31. The Energy+ Household - the complete residential solution
The way consumers use energy today is unsustainable as we will run out of fossil fuels someday. Also uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels is having a disastrous effect on our climate. Solutions to almost eliminate fossil fuel use in the residential sector are already in sight. It is not prohibitively expensive nor very difficult to introduce these solutions to a typical US home. All it needs is a little bit of planning and education and gathering all the best working practices together under one roof. This solution creates an Energy+ household - that is a household that creates more renewable energy in daily life than it consumes over the course of a year. A working prototype of this solution already exits and the payback for the whole solution is currently about 10 years which is projected to decrease with time.
Consider a 2200 sq. ft. single family house with a family of 4. A median size US house is about 2160 sq ft and the average US household size is about 3. There are 2 working professionals in the home and they have 2 cars which they use for commuting to work, household chores, driving to kids' activities, and the occasional weekend trips to meet nearby friends and family. Now imagine that this family has zero energy bills! That is throughout the year in day to day living, this family pays zero electricity bills, has zero natural gas bills, and zero gasoline bills. The family is completely energy neutral in day to day living and to top it all that energy is completely renewable, clean and free from greenhouse gas emissions. In fact this has already happened.
Over the last few years the house was successfully retrofitted their house with a host of technological solutions that have drastically reduced their energy consumption and carbon footprint. Then they a large solar array was installed on top of their roof that now generates ALL of the energy that the family needs in day to day living. In fact the solar system generates so much energy that in 2012 there was an energy surplus and the utility company actually paid the family for extra energy generated.
The solution is a conglomeration of all the best practices and green technology that works with synergy under a single roof. It essentially has 4 steps:
1) Energy efficiency improvements.
2) Home electrification.
3) Automobile electrification.
4) Renewable energy generation
Please refer to the attached document for details.
The grid tied system for this home started generating power in October 2011. Over the next year it generated 16,300 kWh of energy - almost as estimated. Meanwhile the annual consumption of the household was only 12,200 kWh for a surplus energy of 4,100 kWh. The consumption was lower than estimated as the electric cars were bought in the middle of the year. So not only did the household not have any energy bills for the year, the electric company actually gave them a check for the extra generated power and to top it all that power was clean, renewable and carbon free. Surprisingly the total cost of all the above steps was just under $50K after government rebates and incentives thus creating a payback period of about 10 years.
Now the family does consume some gasoline when going on long drives once or twice a year that is beyond the range of current electric cars. However, even this will reduce gradually as battery and rapid charging technology improves and becomes more affordable. The only remaining step is to green the grid and there are tremendous efforts ongoing in California to generate all electricity from renewable resources and storing excess renewable energy generated during off -peak hours. Is there enough solar energy to power this whole Earth? Actually there is about 600 times as much! We just need to harness it. There are still some missing pieces like aviation and shipping fuel, road transport fuel etc. for which there is still no clear solution. Perhaps bio fuels, perhaps synthetic fuels from renewable energy or hydrogen from seawater electrolysis will solve that problem.
This solution can be stepping stone towards a world free from fossil fuels, free from greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and climate change, free from Geo-political turmoil over non-renewable and diminishing carbon based energy resources.
Why it should be recognized:
It should be recognized because it shows that living on renewable energy completely is not a pipe dream or prohibitively expensive as many believe. Also it does not mandate any significant lifestyle changes, just best and efficient practices. It shows that by judiciously choosing all the green technology that is already available to the consumer, we can begin our journey towards a sustainable earth.