renewable energy

byBillMay 3, 2004

I have watched this forum for the 3 months or so that it has been in existence, and have found a complete lack of interest in renewable energy----it is amazing. People get on line to complain, or to talk about colors or other personal taste items, but no one except Reyesuela really understands that we can build houses that do not need energy to heat or ventilate. When in 2044 we run out of oil everyone will be concerned----but it will be too late.

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I agree that does seem to be a general lack of interest in renewable energy. I think it is just the "head in the sand" theory of life, if it is bad and I donÂt see it will not happen to me.
As far as building houses that need no energy to heat or ventilate that is a little far-fetched depending on where you live. I think passive solar is great and should be utilized whenever possible but where I live it simply cannot replace all heating needs. Here in Atlantic Canada our winters are cold, long and wet we can go weeks at a time and not see the sun due to heavy cloud cover and back to back storms.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2004 at 10:56PM
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Pooh Bear

I don't think it is lack of interest.
I think it is lack of money.
Solar PV is a good example.
The initial investment is such a hurdle that it can't be
considered by anybody I know.
The cost is gonna have to come down considerably
before most of us can consider it.
The other choices are wind and hydro.
For hydro you have to live near a stream with enough head to support it.
Wind is too unreliable around here.

People need education about aquiring and using equipment to
harness renewable energy. About how to get grants to
help with the cost. About how to maintain a system.
I was hoping this would be discussed more in this forum.
I especially would like to know what grants are available.

Unless the costs get more competitive with fossile fuels,
renewable energy is not going to be widely used.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 12:40AM
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It's not lack of interest on my part (I've been lurking regularly since day one). For me it was the hope there would be more learned people participating that I could gain knowledge from. While I understand the concepts of renewables (heck i've been reading Mother
Earth for 20 yrs.) my math sucks. I really enjoy the corn stove idea (except for the fact that it requires electricity). Hmmm, maybe a solar fan? Then we get into the conversation about how much fossil fuel it takes to produce one solar panel.
Then as PoohBear stated it's still cost prohibitive for most.
I for one will continue to lurk until the right thread comes along and I feel confident enough in my knowledge to participate.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 11:25AM
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A few words in response----Pooh Bear & Mudbugtx & Mgmsrk----It is difficult to make an old house energy efficient cheaply. I agree,it does cost a lot of money. Furthermore it will take many years to make solar work economically and wind is never going to be a big supplier of electricity. The world needs a new technology.

My concern is with the architects and builders here in the USA who continue to build the same old way. Chop down a bunch of trees and haul them to a yard. Keep them out in rain and snow and then sell them to a guy who learned to build from his father who learned from his father. They are not interested in anything new unless it saves them money. I see new houses every day, because I am in the business, and they are all the same --- miles of 2 x 4's and 2 x 6's and whatever. Nailed up in place while still green or wet. Hurry up, get it done. Building sites strewn with cut-offs from studs and plywood. I have spoken to lots of them who only shrug off renewable energy because no one asks for it, nor insists on it. No one really knows anything about it. Clients---the ultimate buyers of energy to heat and cool this house---don't have a clew---but they all know the hottest appliance, or latest innovation in whirlpools, or the new shade of blue that is in vogue. Get rid of that thinking and things will change. Houses can be built for the same amount that as they are now that use no, or very little, energy for heating and cooling. It is being done.

Start out with a house built to last, one that plans to use passive solar, then to take advantage of the geo-thermal heat in the ground under us---55 degrees year round----for make up heat and cooling and for producing domestic hot water. It is simple and just involves using common sense. Don't think it can not be done, because it is being done and will have to be done more and more.

An architect I have read quotes the following information--50% of the worlds energy is consummed in buildings and 25% by cars, trucks, buses etc. If we could reduce the building load by half it would be the same as taking every vechicle off the road. She goes on (yes she) to say that every architect should take that into consideration on every job.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 3:38PM
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Pooh Bear

Our electric bill last month was $50.
Our gas bill last month was $38.
We didn't use our central heat or air last month at all.
So our energy bill last month is a good representation of
our basic energy use. We used $88 worth of energy.
And our home is 6 months old. So it is a new home.

