Humans and their actions are negatively impacting the environment. This simple statement is becoming more widely accepted with every passing day. Doubters of climate change are finally recognizing the devastating impact humans are having on the environment. With this consensus around climate change, more homeowners are contemplating making the switch to greener fuel to heat their homes.
Making the decision to go green is a hard one. But making the decision on how to go green can sometimes be an even harder choice. Thanks to new technology, homeowners have a diverse array of greener heating options. Homeowners can use solar energy, natural gas, wind energy, and wood pellets for heat. These four sources of energy are dramatically different from each other. They each have their own inimitable benefits, but they all have certain drawbacks.
Navigating this thorny maze of energy options is overwhelming for many homeowners and can derail the process of going green. This problem is unfortunate and needs to be addressed. This post hopes to simplify the complicated process of “going green” by explaining the basics and analyzing the sustainability, environmental impact, reliability, and affordability of each different type of energy.
Wind power is one of mankind’s earliest forms of power generation. The fundamental mechanisms behind wind power are remarkably simple. Wind turbines collect wind’s kinetic energy and transform it into electricity. Wind moves the external wind blades, which powers an internal generator. This generator then converts the mechanical energy into useable energy.
Sustainability: Like death and taxes, wind is a constant. Humans will never run out of wind. Wind is 100% sustainable.
Environmental Impact: Harvesting wind energy produces no air pollution or any greenhouse gases. The only pollution it creates is a small amount of noise pollution.
Reliability: Unlike taxes, you cannot count on a strong breeze on the same day every year. Wind power can be notoriously unreliable.
Affordability: The initial cost of installing a wind turbine is enormous. According to the Wind Energy Foundation, the average price for a wind turbine is 30,000 dollars, but the costs are sometimes 70,000 dollars. For the average homeowner, this is simply too much.
Conclusion: Wind power is one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly forms of energy on the market. However, for the average homeowner, wind power is too expensive and not practical for their energy needs. Instead of powering homes individually, wind power is best served for general power production on a mass scale.
Natural gas is created by decaying remains of plants and animals from millions of years ago. These remains eventually turned into deposits coal, oil, and natural gas. These deposits are drilled and the contents are removed. Natural gas is then separated from the extracted oil, stored, processed, and eventually distributed to the customer. Natural gas is a widespread source of energy because there are many deposits of natural gas in the United States.
Sustainability: The United States contains large reservoirs of natural gas, but natural gas is not a sustainable fuel. It takes millions of years for organic matter to turn into natural gas.
Environmental Impact: While natural gas omits 50% less CO2 than coal, it is still a fossil fuel. When natural gas burns, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. The process of extracting natural gas (“fracking”) has been criticized for its devastating effects on the environment.
Reliability: The availability of natural gas is consistent, but the price of natural gas is constantly in flux. In the past five years, the price of natural gas has fluctuated by 250%!
Affordability: While the price of natural gas is not stable, the price is generally affordable for the average homeowner. The cost of an average natural gas boiler ranges from 1,500 dollars to 5,000 dollars.
Conclusion: The best attribute of natural gas is its affordability. However, the affordability of natural gas might not be sustainable with its prices continually in motion. Additionally, natural gas is a fossil fuel with CO2 emissions and it is not a sustainable resource. Ultimately, natural gas is a short term “partial solution” to a long-term problem.
Solar power is generated when particles of light hit a solar panel. When the particles of light reach the solar panel, electrons on the solar panel are “hit” by the light particles and the electrons are knocked free from their atoms. This process of removing electrons generates the flow of electricity. Technological breakthroughs have enabled solar cells to become larger and generate more electricity.
Sustainability: According to scientists calculations, the Sun will continue to burn for over five billion years. With that assumption in mind, it is safe to say that solar power is an extremely sustainable resource.
Environmental Impact: Solar cells collect energy from sunbeams that hit the solar panels. The process of generating solar energy does not have a negative impact on the environment. However, the manufacturing process behind solar panels uses several toxic chemicals.
Reliability: Solar panels are not the most reliable form of energy production. Cloudy weather and shade can impair the productivity of any solar panel. However, when the weather cooperates, solar panels are reliable.
Affordability: Solar power is slightly expensive. The cost of installing solar panels in the average home ranges from 15,000 dollars to 29,000 dollars. Additionally, solar panels need expensive batteries to store energy during the day so that energy is available at night unless you rely on the grid power as most of us do. If that’s the case, if the power goes out, your solar panels stop working.
Conclusion: Solar power is a sustainable and environmentally friendly source of energy. However, it is not the most reliable form of energy and can be somewhat costly for the average homeowner. Homeowners should use small solar panels to supplement another form of energy instead of only using solar power.
Wood pellets are made from wood unsuitable for lumber, which would include sawdust, woodchips, and lumber mill scraps. These wood products are brought to a pellet mill and transformed into sawdust. The sawdust is then dried, heated, and converted into identical small pellets. With the recent focus on sustainability, the wood pellet industry is booming.
Sustainability: With sustainable forestry practices, wood pellets are completely renewable. As long as the number of trees growing matches the number of trees being used, the wood pellet industry is sustainable.
Environmental Impact: Burning wood pellets produces 90% less CO2 than burning fossil fuels, which is a substantial reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases. Wood pellets are also carbon neutral. During their life cycle, trees absorb the same amount of CO2 that they release when they are eventually burned in pellet boilers. Trees are nature’s answer to the shortfalls with modern solar technology. Trees are solar panels and batteries all in one. Modern technology allows people to use that stored energy by cleanly and efficiently combusting the wood fibers produced by solar energy.
Reliability: The sustainability of wood pellets ensures its reliability as a fuel source. Production of wood pellets has grown over 300% in the last decade. Wood pellets ever growing popularity ensures continued growth in production while increased competition keeps the price low.
Affordability: Pellet boilers are an investment with significant long-term savings. For example, the average Kedel boiler costs approximately 10% – 25% more to install than a high efficiency fossil fuel system. That is a serious investment. However, on average, a Kedel boiler reduces annual fuel costs by $1,500, which is huge. This reduction in fuel costs is dependable because unlike oil or natural gas, the price of pellets is known for being consistent.
Conclusion: Wood pellets are a carbon neutral source of fuel. Wood pellets are also a sustainable and reliable form of energy production. The initial cost of pellet boilers is significant, but the quality ensures future savings.
The Conclusion of the Conclusions:
These four types of energy are all upgrades from oil and gas. However, when looking at which type is the best one to heat your home with, one form of energy production may rise above the rest.
The wood pellet is the form of energy production best suited to heat many of today’s average homes. In newer, more efficient homes that are built to high efficiency standards it is quite possible to utilize solar panels or micro wind turbines with batteries and achieve net zero energy consumption. For the existing housing stock, achieving that level of efficiency is cost prohibitive and unnecessary. Wood pellets are a sustainable way to effectively and affordably heat the average home. Unlike natural gas, wood pellets are sustainable and have a minor impact on the environment. Unlike solar and wind power, wood pellets are a realistic and affordable option for the average homeowner. The initial costs of solar and wind power are more than the start up cost to install a pellet boiler. Solar and wind are not as reliable as pellet boilers and the homes of many homeowners do not fit the requirements needed to install these into their house.
Going green is a difficult decision. A lot of factors go into making that call. Hopefully, this essay clarified several questions you may have had and illuminated the differences between the different forms of energy production.
The Austrian energy organization, Gute Wärme Wächst Nach, put together this informative video that provides even more information about this topic. Check it out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuk3ZhuJa2g !