Alternative Investments

The problem with alternative energies is that most people can’t afford them, while as a society we can’t afford not to have them.

Fortunately, as the technologies progress they become more affordable and easier to obtain, but systems that provide energy for your day-to-day necessities still carry a hefty price tag. Are the prices currently too high to be worth the effort?

I recently attended a short seminar on a retirement investment that guarantees a 5% annual income from the money invested, regardless of what happens in the stock market. Compared to other investments, this seems like a pretty decent return for a safe investment.

Then I started thinking about alternative energies and realized that many of the systems can easily save you at least 5% annually of your initial investment, regardless of market conditions, and as the price of energy rises your returns get even better.

For a quick, inexpensive investment, there is a little device available for around $700 that can be installed into your plumbing that will preheat the cold water going into your hot water heater by using the heat of your drain water. This works perfectly for taking showers, as the hot water flows down the drain while cold water is flowing into the water heater. Unfortunately it doesn’t work well for things like baths, laundry, or dishwashers. These devices can save up to 70% of your water heating costs. Results will vary, but in my little 2-person household that could equate to a savings of around $30 per month, guessing that half of my hot water is used for showers. That’s a yearly return on investment of 50%! And this small investment will pay dividends for as long as I keep taking showers. The device is actually very simple, so the more handy folks out there could probably just build their own for a lot less money and get even better returns.

A more effective hot water solution involves using solar collector panels to preheat a tank of water that is connected to your regular hot water heater. Such a setup works for all the hot water used, and even in our climate can save 70% of our yearly hot water bill. At a cost of about $7000 it is a fairly significant investment, but considering that my wife and I spend around $85/month to heat our water, we would be looking at a savings of around $60 per month, or $720 per year – that’s more than a 10% annual return, twice that of that retirement plan we thought was pretty good. Slightly bigger systems can also be used to heat your home, bringing you even better returns on your investment. Again, handy people with a bit of spare time could build a fairly effective system for a lot less money and still realize significant savings.

Solar and wind electric systems are not quite as effective yet, with whole-house systems costing anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000. Our electricity is still very cheap, so we would see savings of maybe $300/year on a $15,000 2kW system, which is only a 2% return. However, if BC follows Ontario’s example of paying 40 cents/kWh for energy sold back to the grid, that return would jump to more than 10%.

So next time you are looking for a great investment, consider alternative energy. It’s good for your bank account AND for the environment, plus you won’t have to pay any tax on these returns.