Find me a source of renewable energy that supplies my current
needs and costs only $88 per month.
And it can't involve a source such as using firewood to heat
with cause that would cause extra work on my part.
It has to be a source of energy with the convienance I have now.

I think that demonstrates why more people don't use renewable energy.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 7:51PM
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Hey, Pooh Bear you have no complaint, $88 is great. I have been in houses that cost that much a day almost. I just wish everyone could get away with $88. I also went to your page to see what part of the country you live in, found out it is Tenn. But better than that are the pictures of you and your family. Nice looking kids, and you look great too. You guys look like a very nice family.
Lots of luck-- Bill

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 9:49PM
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Pooh Bear

Thanks Bill.
Check out my webpage. I got pictures of the new grandson up.

I took a good long look at using solar PV to supplement my electric needs.
I just loved the idea of getting free electricity.
But there was no way to justify the cost.
I'm not aware of any grants for our area to help with the cost.
I was hoping there would be some discussion on this forum about that.

Pooh Bear

Here is a link that might be useful: My Web Page

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 10:21PM
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PoohBear-this may be what you want to know.

Here is a link that might be useful: DSIRE-incentive database

    Bookmark   May 5, 2004 at 8:30AM
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Geothermal heating/cooling (ground source heat pump) and for hot water generation is a great idea.

The problem is that in a typical house built today, in a cold climate where air source heat pumps are too inefficient, a forced air heating system using fossil fuel, is far and away, much less expensive to install, than a ground source heat pump.

Most americans building or buying new construction appear more interetsed in spending that extra 10 or 15 grand on an extra 100 sq. ft. of building, than on an efficient heating/cooling system for that building.

In order to motivate consumers to value the efficient heating system more than the extra 100 sq.ft., something needs to be done to sweeten the deal.

As long as we are getting the majority of our energy from fossil fuels, I suggest that the cost of fossil fuel-derived energy be doubled, and then be fixed at the rate of inflation. This will motivate people to invest more in conservation measures AND spend more on renewable energy, a win-win situation.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2004 at 3:04PM
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New to this forum but not new to renewable energy. I just got a quote from a contractor for about $8000 to $10000 to go grid-hooked zero solar. What this means is I will stay hooked to the grid but on average my utility bill will be about $0.00. On the days I generate more energy than I use, the utility company buys it back from me. On other days I buy from them so it averages to even.

I will respond to Poohbears statement about "find alternative for about $88 per month" with this. It is costing me slightly more to pay off my solar, but once it's paid off, my bill goes away. Over the long haul it makes sense.

I do live in Idaho so we get about 285 days of sun on average. Just my $.02

    Bookmark   May 5, 2004 at 3:09PM
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Brewbeer---you are right in your observations, but it would be unfair to tax people who have fossil fuel systems already. Making it more difficult for people building new homes is another thing altogether. There I agree with you.

Architects and contractors must be made to re-think the waste they are designing into every new home. Stegerman in Idaho will not pay for any energy. The sun will keep him warm. I have designed home systems that will use no energy for heating, cooling, and domestic hot water---it can be done. The cost of the initial system is not that much more and the savings pays for the system very quickly. Instead of sending a check to the utility company you send it to a bank and pay for the system. In 2 or 3 years you send it to your retirement fund. Besides which the house is much more comfortable and healthy.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2004 at 6:51AM
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Bill, you say you've designed such systems. Have you put them into practice?

I agree with the earlier poster in this thread who says that completely solar heating and electrical production (not to mention cooking) is very unlikely in the northeast of the continent. I'd say it's effectively impossible given the current state of electrical battery storage.

If we removed most of the electical demand from the housing scenario, I would agree it were possible, but only with seasonal storage of solar energy in a massive heat sink. Summer heat recovered in winter, with or without geo-thermal assist. The one unaviodably necessary pv requirement would be to run the water pumps. A battery bank sufficient to supply perhaps 30-40 watts for several days or a week (intermintently) would be required.

A friend of mine is entirely solar electric; his household use in the order of perhaps a tenth of the average, he has a fairly large array and battery bank and still must use a generator for back-up (and this is entirely non-heat). As others have mentioned, to pay out all that money for a system while conserving greatly and still have to pay for and listen to and smell the reek of a generator is hardly worth it.

