Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thoughts on Energy and Climate

1. In mid June I was bitten in the shoulder by a brown recluse spider (do a google image search on "brown recluse" - I faired much better than the photos show). I was on antibiotics for three weeks, for days my arm felt like it would drop off, it was not fun. The brown recluse is not supposed to live here in Southern WI. Yet with climate change it may now.

Soon we will be able to grow fine French wine grapes here too. Meanwhile polar bears are left without ice and can no longer get to their seal hunting grounds.

2. Madison and much of America and Europe is in a major heat wave. Much of the country, including Wisconsin, is in drought. Friends from Spain mentioned Spain is on its third year of drought. Madison isn't. We just had five inches of rain on Thursday - cars were almost floating away. Kids were canoeing in the streets.

3. So far I have not used my air conditioning (all I have is one window unit - it is still in the basement). Instead I am opening windows in the evening, putting fans in two windows - pushing air into my home, and running my undersized whole house fan (or maybe my attic is poorly vented?).

Then in the morning I close up the house, turn off all fans and drop the shades on all windows that get sunlight. It has been working well.

I begin to see the importance of having thermal mass in the home. With it you can store some of that night cool - and keep the house cool longer into the day. The only challenge is when night temperatures stay in the 80ties or upper 70ties.

Then I resort to wearing a swimsuit, visiting our local pool, and sitting/sleeping with fans blowing on me. I maybe sticky - but I have not lost any sleep.

And I cannot be blamed for all the new transmission lines that are being called for around Madison.

4. Madison's need for transmission lines - is driven by late afternoon/early evening (about four to six p.m.) air conditioner load on hot (always humid) summer business days. I am sure Madison is breaking new peak load records on the recent hot summer afternoons.

The problem is compounded because electric wires (e.g., transmission lines) loose their efficiency as the get hotter. And the lines get hotter on hot days and when they are fully loaded. They measure how loaded they are by how much the transmission lines sag.

So if you do not want to be the cause for Madison's new transmission lines, here are few things you can do:
1. Don’t run your air conditioner between about four and six
2. Turn off all electric appliances (lights) that you really do not need
3. Don’t open your refrigerator or freezer
4. Get an Energy Star (and smaller sized) refigerator, freezer, compact florescent lights, dehumidifier, ceiling fan, laptop computer, etc.
5. Find a cool spot, I like the neighborhood pool, and relax
6. Eat a late dinner
7. Empty and unplug that freezer and extra refrigerator
8. Put solar electric panels on your home. (Alas in the late afternoon they will only perform at about 25% of their rated capacity. Because the late afternoon sun is at a high angle to them. And because when the panels are hot they have higher internal losses.)
9. Unplug that dang wine cooler!

5. During these hot "global warming" days with floods and a threatening hurricane season - I see my car is a global climate change machine. So I ride my bike more.

6. I have set my self up with a pretty cool city bike. The fine wooden fenders were made by Cody Davis of Bend Oregon (I found him and the fenders on E-Bay). Another reason not to drive my (climate change machine) car.

six is enough.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Solar Electric Power is Cheap & A Vision of the Solar Home and Car

1. Flody's Ride
From Randy Udall (Via Michael Vickerman of Renew Wisconsin)

"Interesting numbers about Floyd Landis amazing ride through the Alps.

He rode 125 miles at 23 miles an hour, much of it alone. His total output during 5.3
hours of riding: about 1.5 kwh.

Average daily household electricity consumption in the US: about 30.
Daily per capita energy consumption in the US, expressed in kwh: 270."

2. kWh Cost of that Ride
I pay my utility 13 cents per kWh of power - so Floyd's effort was worth about 20 cents. If my solar electric system lasts 20 years, my solar electric cost of power is 33 cents/kWh. That makes Floyd's effort worth 50 cents of PV power.

Still really really cheap

3. Plug in Prius and Solar Electric
At the Hybrid Car fest, in Madison, I learned that one kWh of power will propel a Prius about five miles.

So on a sunny day my little 1.25 kW solar electric system makes enough power to drive a Prius about 30 miles. That is much more than my average daily commute.

4. Solar Powered Homes and Cars
I envision a future where home Solar Electric Systems will
1. power home electricity needs
2. power a heat pump for home heating and cooling (low temperature air sourced perhaps)
3. charge up the plug in hybrid

Solar thermal would provide most of the hot water needs (and perhaps some space heating).

For an efficient moderately sized home, and car, I am thinking it would require six to twelve kW of PV per home. If costs get down to $4,000 per kW.. we are talking $24,00 to 48,000. Or 10% to 20% of the cost of the average home here in Madison WI.

So, I see a growing market for Solar Electric Systems.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Midwest Zero Energy Homes

Here is the executive summary of a report that just completed with some U.S. DOE funding (Award Number DE-FC45-05R530753). For a PDF of the full report email me at (wolter at

Several challenges facing the American economy encourage the construction of new homes able to meet their own energy needs using locally available renewable energy resources. These challenges include: high and highly variable fossil energy prices, global climate change, state and national energy trade deficits, reduced energy supply reliability, and increasing dependence on fossil energy imports.

