Most of us likely agree that using renewable energy is a good idea, at least in principle.
However, many people don’t want to sacrifice too much to make that happen. Others don’t like the aesthetics of a renewable energy installation or they don’t have a place to incorporate such a system.
So how does an average person use renewable energy?
An off-grid system is a strong alternative for someone who is building on a new property where grid-tied power will cost $20,000 or more to access, possibly a hybrid solar-wind installation with a back-up fossil-fueled power generator.
However, most people still want the advantages of being connected to the grid. They want renewable energy to be only a part of their lives, so they are more likely thinking of installing a solar hot water system or a grid-tied solar electric system.
The direct method is the most commonly understood method of renewable energy involvement.
It works well when the resident owns the property and there is sufficient space or aesthetic acceptance to install such a system.
It is also most likely to occur when there is a financial incentive, such as a capital cost rebate from a government, including Saskatchewan’s 20 percent rebate.
Another incentive is a favourable feed-in tariff, in which utilities pay for the renewable energy that is provided, such as 50 cents per kilowatt hour in Ontario. This is called net metering.
However, many people rent their property and are not in a position to install such a system.
There are ways for these people, as electrical consumers, to buy green power without having a system on their site.
Bullfrog Power offers consumers in all provinces but Newfoundland, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan the opportunity to pay a bit more for their power to ensure it is renewable. In Bullfrog’s case, it is wind power.
The company also provides natural gas sourced from the production of gas otherwise lost from landfills.
Companies such as Bullfrog Power are audited to ensure that they are actually buying all the green power that they are selling to customers.
Some grid-power utility companies have their own programs.
For example, SaskPower, Saskatchewan’s only electricity provider, has had a program for years that allows customers to pay an extra fee per month to buy units of green power.
Co-operatives, which allow people to collectively own a renewable energy system, are another way to get involved in green power.
Closely located buildings can benefit from collective systems, such as central solar hot water heating distributed within the community. Building a single larger system that is run by knowledgeable people can provide significant savings and improve maintenance.
Companies sometimes finance and install renewable energy systems, most often solar electric, on buildings in places where conventional energy costs are high.
These are generally lease arrangements and represent a good portion of the life of the system. The building owner is not responsible for capital cost or maintenance.
In some cases, the building occupants can buy the green power that these systems produce.
In other cases, particularly when it is a solar hot water system, the building owner may be able to make use of the hot water without having a capital cost.
Building owners often find that paying a monthly fee is more practical than taking the risk of owning and maintaining an unfamiliar system.
In other cases, the building owner is simply paid a rental fee to compensate for the presence of the renewable system on the property, not unlike the payment farmers might receive for having an oil well on their property.
It is easier to adopt renewable energy when there are strong financial incentives, such as high conventional energy costs or grants and tax credits.
Take Hawaii, for example, where energy costs are as high as 40 cents per kilowatt hour, which is three to four times the cost on the mainland United States.
Much of the state’s electricity is generated from fuel oil and coal brought in by ship.
Hawaiians have a good reason to encourage alternate energy: it saves utility companies huge im-port costs and reduces reliance on fossil fuel.
As a result, Hawaii has the highest tax credit for renewable energy in the U.S., 35 percent on capital cost.
For example, a solar company paid to install a new $1.4 million asphalt roof on a condominium development on the island of Kauai in advance of 1,100 solar panels placed on every available sun-facing roof space.
The condo association receives the benefit of a new roof and using its own generated power, while the solar company receives the tax credit.
The system will be turned over to the building owners association after 13 years.
With such an aggressive level of installations, Hawaii has moved from .07 percent of electricity being solar-generated in 2007 to one percent in 2011, a 14-fold increase in only four years.
Will Oddie is a renewable energy, sustainable building consultant with a lifetime interest in energy conservation. To contact Oddie, send e-mail to email@example.com.