How to Create Your Own Electricity With Sunshine and Wind

Besides saving you money, a solar or wind power system can ensure that you and your family will have electricity despite recent electrical grid failures.
Marcia Wendorf

The price of food and gas has been going up, and the price of electricity has risen dramatically over the past 25 years.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), electricity prices in the U.S. have increased 1.8 percent per year, from a national average price of 8.38 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 1994 to 13.31 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2021.

Besides electricity prices going up, there have been recent electricity blackouts and brownouts. On June 15, 2021, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which controls about 90 percent of the state's power, requested that residents conserve power due to the current heat wave. According to TV station KXAN, "... data from ERCOT indicates forecasted demand may exceed capacity during peak heat hours in the afternoon ..."

Last week, Puerto Rico experienced a blackout, and in February of 2021, millions of people in Texas lost electricity for up to a week.

Summer 2021 is already shaping up to be one of the hottest on record, which means even more pressure on the nation's power grid. We're going to tell you how to create your own electricity using solar panels or wind turbines, which will allow you to live off the grid entirely, or else reduce your current power bill.

Local Green Energy Regulations and Incentives

States and municipalities have rules governing both solar panels and wind turbines, so before you begin any project, it's a good idea to check with them.

The federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit states that the renewable energy tax credits for fuel cells, small wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps and solar panels will be as follows:

  • 30% for systems placed in service by 12/31/2019
  • 26% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2023
  • 22% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2022 and before 01/01/2024.

The current rules expire on December 31, 2023, and the tax credits can be used to offset any costs you incur when installing your green energy systems. Additional tax credits may be offered by your state or local electrical utility.

Residential Solar Panels

The sunshine hitting your roof is free electricity for the taking, you've just got to install solar panels to capture it. There are two types of solar power systems: off-grid and tie-in. With a tie-in system, when your home is consuming more electricity than your solar panels are generating, the remainder of the electricity will come from the grid.

When your solar panels generate more electricity than you’re using, you can also sell that electricity back to your electrical utility, which means that your solar panels could become a revenue source.

You can install stand-alone solar panels either on the ground or a deck, or you can install them on your roof. In either case, select an area that gets at least four hours of peak sunlight a the day. Peak sunlight occurs when the sun is the highest in the sky, so around noon. Areas closer to the equator get more peak sunlight and areas in more northerly or southerly latitudes get less.

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In the northern hemisphere, the sun moves east to west, but is always in the southern sky. In the southern hemisphere, the sun is always in the northern sky. While a north or south-facing roof is best, you can also install solar panels on east or west-facing roofs and they will take advantage of the sun during the morning or afternoon hours.

Make sure any trees or other shrubbery aren't casting a shadow onto the spot you've selected for your solar panels. Besides the actual solar panels, you will also need an inverter(s), racking and solar battery storage unit(s).

There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. Monocrystalline panels are the most common, and they have an efficiency of about 20 percent, but they are also the most expensive. Polycrystalline panels cost less, but only have around 16 percent efficiency and polycrystalline panels don’t work well in high temperature areas.

Thin film panels are flexible, and they are the least expensive option; however, they only have between 7 and 13 percent efficiency, and they take up the most space. Solar panel efficiency is the amount of electricity that can be generated from sunlight by the solar cell.

If installing solar panels on your roof, you'll need to attach mounting brackets to your roof's trusses. The trusses are the wooden beams beneath your roof's shingles that run toward the roof's peak.

You can also install solar panels on a detached garage or shed. The homeowner in the comprehensive video below does just that, taking advantage of all of his roof space.

Space the mounts so that they line up with the holes along the sides of the solar panels. If you're installing a ground-mounted solar panel system, you'll need to sink the post included with the panels into the ground using cement. Some ground-mounted systems include a motor that rotates the panels so that they follow the sun as it moves across the sky.

Once you've attached the mounting brackets to the trusses, you'll secure the solar panels to the mounting racks, making sure they are level and tightening them down securely. You don't want your expensive solar panels blowing off during a wind storm.

