Converting a House to Zero Net Energy

Converting a House to Zero Net Energy

Buildings consume 40% of our energy, most of that for heating and cooling. Almost all of this energy is supplied by fossil fuels, resulting in tremendous CO2 emissions. Building electrification solves this problem. Instead of burning fossil fuels in homes and businesses, we can heat, cool, wash and cook using electricity generated from clean, renewable sources.

San Jose is one of the first cities to establish building codes that pursue a  zero net energy policy by strongly recommending all electric new homes. But what about existing homes? To find out first hand what was involved in getting to a zero net energy home, my wife and I embarked on a project to completely electrify our 50 year old home in San Jose.

I’ve done quite of bit of energy upgrading on homes and businesses over the past 40 years. Nevertheless, I checked in with a few friends who had done some electrification of their homes (thanks to Howard, Jeff and Dick). The steps we took mostly followed conventional wisdom: address the easy and cheap items first (LED lights, controls), extra insulation, solar with battery backup, EV charger, heat pump HVAC, heat pump water heater and induction cooktop.

There were only two real hassles with this electrification project. The first hassle is familiar to anyone doing a renovation or maintenance project: finding the “best” contractor for each individual task. Because building electrification involves so many different types of contractors, there is no one “general contractor” who can do everything both efficiently and cost effectively. We ended up with five different contractors: insulation, pool, solar, electrical and HVAC. Since I’m capable of screwing in a lightbulb, I took care of the LEDs lights and controls. The biggest hassle was on the electrical permitting side and coordinating with our local utility. Nevertheless, when everything was done and connected, we are enjoying a net negative (for the year) electric bill — including all of our heating, cooling, cooking and most of our driving.

Perhaps the most rewarding event was when our local gas utility PG&E sent an inspector to our house to find out why the gas meter almost stopped completely! To learn more about electrifying your home or business, please listen to this week’s Energy Show. And if you are thinking about making the switch from fossil fuel home appliances to electrical appliances run by solar and battery storage solutions, take a look at our 10 steps to whole house electrification.

Environmental Entrepreneurs- Bob Keefe

Environmental Entrepreneurs- Bob Keefe

Entrepreneurs are the job engine in the United States. Many of the companies founded by today’s entrepreneurs have products or services addressing environmental needs. New technologies almost always gain traction through the work of stubborn entrepreneurs, including solar, wind, electric vehicles and energy storage.

Public policies that encourage these new technologies are critical to their success in the market. Without policies such as the solar investment tax credit, net metering, renewable portfolio standards and the wind production tax credit, the solar and wind industries would be a fraction of their current size.  And when these new technologies gain traction with customer economics better than previous energy technologies, adoption of these new technologies accelerates. Just look at how wind, solar and batteries are surpassing fossil fuel energy sources.
These public policies generally do not sprout spontaneously from the minds of politicians. Instead, they are suggested, developed and advocated by public policy organizations. And when it comes to environmental policies for entrepreneurial companies, Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, is one of the leading voices. E2’s members have founded or funded more than 2,500 companies, created over 600,000 jobs, and managed over $100 billion in venture and private equity capital.

Please listen to this week’s Energy Show as we engage with Bob Keefe, E2’s Executive Director, to learn about the genesis of E2, their successes working at the intersection of jobs, economy and the environment; and their plans for the future.

DOE Continues Solar & Storage Progress

DOE Continues Solar & Storage Progress

In today’s accelerated and politicized news cycle it is easy to confuse White House pronouncements with the policies that government employees are actually implementing. The U.S. has about two million hard working government employees (disparagingly referred to as the “deep state”) who are dedicated to their jobs and following well-established laws and policies.

There is perhaps no better example of this dedication and progress than the 100,000 people at the Department of Energy (DOE). Although based on recent events I would say EPA employees are in the running for the hardest working and politically least recognized branch of our government. But I digress.

As a result of long established policies and investments, the U.S. is continuing its worldwide leadership in energy and efficiency technology. Although we could obviously be doing a lot more on many dimensions, it is not complete gloom and doom. Once new energy technologies prove they are better and cheaper, no amount of political backsliding can bring back the old ways of doing things. We are no more likely to resort to heating our homes and offices with wood than we are to replace LED bulbs with short-lived, hot and energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs (regardless of the affects they may have on our complexion).

