Turning Towards The Sun

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“US homes contribute one fifth of climate-change-causing-carbon-emissions,” according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Real Change

If there was a master plan for slowing climate change, reducing pollution and giving our children a fighting chance at an inhabitable earth, would you get on board? I certainly am not the master of this master plan, but I’m hoping to show you how you can be a part of it. Using solar power, solar storage and electric cars I think we have potential to make real change right inside our own homes and families. I’ll do my best to break it down for you here.

Homeowners

If You Own Your Roof

If you own your roof and it’s suitable for supporting solar panels (it has enough sun exposure, the roof is strong and new enough and there are no HOA restrictions etc) then you’ve probably already started considering solar panels. If you haven’t committed yet, I’m guessing you’re still working out how you’re going to pay for it.

Now stop reading and put your home address into Google’s Project Sunroof search bar. It’ll show you how much money you will save over 20 years by converting to solar. Plus, they’ll connect you to a bunch of solar companies.

Neat, right? Now keep reading.

Buy it outright – You can buy solar panels with cash which usually saves you the most money in the long run, but it requires an up front investment.  Plus you may qualify for a 30% federal tax credit on what you spend through 2019. Some states also offer incentives. Tax codes are complicated! Make sure to talk to a professional tax advisor before you make any decisions based on tax credits!

Finance it – You can buy the solar panels but finance the purchase. Some people finance it using a home equity line of credit or a solar loan. You pay back the loans principle and interest over time. You may qualify for the 30% tax credit even when you finance it. Again, complicated tax codes! Talk to a professional tax advisor!

Lease it – With a solar lease, you lease the solar panel system the same way you would lease a car. You basically pay for the system over a set period of time and you can choose how much money to put down. With a lease you do not qualify for the federal tax credit. It’s a bummer. Talk to a professional tax advisor!

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – With a PPA the solar company puts the solar panels on your property at no up front cost to you, but they own the panels. You pay a fixed monthly cost to the solar company, usually less than the electricity bill would be for the same amount of energy. At the end of the contract you can buy the panels at a discount or extend the contract. Since you don’t own the system, no tax credits for you! You get the drill… Talk to a tax advisor!

Things You Should Know

During the day solar panels use the sun to generate power (stop rolling your eyes, I knew that you know that already!) But did you know that without power storage (I’ll get to that in a minute) the power your panels generates needs to be used right away or sent back to the power company?

Sending power back to the power company for a credit is called net metering. Net metering means you only get billed for the amount of energy you buy from the power company minus what you sent back to the utility for a credit. If you use less sun energy than you produce you get a credit for what you send the utility. Most states allow net metering, but not all.

Power Storage

With solar panels, after the sun goes down the power comes from the electric company. If you’re already running your home on solar panels and you want to take it to the level, this is where power storage comes in.

Tesla’s PowerWall, Sonnen-batterie and  Orison Intelligent Power Storage System (Orison is coming soon) let you store the power generated but not immediately used. Power storage keeps you running green at night.

Green Tech Media estimates that home power storage will grow significantly over the next five years. As power storage becomes more main stream it will hopefully get cheaper. As of today’s writing, the entry level PowerWall costs about $7,000 installed. Sonnen Batteries list price is $5,950.

Renters

If You Don’t Own Your Roof

About half of residents can’t set up traditional roof solar panels because they are renting or living in condos. If this is you, community solar can be an option. Whether or not this will work for you largely depends on if there’s already a community project operating in your area, if they are still taking new members, and if the pricing and operation will work for your particular situation. Community solar is a broad term that can mean lots of things, but here are the basics:

Community solar farm – The program is set up like a co-op. A business runs a solar farm and members pay to receive power directly from that business. With this model the business can grow as it gets more members and the solar farm adds more panels. This is truly a local business and can be set up in more ways than I can cover here.

