Posts Tagged ‘solar energy’

Biomass Energy Salvation?

June 21, 2010

There’s some chatter, including in this weekend’s NY Times, about a Massachusetts Forest Watch report calling biomass energy a “false solution”.  Many in the biomass industry and others refute that study.  I’m going to stand somewhere in the middle.  Biomass energy is likely to be part of the solution to our energy needs.  It certainly is in the city where I live in Burlington, VT, where the McNeil generator is a big part of our energy equation.  Biomass will be one plank of a good intermediate energy policy.  On the other hand, it isn’t a panacea, and the energy we’d create from burning trees and plant matter isn’t going to satisfy our energy needs–at least not the way we consume right now.  And we certainly saw an impact in food prices when we start selling food crops for fuel.  What’s the alternative?

Not really an alternative as much as a starting point is energy-efficiency.  Regardless uf how we produce energy–biomass, Gulf oil, nuclear, coal, solar, wind, hydro, or a generator attached to a bicycle–these less energy we use, the easier it is to produce it.   The less energy we waste, the less energy we use.  This is true at the macro scale for the country as a whole just as it applies in the micro scale down to individual homes.  In homes, we can gain efficiency while actually improving comfort and the durability of the home (do it right!).  When our clients ask for solar–and we do install solar–we’re happy to oblige, but we point them to energy-efficiency as the first step and the way to get more results for less.

So biomass or not, think efficiency first.


Energy-efficiency: The forgotten sibling of solar and wind energy

June 22, 2009

When people think of using less energy, they often think of solar PV or wind.  In reality, though, those are simply different ways of creating energy, and in this case electricity.  But as we talk about reducing our energy imports, and about plug in electric or hybrid cars, we have to think beyond different ways of producing energy and think about how to use less energy, period.  If we want to move our transportation fleet increasingly toward electric, we’re going to have to use a lot less energy in our homes and commercial buildings.

You’ll hear a lot of buzz about solar, especially solar PV.  And renewable are great—at GreenHomes we even install solar solutions.  But we do always try to educate our customers that it makes more sense to make sure they’re not wasting energy before they worry about generating energy.  We’re in dozens of homes every day.  We know that it’s generally pretty straightforward to save 25% of a home’s energy use.  In fact, we guarantee it. 

If it’s not energy savings but rather carbon savings to reduce climate change that you’re after, the verdict is the same.  McKinsey & Company demonstrate that carbon emissions can be reduced by efficiency measures with a negative cost—in other words a net economic savings.  Thus from an economic perspective we should pursue efficiency—including improving the efficiency of our housing stock—even if climate change were shown to be neglibible.

Wind and PV are sexy.  And you can see them.  Most people won’t see air-sealing, duct-sealing, higher insulation levels, or the difference between advanced windows and windows that are barely legal.  But the eye can mislead you in this case.  Leading with efficiency not only helps you reduce energy use most cost-effectively, but you also get increased comfort and building durability that renewable just can’t provide.  Some areas with PV incentives recognize this and mandate an energy audit before you install PV.  But mandate or not, it’s the smart way to go.  Don’t stop with an audit, though.  Make the recommended improvements.

So go solar if you want.  We love solar.  But start with energy-efficiency first.


Solar hot water video

June 3, 2009
Click for Solar Hot Water Video

Click for Solar Hot Water Video

We’ll be putting together a series of informational and educational videos beginning this summer.   It will be several weeks before we launch, but I thought it would be fun to share the simple concept piece we put together.   Crunching the numbers on solar hot water systems, I’m really excited about them, and I thought we’d start with that to flesh out the video idea.

[Click on the video at:]

And my commitment to you—in the future I’ll try to keep it below 10 cups of coffee per day!

P.S.  As GreenHomes’ blog readers know, my mantra is “efficiency first,” before renewables.  But if you’d like to learn a bit more about solar thermal visit our website or dive into our blog archives here:


Solar Energy Monitor Goes Wireless

February 9, 2009

One of the things many hybrid car drivers like is the monitor on their dashboard that show how many MPG they’re getting at that moment and averaging over time.  In fact, this monitor may actually help increase the MPG as it helps drivers adjust their habits slightly (or drastically!) to get better mileage.


tem-homepgThat same idea is being applied to home energy use.  I will save discussion of whole house dashboards for another day.  But it’s clear from the new monitor we use on our solar hot water, that this technology makes a lot of sense.  It allows you to see the savings you’re getting in real time, from anywhere in the house.  With the portable, hand-held device, you can see results such as daily, monthly, annual and lifetime dollar savings, the energy collected, and the reduction in CO2 emissions as solar energy displaces the gas or electric you would normally use to heat your water.  You can also read parameters like the temperature of water coming us the collector and of the water you’re heating.  Kind of neat to see the 140 degree reading on a day when the outside temperature is below freezing!  


As we’re seeing, solar hot water is ready for the big time!



Shedding Light on Solar Hot Water

September 12, 2008

At the ACEEE conference, there was attention given to solar hot water—a technology that is big in Europe and now even required in Hawaii.  Using the sun to heat your water is great for the environment and for your wallet! Especially with today’s skyrocketing energy costs! You can save up to 75% on water heating costs with a professionally installed solar system.

You don‘t have to live in sunny Arizona to benefit from solar. Even in cloudier locations like Syracuse or Seattle or Canada, a solar hot water system can help meet your hot water needs!

Another myth among homeowners is that solar hot water systems are too expensive to install. For example, in New York, there are currently generous tax credits and incentives that can put 65% or more of the system cost back in your pocket! Depending on what you use now to heat your water (gas, oil, electric), how much you‘re paying for that fuel, and how much hot water you use (and if like me you have teenage daughters, the answer is A LOT!), you can recoup the cost of the system in as little 3 to 5 years. After that, it‘s money in your pocket!

So how does it work? Solar hot water systems are usually used to heat water for basic household needs such as laundry, bathing, dishwashing, and cooking. These systems use solar energy – gathered from solar collectors usually mounted on your roof – to preheat water coming into a standard water heater. The warmer the water from the solar heater, the less conventional fuel is needed to provide for the household‘s hot water demands.

During the summer, a properly sized solar hot water system can provide up to 100% of a household‘s needs! In the winter, it will be less in snowy climates. On average, however, solar hot water systems meet between 60% to 70% of a home‘s annual load.

Solar systems not only save you money on your energy bills, they also increase your energy independence and decrease your environmental impact.   Visit the GreenHomes site to see if solar hot water is right for your home.


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