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A Cleantech Blogger’s Home Energy Audit – The Results Are In

Reprinted from CleantechBlog.com

A few weeks ago I blogged a very bad experience trying to get an energy audit done on my home.  The vendor, Standard Renewable Energy, part of Gridpoint, just didn’t do the job.  After our blog article, the company came back to do the audit right for me, complete with a IR camera looking for hotspots, blower door test, and duct test.

I just got my report, and wanted to share the experience.  Consider it kind of like our cleantech blogger CSR report.  I’ve posted the full energy audit report on our Cleantech.org Yahoo! Group for your reading pleasure. 

For those of you who want to blog your own home energy audit, I’d love for you to join the Cleantech.org Yahoo! Group and send in a message with your experience or report in attachment.

If you’re looking to sort through what kinds of products are available, our sister site www.greenhome.com/ has a ton of them including:

as well as hundreds of articles on the how to side of things, for everything from energy efficiency to general greening.

My personal scorecard:

The results were mixed, not bad over all, but a lot of room for improvement.

I apparently have a pretty low energy rate house, at 23 kBTUs/Sq Ft, apparently a little over half the average.  Not bad for a 55 year old ranch house. This despite very little insulation in the attic, none in walls, and not particularly efficient appliances.  But for better or worse, with our total summer energy bill in the $125/month range ($8.9/kwh) plus gas bill for hot water at less than $20/month, not much makes economic sense to do.  I think we may just be very boring in our energy use! 

We didn’t do so hot on the blower and duct tests (that’s where they pull a light vacuum and measure how leaky your house envelope and duct work is.  The combination is a measure of how much your system is air conditioning things other than your home).  We are about double the recommended levels of leakage, and that’s after redoing the windows.

And we haven’t insulated the attic (current R value is estimated at 13, something like R 38 is desirable).  The nearly $1800 attic insulation quote I had gotten previously was looking like a 5-7 year payback, and unfortunately paying to seal the ducts and replace the air return looks like it would be marginal as well.  Sealing the ducts probably would pay off, however, we have an old house whose air return is way undersized and very poorly sealed, probably a vestige of the original heat only return pre air conditioning, meaning I’d need to tear up my hallway and put a new one in the ceiling to do it right.  The other big move would be to do some sort of an attic fan to do active attic ventilation, and keep my cooling load down.

One bathroom is basically an energy black hole, sucking my energy straight out to somewhere, but except for attic insulation they didn’t have a lot of good suggestions for this one. Since it’s my bathroom not hers, my wife just didn’t seem as concerned as I was.

The big contributor to be honest is likely not even in the house – we bought a very well shaded moderately sized house with 4 huge oak trees and 1 magnolia shading it, and keep the AC in high 70s in favor of a lot of ceiling fans.

And apparently, despite having big pretty windows and lots of light, we don’t have a high window area/square foot ratio, and all but one are pretty shaded. We did replace them with energy efficient double paned windows this summer, which besides an Energy Star washer/dryer was our only major energy efficiency move so far. Even more than the energy, replacing the windows made a huge difference in comfort, while still keeping the AC temperature fairly high.

On the negative side, I added 26 recessed can lights to the ceiling (I can’t help it, I like light!), about doubling the lighting capacity of the house to 5kW with very few CFLs.  But each room has multiple lighting systems (eg, ceiling fixture plus recessed or recessed plus lamps) on different switches, and we are pretty good about keeping on only what we need, so it really didn’t drive up the usage.

We’ve got a couple of small, cheap items that definitely make economic sense.   Only 1 of the 4 outside doors is weatherstripped (and one has a huge south facing single paned window that failed the IR test badly), and caulking along the base boards/sealing the various light switches (they make basically soft gaskets you can put on yourself that do the trick) and attic stairs would help seal the living area a bit (maybe just offsetting all those lighting cans!).

The south facing roof is mostly shaded by trees, and that plus our low electricity and hot water usage and low electric rates means solar is pretty much out.