Utility Sponsored Model: You continue to buy power from your utility company, but they charge a premium for you to buy “green” solar or wind generated power from them. That’s all fine and good if you don’t mind paying more for the exact same service, but there’s actually no way for the utility to send you just renewable power. Once power goes into the grid, you can’t separate the “green” from the “brown”. So, in this care, you’re basically paying more for exactly the same thing you were getting before. Hmmm, good to know.

Check out the US Department of Energy’s Guide to Community Shared Solar for more comprehensive information. It seems there are still kinks to work out when it comes to community solar, but hopefully it will get better and easier to access within a few years as the market develops.

Using Your Solar Generated Electricity To Power Your Electric Car

“Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions.”

– Union of Concerned Scientists

Next up is powering your electric car or plug in hybrid. This is where it all comes together.

  • First – We power our homes with solar panels powered by the sun.
  • Second – We store the power we don’t use.
  • Third – We use that power to charge our cars and light our homes at night.

This may sound like something from The Jetsons (remember that old cartoon? Yeah, I’m really old!) but it’s actually just part of Elon Musks master plan for Tesla. If this whole renewable energy thing goes mainstream, then we can make an actual dent in climate change, decrease pollution and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I tend to be skeptical on anything that sounds too good to be true, but on this one I’m definitely drinking the cool aid.

Other Random Things To Know

Photovoltaic (PV) – Sometimes you’ll hear the term photovoltaic or PV. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. The photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity.

UtilitiesIndustrial sized solar farms and wind farms are launching all over the United States. The cost of electricity from utility-scale solar farms has declined at a 20% compounded annual rate. This makes it a more attractive source of energy than coal in many countries according to the World Economic Forum’s report on Renewal Infrastructure. This means we should hopefully continue to see utilities increasing the power they get from green sources like wind and solar.

Public Companies – Google is powering the entire company with 100% renewable energy by buying power purchase agreements from renewable project developers around the world. Major companies like Amazon and even the US department of defense are getting their power from solar. These guys are on board with the master plan for sure!

A Brighter Future

So now you know the master plan. Don’t you feel like you’re in a spy movie? Anyways, this plan works for my family. We already have the solar panels and the electric car. Now we need the storage. To be honest, we’re kinda just waiting for the price on that one to come down. Maybe you’re in the same boat? Maybe you have a hybrid car already, or you’re thinking of getting solar panels. That’s awesome. Change takes time. The master plan doesn’t have to come together over night. It’s kind of like building a family. It takes time and there’s no rush. You do your best with what you have today, and hope it all comes together in the end.

Until next time…

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A Greener Air Conditioner?

HFC Alternatives Post Kigali Amendment

When the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol passed in October, it set a timeline for the United States and Europe to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s) by 2019 due to their high global warming potential (GWP). So what will todays HFC’s be replaced with and what alternatives are available today?

“Due to different thermodynamic and safety properties of the alternatives, there is no “one size fits all” solution. The suitability of a certain alternative must be considered separately for each category of product and equipment and in some cases also taking into account the level of ambient temperature at the location where the product and equipment is being used,” according to the European Commission on Climate Action‘s report on F-Gas alternatives. (HFC’s are considered F-gases also known as fluorinated gases).

What to do if you are building new or remodeling:

  • SNAP – This is the United States Environmental Protection Agencies list of approved alternatives. This list still includes HFC’s. Use this list when talking to your contractor or HVAC professional if you’re in the United States. Make sure to ask your contractor how your choice will effect your energy consumption. You need to weigh your HVAC or refrigeration choice against its energy efficiency.
  • Cool Technologies – “This website includes a sampling of companies using natural alternatives in a variety of applications. It was created to demonstrate there is already a wide array of safe and commercially proven technologies available to meet nearly all those human needs formerly met by fluorinated refrigerants,” according to Cool Technologies, a Greenpeace and Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) website.
  • Energy Star – Review the Energy Star rated HVAC systems and refrigerators. Most of these will still use HFC’s for now, but they should require less energy to run and are considered best in class.
  • European Commission on Climate Action –  The European Commission offers a guide to buying climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs and HCFCs in Europe.

