Quarantined With A Good Book

The corona virus quarantine has given us all the chance to do some reading, if reading is one’s thing, as I hope it is for readers of this post. I bought Our House is On Fire, (1) and closely read it in two days. Note the red tags marking what I found to be particularly interesting passages. Lots of them. It’s an easy read, constructed as a series of short scenes that help focus attention on the matter at hand.

I am hoping that members of my family will read this book, as well, with the red tags in place. Perhaps adding their own yellow, pink, or blue tags.

There are many powerful lessons between these covers. Lessons about the scope of climate change, yes, but also lessons about heroic parenthood. Lessons about cultural changes required to save our environment (there is no other way). Lessons about the power of sticking to a commitment in the face of adversity in the family and in the world in which we live.

I have said in earlier posts that management of the global climate crisis is not an economic matter – except that it is a new economic opportunity. It’s not old economy before new ecology, because, believe me, if our leaders continue to take that approach, as Greta Thunberg and her family know, as careful thinkers know, as scientists know, both will come tumbling down in a sudden, violent, and unstoppable human disaster. Our House Is On Fire does not seek to show a hopeful outcome with respect to global warming. That’s the approach contemporary politicians tend to take. Our House Is On Fire is alarmist, as it should be.

Hope you read it.

-George

  1. https://www.alibris.com/booksearch?keyword=our+house+is+on+fire&mtype=B&hs.x=0&hs.y=0

First 12 Month Legacy House Energy Results

The first 12 month’s energy consumption and cost numbers are tallied. While I was disappointed with the raw percentage solar, the projected annual cost came in just a little higher than expected for the house. The HERS (1) estimate was $950, and we ended up at $1058.67. But — (and BIG but) that annual cost includes one year of driving our electric car. Because the HERS calculations on our basis document do not include a car, as nearly as I can figure we are doing better than expected on total building energy useage, which I really thought we would. The data is below.

We do have Sense monitoring equipment on the house and on the garage, so it is possible to make an educated guess on the amount of power being used by the car. An educated guess only because the Sense gear cannot combine data from the two devices and only one of them is tracking the 20 solar panels. Very confusing. I do not recommend Sense for anything but simple single sensor installations. In any case, if we throw out the solar assuming that it was split proportionally between the car and the house, the educated guess is that the car is using about 1/3 of our juice. If that is so, the house annual energy bill is about $705 and the car annual energy bill is about $353.

The spreadsheet above shows that winter energy consumption is higher, and that central Ohio is a cloudy place during fall and winter. No big surprise on either point. We had originally planned for 24 solar panels, and that might have been a better choice, but we thought we’d wait and see how things panned out. I think we’ll wait another year before putting panels on the main house (just on the garage, now). If we do that we’ll probably go to 28.

We have made some other little changes that may show up in the next 12 months. The hybrid water heater has recently been switched from hybrid operation to heat pump only operation. We see no difference in hot water availability, and that should reduce power use. We have also switched to a renewable power generation supplier. That lowered supply costs a bit and makes us totally renewable.

-George

Clean Air

I was walking in the neighborhood yesterday and it struck me how bright and clear the sky suddenly was. Of course, that’s because people have been driving much less. (1) We are staying close to home as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

There is a teaching moment here, and that is that we have been dumping easily noticeable amounts of fossil fuel junk into our atmosphere for 100 years or so, and it’s piling up. A lot of that dull brown cast on the horizon we are used to seeing comes out of car tail-pipes, and it’s pretty well dispersed right now here in Lewis Center, Ohio. Just think how much better things will be when we are all driving renewable sourced electric cars, and the planet has had some time to cleanse its lungs.

Teaching moments too often do not stick around very long in our brains, however, especially if the lesson is inconvenient or expensive. And, right now, just as we are clearly seeing the immediate effects of reduced vehicular fuel consumption, our short-sighted and conflicted leaders are backing off efforts to compel car makers to meet 2025 CAFE fuel economy standards that would have made permanent air quality improvements pretty much equal to what our COVID-19 travel restrictions have done. (2)

Though they complain, car makers can meet the 2025 CAFE numbers. Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Toyota can pretty much do it today. But, the real answer is not better fossil fuel economy, it’s electrification. Maybe we should just stop all combustion engine car manufacturing in 2025, instead. It’s not a new idea. (3)

-George

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51944780
    https://whyy.org/articles/unexpected-upside-to-coronavirus-shutdown-cleaner-air/
  2. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/autos/trump-rolls-back-obama-era-fuel-economy-standards-n734256
  3. https://europe.autonews.com/article/20180922/ANE/180919747/eu-electrified-car-push-is-driven-by-rules-not-market-demand

The Legacy House Project Wins An Award

On Thursday, February 13th, 2020, AEP and Efficiency Crafted Homes held their annual awards ceremony in Columbus, Ohio. Our builder, Dan Troth, on the right above, of GreenTech Construction (1) had the honor of taking home four awards. The one we were most interested in was for our house, Lowest HERS Score Including Renewables, (solar panels, in our case) with a HERS Score of 16. Lower is better, 100 is typical of a standard new home.

