Renewable Energy FAQ
The questions below cover renewable energy and The Solar Guide.
For questions on solar water heating, see our solar thermal FAQ.
On The Solar Guide
Who is The Solar Guide written for?
The Solar Guide is intended as an introduction to solar energy, with the common energy consumer in mind. As far as we can tell, we are the first site on the internet to offer an easily accessible explanation of solar energy at a level most people can understand. The Solar Guide is only a guide to the basics, though. To get all the proper details as they apply to you and your area, we recommend that you click on sponsor links nearby to find a dealer in your area or look one up in your phone book.
Do you really think solar and renewable energies are a good investment?
Yes. Solar energy and other forms of renewable energy (such as geothermal) will become cheaper as people continue to invest in them. When people invest in them, this will drive down the cost-- as it already has over the last few decades. This has a snowball effect: the technology becomes increasingly usable, cheaper and convenient.
Look at changes in satellite dish technology: twenty years ago, they were gigantic wieldy things only people in the country bought. As more people invested in these, though, the cost went down, the technology got more compact and now they are everywhere-hardly noticeable. Recent developments indicate that this is becoming true of solar energy, too. For example, see our page on building integrated photovoltaics.
On Purchasing Solar and Renewable Energy Systems
Where can I find out about renewable energy dealers, sales, installation and equipment?
Two places to begin:
- The sponsor links nearby will give you quick access to valuable internet addresses and emails.
- If those don't get you what you want, check your local phone book. You may find that installers are busy these days.
- You can also consult our directory for more sponsors and other organizations.
Can you recommend an installer or supplier for a renewable energy system?
No, the Solar Guide is meant to be an objective information portal. However, we have carefully checked our advertisers and sponsor links and you can be sure that they are well-run, reputable businesses. We wouldn't let them advertise with us, otherwise.
How much do any of these renewable energy systems cost, and how much will I save on utility bills?
There is no single or simple answer, even if you are only talking about one kind of energy, such as solar. Some short answers we can give here:
- They are all definitely in the thousands.
- Solar and renewable energy rebates as well as other incentives can reduce the cost of any RE system.
- The size of the system is of course a factor.
- For solar thermal and solar pool heaters, you have to consider the price of the fuel used to back up the system.
- The price of other sources of energy will continue to rise, so who knows how much money you will save in the future?
- It also depends on how much you pay your utility for electricity or natural gas, and how much your utility will pay you for any excess power (with net metering) that you generate with your solar system.
- You can ask your renewable energy system provider how much your new system will produce on an annual basis and compare that number to your current annual electricity or hot water demand to get an idea of how much you will save.
Is there any financial assistance available for installing renewable energy systems?
In the US, you can check the DSIRE database to find out all local, state and federal incentive programs.
In Canada, the federal government's Office of Energy Efficiency has a grant program, the Home Energy Efficiency Retrofit Grants, to encourage home energy efficiency. To be eligible, your home must undergo an EnerGuide for Houses Evaluation. To qualify, you must contact an energy evaluator then follow their evaluation recommendations, and you must achieve a minimum improvement. Natural Resources also lists other incentives.
Is it a good idea to buy online?
Yes — if you know the company is reputable and if they offer secure online transactions. Sites that advertise with the Solar Guide have been checked out for reputability and service. Check the site for certifications with companies such as Thawte or other security certification sites.
General Questions about Energy and Renewable Energy
What is Renewable Energy?
Most of the renewable energies we profile in The Solar Guide can be said to be both solar and renewable. Most of our "renewable energies" get their basic energy from solar radiation. Wind is caused by the heating action of the sun; hydro relies on the hydrologic cycle (which relies on the sun); and geothermal is technically "stored solar energy."
In a more general sense, "renewable energy" is any energy that is self-replenishing. For example, we do not need to find new 'reservoirs' of wind, solar or geothermal energy. The energy is always there, though critics note that these are usually "limited flow."
What does "energy conversion efficiency" mean?
Energy conversion efficiency is an expression of the amount of energy produced in proportion to the amount of energy consumed, or available to a device. The sun produces a lot of energy in a wide light spectrum, but we have so far learned to capture only small portions of that spectrum and convert them to electricity using photovoltaics. So, today's commercial PV systems are about 7% to 17% efficient, which might seem low. And many PV systems degrade a little bit (lose efficiency) each year upon prolonged exposure to sunlight. For comparison, a typical fossil fuel generator has an efficiency of about 28%. (from EERE.gov)
Can I really use renewable energy to power my home or business?
Many renewable energy systems can be compatibly blended with the regular electricity provided by your local utility. This is called grid integration and it is increasingly popular around the world and in the USA.
Can I install it myself?
Maybe — if you are a pretty good electrician. You would be better off seeking out a licensed installer who knows all the ins and outs of electricity, codes and regulations in your area.
You are also likely to void warranties if you self-install. And don't forget that electricity can be very dangerous.
When will renewable energy replace coal and nuclear power plants?
Right now, at least in North America, nuclear and fossil-fuel-based energy is still quite inexpensive compared to solar and wind energy. However, the price of fossil fuels is continuing to rise and the price of solar and renewable energy continues to decline. Peak oil production is right around the corner, and people are increasing their demand for clean energies.
In Japan, Germany and some developing countries, renewable energies are already competitive due to a number of market forces. These same market forces are becoming increasingly relevant to consumers in North America (i.e. the high price of fossil fuels, increasing government incentives and concern for global warming, to name a few).
What are the environmental benefits of renewable energy?
Every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by a renewable energy system displaces the same amount of electricity produced by conventional power generation stations that are using fossil fuels that contribute to CO2, SO2, NOx and smog. Clean renewable energy production reduces suspended particulates we usually call smog, which are a significant health problem on the same hot sunny days when (for example) a solar energy system can produce electricity at its peak level.
What are the disadvantages to using solar and renewable energy?
The biggest disadvantage and the only truly significant one remains the cost. For example, solar energy technologies require a significant initial outlay. Still, in nearly all cases, this high initial cost is recovered through substantial fuel savings over the life of the product (15-30 years), and solar energy systems can last much longer than this. But in areas where there are no hydro wires, choosing solar is as obvious as the sun in the sky.