 What to do with the AC and refrigerator that you currently own:

  • Heat and Cool Efficiently – Energy Star has a list of what you should do to keep your current system running efficiently.
  • Recycle or dispose of it properly once it’s no longer running efficiently. “To reduce energy demand, ozone depletion, and global climate impacts, it is critical that older units be permanently removed from the energy grid and properly disposed of so that environmentally-harmful refrigerants and foam blowing agents are captured and recycled or destroyed,” according to the EPA.

The Next Generation Of HFC’s

Hydrofluoroolefins (HFO’s)

  • Hydrofluoroolefins (HFO’s) are being marketed by Honeywell and Dupont as the fourth generation refrigerant that will be used instead of HFC’s.
  • “Honeywell developed Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) that have an ultra low GWP and are non-ozone-depleting. Today these HFOs are available for mobile air conditioning, refrigeration, aerosol applications, insulating and one-component foams. Soon, new HFOs will be available to serve the high performance thermal insulation and solvent segments,” according to Honeywell.

Natural Refrigerants

Ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, air and water are considered natural refrigerants and are outlined in ASHREA’s position document on Refrigerants and their Responsible Use.

“Some of the natural refrigerants have been used in the market place for many decades although at varying degrees of application. Although environmentally superior favorable, natural refrigerants are not free of other concerns, such as corrosion, toxicity, high pressures, flammability, or in some cases lower operating efficiencies,”according to ASHREA.

 

“If a lower global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant is less efficient than the fluid which it replaces, any direct global warming benefit may be offset by increased energy consumption. ASHRAE’s position is that the selection of refrigerants and their operating systems be based on a holistic analysis of multiple criteria,” according to ASHREA.

“Overall, the opportunity exists for a significant percentage of current HFC use to transition to NIK [Not In Kind/Non-HFC/HFO] alternatives during the anticipated Montreal Protocol phasedown of HFCs,” according to the Center For Climate and Energy Solutions.

“By providing a broader range of alternatives, NIK alternatives provide market and price competition to patent-controlled next generation HFOs, and in some cases offer greater energy efficiency. In addition, NIK alternatives can help Article 5 Parties leapfrog from HCFCs to low-GWP alternatives. Efforts are underway but will require several more years to address changes in codes and standards to ensure a wider range of more flammable alternatives can be used safely,” according to the C2ES.

“Chemically, HFOs are a form of HFCs, but due to the negative connotations that HFCs have acquired, this new class of chemicals is being marketed under a different name. While HFOs have lower GWPs than the earlier generation of HFCs they continue to pose dangers to the environment,” according to Greenpeace.

 

“HFO’s do not provide long term, sustainable solutions. Natural substances are available and technically and economically feasible in almost all cooling applications: domestic and commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning, mobile air-conditioning, industrial processes, insulation foam blowing,” according to Greenpeace.

“As Article 5 Parties consider replacing high-GWP technologies, there is a desirability (and very real potential) to leapfrog from HCFCs to low-GWP alternatives—avoiding a shift first from HCFCs to high-GWP HFCs and at a later date from HFCs to a low- or zero-GWP alternative,” according to the Center For Climate and Energy Solutions.

Kigali Amendment Details

The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol sets the dates for phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are used in air conditioners, refrigerators, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems and aerosols. HFC’s contribute to global warming and were originally developed as an alternative to chlorofluorocarbon’s (CFC’s)  which deplete the ozone layer. CFC’s were phased out as part of the original Montreal Protocol.

“Following seven years of negotiations, the 197 Montreal Protocol parties reached a compromise, under which developed countries will start to phase down HFCs by 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024, with some countries freezing consumption in 2028,” according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“HFCs are the fastest growing climate pollutants, and they pack hundreds to thousands of times the climate-warming punch of carbon dioxide, pound for pound. Scientists estimate that HFCs could add up to 0.5° Celsius to global temperatures by century’s end if their growth is not checked,” according to the NRDC.