A number of products designed to allow us to live "off the grid" are emerging, but despite the potential savings we could experience, how practical are they?
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Bloom Box
Known as the "power plant in a box," the Bloom box requires no link to outside power lines and gives off no emissions. The box absorbs oxygen in one side and fuel in the other, combining to create electricity. Bloom box technology has already been made available to a few corporate clients including Google, eBay and FedEx.

The company's CEO wants the Bloom Box to be available to consumers for less than $3,000. The residential unit should be about the size of a refrigerator. Unfortunately, the residential technology may not hit the market for another five-10 years. (Even in times of economic turmoil, utilities can be a good investment. Find out more in Trust In Utilities.)

Pedal Power
Ever thought about powering your home by riding a bike or using a hand-crank? Turns out, the manpower created by body movement, dubbed "pedal power" can be converted into electricity.

Several gyms across the country use pedal power as a source of renewable energy and a way to reduce emissions. According to Green Revolution, a typical cycling class with twenty participants could generate enough power to light 72 houses for one month.

The most obvious benefit of pedal power is that, by simply moving, you can generate power and get some exercise. Perhaps, the biggest disadvantage is that when you cannot produce power if you are not moving. By pedaling alone, you will only be able to generate a small portion of the power needed to run your home. Technology for absorbing power created by other movements is still in development.

Pedal power is the cheapest of the energy methods to employ, but it also offers the least amount of energy savings.

Wind Power
The typical residential wind power system will employ a turbine working in conjunction with the existing utility grid. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind turbines can result in a 50-90% reduction in utility bills for all but the summer months. The benefit may be year-round for parts of the country where temperatures are relatively low.

A residential system could cost from $6,000-22,000, including installation. It may take six to 15 years for you to recoup your investment. Aside from the initial cost, your location may prohibit you from being able to purchase a system. You will need a wind resource of at least seven-10 mph in order for electricity from a wind turbine to kick in. If you live in a city or on a small lot, it is doubtful you will have adequate space to accommodate a wind turbine. If you do have enough space, your state must permit the connection of wind turbines to the existing utility grid.

Residential solar systems absorb power from the sun through panels on a home's exterior, and then converted into electricity. Using solar power reduces your use of regular electricity and absorbing more power than you use can actually cause your meter to roll backward. If you add a battery to your system, your home can maintain power even in the event of an outage.

The typical solar system could reduce utility bills by up to 90%, and some systems can eliminate the bill completely. Buying and installing a residential system could cost from $12,000 - $50,000, depending on the system's size. It could take seven to 10 years to break even.

It is Possible
Alternatives for living "off the grid" range from cheap and cumbersome to expensive and easy. Before you abandon the grid, examine your geographical location, your budget and the limitations of both to determine which alternative energy option may be right for you.

Still feeling uninformed? Check out last week's Water Cooler Finance to see what's been happening in financial news.

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