Renewable Energy & Transportation

You have many options for using renewable energy at home including solar panels and small wind turbines.

Solar panels are the most popular form of renewable energy today. You can use them to generate heat, electricity, and indoor and outdoor light.

If you live on at least one acre of land with an ample wind resource, you can generate your own electricity using a small wind electric system. You can also use a small wind turbine for pumping water, or to charge a sailboat battery.

You may have also heard of using a geothermal or ground-source heat pump to heat and cool your home. While not technically a renewable energy technology, this energy-saving technology makes use of the constant temperature near the earth’s surface for heating and cooling. See our Heating and Cooling section for more information.

In addition to using renewable energy in your home, you can buy electricity made from renewable energy like the sun, wind, water, plants, and geothermal from your utility company. Check with your local utility for more information.

Renewable Energy Tips

  • wind turbine
    A small wind turbine system can provide additional electricity in your home, or even power your sailboat battery.
    Installing solar-powered outdoor pathway lights is one of the easiest ways to use solar energy at home.
  • Building a new home is the best time to design and orient the home to take advantage of the sun’s rays. A well-oriented home lets in the winter sun in south-facing windows to reduce heating bills, and blocks the heat from summer sun to reduce cooling bills.
  • Heating water is a great use of solar power. If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, you can use solar power to cut pool heating costs. Most solar pool heating systems are cost-competitive with conventional systems and have very low operating costs. It’s actually the most cost-effective use of solar energy.
  • Installing small wind turbines, which range in size from 400 W to 20 kW, can provide some of the electricity for your home. Other uses of micro wind turbines (20-500 W) include charging batteries for sailboats and other recreational vehicles. Learn more at the Energy Savers website.

Long-Term Savings Tip

If you’ve already made your home as energy-efficient as possible, and you still have high electricity bills and have access to a good solar resource, you might want to consider generating your own electricity with a solar power system. Solar panels can be easily installed onto ground- or roof-mounted racks and new products are available that integrate solar cells with the roof, making them much less visible than older systems.

You should consider several factors if you want to install a solar power system, such as your solar resources, siting and sizing the system, the type of system (grid-connected or stand-alone), and electrical safety. Because of the complexity and need for proper installation, it’s best to have a professional solar contractor install your system.

Is a Solar Power System Right for Me?

solar panels on roof
Today’s solar power is highly efficient. You can buy systems to heat your water, provide electricity, and even offload your home heating system.

You could consider adding a solar power system to your house if your location has adequate solar resources. A shade-free, south-facing location is best. At least one of the following should also be true:

  • You live in a remote location and your home is not connected to the utility grid. Using solar power might cost you less than extending a power line to the grid. Your power provider will connect your solar system to the electricity grid and credit your bill for any excess power you produce.
  • You are willing to pay more upfront to reduce the environmental impact of your electricity use.
  • Your state, city, or utility offers rebates, tax credits, or other incentives. Visit the DSIRE USA website to find out about financial incentives in your area.


In 2010, Americans traveled a total of 3 trillion miles—the equivalent of 6.5 million round-trips to the moon.⁴ Transportation accounts for 72% of U.S. oil use, mostly for gas.⁵ Luckily, there are plenty of ways to improve your gas mileage or avoid using gas altogether.

Driving Tips*

  • Avoid idling. Think about it—idling gets you 0 miles per gallon. The best way to warm up a vehicle is to drive it. No more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days is needed. Anything more simply wastes fuel and increases emissions.
  • Avoid aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking, which can lower your highway gas mileage by up to 33% and your city mileage by 5%.
  • Avoid high speeds. Above 60 mph, gas mileage drops rapidly. For every 5 mph above 60 mph, it’s like paying an additional $0.30 per gallon of gasoline.
  • Avoid keeping heavy items in your car; an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could increase your gas costs by up to $.08 cents per gallon.
  • Reduce drag by placing items inside the car or trunk rather than on roof racks, which can decrease your fuel economy by 5% or more.
  • Combine errands. Several short trips, each one taken from a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
  • Check into telecommuting, carpooling, and public transit to save driving and car maintenance costs. Many urban areas provide carpool lanes that are usually less congested, which means you will get to work and home faster and more refreshed!

*All cost estimates assume an average price of $3.96 per gallon. Source: Fuel Economy website.
4. U.S. Department of Transportation press release March 2, 2011: Nation’s Highway Traffic Reaches Highest Level Since 2007
5. U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Primary Energy Flow by Source and Sector, 2009

Car Maintenance Tips

  • Use the grade of motor oil your car’s manufacturer recommends. Using a different motor oil can lower your gas mileage by 1%-2%.
  • Inflate your tires to the pressure listed in your owner’s manual or on a sticker in the glove box or driver’s side door jamb. This number may differ from the maximum pressure listed on your tire’s sidewall.
  • Get regular maintenance checks to avoid fuel economy problems due to worn spark plugs, dragging brakes, sagging belts, low transmission fluid, or transmission problems.
  • Don’t ignore the check engine light—it can alert you to problems that affect fuel economy as well as more serious problems, even when your vehicle seems to be running fine.
  • Replace clogged air filters on an older car with a carbureted engine to improve gas mileage by as much as 10% and to protect your engine.

Long-Term Savings Tips

Car plugged in to charge in a garage. A bike in the driveway. Young man skateboarding while walking dog on the sidewalk.
Drive an Energy Efficient Vehicle
You can save money and help the environment by driving a highly energy-efficient vehicle. Check out other options such as public transportation and riding your bike to work.

Choose vehicles according to your need. For example, if you mostly drive in cities, a smaller hybrid might be right for you because they get better mileage in city driving and are easier to park.

If you need a vehicle for towing or heavy use, consider a clean diesel vehicle. Diesel engines are quieter, more powerful, and 30%-35% more efficient than similar-sized gasoline engines. The new generation of clean diesel vehicles must meet the same emissions standards as gasoline vehicles.

Many vehicles produced by U.S. auto manufacturers are flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which can run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) and other ethanol-gasoline blends. Check your owner’s manual to find out if your vehicle is an FFV.

Consider buying a highly fuel-efficient vehicle. A fuel-efficient, plug-in electric (PHEV), hybrid, or alternative fuel vehicle could cut your fuel costs and help the environment. Visit the Fuel Economy website to see the Fuel Economy Guide for more information on buying a new fuel-efficient car or truck.

Also, if you have a plug-in hybrid electric or an all-electric vehicle, charging stations for electric vehicles are increasingly available throughout the country. Similarly, you can find alternative fuel stations—such as those that offer E85—and charging sites by visiting the Alternative Fueling Station Locator website.