Alternative energy gives new meaning to the real estate mantra of – what works in sunny California may be different from what works on the windy plains. But just as there are many styles of homes for buyers' diverse tastes, there are varied options in energy systems ® with more than one sometimes working hand-in-hand for the same house.
Wind power – an ancient energy source now seen in high-tech "windmill farms" with tall propeller-like turbines – has come down in the cost for generating electricity by over 80 percent since 1981. Geothermal energy – home heating powered by underground steam warmed up by the temperature of the earth itself – is a source getting more attention in the American West.
Relocating homeowners can choose to move to areas where wind generation is lowering electricity costs, while geothermal energy has applications for both large-scale power plants and individual homes. There has also been progress in residential settings with fuel cells, power systems that convert natural gas fuel to electricity through a chemical reaction with hydrogen, producing just water as a byproduct.
Perhaps the most familiar and popular source of renewable alternative energy remains the sun itself. Photovoltaic (PV) systems, which convert sunlight to electricity, have shown great energy-bill savings and homeowner satisfaction. These systems, which have been likened to a car that makes its own gas, are now available in the form of roof tiles that can integrate attractively with regular roofing.
Households that use roof tiles have found some 80 percent of their electricity needs supplied by them The homes can remain on the conventional power grid for the rest; at sunnier times when the home produces more energy than it can use, it goes back into the grid and credits the homeowners' account, literally turning back their electric meter. Across the country rebates from utility companies and tax credits from government are available for such setups. It's a way of contributing not only to the global community by using up less nonrenewable energy, but also to your own neighbors by freeing up conventional power.
Solar tiles are growing in popularity with home-development builders, and are seen as paying for themselves in savings and simplicity of maintenance. The savings increase considerably in combination with energy-efficient appliances. For example, in Sylmar, California's Village Green complex, this mix is a standard feature and the average resident has been shown to pay one-tenth in monthly utility bills what other town residents pay.
Your local real estate professional can help advise you on what energy alternatives are most available and may work best in your area. A little shopping around may shed light on options that make yesterday's technological dreams today's homeowner dream-come-true.