As we wean ourselves off a dependency on fossil fuels, we need to look to alternative energies and strategies, and solar power, wind power, and the use of smart grids within the home are at the top of the list.
Solar Power: Whether you're just using the sun's energy to power your iPod or you're providing 100% of your home's energy needs, solar power is only going to increase in relevance and applicability as time goes on and our fossil fuel supply continues to diminish. From solar panels and photovoltaic roof tiles, to solar-powered water heaters and full solar power plant operations, like Pearl in Texas, solar power innovations are changing the way we create and use energy. And for those worried about the upfront costs, installing a solar array on your own roof will pay for itself in seven short years with government subsidies.
Wind Power: Wind energy is one of the cleanest sources of energy on earth. New technologies and advances in wind turbine design are making wind power even more efficient and promising. We think modern windmills are beautiful, both as aesthetic objects and as a symbol of an energy-independent, completely renewable future. Advances in residential and personal wind power options are improving as well, with devices such as the hand-held HYmini Wind and Solar charger and Phillipe Starck's new wind turbines for homeowners.
Smart Meters within the Home: As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama pledged to fund the installation of 40 million smart meters, adding significantly to the 58 million that were already being planned for roll-out by utility companies across the nation. A smart meter is a powerful device that monitors your electricity use (and sometimes your gas or water) and actively sends the information to your utility company so that they can better match power generation to demand. The improved information access should mean less overproduction of electricity (which cannot efficiently be stored) and, thus, less waste of natural resources and money, less environmental impact, and possibly cheaper rates. With proper planning on the part of the utility company and the ability for them to remotely power down users' appliances in a pinch, smart meters also mean less chance of blackouts.
When paired with an in-home or online dashboard, like Google PowerMeter, the improved information access means that users can finally monitor their own electricity usage in real-time and see how they compare to others. Advanced features allow users to control their major home appliances remotely (to promote energy conservation) and to schedule them to power up during off-peak hours (when electricity rates are cheaper).