The Carbon Footprint of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

By Wyldon King Fishman

My first six photovoltaic (ďPVĒ) modules are 11 years old. They sit at 43 degrees on a small south-facing roof next to 2 big hot water collectors. In the front hall is a battery closet which vents to the outside. The battery back-up system was not cheap but I think itís much better to have battery back-up and buy fewer modules. The well pump always works and the little pump for the hot water always works. They are the cherry on top of a small passive solar built house of my own design and the comfort level is very high. The utility bill is very low plus Iím in pretty good shape when thereís a black out. My inverter says no degradation yet.

How does the transition work? The energy efficient basics come first: orientation, insulation, insulation, insulation. Spice it up with a large window facing south and with a few small windows on the north, east and west (given you are in the northern hemisphere) and ďDoneĒ. I got to pick my spot for its south-facing location. I didnít have to take down many trees. The steep, rocky terrain was never farmland.

Rooftop solar pencils in really well if there are no trees and the roof faces south unobstructed. The return on the dollar beats the band. Granted solar and wind fluctuate. Tides and the molten earth do not.

Stead Eddies like ground source heat pumps sometimes mistakenly called geothermal. Ten feet down the earth is always a constant temperature. It depends on how far a property is from the equator. In Texas the temperature 10 feet down is about 65 degrees F. In New York City the temperature 10 feet down is 54 degrees F. In Vermont itís 42 degrees down there. And, an engineering study is needed because there might be a cave or sand (no good). But once things are figured out thereís constant free heating and cooling for the cost of a pump for forever.

Another source of constant temperature is our town sewers. In Europe the fastest growing renewable energy business taps into the waste water. District heating is doable old tech. Toronto air conditions with water from deep down in Lake Ontario. Shiny new solutions have been around for a while.

Slow on the uptake: tidal and marine provide constant motion, therefore, friction which the trick to get electricity. Tides go up and down, waves rock back and forth but somehow industry struggles with endless prototypes while the wind turbines go round and round and the solar modules quietly hum. Big dams inflict damage on fishing environments and some have been taken out over the years allowing fish migration and spawning. How fair is it to pollute the oceans, dump trash in rivers, heat river water with nuclear power plant cooling systems, deal with choking nitrogen runoff from farms, lose the recreation, canít eat the fish for the PCBs, free cesspool for industrial waste, tailings and spills and flood control in a time of greater storms. Maybe just small hydro like a small turbine in a brook. Depends where you want to live.

Time travel to the future we need with a game named the ďEnergy Plan for Every TownĒ. Here begins a community discussion, a look at the nuclear power 93 million miles from Earth. Input from everyone to shape up a plan to cut demand and to suit the needs of those who live in apartments or nursing home, for neighborhoods with big trees and all kinds of homes without a sunny south-facing roof. Community solar can work for people who do not want to see a solar array anywhere, ever and for those of us who love the solar array sea of cobalt blue. And, the whole billing business fits very conveniently the utility wheelhouse.

Old Sol, the bright shining star, comes in second fiddle to the well healed energy saver. A watt not used is a nano watt and an electron not used wonít get made. Weatherize a well-insulated building, buy the newer better LEDs, caulk the leaky drafts and suddenly your home does not freeze easily. The extra insulation, strategic window placement, awnings and site orientation serve as barriers to summerís heat and sunlight, too. Reducing the need for AC helps in defraying the heat during the new, ferociously hot summers that have killed thousands of elderlies both in Europe and Chicago. A vicious circle strangles our polluted cities to the point where the energy is necessary to stay safe inside while the burning of fossil fuels makes breathing impossible. Does COVID-19 cling to smog? Did the lockdown clear the air and dramatically reduce the heart attacks, strokes and COPD lung-related hospital admissions?

But, remember to do load reduction first like a super-efficient refrigerator. It all about the tight seals, better motor and thicker walls. I really think we should be able to put a refrigerator on an outside wall with an exchanger. Is it really efficient to cool a refrigerator while we heat a home and outside itís below 32 degrees F?)

What we all can do is to speak up for better building codes so we all can live in zero energy use buildings. Pollute less and gain a more comfortable lifestyle. No sense letting the wind steal your heat and air-conditioning when you can afford a box of caulk. Itís energy efficiency first and renewable energy is the cherry on top. The technology that exists right now is so much better than belching, untuned boilers, metal box ACís hanging out of windows in winter and antique lighting. (NYCís big 3.)

Renewable energy isnít hydrogen made with fossil fuels. Solar powered electrolyzed is the ticket. And, heavens, donít put the hydrogen under pressure and start up the exploding gas pipelines, again. Same rule with locally produced methane from food and animal waste. Makes the greatest fertilizer, too. Just skip the long pipelines. The next village up the road has all the waste they need to make their own biodigester.

Biomass is not renewable energy. Like incinerators they are touted endlessly. Garbage as feedstock says we need to reduce, recycle and reuse not burn and pollute with infamous dioxins. For the past 20 years New York State got all fired up over incinerators, biomass and wood pellet stoves. Three woodstoves in a valley make visible pollution. Granted s super-insulated home can use far less but most people skip that step and either have cords of wood delivered or buy sacks of pelletized ground up wood or cut and split their own wood. Granted itís better than propane but only slightly better and still smoking up the earthís atmosphere and fouling our lungs. One good thing about the Coronavirus lock down was the cleaner air. We canít keep the deep blue skies and starry nights and go back to burning gas, oil, coal and wood. Sorry, Charlie.

No need to lock us into more pipelines. Insulation and a window on the south side is cheaper in the long run. An electric car using dirty coal-fired power run two thirds cleaner than a hot gasoline powered engine. At risk isnít the ratepayer as the utilities like to claim. At risk are the lungs and hearts effected by the particulate matter in the air we breathe, zinc and mercury spewed across the earth and cheap plastic made from the free by-product of fracking waste. Photovoltaicsí carbon footprint evaporates given the amount of energy it takes to extract, transport and dispose of the waste from fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Lastly, next winter pray for snow as earth needs the while albedo of snow to reflect the sunlight not the black earth and artic waters which absorb sunlight as heat. The 6 oversized tankers sitting off Coney Island and Long Beach canít store their crude anywhere. The shale producers are over leveraged to the max. And, solar powered refrigeration for vaccines will help save the day.

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