A true Zero Energy Home (ZEH) is defined as a home able to offset any import of fossil energy by generating and exporting an equal amount of renewable energy over the course of a year. Homes that get close to this goal are considered zero energy homes.

Homes on the path toward zero energy:
1) Are sited, designed and built to use as little energy as possible while providing the comforts of home,
2) Use energy efficient appliances
3) Install high efficiency heating ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC),
4) Have occupants that are careful about how they use energy,
5) Produce onsite renewable energy (or purchase renewable power or credits),
6) Are designed and constructed so that in the future the home can meet all of its energy needs with onsite renewable energy.

ZEH homes and experts can be found employing ZEH technologies and designs across the Midwest. Links to Midwest ZEH case studies and experts are included in this report.

The greatest challenge is providing reliable space (and water) heating during the Midwest’s cold and cloudy winter months. A ZEH cannot rely solely on standard solar thermal systems or passive solar for winter space heating. Instead, it must rely on renewable energy that can be stored for weeks to months such as wood, thermal energy, or net-metered (banked) renewable kilowatt-hours (kWhs).

If ZEHs are to rely on renewable kWhs for heating, then the electrical heating systems must be very efficient. Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) are the most efficient space heating systems suited to the Midwest’s climate (they also provide very efficient cooling).

There are two general ZEH types, based on their method of space heating. The Urban ZEH that has a GSHP for space heating and cooling, a solar electric system for power generation, and a solar water heating system backed up by an electric hot water heater. The rural ZEH has a wood stove and solar thermal system for space heating and water heating and an onsite solar electric system or wind turbine for power generation.

The Urban ZEH would add about $55,000 to the price of a new energy efficient home while reducing its natural gas use by roughly 95% and electricity use by 75%. The price includes federal but not state incentives. The solar electric system is responsible for the majority of the added price.

Many new single-family homes built today are large. By reducing the size of new homes by 400 square feet, the home’s construction costs would reduce by about $36,000. These cost savings would cover much of the cost of making the home zero energy.

ZEH economics will improve if: fossil energy prices increase; energy system prices decline; utility’s encourage ZEH with incentives (through tariffs, buy back rates, financial incentives, financing, etc.); or States and/or the Federal government provide incentives for ZEH or ZEH technologies.

Key ZEH barrier reduction strategies include:
1. Target wealthy green innovator home buyers
2. Target successful Energy Star® home builders
3. Education through mainstream demonstration homes and detailed case studies
4. Ensure homes have curb appeal
5. Offer home builders market differentiation by offering new labels/logos such as “Green” Energy Star® home
6. Offer new ZEH services such as: guaranteed savings, maintenance agreements and system commissioning
7. Begin mainstream market transformation by promoting the “zero energy ready home”

This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The view and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Low Termperature Air Sourced Heat Pumps

I am very interested in heat pumps that for meeting building heating (and cooling) needs here in the cold and cloudy winter climate. Several blog posts cover ground sourced heat pumps (GSHPs)... which are widely available and been sold for a couple of decades.

Basically I am very worried about the future cost of natural gas and global climate change... as well as an expanding trade deficit as we import more natural gas. And lastly the ports needed to import liquefied natural gas are vulnerable to hurricanes.

Heat pumps are the most efficient electric means of space heating. In our, Wisconsin, climate normal air sourced heat pumps loss their efficiency when you get near freezing.

There is a new option.. and it is just entering the market: Low Temperature Air Sourced Heat Pumps. Apparently they have a coefficient of performance (COP) of 2.23 at zero degrees F (unlike an air sourced unit that has a COP of ~1).

Here is a great link for more information from the Architectural record

"It does seem like they are poised to hit the market. If and when they do, it seems to me it could really hurt the GSHP market, since they will no doubt cost considerably less." (quote from Scott Pigg of the Energy Center of Wisconsin.) No ground loop would be needed.

Their inventor as a company that just started selling them on June 19th.
Clearly a new webpage... it has some interesting test result data.

Hey you HVAC contractors - perhaps you should consider becoming a distributor?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What Does Sustainability Mean

(Note, this posting is based on a article my friend Mark Daugherty. He wrote it for our Energy and Climate Column in Dane County's Sustainable Times Newspaper.)

This post is based on the thoughts of John Ikerd. John is an agricultural economist who has spent a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about sustainability.

There were two previous transformations of social structure on the same order of magnitude. The first was the Agricultural Revolution, during which human society transitioned from hunter – gatherers to farmers. The second was the Industrial Revolution in which fossil fuel combustion replaced muscle power.

Sustainability will be the third fundamental transformation of human social structure. The fundamental shift in sustainability is a shift to permanence. Today we are optimizing for maximum production. After the sustainable transformation, we will optimize a balance between meeting the needs of the present and ensuring that the future has a sound resource base from which to meet its needs.

