Many of us are committed to maintaining sustainable lifestyles. We may even build momentum by buying fewer items, using less electricity, applying mindfulness strategies to how we interact with our environment, and so on. However, one big concern remains. How does one switch to renewable energy?
The answer to this question is a crucial component for many people who are endeavoring to live more eco-consciously. Primarily because, in most regions of the world, energy is a state-provided resource. You get your electricity from the national grid. When you're out and about, you charge your devices from outlets powered by the grid.
Unfortunately, non-renewable energy sources still power most states and countries. Non-renewable sources, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, still support 89% of the world's energy use.
Compared to the total world population, there are only a few fortunate people who live in regions where their government already made the overhead switch to renewable energy. And unless you live in Iceland or Paraguay, the only countries with 100% renewable grids, chances are that, by default, you're not using green power sources all of the time.
However, the good news is that renewable energy statistics show progress as we face the climate crisis. Much of this progress is in response to government-led commitments to the renewable energy transition and goals to target net zero emissions.
Whereas many argue our moves away from polluting fossil fuel sources remain too slow, at least we're making headway.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable sources may account for 80% of energy needs by 2050. Similarly, the International Energy Agency reports an 8% forecast growth in renewables in 2021.
In an increasing number of countries, you can choose to switch to renewable energy suppliers that contribute energy to the grid from renewable sources. The EPA in the US and The Energy Savings Trust in the UK provide valuable pointers to help you make the right choice of green energy supplier.
Often the transition is as easy as an online form, canceling one supplier and moving to another. We do, however, recommend you take the time to do a little homework as here you are relying on the company that you choose to be true to the green credentials they proffer up in their marketing wares.
You can also make the switch without depending on public energy sources. By installing the capacity to generate clean solar and wind energy at home, you can work to become one less draw on our finite resources.
It's easy to wonder if making a personal adjustment will make a significant impact. Thankfully, we have recorded the environmental and personal benefits of clean energy.
Demand creates supply. As the global population grows and more people consume energy, the power sector has to keep growing to meet this demand. And it is growing. A 2019 report showed that global electricity generation demand grew by 2.3% over the past year.
If we don't make a conscious effort to reduce our demand, then the supply of non-renewable energy across the global energy sector will only continue to grow.
That means environmental damage incurred by extracting fossils, air pollution, and land degradation, among other disadvantages. When you effectively take your home off the list of non-renewable-powered homes, you reduce the demand by a tiny fraction. And as more people do the same, we begin to create measurable change.
Every step of the extraction, refinement, transportation, and use of fossil fuels contributes heavily to climate change. The two main methods of extracting fossil fuels- mining and drilling- cause extreme damage to both land and water bodies. In most cases, they render those areas inhabitable to plant and animal life.
Refineries also consume tons of energy to refine and transport these fuels. And this process is polluting in more ways than one. Burning fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and more. Whereas carbon emissions are often cited as the primary culprit, together, these gases are directly responsible for what we know as global warming.
Whereas they may not mine and produce energy where you live, it is happening where someone else lives. And it's causing a public health problem. Many regions of the world where refineries source fossil fuels, especially oil, are undergoing severe environmental crises resulting in public health issues.
In the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where we can find oil, miners spill an average of 240,000 barrels of crude oil every year1. What was once a fishing region with healthy water bodies is now a wasteland with poisonous water. The people who live in those regions face significant health risks from long-term exposure to these conditions.
As mentioned, you can't say you're living entirely sustainably or waste-free if your household still depends on fossil-fueled energy grids. When you replace fossil fuels with clean energy, you can cut off your dependence on non-renewable sources and reduce your carbon footprint on the earth.
Setting up your clean energy source can help you reduce your energy costs or even earn more money. For example, over the past 50 years, the price of solar energy storage has plummeted.
Once manufacturers figured out the technology, mass production happened. And more people can now afford solar panels, and battery storage costs have plummeted, enabling the clean energy transition. In Texas, the United States, electricity is such a low cost because they have wind energy.
Depending on where you live, you could also earn a small income by creating green power at the same time as you reduce carbon emissions. Residents can sell the excess electricity they generate to their local grids in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, and a few others.
Generating, storing, and managing your energy will teach you a few more lessons on consuming less. And if you're focused on sustainable living, these will be lessons you are happy to learn.
