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I'm wanting to produce my own energy, but I live in a condo with no access to the roof. I'd like to produce electricity, so maybe turning that energy into electricity safely. I have windows that have access to some sunlight depending on the angle of the sun and some wind. What are the best ways to produce my own energy?

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    A hamster wheel. – Flimzy Jan 29 '13 at 20:41
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    @Flimzy that would require me feeding the hamster and probably isn't efficient from a cost/benefit perspective – EhevuTov Jan 29 '13 at 20:57
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    Generating electricity effectively is hard. Maybe just produce different kind of energy? Make a window farm and let plants extract energy from the sun. They are more efficient. – jkj Jan 29 '13 at 21:42
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    Your first step should be to reduce energy consumption. Call it "generating 'negawatts'". Each dollar spent there will have a bigger impact than money spent on power generation. – Jay Bazuzi Jan 30 '13 at 5:29
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    @EhevuTov: if you conducted some research already, you should expand your question to improve it. – Peter Ivan Jan 30 '13 at 8:54
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I use PVGIS calculator to estimate photovoltaics energy gain to my satisfaction. It contains realistic Europe and Africa weather data.
Although this would be only a far estimate, let's assume you face south and you're based in Rome, Italy (instead of Chicago, IL), and we get:

  • a maximum of 1260 kWh a year with an optimal inclination of 34° and almost south direction
  • 810 kWh a year (64% short) with 90° inclination (straight up-down) and a south direction

from a 1 kWp installed power, i.e. 6m2 of fully covered area. As you probably don't want to entirely cover your windows, you should search for transparent thin film PV panels. Their covered area for 1 kWp would be double or more, depending on the required transmittance and price would be rather high (as of 2013).

Is this the best way? Sometimes it's better to consume less energy (or preserve more of it) than try to produce it.

Update

Question Estimating the cost of solar panels and return time has got some very good answers with references of solar power generation calculators.

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Although there is a definite allure to generating your own energy on-site, if you do not have good solar access then it is hard to get around that reality.

Instead, there are other ways to have renewable energy captured on your behalf:

  • If you have a choice of energy suppliers, buy 100% wind or solar generated energy.
  • Look into group solar. Perhaps you could get your condo association to invest in solar for the whole building, or to lease space on the roof to an association of community shareholders in a shared solar facility. There are difficulties with the current structure of solar incentives for groups in some US states, but others have worked through them given time.
  • Find a group that is interested in community solar at another site and become a shareholder.
  • Do you belong to a co-op (such as a grocery) or community group that you can encourage to install solar for their own use? You would be replacing conventional power even if it is not used at your home.

If you are interested, I suggest you search the web for "community solar" and also search the archives at homepower.com.

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    I agree on supporting community solar projects, but I think your answer is not fitting to the question. – Afri Jan 31 '13 at 22:10
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    You can also look if there are any community wind projects in your area. I'm the proud shareholder of a big wind turbine myself. – THelper May 17 '13 at 11:02
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One option which may well become more popular in the future is photo-voltaic double glazing - a form of Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).

Although low cost thin film PV generally has a lower efficiency than crystalline silicon cells - since they are layered on top of transparent glass, any light not converted into electricity passes through the glass. This makes them ideal for use in places where you would otherwise be unable to site solar panels. Many glass fronted buildings already attenuate the incident light anyway, to minimise air-conditioning costs or reduce glare, so converting that light into energy rather then turning it into heat or reflecting it out of the building has a certain appeal.

I don't know of anyone producing home double glazing units featuring BIPV modules yet, but I know that machines for creating the glass panels for large scale BIPV projects have been around for years (I used to work on them in the mid to late naughties).

It is certainly an area I will be keeping an eye on, as the idea of unclipping my existing double glazing units and clipping in replacement double glazing units with integrated PV holds a lot of appear for me personally.

3

It depends on your motivation for producing your own energy. If you simply like the engineering challenge then it doesn't look like you have many choices.

If however it's because you want "to do your bit" and transition to using renewable energy as much as possible then I'd suggest a shift in mindset away from owning the means of producing energy.

Half a dozen solar panels on your own roof produce just as much clean electricity as half a dozen solar panels on a school roof round the corner or on the barn of a local farmer.

So my suggestion is to figure out a budget, spend as much of that on making your home as energy efficient as possible. It's not very sexy I know, but every unit of energy you save, probably reduces the need to create electricity by 10 because of the amount of energy loss in transmission ( depends where you live ).

Switch to a green electricity provider.

If you want something tangible and visible, buy a solar charger for batteries, your phone or a solar keyboard for your computer. I say visible, because although it may not be the best use of money, it turns you into an advocate for renewable energy amongst people you come across in your daily life.

Then take the remaining money and invest it in renewable energy on someone else's land or roof. You can do that through local energy co-ops, sometimes your local electricity provider or a crowdfunding project.

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Others have touched on this too, but if it's purely about economic or environmental concerns, then saving energy is better than creating new energy just to turn around and waste it.

If you spend money (energy) on heating and/or cooling, double glazing your windows and add insulation to external walls floors and ceilings if you can. In an apartment it may be only one wall.

If you don't have LED lighting, replace all of your lighting, either as bulbs blow or all at once. Most bulb types now have direct replacements in LED. They typically use 1/10th of the power of old school incandescents.

You can upgrade to energy efficient appliances. Turn off TVs and other things with standby mode at the wall. Turn off chargers when they aren't in use.

Dry your clothes on a rack with the windows open if the weather is good.

Don't use a new towel for every single shower.

Don't wash clean clothes after a single wear...

Don't fill your kettle right up before boiling it for a single cup.

Take shorter showers. If it's just about money - shower at the gym.

The list goes on...

If it's an engineering challenge, then an apartment could be quite limiting, but good luck!

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I live off-grid in a forest clearing. I've got solar panels laying on skids in different areas that each get sun for only parts of the day, panels in windows indoors & in the back window of my car. Solar panels (even grid tie) only need light to produce electricity, not direct sun. Don't worry about efficiencies & return time; what's the return time on your utility's power? Just start small with some panels & batteries in sunny/bright spots in you house. There's a real "cool" factor to making your own power that outweighs the economics of it.

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    Welcome to Sustainable Living! So basically you are saying, I you live in a condo just place some solar panels in your window? Any recommendations what type of panels? – THelper Oct 9 '16 at 9:15

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