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

Thermal Bridges

We went out for a very early walk yesterday. The humidity was a bit high and the temperature was in the 20s, a clear day. I noted a grid-like pattern on several new houses as we walked. I took a picture of one, and you’ll find it below.

This is a very new well-built home employing conventional construction. What you are seeing on this south-facing exterior wall are patches of frost separated by vertical lines where the wall’s 2×6 studs lie behind the siding and sheathing. Warmth from the interior of the house is flowing through the continuous wood structure and melting the frost on the outside. Where insulation is placed in voids between the studs, less energy flows through, not enough to melt the frost. This is a really good demonstration of thermal bridging, (1) and why employing construction methods that reduce bridges (like the SIP walls on our Legacy House) can save a lot of energy.

– George

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_bridge

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/#

Election Day

We voted today. If you had the chance, we hope you did as well. Voting is the the one thing we can all do to bring rationality back to Washington. If you have not voted, hit the road. You have much to do.

– George

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

Zero Energy Ready Home Certification

The Legacy House got its U.S. Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home (1) certification (dated August 1, 2019). That’s a recognition of the quality of the work done to build an efficient home. A standard new home has an HERS Index (2) rating of 100 or thereabouts. The Legacy House came in at 17. Lower is better, of course.

The certificate projects an annual energy cost of $950 and annual electricity savings of 27,934 kWh. Estimated CO2 reduction is 24.9 tons. We will watch it and see how accurate this information is.

  1. https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/zero-energy-ready-homes
  2. https://www.hersindex.com/