-George

  1. https://greentechconstruction.com

Steve vs Greta

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Greta Thunberg to get an economics degree before advising others as to how to deal with energy policy. (1) In doing that, Mnuchin demonstrates his total lack of understanding of the interplay of energy policy and our climate crisis. The fact is that the climate crisis is not an economic problem unless you are invested in fossil fuels and don’t care what damage you cause or who you kill to make your buck. The climate crisis is a survival problem, a breathing problem, a thirst problem, a hunger problem, a fire problem, an immigration problem, yes, but not an economic problem in the sense that we have any choice about spending boatloads of money to get it under control. Even so, you’ll find more than one real economist (not Steve) who will tell you that the technology and industrial effort required to save our planet through something like a “Green New Deal” is really a remarkable economic opportunity. (2) Would I rather dig coal or build hydro plants and install solar panels?

No one needs a degree in anything to read a thermometer or to do at least something about the climate crisis and all of us need to be active in the effort. Changing one lightbulb or planting one tree won’t help much by itself, Greta will tell you that passionately, but even such a small act helps build grassroots awareness that will be required to implement much more difficult changes in the way we live in the near future.

We are starting to build another small Zero Energy Ready house in our community with the builder of our present home. We’ll sell it, and try to build another after that. Maybe one each year if we do not lose our shirts along the line. That’s doing something that is visible on the street, something neighbors will talk about. We never planned to become home-builders, but it is something we can do, indeed, must do.

There is a list of 10 simple things we can all do at ThoughtCo. (3) You can visit the site to get the story on each item.

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  2. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning
  3. Change a Light Bulb
  4. Drive Less and Drive Smart
  5. Buy Energy-Efficient Products
  6. Use Less Hot Water
  7. Use the “Off” Switch
  8. Plant a Tree
  9. Get a Report Card from Your Utility Company
  10. Encourage Others to Conserve

Even if these are small things in themselves, they help create the awareness and the culture we need, they add up, and you don’t need an economics degree to get them done.

Go Greta, goodbye Steve.

-George

  1. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/01/23/steve-mnuchin-tells-greta-thunberg-get-economics-degree/4551092002/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/washingtonbytes/2019/02/20/the-economic-case-for-the-green-new-deal/
  3. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-reduce-global-warming-1203897

Climate Change Data

A few days ago I dug up some of the old global temperature files from a simple personal study I ran in 1987 and added data from 1988 to 2013. Even way back then in 1987 (and long before (1)), it was obvious that people were doing something to change the climate. That’s not surprising considering that we live in a thin haze much like a balloon’s skin, the chemistry of which we are changing with highly inefficient combustion engines, and into which we leak and dump gaseous waste.

Below, you’ll see a scatter chart of annual average temperatures in Buenos Aires from 1856 to 2016. Argentina has really good historical data.

Two things are clear to me. The first is that temperatures are rising. Temperatures are up over 2 degrees C since the mid 19th century. The second is that there is less variation from year to year starting in the 1940s or so. I don’t know what this means, but wonder if it has something to do with adding energy to a medium that really does not want to accept it. A form of thermal compressibility factor? Will we reach a point where something “snaps”? Or, maybe the instruments are better from the 1940s onward. Don’t know.

I have not included a lot of other information I collected in 1987. That included sunspot and UV radiation data that showed absolutely no correlation to temperature variations in Buenos Aires or anywhere else I looked. The sun is not causing the climate changes we are seeing now.

-George

  1. https://earthtalk.org/human-caused-global-warming/

12/18/2019 – Edited to change end year for temperature data.

The Christmas Party Chat

We had a little Christmas party this week at several of the model homes in our new New Urbanist community. We walked from home to home, engaged with the builders, our neighbors, potential new neighbors, ate a few cookies, and drank a little ale. A good time was had by all.

At one of the homes, the builder asked some questions about our high performance home. In the course of that discussion, he raised four objections to American actions to reduce carbon emissions through technologies like solar panels and electric cars. Those points were:

  1. It costs more in carbon emissions to build an electric car than driving the car will ever save over a gas car.
  2. We shouldn’t have to worry about the environment because India and China are not abating their emissions.
  3. We will never see electric “Boeing 737s”.
  4. Power companies cannot maintain the grid with consumers generating part of their own energy.

Point 1. This sounds like a propaganda claim that is passed around without much thought. Facts will certainly not be found to back it up. The claim may have its tenuous roots in a 2017 Swedish study that raised serious concerns about the CO2 emissions related to electric car battery production (among other factors). That study was revised in 2019 to reflect the impact of improved production efficiencies at high volumes and the use of renewable energy in the manufacturing process. Check out the roofs of Tesla factories. (1) The revised study can be found at Scribd. (2) The 2019 CO2 estimate is about half of the 2017 study number. Importantly, the Swedish reports of 2017 and 2019 do not actually compare gas and electric car emissions, so the numbers must be used with great care and in context.

However, according to Mike Barnard, Executive Consultant, Energy and Cloud at IBM, (3) the CO2 cost of building an electric car is “. . . trivial compared to the emissions avoided due to not burning fossil fuels to move the car . . .” And, that is including the possibility that the electricity is derived from coal. This may have something to do with the fact that a combustion engine is only about 25% efficient, whereas an electric motor is nearly 100% efficient.