Grid electricity needs to get a lot more expensive and battery technology needs to improve greatly. People's priorities will then start to change, but the attitude of the wealthier segment towards energy use will never change so long as they have access to wealth.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2004 at 7:14AM
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You can't get people to consume less energy by passing a law requiring such. It would be impossible to enforce, people would ignore it, and such a law would never pass anyway, given the amount of money energy interests give to campaigns to get their candidates re-elected.

However, people would voluntary reduce their energy consumption IF they had to pay substantially more to consume energy. Demand falls as prices rise.

Designing efficienct building is a great idea, but most new residential construction is not designed to be efficient, unless the consumer demands it. Consumers are more likely to demand reverse dormers with palladian windows and granite countertops, than energy efficiency. ALso, existing buildings are a HUGE portion of the total equation.

Higher energy prices would hit owners of exisitng houses hard. Having tax rebates or direct dollar-for-dollar re-imbursement for upgrading existing home efficiency through insulation, modern heating systems, and better windows, would help decrease consumption and the costs born by these homeowners. The money could come from the revenue generated by higher energy prices.

Another benefit of fixed energy prices would be that people would actually know how much it would cost to heat their house next winter, instead of wondering if fuel oil will cost $0.99 a gallon or $1.99 a gallon.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2004 at 9:16AM
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Pooh Bear

MudBug, that was a good site.
Not many incentives for us here in Tennessee tho.
Tax incentives and energy credits won't help me.
I need grants to pay the up front costs.
All I found on that site was a grant of 25% of the cost.
Gonna have to be a lot more than that to get my interest.

Thanks for posting the site tho. Good info.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   May 6, 2004 at 9:51PM
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Going alternative / renewable energy is not a decision that is solely justified economically in most all situations. It is "cheaper" to do as we do now. But we must consider the TRUE costs of what we are now doing. . . . the long term damage . . . the strife / wars that will take place as oil runs out . . . I choose NOT to leave such a legacy to my grandchildren . . . .

Even with some great incentives here in New York state; my PV system does not "pay" for itself . . . even though I generate at least 1 1/2 times what I use in a year. But I know I am doing good for the planet . . . . does not show up in your checkbook. And every time that energy costs go up; my system gets that much more attractive from strictly a financial point of view. Some day it WILL be truly economically feasable; in the meantime I am simply doing the right thing; and happen to be able to afford it.

I once read about PV panels . . . .. just like anything else they have embodied energy . .. . that is, the energy used to "make" them. So too has nat gas, coal, nuclear ( let's not go there ), gasoline; and everything else we use. Simple fact is that a PV panel is the ONLY thing I have EVER seen . . . . that produces more than what we put in to making it. . .. around 25 times more if I remember correctly. How much energy do we put into for example gasoline; to drill, pump, transport around the world, refine, transport, etc . . . you spend far more doing that than the energy actually in the gasoline itself. In the energy chain it just doesn't make sense. Collect and use at point of need does away with all this waste.

I'll agree that going solar does NOT make sense economically right now for most . . . but it gets closer every day. I have chosen to do so for reasons that are NOT economic at the moment; but that I can fully justify. Hope others will follow . . . . . .

    Bookmark   May 10, 2004 at 6:25AM
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Pooh Bear

Good answer Bob.
If I could afford PV I would certainly do it.
Not because of the money, but because it is the rite thing to do.

Just like I recycle. Not for the money,
but because it it the right thing to do.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   May 10, 2004 at 2:54PM
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It takes energy, to make energy.
A home that needs no energy for heating or cooling
is not widely feasible; and there is an estimated 200-300 years of petroleum left to figure out what to do.
We're far enough away from that day for people to get excited; be that good or bad.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2004 at 4:30PM
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How much petroleum is left has estimates that vary wildly . . . . but the simple reality is that it will all be gone some day. I'm a firm believer in making that as far away as possible . . . . and to pursue other things that make sense as soon as we reasonably can . . . . And getting that petroleum out has it's costs as well to us all . . Bush wanting to drill in the Tongass to relieve the oil situation. The reality is that even IF we were able to get ALL that oil with NO environmental consequences at all; it amounts to a fraction of a percent of this country's current oil needs for a year. In other words; hardly a drop in the bucket. And certainly not risking the potential of ruining a place which there are the likes of NOWHERE else on the planet. Let's leave it alone and find other ways to do things. . .. .

