Getting Started with Green: Alternative Energy

So you’ve already traded driving for biking on short trips, started eating less meat and more local vegetables, and are consistently buying carbon offsets to counteract your plane trips. Ready for a bigger green challenge? Try switching to alternative energy at home. Instead of depending solely on the electric grid, you can harness solar energy, wind power, hydropower, or even geothermal energy to keep your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and buzzing with electricity.

Read on for a sampling of tips, or click on over to our guide for How to Go Green: Alternative Energy on Planet Green for the full story. It sounds like a daunting process, but making the transition to alternative energy doesn?t have to be painful. The easiest way to simplify is to start cutting back on your energy use right now, since using less means you?ll be responsible for providing less (and trust us: come the rainy season, you and your solar panels will be grateful for that)

Don’t Overthink It

If you can power your whole house with alternative energy, great! But if money, government permits, time, or climate are getting in the way, then start smaller. Try powering just one room-like a bedroom, where a reading lamp and tiny television may be all you need?with solar, wind, or hydropower. If even that is too much, invest in a small solar charger for your laptop, iPod, or cell phone-for the ultimate in easy alternative energy, shell out for a tote bag that charges the electronics inside it while you carry it.

Ask for Help

Before you get started with solar panels, windmills, and ground source heat pumps, take a minute to call your local electric company: more than 750 of those in the U.S. offer renewable energy to current consumers. You’ll pay a little more to offset the cost of tapping the alternative power, though-as much as 5 cents per kilowatt hour in Sacramento or as little as .8 cents per kilowatt hour in Oregon. The Green Power Networks chart from the Department of Energy can help you figure out the price in your area.

Plan Ahead

If you’re in the process of buying a new home-or even better, building one-then you’re in the perfect position for planning ahead to maximize your alternative energy use. Look for property that will let you harness wind power by offering plenty of open space or hydropower by including running water near the house. Check the town’s permit guidelines to make sure you can install solar panels and, if you?re building, look at the placement of your home, the layout of the windows and doors, and the insulation: all of these can help you harness natural solar power without lifting a finger once you’ve moved in.

For more tips, information, and inspiration on using alternative energy, check out Planet Green’s How to Go Green: Alternative Energy guide, and, while you’re at it, have a peek at How to Go Green: Electricity and the rest of the guides for How to Go Green.