Recommendations to Enable US to Stop Using Fossil Fuels Now!
Investing in recently developed, off the shelf, and relatively inexpensive technologies can quickly and dramatically reduce U.S. household fossil fuel dependency, especially the use of natural gas and gasoline. The use of three recent technical innovations described below can be used by a majority of homes in most USA climate zones. Moreover, this tech does not detract from your lifestyle, it improves it! Many homes can reach at least the drop in energy use shown in this chart, which shows total household energy (electricity, nat gas, and gasoline) expressed as their equivalents in kilowatt-hours.
The three technologies include: 1) Adoption of recent rapidly improved heat pump technology, especially “mini-split heat pumps,” to heat and cool residences, thus displacing natural gas furnaces and low efficiency air conditioning 2) Use of renewable energy, especially through adopting rooftop solar, but also by connecting communities to local and national renewable energy projects, and using this renewable energy to power an electric vehicle (EV) as a primary residence vehicle (even while keeping one or two longer range vehicles) and 3) The use of new heat pump technology to heat water for household use, ducting naturally heated attic air or some other warm air thermal source to assist the heat pump water heater.
These three major innovations, along with some old standbys, like installing LED lighting, using high efficiency electric appliances, plus other minor techniques, can be undertaken under current tax and rebate incentives for around $25K to $30K, net cost, for many typical households. Because of large savings in gasoline costs, the payback period for this investment is generally less than ten years and can be as little as seven years, depending on each household’s unique situation. This payback covers the cost of the solar panels, the heat pump technology, and the appliances. It does not cover the cost of the EV. However, EV pricing is now equal to or less than the cost of other gas powered vehicles in many instances, so the overall cost of purchasing an EV is comparable with the cost of gasoline powered vehicles.
Here’s the New Focus:
1) Heat Pump Heating and Cooling: Central heating and cooling with heat pump technology has made steady gains in efficiency and comfort. However, in recent years a version of heat pump technology that does not require ducting known as “mini-split ductless heat pumps” has achieved significant increases in efficiency, and this technology is rapidly gaining market share in the USA. Developed and used in Asia and Europe, “mini-splits” are being installed in an ever greater number of residences where they can offer significant savings and energy use reduction. New models by manufacturers like Mitsubishi and Fujitsu can heat a home when outside temperatures drop as low as 5 deg F. In very cold climates such systems can be backed up by less efficient pre-existing heating systems that can used when temperatures drop below heat pump capabilities.
The Oregon State Department of Energy has determined that mini-splits offer substantial savings with high efficiency when replacing or supplementing older heating systems. Their cost of operation is now comparable with natural gas. Moreover, installation is often affordable where natural gas furnace, ducting, and pipeline installation costs are prohibitive. Recognizing their potential, the State of Oregon offers substantial incentives to adopt these new “ductless” heating and cooling systems. Here is a link to the Oregon DOE ductless heat pump page.
2) Renewables to Power an EV: A high percentage of USA households are situated to exploit solar panels to power an electric vehicle. Others may soon utilize renewable energy from new projects. As an example, in Northern California (North Bay San Francisco), a typical suburban home with a 4kW solar array will often use only 30% or less of the installed solar capacity to power the primary family vehicle when that vehicle is an EV (like a Nissan Leaf). Such EVs, used for local transport and commutes, can easily comprise 60 percent or more of a household’s total transportation needs. The second car should ideally be a plug in hybrid, but a low mileage vehicle might also be kept for special purposes (pulling the boat, going skiing etc). This combination results in very steep reductions in household gasoline consumption.
3) Heat Pump Water Heaters: For years, the prevailing wisdom has held that “on-demand” water heaters offer the highest efficiencies for people wanting to reduce their hot water bill. However, many residences, particularly suburban homes where water heaters are located in the garage, can now make use of high efficiency heat pump style water heaters. Such water heaters are on average twice as efficient as conventional electric water heaters, and are ideal for use when solar or other renewable electricity is available to operate them. In addition, certain models are equipped with vents that can be ducted to an external supply of warm air. An installation of flexible ducting with simple, low energy control fans and timers can utilize the warm air in an attic to help heat household hot water at very high efficiency (note that attic air must be clean and uncontaminated – an air filter is recommended in the duct line). This approach, simpler and less expensive than using solar pre-heating passive collection panels on a roof, can both reduce energy consumption and help eliminate household fossil fuel consumption. Note that garage air should never be exhausted to anywhere the house, as car exhausts and other volatile garage fumes are deadly. Heat pump water heaters are currently eligible for significant federal and state energy rebates and tax credits.
What is notable about these technologies is that they can be used in existing homes generally without the need for significant remodeling. They are available for widespread adoption in a large percentage of existing homes across the country.
Because these technologies can utilize renewable electricity power sources, they can quickly reduce the need for using natural gas and gasoline. Thus they promise immediate and drastic reductions in GHG emissions. In an average California suburban home, a $25,000 net investment in these (and some other minor) technologies resulted in a nearly 80 percent drop in total fossil fuel use (gasoline and natural gas). Combined with a net metering policy where power is sold to the grid during peak hours and purchased inexpensively at night to charge the household EV, this arrangement reduced the yearly average utility and gasoline bills in the household by $3,300 a year, leading to a payback of less than eight years for the purchased solar panels, heat pumps, and water heater. This 13% annual return on investment, net of current government rebates and incentives, takes advantage of current government incentives. But even without such incentives, a rate of return allowing recouping the original investment in eight to twelve years is highly feasible for a great number of households.
These three technologies are the heart of drastic new energy savings and efficiencies. However, savings through the adoption of LED lighting, some improved insulation, a high efficiency washer and dryer, and some inexpensive but efficient kitchen equipment also are included in the $25,000 total figure shown above. While every household will be different, savings comparable to what is shown on the chart can be achieved in many typical homes.
Please note: While the technologies described below are readily available, they must be installed by qualified professionals only in accordance with all local regulations and codes. Before purchasing and installing this type of technology have a qualified electrical contractor evaluate your existing panel box and electrical circuits to make sure that additional installations can be made. Work with your contractor to make a plan based on your unique situation.