I visited one home on the North Texas Renewable Energy Group's DFW Solar Home Tour. After hearing about their home about 1 year ago, I was pleased to be able to visit the Soph Residence in Denton, Texas.
Their system, installed by North Texas Renewable Energy, is directly tied into the energy grid, without the use of storage batteries. In fact, if there is ever a power outage, the Sophs or Denton Municipal Electric (DME) must shut off their system to avoid injury to workers restoring the power. A meter shows how much energy they are generating or sending back to the grid at any time.
Denton Municipal Electric created the GreenSense Program and a $15,000 rebate for future solar installations as a result of the Soph House. Over time, the Sophs hope other residents will take advantage of these incentives and provide a home-grown source of renewable energy. Since DME gets 40% of the electricity from wind energy, the Sophs have a nearly zero impact on the environment from their home energy use.
For lower-cost solutions, they suggest purchasing energy-star appliances and installing a timer on the whole-house water heater to reduce the time that the heater is utilizing energy.