( End of rant . . .. )


    Bookmark   May 10, 2004 at 8:56PM
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Bob----You are right. No one really knows how much oil there is left. There is no dip stick available. Forty years or 200---they are only estimates. We have to cut our dependence on the mid-east it could be disasterous. Building well built homes that are heated and cooled with renewable energy----passive solar and geo-thermal will make homes independent of gas and oil. It is being done and will have to become the way of the future if we are to survive.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2004 at 10:29PM
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It's not only our usage of oil that's part of the equation - China and India are increasing demand for oil by leaps and bounds, these days - and their increased demand will continue.

As well as other areas where people want some of the bounties of life that we've been enjoying for a century or so.

By the way - the amount of oil that we'd used prior to about 1930 you could stick in your eye - but we've sure been using it up since. With little regard for needs which our grandchildren might have.

Took millions of years for it to be produced. But - corn, wheat and rye, which can be used for fuel more cheaply than most except wood that you cut yourself or, perhaps, a heat pump, can be produced in four months.

Such heaters have been around for several years - my friend, having sold a couple of brands, said he could build a better one - and did. Solid, strong metal that'll last for years, not flimsy stuff whose heat exchangers will soon warp and break. That I referred to on a thread on this forum a few months ago.

Not to mention the billions of cost of invading Iraq - at least in part to ensure continuing availability of oil to North America.

Good wishes to all for continued effort to make our impact on the planet and its resources as slim as possible.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   May 12, 2004 at 6:37PM
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Burning grain for heat is probably only a realistic option in the mid-western grain basket, and then only with massive fossil-fuel driven machinery making it's production trivial in terms of human labor. The same paradox applies to using grain for gasahol, or oil seeds for deisel fuel - not to mention arable space to produce fuels and human food and meat animal forage is inadequate.

Another example of fossil-fuel usage being so insidious in every aspect of our lives and economy that we aften aren't specifically aware of it.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2004 at 7:19AM
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Pat----burning grain in the midwest is practicle but you are right transportation makes it impossible anywhere else. Making ethanol burns 9 gallons of fossil fuel to make 10 gallons. Lousy trade off. Solar, wind, grain are all good but these methods are a drop in the bucket. If and when (there are all sort of guesses as to the number of years) we run out of fossil fuel such as oil we will all have to go back to our caves and slay monsters or each other for food. We have to use what God has given us right where we are, in New England or California. Passive solar is free, it works, it costs nothing. Just needs some planning. Using the temperature of the ground under our feet to heat and cool and make hot water works. It costs very little and together with solar can take us off the grid. As you imply---How much energy is used just transporting oil across the world.

We need new technology that makes us independent, but until that arrives on the scene each of us can cut down with common sense. Building bigger and bigger houses is the most stupid thing we can do. Buildings use 50% of the energy consumed in the world. Transportation uses 25%. If we cut building usage in 1/2 it is the equivalent of taking all the cars, trucks and busses off the road. And building correctly is where we can start.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2004 at 9:22AM
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It's really a question of what is the most intelligent use of the fossil fuel resources remaining, and more importantly - how to restrain consumption to those uses.

I couldn't agree more - heating large residential space is one of the worst uses, along with casual driving. Niether of those will be much restrained without government mandate - forced rationing. That won't happen until the end is in clear sight to even the most myopic.

Even though there is huge room for improvement, fossil fuel use in agriculture is one of it's better uses. It's use in making tools and technology critical to our survival is intelligent, especially those that can be used without fossil fuel.

Passive solar building is critical, I agree. It doesn't cost any more and thusly is a free improvement. Active solar is more debatable. What I don't like about it is the relatively high technology, complexity, and maintenance required for both solar water heating and pv systems (and geo-source).

