Alternative energy has grown in popularity for decades, even more so since the full impact of global climate change has made the need to find renewable energy a top priority. Furthermore, the economic downturn has meant that many families are looking for ways to save money. Renewable energy appeals to many people as it addresses both these concerns. This article will take a look at the differences between fossil fuels and alternative forms of energy; why renewable energy is so popular, the different types of green energy; and what types of green energy systems are best suited for residential use.

What are fossil fuels?

Everybody who knows about energy knows about fossil fuels. They have been at the centre of global warming debates for decades and it is a hot topic with many people in the energy and environmental world. What exactly are fossil fuels and why are they considered bad?

Fossil fuels are deposits of hydrocarbons such as coal, oil and gas that can produce energy when burned.  This energy is used for many things such as home heating, cooking, lighting, and in manufacturing among other uses. The problem with fossil fuels is that they are not a clean source of energy and the reserves of these fuels will not last forever. These deposits were formed millions of years ago, and resources are running out. They also contribute to global warming, which is one of the main reasons for many people to consider alternative energy sources.

The National Grid's exlpanation of where energy comes from.

What are fossil fuels and how is electricity made?

What are alternative energy sources?

Alternative energy sources have been in the spotlight ever since the threat from global warming was realised. However, it its early days there were only a very few sources of alternative energy that were remotely viable on a commercial basis (i.e. being capable of producing enough energy to light homes and businesses); and affordable enough to even consider.

Nowadays, alternative energy technology has evolved to become much more efficient and the choice of alternative energy sources has expanded.

Types of Alternative Energy Sources.

There are a variety of alternative energy sources available today. Wind power and solar power are the most widely used; but other technologies are catching up.  Lesser well known sources of alternative energy include Hydro power, Biomass energy; and geothermal energy.  Of these alternative energy sources, only two have been considered by many to be available for domestic use: Solar and wind power.

Solar Energy

How is it made?

Solar energy is produced by solar panels that are often mounted on the roof of a home or in a place that is likely to get the most sunshine.  The sunshine produces solar radiation (which is infrared radiation at ground level) which is then captured by the solar panels. The panels either convert the radiation to heat (using solar collector panels) which is then used to heat water in pipes inside the panel to then be pumped around the house to be used as hot water or heating. The infrared can also be captured in photovoltaic panels, which then converts the radiation to electricity. Deciding what type of panel to use will largely depend on your location and household needs.

How solar panels work.

Wind Power

Wind generators are also a popular choice of alternative energy for the home.  The wind turns the turbines which then generates electricity. There are two types of wind generators for domestic use. Roof mounted turbines which are mounted on the roof of the building. These are smaller and generate less electricity however; they are considerably less expensive to install. Pole mounted turbines are located in a suitably windy place. The blades are larger than roof or building mounted turbines and produce more electricity. The cost of installing these types of turbines is a lot more expensive.

Residential alternative energy has come a long way since it was first considered as an energy source for many homes. The technology has been developed and the systems have become more economical and efficient. There is however a long way to go in terms of alternative sources of energy for the home.