A better source of factual information about the emissions of electric cars is “Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave” (4) by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the source of data for Mr. Barnard’s triviality comment, above.

Point 2: We did not forgo building our high-performance home because of China’s or India’s environmental policies. Certainly not because of Trumpian EPA policies. In a proverbial sense, we do not act as fools because our neighbors are fools, although it should be noted that both China and India are working very hard to correct their problems. We built our little house because we can see the what is happening in the world around us. We let the facts be our guide. When we lack leadership, we must assume the mantle ourselves, and we did.

Point 3. We may not see electric 737s in our lifetimes. I won’t argue that we will, but I will argue that we absolutely shall be required to reduce our use of jet transport aircraft and to change our lifestyles as we accommodate that reduction. That’s the real point here. Our environment cannot continue to accept today’s levels of emissions from the non-essential jet transportation of bananas and lobsters or next-day deliveries of crockpots.

Point 4. Power companies do have a problem with local generation of power, although it is not so much the economics of the basic grid infrastructure. Solar and wind can cause rapidly fluctuating demand that is difficult to manage. Difficult, not impossible. Difficult because our present electric grid was not designed to work with these newer distributed generation technologies. The real problem with today’s slow and steady highly centralized grid is its lack of quick response storage, and the answer to this problem is not to protect the past through legislation to penalize distributed solar and wind generation, but to encourage change and adaptation through legislation in a joint government/industry effort to redesign our power infrastructure for an inevitable coal and gas free future where energy comes from a variety of distributed and nearly autonomous sources. A good read on this topic is “The Grid: Electrical Infrastructure for a New Era” by Gretchen Bakke.

-George

Edited 12/13/19 to clarify Point 1.

  1. https://i0.wp.com/electrek.co/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2018/01/screen-shot-2018-01-16-at-9-53-56-am.jpg?w=566&h=323&quality=82&strip=all&ssl=1
  2. https://www.scribd.com/document/438431821/IVL-Lithium-Ion-Vehicle-Battery-Production#from_embed
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/04/22/the-carbon-footprint-of-tesla-manufacturing/
  4. https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cleaner-Cars-from-Cradle-to-Grave-full-report.pdf

Global Cooling Prize

Each of these air-conditions is about 18% efficient (or less).

Eight Global Cooling Prize finalists have been announced. (1) The prize was initiated by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI); the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India; and Mission Innovation, and is administered by RMI, Conservation X Labs, the Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy (AEEE), and CEPT University. This is probably news to you. After all, we in the USA are being asked by our leaders to burn more coal, oil, and gas.

In other parts of the world where some degree of environmental rationality still exists, things are different. The Cooling Project goal is to to develop technology that will provide equivalent residential cooling for one fifth of the present power requirement. That improved efficiency can save up to 5,900 TWh/year in avoided demand in 2050, equal to 2X the annual generation of electricity within the EU, and it has the potential to potential to mitigate up to 0.5˚C of global warming by 2100.

Because our Legacy House is largely solar powered, our air-conditioning CO2 contribution is very low. We are probably doing better than the Cooling Project’s 2050 goals even today. Many people, particularly those in crowded urban environments or those lacking sufficient financial resources cannot go out and build solar houses. But if they can buy a window or house air-conditioner that is five times more efficient to run, that’s a winner from personal economic and global environmental perspectives.

-George

  1. https://globalcoolingprize.org/about-the-global-cooling-prize/the-solution/#

GM Goes With Trump

Today’s New York Times reports that GM has reversed course on emissions standards and now favors Donald Trump’s proposal to relax automobile emission standards. (1) I don’t suppose that’s a surprising flip coming from the company that gave us the Corvair and the Vega, and killed the electric car (for a while, anyway).

The Times says that Trump’s plan would roll back the 2025 fuel consumption guideline from 54.5 mpg to 37 mpg resulting in about six billion more tons of CO2 over the life of those vehicles with which to smother our grandkids and help burn California to the ground (probably more important to Mr. Trump). It should be noted that Toyota and Hyundai/Kia already have nice hybrid small cars that can achieve the 2025 fuel economy target. There is no reason why GM can’t do that too.

In our garage, we have a Tesla Model 3 and a five year-old Honda CR-V. The 30-odd mpg Honda is probably our last combustion engine powered car. Even if a 54 mpg replacement SUV came along that we could buy to replace the Honda, the CO2 emissions generated in building any such new car would offset anything we could save by driving it as infrequently as we do. Unless something weird happens with respect to the CR-V, we’ll use it up, wear it out, and do without.

What we (or you) can do with respect to GM, if we must buy a new car, is to buy it from a company that gives a shit about planet Earth. Clearly, GM does not. We now place GM vehicles near the top of our automotive manufacturer shit list, just below the German Diesel makers. Just below, because GM is not lying about their immoral act. At least not yet. The lying will probably come later as they try to justify what they’ve done. Then we can move them up to the pinnacle with Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen.

– George

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/climate/general-motors-california-emissions-trump.html