ASK THE EXPERTS: Energy Independence in the Suburbs

Beginner
Suburbia
Certainly, energy independence is possible in the suburbs, depending on your renewable resources and your home’s energy appetite.

Is it possible to achieve energy-independent living (off-grid) in the ’burbs? Would it be with geothermal and solar, since wind and hydro are out of the question? I’m new to this game, would like to achieve as much independence as possible, and would like an unbiased opinion.

Jason Williams • via e-mail

Certainly, energy independence is possible in the suburbs, depending on your renewable resources and your home’s energy appetite. Start by paring your usage:

  • Build or retrofit an energy-efficient, super-insulated home; and incorporate other strategies to minimize energy use for space heating and cooling.
  • Use air-, ground-, or water-source heat pumps—excellent renewable energy devices—to supply whatever heating and cooling is needed.
  • Choose very efficient appliances.
  • Modify your lifestyle to maximize energy efficiency and minimize energy consumption. 

Then tackle the energy-supply side with:

  • Passive solar heating;
  • Solar domestic hot water; and
  • Solar electricity

With these energy-saving strategies, a typical home’s roof can carry enough PV to power the home completely. If you ignore these strategies and run a typically energy-intensive American home, you’ll be hard-pressed to make all the energy on site.

Consider the on-grid versus off-grid question separately. In most cases, being on-grid will make the most sense—economically and environmentally. It will be less costly to reach net-zero energy if you have the grid there to use for overnight and seasonal energy “storage.” See “Off Or On Grid?” in HP128 for more info.

Ian WoofendenHome Power senior editor

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