We’ve done nothing about “vampires” or phantom loads, but we also don’t have a huge number of electronics, so it’s not too bad.

The one thing I was really excited about which the auditor just didn’t seem to think was worthwhile was an attic radiant barrier.  They recommended simply attic better ventilation as a first step.

In any case I’ll blog the results in a couple of months and give the blow by blow on whatever we end up doing.

 

My conclusions:

It’s hard to really find a lot things that were economic and environmental no brainers.  Most of the big items looked to be “on the bubble.”  Lots of little things from CFLs to those little light socket gaskets and weatherstripping need to get done.   And I do need to bite the bullet on some big items like the insulation.

Part of me really wants to see how far down I could get my energy usage. Is 300 kWh/month possible without self generating?  I’m going to have to do some calculations.

One of the problems with a house like ours is that when you start with moderately low usage, and plan on doing all the small cheap items, your bill gets so low you can’t payback any of the big ones.  So maybe energy efficiency retrofits is only really the province of the true energy hog or those who just believe.

 

 

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger of CleantechBlog.com, and is responsible for starting companies in carbon, superconductors, solar and fuel cells, as well as launching Cleantech.org.  He is a Texas Aggie, and his grandfather and great grandfather were both refrigeration and air conditioning engineers.

LED There Be Light

by Richard T. Stuebi

As some of my long-time readers may know, I have never been a truly ardent fan of compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). Why?

1. Probably most importantly to me, in my experience with CFLs, I haven’t been satisfied with their start-up characteristics. They take a little while to “warm up” to full luminescence, and until then, the light seems very sickly to me. It actually makes me a bit nauseous. I know that better quality (i.e., more costly) CFLs perform better than cheaper generics, but even CFLs from General Electric (NYSE: GE) that I’ve bought still don’t turn on as well as I have come to expect from four decades of living with incandescents.

2. Except for some new (and considerably more expensive) products, CFLs generally don’t work with dimmers. I once found this out the hard way — snap, crackle, pop. I don’t know about you, but a lot of the light circuits in my house are on dimmers, and as a result I continue to run incandescents on them.

3. It is becoming more well-known that CFLs contain mercury, and hence their disposal is a real issue. Even worse, if one were to break, the release of mercury represents a significant risk — at best a big clean-up nuisance.

4. CFLs aren’t cheap. True, CFL prices are coming down to become closer to the levels of old/inefficient incandescents, but they are still substantially more costly. For lights that are rarely used, the extra investment doesn’t make much sense to me, as the energy actually saved is small.

So, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the emergence of LED (light-emitting-diode) products for consumer application. I like the quality of LED light, and LEDs don’t have the mercury issue, so it seems like the superior long-term lighting solution.

I’ve been told that household LED lighting is still many years away, but at least some products are trickling into the marketplace. For instance, see EarthLED Lightbulbs, which are available at Think Geek. Clearly, they are still a niche item for the early adopters, as they cost $60-100 per unit, but at least their emergence into the market now puts consumer LED lighting on the gameboard, hopefully on a quicker path of cost reduction as learning curve and scale production effects are achieved.

Since LEDs have virtually infinite lifetimes, in the future, there will no longer be a need to make lamps with removable bulbs in sockets. Savvy marketers out there should begin working to overturn the old paradigm of reusable lamp/disposable bulb, making way for LED lamp fixtures that are inherently designed to capitalize on the unique and compelling advantages offered by LED lighting.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

The Next Big Thing in Cleantech Venturing

As always, the venture community is looking for its next big thing. The cleantech world is no exception. Despite the dearth of exits, so much capital has flowed into the cleantech sector that investors need new places to put it. So despite my promise to certain friends not to blog certain funding rumors in each category, the top 4 contenders are:

  1. Green building materials – I’m not sure it would be my thing, but investors across the board seem to think this area is ripe for a hit.
  2. Carbon IT – With some sort of cap and trade a near certainty, the interest is picking up in one of the few areas in carbon that looks like a “venture bet”. I should know, I have one of these companies myself.
  3. Food related technologies – High food prices and rising fertilizer costs, what can I say?
  4. N-generation solar technologies – Everyone not in the first wave is looking to get in to the 4th wave. Not sure venture investors will fare better in the 3rd or 4th wave than they did in the second, but they are going to try.