The fundamental thing in both industrial and sustainable society is energy. Industrial society is optimized to extract energy. It extracts energy from human and natural capital. Industrial society does not expend energy to restore or renew itself. There is no economic benefit, in the classic industrial worldview, to expending energy on restoration or renewal. That is why the industrial age is coming to an end. It has depleted its resource base and is becoming increasingly nonfunctional.

A sustainable society is optimized to balance energy between extraction for use today and investment in restoration and renewal. It deliberately chooses to invest some energy that could be used today in restoration in renewal. As we begin investing in restoration and renewal we face strong resistance from parts of society firmly locked into the industrial mentality.

Fundamental transformations require fundamental shifts in worldview. In the industrial worldview the world is a factory. It is optimized to extract, exploit, specialize, standardized and control. This is the way industrial society provides more and more stuff that is cheaper and cheaper. That's the goal of industrial society. More cheap stuff.

In the sustainable worldview the world is a living system. It is optimized to interact, balance, invest, diversify, communicate and relate – much like the natural world’s web of life. Creating this web of relationships is not driven by a desire to give everyone a warm fuzzy feeling. Rather it is a necessity for permanence.

A permanent society is more difficult than an extractive society. It requires a more advanced worldview. The interrelationships and interdependencies between a field mouse and a prairie ecosystem are orders of magnitude more complex than an industrial fertilized corn field growing in that same prairie top soil.

Social transformation won't happen unless people think it's in their best interest. Why is a sustainable society better than an industrial society?

Let's compare the two. In an industrial society the primary goal is the accumulation of wealth. In a sustainable society this is replaced by a desire for permanence.

In industrial society everyone wants to be independent. In a sustainable society people are capable of functioning independently but deliberately choose to depend on each other. This is termed interdependence and it requires both the ability to be independent and the ability to relate in mutually beneficial ways.

In industrial society everyone wants to get rich, then they will live a good life. In sustainable society people decide to skip the get rich step and jump directly to living a good life.

In a sustainable society you are willing to give up a fair amount of cheap stuff in return for getting a better life for yourself and future generations.

(Thanks Mark - I hope you do not mind me posting this on my blog)

Solar Thermal Seasonal Storage for Space Heating

Solar seasonal thermal storage is in the news thanks to the very cool Drake Land project in Canada. Where the cover garages of about 60 homes with solar thermal panels and dump the heat into one large well field.

picture from the website below

See and

Solar experts in Wisconsin are thinking once again about seasonal thermal storage for homes in Wisconsin.

Mark Klein of Gimme Shelter is thinking about setting aside a "room" in the basement that would hold a several thousand gallons of water in a very well insulated tank. The water would be heated during the summer and used for space heating during the winter.

Alex DePillis of Seventh Generation Energy Systems did these calculations.

Residential customers in Wisconsin use ~ 1000 therms each, annually. The room would need to hold ~ 40,000 cubic feet of water; about 5400 gallons. A cistern of size 8' x 20' x 200'+

Here are the calculations (corrections please!)
1 Btu per # per degree F.
Raise the water from 60 to 100 F (delta T = 40)
8.3 pounds per gallon water
So raising the temperature of one gallon of water by 40 degrees stores 333 Btu, or 0.0033 therm

(one gallon per 0.0033 therm) x (1000 therms per customer) = 1000/0.0033 = 303,030 gallons
(7.5 cubic feet per gallon) x (303,030 gallons) = 40,404 cubic feet

If this is a cistern in the basement of a house, limited at 8' height...
8 high by 20 wide by... 252 feet long. Or pick your tank/cistern dimensions.

Now my 1100 square foot home, with about R-4 (concrete) walls uses about 600 therms per year (for hot water, cooking and space heating). So lets say it uses 500 therms per year for space heating. (Yes I am working on insulating those walls from the inside - which means studding up new walls and making my home even smaller.)

If the thermal envelop of the home is improved, have the house solar tempered, and
assume some solar thermal heating during the winter season (as there is sun
in the winter)... and maybe that tank can be reduced to: 8' by 20' by 100'

Humm, that is more square feet than my entire home.

Solar Hot Water Systems are Back IN!

The corner has been turned!

Solar hot water is now officially booming in Wisconsin. During the month June 2006 the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy program ( approved 95 Solar Hot Water System Cash Back Reward Applications. The poor image of solar hot water left over from the 1970's is fast disappearing.

This dwarfs the number of solar electric systems (nine), wind turbines (four) or biogas systems (two) approved during June.

The large number of approved solar hot water system is partly due to the fact the Focus on Energy incentive declined starting July 1.

One of the more fascinating developments is occurring in Madison at a lower income multifamily project (Troy Gardens) where:
1. Every unit was made solar ready
2. The condo purchasers were shown that the cost of the solar thermal system when included in their mortgage was less than their natural gas savings.
3. Last I heard every condo buyer decided to include solar water heating in their home.
Eighteen of the solar thermal systems approved in June were from the Troy Gardens project.

Remember, we are only at the start of the Solar Decade

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