Recommendations for the Movement Toward Renewable Energy
It is certainly true that the least expensive way to get quick energy savings and thus green house gas reductions is by making some basic improvements to your home’s insulation plus reducing excessive leaks of heat or cooling from your living structure. Adding insulation, fixing leaky window frames, sealing around doors, and making sure your duct work is sealed are valuable steps, and also basic, inexpensive measures for saving energy and money. However, after these initial steps are completed, investing in recently developed, off the shelf, and relatively inexpensive technologies can provide even more quick and dramatic reductions in energy use, resulting in big decreases in monthly utility and gasoline bills, and big drops in fossil fuel consumption. This website recommends utilizing four technical innovations described below, all of which can be applied in a majority of homes. Moreover, these technologies should not reduce your level of comfort and lifestyle, but improve them! Many homes can reach at the drop in energy use shown in this chart, which shows total household energy (gasoline, nat gas, and electricity) expressed as their contribution to a household energy carbon footprint.
The four technologies for transformation 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. 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. 4) Buy a hybrid or fully electric vehicle and use it for your local travel (or if you can afford a Tesla or Bolt, for longer trips as well).
These four major innovations, along with some old standbys, like installing LED lighting, using high efficiency electric appliances (like an Instant Pot!), plus other minor techniques, can be undertaken under current tax and rebate incentives for around $25-30K (plus autos) or less, net cost, for nearly all typical households. Because of large savings in gasoline costs, the payback period is fast. This payback covers the cost of the solar panels, the heat pump technologies, and the appliances. It does not cover the cost of the EV(s). However, EV pricing is now equal to or less than the cost of gas powered vehicles in many instances, so the overall cost of buying or leasing an EV is quickly becoming comparable with, or less than, the cost of using 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.
Several states, such as Oregon and Vermont, are promoting the installation and use of mini split system heat pumps. For example, 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 becoming comparable with natural gas. Moreover, installation is often more 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 be able to utilize renewable energy from new power sources coming online. 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 if not most homes should now make use of high efficiency heat pump style water heaters. These widely available 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. Recent new models such as General Electric’s “Geospring” model offer very attractive savings. With various incentives offered by many states, heat pump water heaters can be obtained for about the same net price as standard water heaters. But the savings they offer over standard electric water heaters typically offers consumers a payback of about two or three years. 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 significantly reduce household fossil fuel consumption. If you install a heat pump water heater, remember that that garage air should never be exhausted to anywhere inside the house, as car exhausts and other volatile garage fumes are dangerous. Heat pump water heaters are currently eligible for significant federal and state energy rebates and tax credits.
4. Electric Vehicles: Electric vehicles that dramatically reduce the need for gasoline without “range anxiety” are here. The Chevy Volt, a hybrid vehicle, uses both electricity and gasoline. The electricity takes you about 50 miles before starting the gas motor, so your daily commute and local trips can be almost completely covered by electric power if you plug it in each night. Beyond this vehicle, fully electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla provide very long range, fully electric transportation.
What is notable about these technologies is that they can be used in existing homes, and in the case of the heat pump tech, generally without the need for any significant remodeling. All this is available for widespread adoption in a large percentage of existing homes across the country.
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.