I had a chance to visit one of the Gaia Hotels, which bills itself as a new eco-hotel chain, this weekend. The experience put those four contending areas in a bit of a new light, as the creator of the Gaia ecotel concept toured me around and shed some light on the decisions that went into them from the demand side. (Note: “ecotel”, “bit of a new light”, “shed some light”, “demand side”, all good cleantechisms).

After launching a LEED Gold Certified facility in Napa Valley a little under two years ago, Gaia opened a new one in Northern California, focused on outdoor recreational travelers, which they expect to achieve at least LEED Silver. I had lunch with Wen Chang, the creator behind Gaia, this Saturday. When it came to green building materials, I was frankly amazed how much impact the LEED program had on the design and materials selection, and how big a selling point LEED was to this concept. Everything from using photovoltaic panels and Solatube daylighting, to low flow shower heads, low water usage and local landscape selection, and chemical free gardening and stormwater management, all the way to the carpet made from recycled materials, CFLs in the night stand, and sustainable forest products. Talk about demand stimulus, after an extensive tour, I was ready to buy a green building materials company myself. Especially since the ecotel was booked solid!

And of course front and center in the lobby, there were Renewable Energy Credits (though not carbon credits) purchased from our friends at Renewable Choice Energy, to offset the power usage, and a monitoring system to show power and water usage, and solar production.

Moving on to the food technology, the Gaia Anderson restaurant is not yet open, but is intended to be an organic and locally grown food (I assume that Napa will count as “local” for the wine, but I did not ask!).

No eco friendly building in this day and age would be complete without a solar panel on the roof. Gaia Napa’s solar system is apparently providing 10% of the electricity needs on site, while at the Gaia Anderson, the panels have not yet arrived. But perhaps the most telling for would-be solar barons, Wen Chang did not know or care whose technology powered the solar panels. Only that they arrived and worked.

All in all, quite an eye opening one day “deep dive” into the demand side of the four top contenders for cleantech’s next big thing. (Pardon the expression deep dive, I’ve always found that term amusing, especially since cleantech VCs use it all the time now to describe the 6 conferences they went to and 12 business plans they read to become an expert in, say, solar, so I couldn’t resist.)

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is the founding CEO of Carbonflow, founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of Cleantech.org, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog.

Can We Actually Reduce Energy Usage without Hurting GDP?

I was thinking today, in cleantech we often talk a lot about energy efficiency. Californians often cite that this state has grown its economy for the last 20 years without a significant increase in energy usage per capita, compared to the rest of the country, where GDP per capita goes up, and energy usage goes up just as much. But of course, California has lost much of its manufacturing sector over that same 20 year period, too. Perhaps no coincidence?

But if we wanted to actually do it, where could we actually save energy without impacting GDP growth, make a serious difference in our power bill, and do it in a big way – targeting say, 50% of our total power usage on a per capita basis?

  • CFLs & LEDs – We are already moving aggressively towards compact flourescent light bulbs, and the penetration rates are still low. As that trend continues, and LEDs come into the mix for more and more applications, our lighting bills should trend straight downward for the next decade. Now if we can just stop cringing at the thought of a $3 lightbulb!
  • Heating and Air Conditioning – I know whenever my power bill goes higher than I like, I just watch how often I turn the heater on, and adjust the thermoset a bit. The answer here has always been some combination of improved technology, smart metering and more transparency in billing and usage, and energy prices rising high enough for consumers to feel the pinch. Oh, and did I mention insulation, California?
  • Hotwater heaters – Can anybody say, “tankless”?
  • Power generation -If every power plant was upgraded to the latest generation of technology – in the power generation world – newer tends to equal more efficient all else being equal – the impact could be staggering. But bottom line, this means our regulators would have to approve the increase in utility capital expenditures and pass those costs on through to us in the short term. That’s about as likely as George W announcing a plan to tax every SUV Detroit makes and give the money to the poor to buy solar systems.
  • Solar – As for solar – which is typically sold on a “reduce your energy bill” pitch, not a chance. At $0.15 to $1.00/kwh (depending on who’s counting and how they count), if we actually reduced a significant amount of our building load with solar power we’d likely send our GDP plummeting. There are lots of reasons to love solar, but decreasing energy usage per unit of GDP is not one of them. At least, not yet.