Solar panels generate direct current, or DC power, and inverters convert that power to alternating current, or AC power, so it can be used in your home. You must make sure that the inverters you get match the output rating of your solar panels. Don’t get inverters that are rated higher than the output of your solar panels or your efficiency will drop.

For greatest efficiency, plug an inverter into each of your solar panels and secure them to the undersides of the panels. Individual inverters ensure that even if some of your panels are in the shade, you'll still generate electricity.

Run the wires from the solar panels into your home and into your electrical switchbox. You may want to hire an electrician to do this. For a tie-in system, your electric utility may need to install a new power meter outside your house to account for the electricity you are generating.

The energy generated by your solar panels either has to be used right away or else stored in a battery.

Wind Turbines

Wind power becomes an option if the average wind speed in your area is 14 mph (23 km/h) or greater. Wind speeds lower than that mean you won't get the benefit of a turbine’s full effectiveness. You can find your area's wind speed information by contacting your local weather service, looking at wind speed maps, or airport wind speed data.

Airports measure their wind speed at around 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground, which is almost the same height as a residential wind turbine, so their information is particularly applicable.

Before installing a wind turbine, you need to research your area's zoning and any neighborhood association covenants. Contact your area's building inspector, board of supervisors, or planning commission, they will be able to tell you if you need a building permit to install a wind turbine.

Your neighbors might also be affected by a turbine tower blocking their view, and they may be concerned about potential noise issues, so you may want to discuss your plans for a wind turbine with them first. Modern residential wind turbines create very little noise even under heavy wind conditions, however, they are not completely soundless.

Some jurisdictions restrict the height of structures that are permitted in areas zoned residential. Most zoning ordinances specify a maximum height of 35 feet (11m), however, variances can often be obtained. Many residential wind systems need to be at least 30 feet (9.1 m) higher than the tallest structure within 500 feet (150 m) of them.

You will need to calculate the minimum diameter for your wind turbine's blades, and for this, you need to know how much electricity your home consumes. Check with your local electric utility to find out how many kilowatt-hours your home used over the past year.

Then, use this formula to determine the rotor size:
AEO = (0.01328)D2V3 where:
AEO = your annual energy output in kilowatt-hours per year
D = the diameter of the rotor in feet
V = the annual average wind speed in miles per hour.
You will need to solve the formula for D.

As an example, if your home uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, and your average annual wind speed is 15 miles per hour (24km/h):
11,000 = (0.01328)D2153
Solving for D, the diameter you need is about 10 feet (3.0 m).

Sink the base of the turbine tower in concrete and assemble the rotors. Run the wires attached to the turbine's motor through the tower and into your home's electrical switchbox.

Your electric utility may also install another power meter to see how much electricity your wind turbine is generating. If you generate more than you use, you may be able to sell some back to the utility.

Never mount a wind turbine to your roof. Besides being noisy, the turbine will experience turbulence, which will decrease its efficiency.

Payback period

Installing either a solar power system or a wind turbine system comes with a high initial cost. To determine whether installing them it is right for you, you must consider the "payback period." This is the amount of time it will take for you to pay off your solar power or wind turbine system through the savings on your electric bill.

You can determine the payback period by taking the total cost to install your solar or wind system, then subtracting any solar incentives or rebates and any tax credits, then subtracting the yearly savings on your electric bill.

For example, if you spent $16,000 on a solar panel system, and you got a tax rebate of $4,000, and if the savings on your electric bill come to $1,500 per year, your payback period will be eight years. In 2021, the average solar panel payback period for homes in the U.S. is between 9 and 12 years, depending on which state you live in.

States which provide large rebates, such as Hawaii and Massachusetts, offer payback periods as low as five years, while in states that don't offer such generous rebates, such as Louisiana and North Dakota, the payback period can be as high as 16 years.

Other factors that will affect your payback period are your roof's composition and age, the quality of the solar equipment you install, your state's electricity rate, and whether you paid cash or took out a loan to finance your green energy system.

Given the current rash of electric grid failures such as the one currently occurring in Texas, installing a solar or wind power system may soon be a no-brainer.

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