Charleston Recognizes Different Shades of Green

These days, with fossil fuel prices continuing to climb, earth-friendly technologies are becoming more and more attractive. The question is: which earth-friendly – or "green" – technology offers the most affordable, effective, and practical solution?

You’ve got everything from geothermal to wind turbines to solar panels and beyond to consider, any one of which can help the environment … and shrink your carbon footprint. Right now, people who pride themselves on being “forward-thinking” are especially conscious of that.

The truth is, if you’re like most Charleston homeowners, you’re looking for a way to help your budget as well as the planet. We at Custom Climate Heating & Air can help. Read on.

First, we'll examine the more notable of today’s green energy choices. And we’ll start with wind.

Wind is actually a form of solar energy, created by the sun’s uneven heating of the earth’s atmosphere, the irregularities of the earth’s surface, and the earth’s rotation. When wind flow, or motion energy, is “harvested” by modern wind turbines, it can be used to generate electricity.

Wind turbines are now spreading beyond wind farms to people’s homes. Homeowners are able to generate their own electricity, and when they produce more power than they consume, the electric meter actually spins backwards as energy is sold back to the grid.

A typical turbine system can cost anywhere from $15,000 -$60,000, depending on size. This high price along with moderate energy returns makes financial payback extend into decades, although government rebates may help to shorten that time.

As for solar panels, the sun generates enough in one hour to power the electrical demand of the entire world for one year. The key is capturing this energy and converting it to a usable form.

Solar panels are made of thin layers of silicon that generate electricity in sunlight. Unlike wind turbines, which some homeowners find visually obtrusive, solar panels are subtler. And like wind turbines, homeowners can usually sell back excess energy.

Payback for these systems is much shorter, but until cells become more efficient or less expensive, payback time is still long at 15-25 years – depending on location and size. Rebates are also available to shorten payback.

In many cases, not everyone has a strong enough wind or solar resource to make either investment cost-effective. Usable solar radiation occurs only at about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., even on sunny days, rendering a solar panel ineffective for the majority of time. Moreover, wind turbines are not feasible in many neighborhoods and cities.

Geothermal heat pumps, on the other hand, can provide heating and cooling 24 hours a day, all year long.  Geothermal systems can be scaled for a single-family home to entire city blocks, or more. And unlike the other options, geothermal is viable and currently in use in all 50 states.

It’s interesting to note that although all three solutions – wind, solar, and geothermal – seem very different, in actuality, they're just different ways to capture the same solar energy. Geothermal units tap into the stored solar energy just below our feet. The earth absorbs roughly half of the sun’s energy and a geothermal heat pump simply collects and moves that energy.

The cost of the unit is not much greater than a new traditional heat pump. It’s the cost associated with installing the series of underground pipes (a loop) that makes this option more expensive. But even with added loop costs, geothermal systems are so energy-efficient that the payback period is remarkably brief. A study by the Air Force Institute of Technology calculated that it takes on average just eight years, or less, to recoup costs.

Since these units don’t use combustion or any fossil fuels, they are great for the environment. More than 1 million U.S. households now heat and cool their homes with the stored solar energy in their own backyards. According to the non-profit group, the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium, these homes currently eliminate more than 5.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually, or take the equivalent of nearly 1.3 million cars off the road.

And the most attractive aspect is that geothermal can lower your bills enough to offset any monthly installation expenses. For example, a homeowner may spend $50 a month to finance an installation; yet the geothermal system may lower bills by $75 a month – effectively paying the homeowner $25 a month to install it.

An interesting fact is that the geothermal heat pump industry has, until recent tax credits, been profitable without the benefit the federal incentives wind and solar have traditionally enjoyed.

So which green technology is the most practical for Charleston residents? Without a doubt, the winner at this point is geothermal heating and cooling. It’s a constant, reliable resource that is available in virtually every environment. It has a short payback period and helps reduce both our dependence on oil and our carbon footprint.

Want to learn more? Just contact Custom Climate Heating & Air, your Charleston, SC, geothermal heating and cooling authority.