If such sytems totally replaced the equally complex and troublesome conventional sytems, that would be one thing. But currently and for the time being they do not, as we all know. They are additional to the existing fossil-fuel systems and thus burdensome. For instance, I would very much like to at least heat water with solar. But an effective and adaquate batch heater is both a lot of time anf effort on my part and a fair amount of cash, while I still have to keep and maintain my conventional system. In fact my propane-fired boiler is outdated and performing poorly and needs to be replaced with better technology as well, so I'd be looking at a double-whammy. If it were just me I'd get rid of it altogether and just use my simple solar-heated shower in warm weather and heat water on the wood-stove in cold, but like most of us I have others to please.

On a minor note, these black bag passive solar water heaters are interesting. Just a big black sack, warms up over a day of exposure, and due to it's mass can hold heat for some hours; after taking a shower one simply refills from the tap. In a glass hot-room something like this could be used in cold weather as well. I think very simple systems and us getting used to using them will be key.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2004 at 8:30AM
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I have a tendency to agree with Pat about the designs of buildings and their energy consumption. We can focus on renewable energy sources, and should, but we should also focus on energy effeciency, many of the technologies which are here right now, today. Say a 50% saving through energy effeciency, then perhaps a renewable source to make up the shortfall might be a little more reasonable than simply a 100% different resource than fossil fuels.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2004 at 11:09AM
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Change will come when there's money to be made. Investors will perk up their ears when they realize there's a lot of interest in superefficient building practices and alternative fuels. This forum is a great way to make some noise in that direction. I'm really glad it's here, and I lurk often.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2004 at 10:09AM
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pnbrown- A simple batch water heater may be too much effort to construct but it definitely doesn't have to be expensive. We found two used, but not leaking, old water heater liners and plan to paint them flat black, hook them together so cold water enters the bottom of the first, exits at the top, then goes into the bottom of the second, exits at the top and goes into our water heater where the power only kicks on if the stored water falls below 120 degrees F. These tanks are then placed on the south side of the house or on the roof in an insullated box with a glass cover. I'm in Arizona but for areas with less solar gain reflectors like those on a solar oven increase the BTUs sent to the tank liners. You could even have an insullating cover of some sort to close at night if it's in a convenient location. From what I've heard from others we may have a problem with water getting too hot but should expect our water heater to kick on only if we have a family reunion here and everyone needs a shower or something.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2004 at 3:13PM
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I have just took a interest in the solar PV panels and other sources of energy...BUT I do agree that we have alot of wasted energy as well...Think about all of those TV's VCR/DVD's Radios that runs in stand-by with a little light on all the time..The extra 100sqft addition for a formal dining room that you heat and only use once/twice a year the hot tub that stays heated year round that gets used every once in a while...I could go on about wasted energy but you dont see much about saved energy..Don't see people taking off rooms in the house that they dont use or need...Instead I see in my area people building these great big homes with 5 bedrooms for only a retired couple...

If everyone tightened up would make a big impact on ussage as well as drive fuel prices down..IMO

    Bookmark   October 26, 2004 at 12:53PM
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I agree that tightening up on use is a start. I wouldn't be opposed to electricity costing "x" amount of dollars for the first $100 of electric bill and a higher amount after that. At least people would think twice about their usage and try to conserve. We continually remind our kids to turn whatever off, take quick showers, put on a sweatshirt etc. Would love to have a solar house but who can afford it? Most average americans who live in middle to upper class I think would be willing to spend $5000 to convert but everything I see is $20000 to $50000. But to hit on the point of passive solar, I am amazed that people who build don't think in terms of this. We used to have a sun room (had to take down due to problems) on south side and the heat generated from that room on a sunny day was amazing. I would most definately design new construction to take advantage of that here in New England but you don't see much of that.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2004 at 1:20PM
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just to give you an example that renewable energy is being used: We are currently remodeling our house. Part of the remodeling is a 2kw Photovoltaic system, a solar hot water system (Fireball) and a greywater system. Also, we're adding insulation to all walls, floors and ceilings. I agree that we should use resources and energy in a smarter way, and the climate in San Diego makes it easy.
The cost: PV system after rebate $5k, Hot water system $2k, Greywater system $1k.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 8:23PM
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