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 invaluable steps, and are primary measures for saving a lot of 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 three recent 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 (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 $20-25K or less, 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 technologies, 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 gas powered vehicles in many instances, so the overall cost of buying or leasing an EV is 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.
What is notable about these technologies is that they can be used in existing homes generally without the need for any 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 in the year 2013 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, may go away if consumers don’t act soon to take advantage of available rebates. 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.