to meet your power consumption needs.

Just like solar panels, wind mills can only produce a certain amount of power under ideal circumstances. If you have a constant, 20 mile an hour wind (perhaps because your home is in a naturally occurring wind tunnel), then a single mill might be able to put out 1,000 watts of power in a single day; roughly 1 kilowatt hour.

That sounds pretty good doesn't it? Particularly when you compare that amount with the paltry amount of power produced by solar panels. But it's important to remember that the sun rises and sets every day, and that the wind tends to die down. It's why sailing ships had oars on them for so long. Even if you have a windmill that is producing its full amount of power every, single day that's still only 365 kilowatt hours of power.

Listen To The Experts

The Real Way to Leave a Smaller Environmental Impact

If you really want to save money when it comes to paying your power bill the simplest thing to do is use less power. For instance, try not watching any TV for month and see how it affects your bill. Leave the curtains open during the day so you don't turn the lights on. Replace all of your 60 watt lightbulbs with lower-power fluorescent bulbs. Replace your older electronics with models that use less power (like that big, bulky desktop computer that could easily be switched to a power-sipping laptop).

It's not too likely you can produce over 700 kilowatt hours of power on your home's property in a month. The smaller that consumption becomes though, the more feasible it becomes to generate your own electricity. And even if you don't become your own power plant, you're still going to pay less at the end of the month.

This is a win-win situation.

How Much Does It Cost To Produce Your Own Power?

The main reason that so few people produce their own power is that it's expensive. Really, truly, horrendously expensive.

How about we throw some numbers out? A basic solar panel purchased from a hardware store is going to cost between $150 and $900, depending on the size and how much power it can produce. The higher the cost, the more power it can produce. Wind mills can cost at least as much, and neither of these estimates take into account the work of installing the systems; this is just the cost to buy a kit. Everything else, from tools to expertise, comes from you.

If you want to have an alternative energy system installed in your home then you're going to be looking at some serious sticker shock. A basic (very basic) system is likely going to run $25,000 or so, and the prices only go up from there.

Can I Live Off Green Energy?

Is it possible to produce your own power? Of course it is! The real question is how badly you want it and what changes you're prepared to make in order to make at-home power generation a reality in your life. Once you've decided to make it happen all that's left to do is to bring your power consumption needs and your power generation capacity into alignment.