Energy Audits etc.

Yesterday was 9/11 and at night I could see the twin beams of light reaching up from Manhattan to the low clouds.  There are not too many degrees of separation from that sight to thinking about the US economy, energy independence and deep-rooted conservatism.

This blog is a grab-bag of items, but hopefully about the same theme; we need to be active about energy– and we need to do a lot to achieve a lot.  There has been progress; the state and federal subsidies do help people improve their energy situation.  Awareness is spreading.  Large-scale solar and wind projects are going ahead.  Research into all areas of energy conservation and generation is continuing.  I am just impatient; I want much more to happen, more quickly.  I get frustrated when I see the knee-jerk reactions to any alternative energy proposal.

At the small scale, house by house, end of the business the typical energy audit recommendations are air-sealing, insulation and house and hot water heating – typically in that order.  This is good stuff, gains energy savings and creates greater comfort for the owner.  My quibble is that it does not go far enough.  Ideally the programs for home energy audits should be such that auditing can be a profitable business in itself.  At the moment (in NJ at least) prices for a home energy audit range between $125 and $400.  (By comparison a German audit costs €1000, with half refunded by the government.)

The effort to earn those dollars is huge; 2 trained people, with expensive equipment, on site for at about 3 hours (more as the house gets larger and more complicated – we love single story ranches), with several more hours spent on data input, analysis and report generation, then an (at least) one hour presentation back to the homeowner.  Clearly a company can’t survive on that income, so has to sell air-seal, insulation and heating upgrades to stay alive.  Again, it’s all good and to the benefit of the home owner – it would be great if the audit could be profitable in itself and the report include some more alternative energy solutions.

Wouldn’t it also be great if the people at the top would send a clear message?  Here is a small report from the Guardian (I couldn’t find it in a US news outlet) how the White House declined an offer to install solar panels.  OK, so the offer was probably a marketing stunt by a solar panel company.  But all the same fitting some panels to the White House would send a message.  The last lot, a solar hot water system, was installed by President Carter and removed by Ronald Reagan (not personally as I understand it).

Nuclear energy is getting more press in the meantime.  There has been fierce debate in Germany, not about new nuclear plants, but whether to extend the life of existing installations.  It looks like they will continue in operation, the number of years is still in contention.

From Greentech Media comes this article on “Time to End Nuclear Socialism”:

“A nuclear plant will cost $7,000 to $10,000 per kilowatt, says Mark Cooper of the University of Vermont. That’s more than wind, solar, storage and other renewables—and the price tag will continue to climb…It shouldn’t be called the French Nuclear Miracle, says Mark Cooper. It’s more like a recurring nightmare.”

Hmm – With a headline like that it is clearly intended to inflame discussion.  But the “discussion” achieves little.  People take up their set positions, call each other liars and do not advance the debate one way or another.  I take refuge as usual with MacKay, who in “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” clearly and rationally sets out the costs and benefits.  Somewhat to my surprise he seems to endorse nuclear.

Opponents of nuclear overstate the costs and dangers, proponents downplay the costs and ignore the dangers.

Not related to this particular article, but in a similar vein, I am struck by the range of responses – some are erudite, reasoned and full of facts (which need to be checked for accuracy!), others are either ignorant, or willfully distracting – I have seen a number of responses that seem to assume that fusion reaction is a reality, and if we only switched to a helium fusion system all our problems would be solved – – if only.

Heat pumps – ground source heat pumps in particular – should be much higher on our list of alternative energy solutions.  Europe leads the way, and here are some comments from the UK.  The David MacKay quoted is the author of the “ – without the hot air” book mentioned above.

“Heat pumps will be a crucial component of our low-carbon future, provided they perform well,” said David Mackay, the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s chief scientific adviser.  “It is therefore essential to conduct trials to establish best practice and perfect this technology for use in buildings throughout the UK.”

The article includes this diagram of typical CO2 emissions  for a house in the UK – not much different from the average US house in a heating areas (i.e not those states where cooling costs predominate the energy bill).

Just to make sure we don’t confuse ground source heat pumps and geothermal energy, here is a short extract from the Economist Technology Quarterly of September 4th 2010. In an article on “Hot Rocks and High Hopes – the promise and pitfalls of geothermal power” The Economist states:

“Australia’s efforts are probably the most ambitious. Primary Industries and Resources SA (PIRSA), an Australian government agency, projects that between 2002 and 2014, investments in Australian geothermal projects (including more than $250m in government grants) could reach $2.7 billion—with roughly 72% of that figure going toward EGS (Engineered Geothermal Systems) projects. More than 50 companies exploring geothermal projects in Australia have taken out over 400 licences for areas covering nearly 500,000 square kilometres—a combined area roughly the size of Spain”

Climate Change – still seems to be a discussion point, despite the hottest ever summer in the New York area.  But I guess climate change deniers will never go away.

This book review from Powells floated into my Inbox and seems that there are some solid facts about the scientific underpinnings of climate change.

”A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming” by Paul N. Edwards

The review is by Noel Castree, professor of geography in the School of Environment and Development at Manchester University, England. His principal research interest is in the political economy of environmental change.

’In recent months, two events have cast doubt on the “climate change consensus.” In November 2009, it was revealed that senior scientists in the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) had been withholding information concerning their working methods and data sources. In the new year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was forced to concede that a claim about Himalayan glacier melting — made in its 2007 scientific assessment report — was false. These events, according to some climate-change skeptics, are evidence of scientific misconduct and further proof that the current epistemological consensus rests on shaky factual foundations. Although the CRU has now been cleared of any wrongdoing and IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri has defended the Panel’s scientific conclusions robustly, “Glaciergate” and “Climategate” seem to have affected public belief in the reality of anthropogenic climate change — if several recent opinion polls in the United Kingdom and the United States are to be believed…. Edwards’s remarkable monograph, by looking under the hood of both meteorology and climatology, shows us why we ought to be skeptical about the claims of the climate-change skeptics.”’

That last sentence could be less convoluted – basically we need to question the skeptics, the science of climate change itself is sound!

The whole point of the energyrealist web site is for individual action. Whether you believe in man-made climate change or not saving energy, and money, still makes sense.

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