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Thread: Geothermal, Solar, & Wind. OH MY!

  1. #1
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Geothermal, Solar, & Wind. OH MY!

    There have been several presenters who have made the statement “energy independence begins at home” and it really got me thinking. Right now, I heat my house with two (yes,… 2) forced air natural gas furnaces. Additionally, my hot water heater, my dryer, and my stove are all gas. We have electric for just about everything else.

    In checking around, it seems that many of the net-zero homes being built have a combination of technologies and while they are still connected to the gird, they often get money from the electric company instead of the other way around. This includes a 110 year old folk Victorian home located in a downtown Ann Arbor historic district that has solar panels and geothermal.

    While investigating the prices, they do not need to be cost competitive in this market for people within moderately urban areas, but the idea of never having to send another check to the gas or electric company is intriguing.

    Do you use any source of alternative energy at your house? How do you like it? Do you feel that the long term economic investment is worth it?

    Also, there without question is government subsidies of many of these companies. What would happen if the government funded programs to bring existing and new homes to net zero instead of spending it on regular utility companies?
    "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism." - George Washington

  2. #2
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    From what I've read, the majority of energy consumption is done by commercial and industrial buildings. It would be a bigger bang for our buck to make those properties more energy efficient, versus spending money on residential structures.

    For the most part, although not energy-neutral, single-family residential structures are fairly energy efficient, when compared to commercial buildings.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    One of my brothers uses geothermal to heat (and cool I believe) his home and seems to like it. He built his home on his own and had plenty of property/space and a good water table so installing geothermal while under construction was much more cost effective than if I were to do it in my existing construction home on a small older suburban lot.

    I've often thought that someplace like Detroit or Flint would be a good testing ground for geothermal on a large scale residential urban setting since, after land acquisition, demolition and joining parcels you could basically have a brand new subdivision or neighborhood with homes close enough together (single family, some multifamily, and even some mixed-use) to all draw off of a common geothermal supply. And instead of all the buildings paying a monthly gas bill, they would maybe pay a smaller, more set, monthly bill that would go towards upkeep and maintenance on the system.

    In my mind I think of some place like the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, SC where the majority of the buildings are all heated through a large steam plant
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    From what I've read, the majority of energy consumption is done by commercial and industrial buildings. It would be a bigger bang for our buck to make those properties more energy efficient, versus spending money on residential structures.

    For the most part, although not energy-neutral, single-family residential structures are fairly energy efficient, when compared to commercial buildings.
    That's a good point and makes sense from the perspective of environmental impact, raw energy use and analysis of the structures. But when you factor in who bears the cost of inefficiencies, I think there is a big incentive to address residential buildings as well. Its often the case that low income areas have the most inefficient housing, particularly in areas with older homes. People with a smaller incomes are less able to invest in the kinds of larger improvements that would improve performance (windows, insulation, etc.) and so they become stuck in a loop of diminishing cash flow, paying out monthly for high energy bills to heat and cool but lacking the savings to invest in a larger improvemtn that will save them in the long run.

    When a large store is inefficient, those costs are often passed on - from the owner to the tenant and from the tenant to the consumers. As long as they can rent the space out, there is not much of a drive or benefit to reducing energy costs on commercial structures unless the owner is paying the utilities.

    But putting aside the issue of residential for the moment, if the commercial sector is the biggest draw on the system, how can we incentivise the owners to improve efficiency?
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  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I think the best bang for the buck is replacing your water heater tanks with tankless. We did it when we moved into our house a year ago and it has been worth it. And the plus it that you never run out of hot water.

    and you could also just stop heating/cooling some parts of the house that don't have water pipes in/around them - Attic, bedrooms, etc.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    We had a solar pool heating system and a solar hot water heater installed 4 years ago. The pool system adds 2-3 months of comfortable swimming temps and was relatively cheap. Going electric would have cost us the same for only 8-12 months of pool heating.

    The hot water system was the big ticket item but the life of the heater is 50+ years. We did have a roof panel blowout on that during a stretch 2 years ago of below freezing temps for two solid weeks, and something inside the heater burned out during a day-long stretch of 20+ power outages, but both those circumstances were not the norm here. I think the general time frame to recoup the expense of the system is 13 years or so, maybe less for us since we got a federal tax credit and a state rebate that added up to about 15% of the initial cost.

