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/#

Bicycle Tires

We have bicycles in our garage, and in our New Urbanism community we think we will have an opportunity to make more use of them than we used to do. They won’t be just for recreation. We can ride to local shops, get the mail, or visit a neighbor a few blocks away. Good for the body and less car use — even if ours is largely solar powered.

But there is a problem with bicycles that complicates the situation, and that is keeping air in the darned tires. If one does not ride often, the first thing that has to happen before each run is to pump up the tires. That’s particularly true if the bike is one with 700×35 high pressure tires that leak down like helium balloons. Like ours did. It’s often easier, cleaner, and faster just to jump into the car. Having a bike that can’t be ridden when it’s needed just takes up garage space.

For other reasons we recently replaced one of our bikes with a low-maintenace Specialized Alibi. (1) It came with airless tires made by Tannus. The riding experience is good. This bike is ready to go at a moment’s notice without the need for a pit stop to get under way. So, after a little thought and research we decided to change out the pneumatic tires on the perfectly good second machine (Trek) with Tannus tires. A lot cheaper and more ecologically responsible than replacing the whole bike.

We did not take pictures of the replacement process and did not plan to write about bike tires as we were doing the job. Sorry. The replacement task is tedius and somewhat difficult. There are several Tannus and Youtube videos on the process. If you decide to do this, watch them all. Pay attention. Take notes. Do what they say to do. Have a helper. Have cold drinks at the ready. Don’t waste money on the special installation pliers. They don’t work well and the standard tool that comes with each tire will get the job done if you use it correctly. An important point is to push the standard tool into the center area of the tire as the retainer clips are being pressed down. That makes things go much easier. If you watch the videos, you’ll see what this meaningless important point is all about. Don’t forget it.

Anyway, we got it done. We have two emission-free vehicles that are ready to go when we are and can’t have flats. How cool is that?

  1. https://www.specialized.com/us/en/alibi-c–2018/p/157831
  2. https://tannus.com/tires/

The Legacy House

It has been over a year since I last posted on this blog. There are two reasons for that.

First, I was really getting down over the stuff I was constantly writing about Donald Trump and his henchmen and henchwomen. See what I mean? Just thinking about those folks drives me right into an intellectual quagmire that sucks the hip-boots of reason clean off my body.

Second, this blog is supposed to be about doing stuff that’s good for something, not fuming and writing about stuff that’s good for nothing (which isn’t actually doing anything, is it now?). Well, we have just finished a busy year of doing good stuff, and it’s time to clear out the bad vibes. Start over.

A bit over a year ago, June 20, 2018, we had finished digging a hole in the ground at Evans Farm (1) in central Ohio.

IMG_0620

We would plant a house there. They take about a year to grow, it seems, and we are now at harvest time.

Evans Farm is a New Urbanism (2) community, or will be when it fills in around us. It was the best place we could find to put our Legacy House. We wanted a site that would permit us to walk to shops, recreational facilities, the post office, schools, and the like. We wanted something closer to our neighbors. In the long-run, a community is not sustainable if it’s made up of nothing but quarter acre patches of grass upon which are planted  ticky-tacky houses serving as a motels for the folks inside. It’s not a community if you have to jump in the car to access all your services, if you never see the folks next door. It’s not emotionally healthy nor environmentally nor economically sound. We did not want to leave a quarter acre legacy to our family when times are-a-changing. So, we did something about that, and here is what grew in the hole we dug:

IMG_1934

There is still a bit of work to do, but we are happily ensconced here and all systems are go. The Legacy House is a 2500 square foot modern farmhouse. It’s big enough to live in, functional, practical, and pleasant. Just what it needs to be, and not more. It is not a wasteful nor pretentious home, and it is ready for the 21st century.

The all-electric house stands over a ten foot Superior Walls (3) precast wall basement. The envelope is a SIPs (4) system. The walls are made of eight and six inch panels, and the roof is made of ten inch panels. The triple pane windows are by Marvin. Primary HVAC is a Mitsubishi two zone air-sourced heat pump. (6) The garage roof supports 20 LG360Q1C-A5 solar panels with Enphase IQ7+ inverters (7200 Watts). (7) Electricity costs for the last quarter came to $76.38 (including the Tesla Model 3 in the garage).

The Legacy House builder was Dan Troth of Greentech Construction. (8) He is presently rebuilding his web site, so be patient.

There will be many more posts about this building in the future. It’s great to be writing about doing things.

  1. https://www.evansfarmoh.com/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Urbanism
  3. https://www.superiorwalls.com/
  4. https://www.sips.org/about/what-are-sips
  5. https://www.marvin.com/
  6. https://www.mitsubishicomfort.com/products/outdoor-units/multi-zone-cooling-and-heating/compare
  7. https://www.lg.com/us/business/solar-panels/lg-LG360Q1C-A5
  8. https://greentechconstruction.com/