These aren’t new ideas. But definitely worth repeating until we learn the lesson.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.

Light Bulbs Replace Coal Power Plants

By John Addison (2/23/07). California media, business and government leaders gathered at the CFL Summit in San Jose on February 22 to discuss an important subject – changing a light bulb. Yes, it was an all-day meeting about a light bulb – the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL).

A summit meeting about a light bulb? I had to attend. I thought it would be like the light bulb joke that asks “How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb?” Correct answer: Eleven. It takes four to create a space for it to happen, one to change the bulb, four to share in the experience, one to write a book about the experience, and one to negotiate the movie rights to the book.

It turns out that the right light bulb is no laughing mater. CFLs are an important part of saving billions, achieving energy independence and averting a climate crisis. If each American replaced only one conventional 60W bulb with a 13W ENERGY STAR-labeled CFL, it would prevent the burning of 30 billion pounds of coal, and save $8 billion in energy costs.

This enormous potential for change brought 200 to the meeting including a Hollywood producer, Washington officials, environmental leaders, and corporate executives from around the country.

Producer of an Inconvenient Truth, Lawrence Bender introduced the significance of 18seconds.org, named for the 18 seconds it takes to change a bulb. “This movement is about empowering the individual — to say to every person in America that with one easy step, they can become part of a movement that will literally change the world,” said Bender. An Inconvenient Truth is nominated for two Academy Awards including best documentary. Mr. Bender’s past films Good Will Hunting and Pulp Fiction won multiple Oscars.

Co-founder of Yahoo, David Filo, talked about the unexpected rewards for doing the right things. He knows a lot about empowering people to make a difference. When he co-founded Yahoo in 1994, 99% of us were unable to navigate and communicate using the Internet. From the early years, Yahoo has supported a wide-range of non-profit causes, bringing together those that want to help with those in need. Yahoo for Good (http://brand.yahoo.com/forgood/) provides details about programs including Earth Day, Breast Cancer, and Disaster Relief. Amy Lorio, Yahoo News GM, shared how environmental news is reaching many of Yahoo’s 500 million users.

Yahoo manages 18seconds.org and helps sponsor summits like this one. Yahoo also goes to lengths to empower employees to enjoy sustainable living and avoid gridlock traffic. (Cool Commutes) http://www.cleanfleetreport.com/vault/cool_commutes.htm

Environmental Defense offers details about a wide range of compact fluorescent lamp for different lighting and decorative requirements at their website.

One of the CFL Summit sponsors is public utility PG&E which actively promotes fuel efficiency and is investing billions in renewable energy. Not all utilities are promoting efficiency. Making daily headlines is TXU’s controversial proposal to build 11 to 19 inefficient coal power plants that threaten all of us with the planned emission of 78 million tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions. In the past month, Americans have installed enough CFLs to more than offset the power that would be produced by these plants.

18seconds.org provides good information and tracks success. For example, since the start of 2007, over 14 million CFLs were purchased in the U.S. During the life of these lamps, $400 million will be saved; 1.4 billion pounds of coal will not required for fueling unnecessary power plants. Over 6 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions will be prevented.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, observed Confucius. Ending global warming begins by installing one CFL. It only takes 18 seconds.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish. For years, he and his wife Marci have lighted their home with CFLs. This article appears in full at the Clean Fleet Report. http://www.cleanfleetreport.com