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Renewable Energy and Its Problems

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I love the idea of renewable energy. Being green and doing less pollution is something that I am completely behind. This includes both wind energy and solar (but also includes water and other methods, although most of us are limited to only the first two). The problem with it is how tough it is to get in to as a “regular person.” Through this article I am going to be looking at why this is so difficult, as well as what needs to happen in order to make renewable energy more accessible to everyone (therefore decreasing the overall effects we have on the ecosystem we are part of).'

Wow, That is Expensive

Well, if you have ever looked in to renewable energy in the past, this was likely one of the first things you figured out. The cost of getting involved is massive. For example, windmills cost thousands of dollars each and you need multiple of them (and this excludes the fact that you also have to be in a great area with a lot of wind if you want to actually benefit from them). When we move to solar panels, it is the same problem; the cost is great, just for the systems themselves. On top of the hardware costs, you also need to find places to put all of it at, as well as deal with any preparation that is necessary (in the case of solar panels, these are heavy and have to go in a yard or on a roof; if on the roof, that roof may need to be reinforced first). So the costs are already starting to build up against us. But yet we are still missing something else: the cost of a professional that will be able to deal with all of the installation and tying in to the grid (or otherwise handle the transition off of the grid).

At the end of the day, you are looking at many thousands of dollars to get involved. And for what, to save a couple hundred dollars a month on electric? Rather than paying off over many years, you are forced to find those funds up front. Not a lot of people (especially in today's economy) are able to handle this. And some that do are not willing to take the risk needed in throwing out all of their funds. As a result, we have a massive barrier. With the costs remaining high, and continuing to be an up front fee, it just blocks off too many people from taking part.

The Government Benefits Are Not Too Great Yet

The government (I am not sure if it is federal programs or state ones) offers help to pay for these systems, although it is pretty limited in its scope. Essentially you can only get the government rebates off taxes; if you do not have to pay taxes on your income (ie. You get tax refunds back already), you are just out of luck and these programs are absolutely worthless. The programs that are out right now do not allow you to take the money as a real refund; just a cut back in taxes you owe. Some have argued that this is because if you do not pay much (or anything) for taxes, you should not have enough to afford a solar or wind system to begin with. I disagree with this statement; you can be in a very low income bracket and take in a small salary each year, yet still be able to afford these things by using money wisely. Conversely, you could be in a high income bracket, bringing in millions of dollars a year and still not be able to afford it. Proper management of finances is the big determinant.

The Systems Have a Lifetime

While a lot of people would love to think that the solar and wind powered hardware will last forever, this simply will not happen. Solar panels are generally guaranteed to work anywhere from 20 to 30 years. After this, you have to buy new ones. If you happen to be running off the grid, you also have to pay for batteries to store energy during its production time, and batteries charged and discharged all the time will run out of life before too long. This means that you are replacing batteries somewhat often (I have heard some say that you should be replacing the batteries every few years). All of the replacement costs need to be considered since, much like going through an electric company and just buying your power, you have to keep throwing money aside to deal with this.

Things get even worse when you start to compare how much energy you earn (and its cost) to what you are already paying. In most calculators I have tried using, I have come up with a pay off time (or ROI time) of around 17 years. In other words, we are buying a system that may die in 20 years, and will never even make back our initial investment until 17 years are up. This leaves anywhere from 3 to 13 years of profit (and this assumes that the systems even last for that long; on the other hand, it is also important to consider that the systems could last significantly longer).

Selling Power Back

There are some power companies that allow you to sell power back, although I am unsure where they are or which ones are included. Sadly, where I live that is not an option. The idea behind this is that if you are generating more power than you are using, you can sell it back to the power company at the bulk or wholesale rate (which can be much less than they sell it for, so you can not use the power costs to determine how much they will pay). This lets you earn money when you are on vacation, for example, which helps off set your power costs throughout the rest of the year.

Another concept that is much more common is that of using excess power to return what you have used. Technically you can view it as selling power back to the power company, but the way it works is a bit different. What happens here is that extra power generated will roll back the meter. If you use 10 KW and generate 5, you would be billed for just 5 KW. If you used 10 and returned 10, you would be billed for 0 (but you would have to deal with other fees related to the power, such as base fees and anything else). The down side to this system is that you can not sell back more than you used in a month. If you used 10 and generated 50000, for example, you would not get anything for the extra 49990 you sent.

It is important to understand which program (if any) your power company offers, as they are very different in how the calculations are handled. If you are in an area where you can only zero out your power usage (but can not earn any profit), you would not want a strong enough system to keep pumping out excess consistently. On the other hand, if you are in an area with this deal going on, you can pay off your alternative electric system much faster, increasing its value to you.

Green Energy From Power Companies

Here is an area I have had trouble understanding. Power companies offer up green energy if you would like that. The problem here is that they charge more for it than their normal prices. So essentially by helping them do less pollution, you have to pay extra money. This turns a lot of people away from it, as the increase in cost can be considerable enough to make a difference, and whether or not it has enough value depends on the person and how they feel.

To make moving to renewable energy more efficient on this front, the electric companies really need to start offering discounts or a free (equivalent) move over to green energy. Otherwise people are going to keep having issues with justifying why they should pay more, and especially when there is no real way to see if they are really using green energy or not (other than by trusting that the company is in fact doing this). If not discounts or lateral transfers, there could, at minimum, be some kind of incentives. Anything really helps.

Changes We Need to See

There are really a couple things we need to see before solar and wind energy really takes off. Each of these things would increase the viability of it considerably:

  • Decrease the costs of getting involved by having cheaper hardware or better government benefits (cheaper hardware would probably come over time since we are still progressing and getting more and more efficient with the systems)
  • Make more electric companies do actual buy backs (this is a pretty much necessity to make things work more smooth; as it is, once you are zeroed out there is no real reason to allow the electric company to take any of the power, since there is no benefit to the end user and yet the company is earning profit by selling it out to other people

Until these are done, I do not think that we will see solar and wind generated power becoming wide spread. While there are more and more homes that are being powered by the renewable energy, I can not help but think that we could be moving a lot faster with changes.

Conclusion

I love green, renewable energy and I think that it is our future. As technology moves further and keeps progressing, I feel that renewable energy will get better and better until we can rely solely on it, instead of other methods that have negative effects on our ecosystem. This will in turn help increase our quality of life here on earth, but we have a lot of work to go before we get to that point. The first steps are already in order (which is at least offering up these green resources), and next up we need to start making them more viable for the average person. Once this happens, we can start working on incentives to make change look a bit more enticing (as people hate change, and would rather everything stay static). From here, we can see what the future holds!

Energy


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