Monday, January 18, 2016

Electricity and Natural Gas

My household has already done quite a lot to conserve electricity and natural gas. So while we are not likely to improve much on this in 2016, here is a recap of where my household currently is.

Lighting: Many years ago we went mostly to compact fluorescents. In 2015 with LED prices falling substantially and many compact fluorescents reaching their life limit, we converted these as well as most remaining incandescent and halogen lights to LEDs. The only incandescents that remain are special service bulbs in our oven and refrigerator. The only halogens that remain are some special hall ceiling lights and some micro spot lights in cabinets and bathrooms. These remaining halogens are all hard to convert to LED until some new specialty bulbs are developed and/or we are able to replace these built in fixtures. I really wish such fixtures used more common connectors. Replacing the fixtures would force these to be trashed/recycled and involve considerable money so I’ve settled on using them only as needed -- my family is well trained to turn off lights when not in use. Our lighting inside and outside is very close to as efficient as is possible at this time.

Heating: Only our hot water heater and furnace use natural gas. Our hot water heater and house are pretty well insulated -- about as efficient as we are going to get them at this point. We also keep our house around 65°F -- a little on the cool side for some but good enough for us. I considered going all electric for heat and hot water, but at this time natural gas is very economical and our hot water heater and furnace still have many years of service left in them. Over time I do expect to switch over to electric ones but probably not this year. So I am resigned to generating some greenhouse gases through them for a while longer as I view heat and hot water as necessities and not something to do without. We need them to maintain our health and well being.

Regarding hot water use, we do have an on demand hot water recirculating pump ( to minimize hot water waste.

Solar: Late in 2015 we took a big step and installed a solar electric system that will reduce our electricity bill to near zero. This was a significant up front investment but we should break even in 9-10 years and then will enjoy another 20+ years beyond that of essentially free electricity -- or from another perspective, we reduced our electric costs for 30 years (the likely life span of our system) to about a third of what it would be otherwise. Plus we greatly reduced our greenhouse gas emissions (waste) at the same time. This was a big win-win!

It was not economically viable for us to install solar until our electric bill reached about $100 per month. Getting an electric car (Nissan Leaf) in 2014 almost doubled our electricity bill so we were able to reach the $100/month threshold. Plus with solar we essentially drive a solar powered car and eliminated fossil fuels for this car (more on transportation later).

We are blessed with so much sun in California and there are huge numbers of roofs and parking lots and roads that could generate electricity rather than overheating houses and cars and our environment. I hope people in California will put in much more solar to cover this otherwise wasted space rather than covering natural areas or farmland with commercial solar facilities. Those growing areas use “solar” naturally already and it is better to generate electricity as close to where it is used. Generating and using resources locally is an ongoing theme to reduce waste. It wastes resources to transport energy and matter over distances when it is not needed.

Waste reduction summary:

  1. Matter (material):
    1. Some natural gas consumed but existing equipment not wasted. Hope to phase out natural gas eventually (or switch to natural gas produced sustainably from biomass).
    2. Solar panels consumed some material that should be reusable/recyclable when worn out.
  2. Energy
    1. Solar energy was waiting to be used and converting it to electricity locally resulted in lost of waste reduction!
  3. Time
    1. No significant loss or gain.
  4. Space
    1. Turned underused roof space into a gain (waste reduction).
  5. Money
    1. Efficient lighting & heating saved money.
    2. Solar saved money big time!
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. Solar greatly reduced pollution!
    2. Appropriate resource use kept us happy and healthy.

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