For 2019 Congress authorized $35 billion in funding to the DOE – more than the $30 billion the President recommended. This $35 billion will be spent as follows:

  • $15b for the National Nuclear Security Administration — basically for weapons and cleanup from past nuclear programs (almost half of the DOE’s budget)
  • $7.2b for environmental management
  • $6.6b for pure science
  • $5b for energy programs – of which $2.5b is for energy efficiency and renewable energy, $1.3b for nuclear energy research, $1b for fossil fuel research and the rest for miscellaneous programs.

The good news is that the DOE is continuing great research into a broad range of renewable energy technologies. The even better news is that there are almost a hundred thousand people hard at work at the DOE striving to make solar, storage and newer technologies better and cheaper – regardless of temporary political headwinds. To learn more about the work being done by the committed people at the DOE, please tune in to this week’s Energy Show.

Politics of Energy and the Environment

Politics of Energy and the Environment

The 2020 presidential election has been in full swing for months, even though it’s still only 2019. Are things going faster as I get older, or are we in a constant stage of electioneering? Hmm, don’t answer that.

With one notable exception, all of the presidential candidates have positions on climate change – AKA Global Warming. President Trump’s position is basically to deny climate change, mock renewable energy, pull out of the Paris climate accords (signed by every other country in the world except the U.S. … perhaps they know something that we do not), brag about the U.S.’s oil production, and futilely try to resuscitate the coal industry. Sometimes I feel as if I’m watching the Twilight Zone on my parent’s Magnavox black and white TV.

The Green New Deal has been proposed by a number of Democratic members of Congress. This plan is aspirational – the Green part is what we really need to address climate change, but the New Deal part is painfully lacking in specifics and realistic funding mechanisms. Jay Inslee’s “Evergreen Economy for America” is a well thought out plan that has a chance to meet our global warming targets. Joe Biden’s “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” is a little more political than practical, and may not provide enough funding fast enough.

Listen Up to The Energy Show as we cover the politics of energy and the environment, ranging from the Trump administration’s environmental agenda (some would characterize this as oxymoronic), the Green New Deal, Jay Inslee’s Climate Plan, and what it will take for our next president to get us on the path of limiting global warming to 1.5 C.

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal

This week’s Energy Show is about the Green New Deal. Candidly, I’m all for the “green” parts, and not so enthusiastic about some of the “new deal” parts. The Green New Deal, formally called House Resolution 109 — 14 pages in all — is definitely a conversation starter. I sincerely hope that it gets our country re-focused on clean energy and good paying jobs for the 21st century.

Basically, the Green New Deal is a set of proposed economic stimulus programs in the United States with a goal of addressing climate change and economic inequality. The “Green” part refers to proposals to reduce the impact of climate change. It deals primarily with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and technologies that reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I’ve been working in the solar and the energy efficiency industries since 1977, so I believe that an “all of the above” approach gives us the best chance to avert the most negative effects of global warming.

For those of us who coasted through U.S. history in high school, the “new deal” part refers to a set of social policies, economic reforms and public works projects. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed through the New Deal in response to the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Civil Works Administration and the Social Security Administration are all legacies of the New Deal — and these policies created jobs for people who needed work. If you go camping in national parks, you may still see log cabins bearing the CCC logo.

Fast forward to 2007 when journalist and author Thomas Friedman coined the term “The Green New Deal.” The concept bounced around and evolved for a dozen years until Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey released the Green New Deal resolution on February 7, 2019. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as we discuss both the energy and socioeconomic objectives of the Green New Deal.



The Evolving Auto Industry

The Evolving Auto Industry

Remember the EV1 – GMs experimental foray into electric vehicles? Although the EV1 was a failure in terms of mass market sales, it captured the imagination of both car and environmental enthusiasts. Tesla’s leadership has proven that EVs can indeed be a marketable product. Now, virtually every automaker has a selection of practical EVs and longer-range hybrids.

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