  7. #7
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
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    I have a pool heater on the garage roof of my new (old) house, but no pool. I may use it to heat a greenhouse. I'm also having a solar evaluation done on my house this month.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I think the best bang for the buck is replacing your water heater tanks with tankless. We did it when we moved into our house a year ago and it has been worth it. And the plus it that you never run out of hot water.

    and you could also just stop heating/cooling some parts of the house that don't have water pipes in/around them - Attic, bedrooms, etc.
    Tankless is the way to go. Though we also had to install a whole house water filter, actually one filter was for the water line as it comes in the house(from a well), and another hot water filter for after the rinnai. These greatly reduced precipitates/sediments from wrecking the tankless. We still have to flush it once a year and change out the filters. In tandem we also installed a salt free water softener to help with the hardness of our water. It all fit where the tank use to go.Salt free because sodium chloride will build up in the soil, our townhip sewer operators discourage the use of softener discharges into our sewer system. And I had no desire to add salt to my water.

    I also endorse the infloor heating and high efficiency furnace's. Three heating systems to turn on in the winter at my house, the floor goes on first early September. And except for one or two mornings where we really needed heat we haven't turned on the cetrall heating systems yet. I am loving my energy bill these days...

  9. #9
    Member blevy's avatar
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    back to incentivizing and funding geothermal

    The upfront costs of installing geothermal and solar systems have been addressed in several ways. One is performance contracting, where subsidized loans are given and paid back from the savings generated from the new energy efficient system. Performance contracting is most cost effective on commercial scale buildings.

    For residential, Delta Montrose Energy Association is one of the most innovative utilities in the country. As a utility, they will install a geothermal heating and cooling system onto a property. The utility owns the geothermal system and the property owner pays them a monthly fee to "rent" the geothermal system at a set price similar to the cost of regular utilities. Geothermal systems usually begin around $30,000, and depending on the engineering, pay for themselves in savings within 5 to 15 years. But it is this upfront cost that is difficult to absorb for most regular people. I hope more utilities borrow their model, which could be transferred to other technologies like solar that have high upfront costs.

    The problem with using geothermal (ground source heat pumps, and not warm aquifers) for large subdivisions is that over time, the balance of heat to cooling within the ground can shift so that it's no longer as efficient. For example, in a colder climate, systems withdraw heat from the earth more than they store heat, which will lower the ground temperature over time. Another problem is that the range in temperatures extracted in a single geothermal system cannot fluctuate that much, making it harder to make everyone comfortable if there are a lot of users with different ideas of their ideal temperature.

    In Europe and Japan there are a lot of interesting geothermal designs being implemented to address high density, like putting the heat and cooling tubes in building foundations and piers.

    The Ikea in Centennial has installed a hybrid solar and geothermal system, and it's being monitored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Two very simple but very effective means of saving energy in just about any kind of home are the use of awnings or room darkening shades and, if ceiling heights allow, ceiling fans. I have an awning on my big west-facing bedroom window, and I am religious about closing windows and drawing shades/blinds/curtains early in the morning in the summer to keep the heat out. All my downstairs rooms have ceiling fans, and although I have central air, I use it for about a week total all summer. Now, in my climate, summers are coolish but humid with only a handful of days at 90 or above. Low 80s and dewpoints of 65+ is most common, but certainly even in warmer climates, minimizing heat gain and using fans rather than A/C will save energy.

    I am considering building a new house when I retire in four years, so I have been actively investigating alternative energy. The cost of installing a wind system, assuming you have an acceptable site, seems prohibitive, and less dependable than solar or geothermal. Geothermal hasn't really had much interest for me, probably because I've always viewed it as having larger upfront costs than other alt energies. I am leaning toward solar power even though my climate is cold, snowy, and cloudy, which is not optimum for solar. However, solar power technology, especially photovoltaic technology, has been improving rapidly in recent years. Moreover, lots of passive solar technologies can be incorporated into an "ordinary" house without significant additional cost by siting the home correctly, getting roof overhangs at the right angles, and strategically placing windows facing the sun and doors opening into airlocks, etc.

  11. #11
    Member blevy's avatar
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    I forgot to mention...

    I'm currently renting a 700 sf straw bale house with an on-demand gas water heater. My electrical bills are under $30 a month (tv, laptops, fridge, lights) and my gas bills are maybe $15 a month. The place is heated by wood in the winter and I maybe use a chord. Last night it got down to -10 and it was comfortable when I got up in the morning. In other words, insulate!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I've done some reading on straw-bale homes, but I think I'm more into conventional construction techniques. I did find a company that designs passive solar homes that they market as "plain construction" in that they don't require much other than normal masonry and carpentry skills to erect. I really like their designs because their homes feature integral greenhouse spaces where you can grow veggies outside the growing season. I may investigate them some more since my location has numerous Amishmen who do construction, and they can put a frame house shell, insulate it, run electric wires for considerably less money than "Englischers" can do it. You then hire the plumber, electrician, and HVAC guys to come in and finish the mechanicals.

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