Small-scale, local power--the microgrid--is a big part of the path to sustainable energy (for more detail, read Why the Microgrid Could Be the Answer to Our Energy Crisis in the July/August issue). With today's rates and rebates, typical systems pay for themselves in just a few years, and in 43 states you can even sell excess power back to the utility when you're not using it. The only barrier now is figuring out how to plug in your house. Here are the steps you need to take to get in on the microgrid action in your own home.
1) Find the Money
First, find what tax incentives your state, locality, or utility offers for renewables and efficiency at the DSIRE database.
Home Power magazine has comprehensive resources for the do-it-yourselfer; they've been covering the microgrid for over 20 years.
2) Cut Your Use
The microgrid dream house starts with cutting energy use through efficiency and conservation with highly-rated insulation, sealed doors and windows, and better-performing appliances like refrigerators, boilers, and air-conditioners. The federal government's Energy Star Web site provides the information you need to do a home energy audit yourself or find a professional to do one for you. More resources are at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
You might also want to look into a smart meter-like appliance like the Wattson to monitor energy use.
3) Choose Your Fuel
Once you've done what you can to cut energy use, it's time to look into the generation options. Find detailed maps and info on renewable resources in your region at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Solar is still the most common choice for home power. The American Wind Energy Association has a great set of resources on small wind, if a rooftop turbine is your fancy. Southwest Windpower's product is worth checking out as well.
Interested in something a bit more off the beaten path? A geothermal heat pump, which takes advantage of the stable temperature of groundwater, is an option for heating, hot water, and cooling. If you have a stream running on your property, you can try microhydropower. Or what about a biomass heating system, aka a wood burning stove?
4) Find a Partner
There are lots of sites that can help you find an installer and figure out the financing such as Find Solar, GetSolar, and Akeena, located in California, the nation's largest solar power installer.
Sustainable Spaces in the Bay Area is a newer business model: a comprehensive "home performance retrofitter" that does it all--renewables, efficiency, and financing. Similarly, Smith Energy in Massachusetts works mainly with cities and towns, but also landowners, to develop renewable energy resources.
5) Sell Back to the Grid
Net metering--where you sell your excess generated power back to the grid--is legal under certain conditions in over 40 states. Here's a guide to getting started.
Join in a discussion about local power with alternative energy business leaders at Fast Company's Alternative Energy Forum in Seattle on June 24.