Many renewable energy technologies make sense for consumers today. Prices have dropped during the past 20 years and the technologies have improved. Using renewable energy is easier than ever. Alternative fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are becoming more widely available, and new vehicles that feature advanced fuel system technologies are now on the market. Utilities are starting to offer “green power” programs, in which you can opt to obtain electricity from renewable energy sources. Many states are in the process of deregulating electric utilities, which means that in the coming years, you will be able to choose your electric supplier just like you choose a long-distance phone company now. In California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, and other states, competitive markets are under way and green marketers are selling electricity from renewable energy sources like wind, biomass, and hydropower.
Even by combining energy efficiency measures and renewable energy generation, most of us will have to use fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. But we can use the cleanest energy sources available. For instance, natural gas burns much cleaner than other fossil fuels, and can be used to heat your home, provide water heating, and power appliances such as clothes dryers, usually at a lower cost than electricity. Natural gas vehicles also provide a cleaner alternative to gasoline.
It’s better for the environment (and cheaper) to improve the efficiency of your energy use than to produce more energy to meet inefficient consumption. Before investing in renewable energy technology, take stock of your current energy usage. Could you increase the energy efficiency of your home? To find out, conduct a home energy audit, which will tell you where you are using the most energy in your home. A booklet available from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home, provides information on energy audits and is an excellent resource for improving the energy efficiency of your home. By making a few of the improvements suggested in the booklet, you can save 10% to 50% on your energy bills.
Whether you purchase green power, add renewable energy to your home, or drive an alternative fuel vehicle, it is better for the environment and cheaper to reduce your energy use first, then meet your energy needs with renewables.