Renewable energy production largely depends on environmental conditions2, such as weather, regarding production volume. In simple words, solar panels are more effective with bright sunlight. And wind turbines are more effective with high winds. Knowing this, you'll learn how to store and manage excess energy generated on the best days for use on less favorable days.
While the prospect of generating your own renewable electricity may be exciting, you need to approach this realistically. Although there are renewable energy options, only a few can be set up on a small scale to support a home or workplace. You can install renewable energy on a small scale using the following systems.
These solar/photovoltaic systems offer solar power production and storage on a small scale. They are a good fit for small homes and workplaces with no heavy electricity consumption. The amount of energy you get from this system depends on how many solar panels and storage batteries you're willing to invest in. As well as the sunlight quality of your location for optimized energy renewal.
This is perfect if…
You are in a location with heavy sunshine for most of the year. If you get at least a few hours daily of direct sunlight, then a small-scale solar power system is a good choice.
Wind electricity systems consist of wind turbines and storage batteries. You can use this system to generate green energy for a host of things, not just electricity. For this reason, wind turbines are often used on farms and ranches, as farm owners can connect them directly to the water pumping system.
This is perfect if…
You live in a high wind area with less sunlight. This cost-effective electric system can generate enough wind power to support a small home or farm.
Homeowners in non-urban areas make up the majority of people who use this electricity system. A micro-hydropower system harnesses the power of water in motion to create electricity. To use this system, you will need to set up a turbine, pump, or waterwheel to transform the energy of flowing water into electricity.
This is perfect if…
You have a body of flowing water on your land property. With this system, you can enjoy electricity generation of up to 100 KW of electricity, enough to power a home, small resort, or farm.
A hybrid system is a combination of wind and solar electric systems. The peak hours/seasons of sunshine and wind are usually different. So a hybrid system can stay active almost non-stop.
This is perfect if…
You need more electricity generation levels than the average person and have the financial capabilities to set up both wind and solar systems.
Here's a quick checklist of everything you should do once you decide to transition to generating your own renewable energy.
The four options- solar, wind, micro-hydropower, and hybrid- all have their advantages. Consider your location, weather patterns, and other factors that may come into play before deciding on a system.
Every region, country, state, and local government/county has unique requirements for setting up renewable energy systems on private property. Speak to your local authorities about this, and ask for a copy of their official codes and regulations.
The first and most obvious cost is the price of the system, storage batteries, and installation. You can learn more by shopping around with local services that sell and install these systems.
Beyond these costs, consider the lifetime value of your systems. How frequently will you have to replace them? How many years will it take before your storage batteries start to lose their capacity? What are the maintenance costs? Collect these answers early on to have a realistic financial plan laid out.
Additionally, other costs to consider include what you might need to do to increase the energy efficiency of your home or workplace. Installing insulation and energy-efficient appliances will most likely reduce the energy you need to produce, and the upfront cost will offer a return in the medium term.
The final question to answer is if you will become completely independent of the grid. If you're starting with a super-small renewable system, you may not be able to produce enough energy to support your household 24/7. In this case, you may want to stay on the grid.
On the other hand, when you start to produce more than you can use, you will need that grid connection to sell back to your local providers and make that extra income.
The choice to stay on or go off the grid is yours to make. However, note that if you decide to go off the grid completely, you will need to purchase your own Balance-of-System equipment. You will need these to keep your stand-alone 'grid' safe and regulated.
There is no better time to switch to renewable energy. As environmental concerns grow, we should be doing the best we can to take less from the earth. Across the planet, we all have a role to play in our pressing need to reach net zero emissions. Fossil-fueled energy supply is hugely damaging. And just because we can't directly see this damage grow doesn't mean that we should keep ignoring its happening.
It also helps that starting your own small-scale home electrical system is getting more and more affordable. With a few panels and batteries, you can start powering your own home, even if it's for a few hours. Depending on where you live, there are a few options to explore. Let's all start making small changes for a significant impact.
|1||Ordinioha, B., & Brisibe, S. (2013). The human health implications of crude oil spills in the Niger delta, Nigeria: An interpretation of published studies. Nigerian medical journal: journal of the Nigeria Medical Association, 54(1), 10–16. https://doi.org/10.4103/0300-1652.108887|
|2||Detyniecki, M., Marsala, C., Krishnan, A., Siegel, M. (2012). Weather-based solar energy prediction. IEEE International Conference on Fuzzy Systems. 1-7. 10.1109/FUZZ-IEEE.2012.6251145.|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.