Human Journey

Where to Find Green Energy

gpp_logo180.gifThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an updated roster of green energy superstars today. This top-20 list ranks businesses, government agencies, and universities that are using renewable resources to power buildings and production.

Coming in first is the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a nearly $20-billion bathroom and kitchen paper-product and diaper business headquartered in Dallas. Seven percent, or 192,730,00 kilowatt-hours (kWh), of energy use at U.S. operations is from burning biomass on-site.

Taking second place, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which treat wastewater for more than half of Los Angeles County, use biogas from their facilities for 54 percent, or 171,144,000 kWh, of their energy needs.

So how does this translate to you? Beyond taking a look at the list and trying to support businesses and agencies that are making an effort to use renewables (all other factors aside), you can fire up the old wood-burning stove… or take advantage of the growing number of residential green energy technologies on the market.

Companies around the globe are pushing out a steady stream of DIY green energy gizmos. A company called GreenHouse recently announced an in-home micro-refinery system that will turn your food scraps and other organic waste into ethanol that you can use to run a car with. The E-Fuel MicroFueler is a smaller-scale version of the same technology commercial breweries, such as the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, have used to convert their waste into fuel.

For approximately $15,000 you can install a 40-foot wind turbine from Southwest Windpower. It can provide from 40 to 90 percent of your household energy needs with a payback after about five years, with incentives, according to a recent Fast Company article.

If solar piques your interest, companies such as General Electric offer residential solar electric systems. These are connected to your city’s utility grid so you can return unused green energy to the grid and receive a credit on your bill, if your utility allows net metering. GE estimates that the system, on average, supplies households with up to one-half of their energy needs. While government rebates are available for such systems, a residential unit will still likely cost you more than $10,000.

One of the 2,500 Green Effect entries we received during the contest was from an organization in Minnesota that helps subsidize and install solar panels, making this form of renewable energy more affordable for individual homeowners.

The non-profit–Rural Renewable Energy Alliance–estimates that each of its home-based solar-heating installation can cover up to 30 percent of a house’s total energy needs.

You can find a list of federal tax incentives online. And check with your city government to see what kind of financial help they can provide–for both home and business.

In the District of Columbia, a $2 million-a-year budget for rebates on residential solar and wind installations was eaten through by the end of April. There are also D.C. incentives for solar thermal water and space heating, geothermal, biomsass, and methane capture.

In Seattle, you can pay an extra $3, $6, or $12 a month to help the city’s utility purchase slightly more expensive green energy. For $12 a month, your home’s energy use will be covered 100 percent by green energy.

Look for similar programs in your area!

–Tasha Eichenseher

Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E/The Environment Magazine, Environmental Science & Technology online news, Greenwire, Green Guide, and National Geographic News.

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