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Selling Power Back to the Grid

Pioneering individuals and small businesses are using sun, windeven cow manureto produce clean electricity and turn a profit

Carl Baldino, a plant manager for a textile finishing company in Philadelphia, is moonlighting as a small-time energy tycoon. In his second job, he's got the kind of overhead most businesspeople can only dream of. His rooftop solar power generation system pays him an extra $3,000 per year on top of producing all the energy he needs to power his New Jersey home for free. The money comes from an emerging market in renewable energy credits (RECs), part of a program in many states where electricity suppliers that are required by law to invest in renewable energy buy tradable certificates from sources like Baldino. It's just one way individuals and small businesses are making money off clean energy.

Baldino says he's never made a better investment—especially with today's unstable energy market. "I don't think I can find anywhere that I can make a return of $3,000 per year [just for having solar power], and that's if the price of energy doesn't go up," says Baldino. For him, the $12,000 upfront investment in the hardware and installation he made two years ago (New Jersey paid the remaining $38,700 through the state's Clean Energy Program) is worth the money he'll be making in the long run.