Conversion of Existing Homes to Net Zero Energy Use is Essential to reduce GHGs – Here’s a Way to Do It Fast – and with a Fast Payback

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Combinations of New Technologies Can Quickly and Cheaply Reduce Household Fossil Fuel Consumption in Many Typical Homes by 80% or More (including electric, nat gas, and gasoline)

Many homes can reach 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.

Household-Energy-Savings-by-Year

Investing in recently developed, off the shelf, and relatively inexpensive technologies can quickly and dramatically reduce U.S. household fossil fuel dependency. The use of three recent technical innovations described below can be used in most USA climate zones.

The three technologies include: 1) Adoption of recent rapidly improved heat pump technologies to heat and cool residences, displacing natural gas furnaces and low efficiency air conditioning 2) Use of renewable energy, either through the adoption of rooftop solar or connecting communities to local and national renewable energy projects, 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 heat pump technology to heat water for household use, ducting naturally heated attic air to assist the heat pump water heater.

These three major innovations, along with some minor changes like installing LED lighting, high efficiency appliances, plus other minor techniques, can be achieved 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 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.

Ductless Heat Pumps- Now Heating Homes Cheaper than Natural Gas?


New, very high efficiency heat pumps now promise a way to drastically reduce the use of natural gas for home and business heating in many instances.  New high-efficiency ductless heat pumps (DHP) may revolutionize the way people heat and cool their homes in the near future, dramatically reducing heating and cooling costs while driving down the use of fossil fuels.

Also called “mini-split heat pumps,” DHPs install easily (often in less than a day), and can both heat and cool homes, offering a big advantage over gas furnaces that are limited to heating only. With natural gas prices going up rapidly in some locales, DHPs are rapidly gaining consumers’ attention. So what kind of savings can they offer?

PG&E, the utility that serves a large part of northern CA including the San Francisco Bay Area, has announced new natural gas pricing that averages about $1.45 per therm for residential users. At this rate, early estimates indicate that the highest efficiency ductless heat pumps units are competitive with natural gas when electricity costs are about $.18 per kWH or less. Because ductless heat pumps can have an initial cost as much as 30 percent less than a new natural gas furnace in smaller homes, and with the added ability to cool the home at high efficiency, ductless heat pumps may rapidly move to replace old gas furnaces in residential homes and apartments up to about 1200 ft2 or even larger.

The recent introduction of Mitsubishi’s H2i MSZ-FH model line shows that certain mini split models can now heat a residence at 100 percent rated capacity down to a 5 deg F outside temperature, with effective operation down to 15 degrees below zero. This makes DHPs an ideal option in many locales such as the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, and other temperate climates. By keeping older natural gas systems as back-ups, DHPs may take a role as a primary workhorse, providing high efficiency heating and cooling for virtually every type of climate zone in the USA.

The ability to operate at very low temperatures makes DHPs performance in more temperate climate areas very impressive indeed. It leads some contractors who specialize in DHPs to recommend them for larger homes as well. Andrew Hiemstra, of Vanstra Contracting in Oregon, relates that “When customers with larger homes ask if they should install two heat pumps instead of one, I tell them to install one unit first and see if it can handle their needs by itself. These products are so efficient that one unit can often handle a customer’s larger home requirements in this climate.”

The State of Oregon, recognizing the advantages of new DHPs, has offered significant tax credits to stimulate DHP installation. Tax credits run up to $1050 per installed unit, with higher efficiency incentives already published for future products. Certain Oregon localities offer additional incentives of up to $500 per unit when they replace resistance coil electric heat in baseboards or ceilings. Other states are beginning to follow suit. The State of Maine has adopted similar incentives.

DHPs promise big reductions in natural gas use when they are combined with solar arrays and net metering schemes. Combining solar panels and DHPs offers the best of all worlds for consumers, since the net cost of powering the heat pumps plummets when solar energy is the source of their electric power demands. In this way, natural gas is completely displaced as the primary fuel for heating, as well as the feed stock for electrical power generation in power plants.

While DHPs are available in multi-headed units, where one outdoor compressor drives up to four indoor heating and cooling units, contractors are finding the best efficiencies in single head units (one outdoor compressor and one indoor unit). As a result, they believe that multiple single head units may offer superior performance to multi-headed ductless heat pumps.

This free informational site explains how you can purchase/invest in off-the-shelf, proven high efficiency technologies that wipe out your fossil fuel use.

“Net Zero” refers to a building generating as much or more energy than it uses. This site shows why reaching net zero can be easy to do and a good investment.

energy_bill_w_blurb

Above is a screenshot of our recent utility bill. Previously we used about the same average amount of natural gas as other people in our typical California suburban house. But now, by adopting off-the-shelf technology, our natural gas use has dropped to nearly nothing. Last month, while other similar houses used sixty four therms of natural gas, we used three. Also, we previously drove two vehicles that got 18 and 24 mpg respectively. Now we have an EV and a plug In hybrid car. We get about 280 miles out of every gallon of gas we purchase (driving about 1500 miles/month). When other people follow this path (seems inevitable doesn’t it?), the fossil fuel companies will start making solar panels. Besides the four basic steps shown in the masthead illustration above that drastically reduce natural gas and other fossil fuel use, there are some other “minor” steps that drive your natural gas use down even further. The solution, in a nutshell, is to install as much solar as you can, then power your cars and all your home heating/cooling/appliances with electricity from the solar.  I talk about the readily available technology to do this in these pages. There are some simple and inexpensive ways to get big fossil fuel energy reductions. With solar panels, the panels themselves and all the appliances  should pay for themselves within eight to ten years. Where else can you get a 10-12 percent return on your investment that becomes a continous unhindered revenue stream within a decade?

Let me tell you what the result has been for us. I calculate that our total household energy consumption for all utilities (electricity and natural gas), and gasoline use for a total of 10,500 miles per year (electric car use), has been reduced to about 20 percent of the amount used by other households of our size that drive an equal distance as us each year. Note that an average household in our area that drives the same number of miles as us with a gas car uses nearly 36,000 kWH of energy from all sources whereas our current use is about 7000 kWH from all sources. This means that our  energy use, including driving our electric car (s), has been reduced by more than 75% by adopting the technologies I describe on this website. I don’t sell you anything here. I just provide free information about how to take advantage of this technology. I highlight a few great products like the “Instant Pot” but no one pays me anything to do this.

I’m still averaging the cost of operating our new plug in Prius against the cost of an average gas consuming car. I still haven’t averaged its gas consumption over the course of a year. But I’m confident that the total energy used by our household, including gasoline consumption, will be about 70 percent less than a typical household like ours that drives two average mileage cars .