Why Passive and Active Solar Design? – Part 1

This is why new homes should have Passive and Active solar design integration

Homes over the last 70 years have been built to rely on the grid system. Big Utility companies or corporations have had a bonanza with making home builders think this way in order to gain a monopoly on energy sales. However in order to move into an energy independence mode we need to rethink this antiquated system. The grid system has many disadvantages today.

Side image is of a liquid solar array on my neighbors home.

Grid system energy has relied on several factors and lies. Factor and lie #1, cheap energy. Cheap energy is a lie because there is no such thing or “you don’t get something for nothing”. Energy in America has been cheap while it was new in the finding. Coal, natural gas, oil when first tapped were cheap because the extraction was easy, at the surface, and there was lots of it. Today we have misused these sources of energy by overly relying on them and to the point where not only have we hit the down slope on oil well reserves but we have also destroyed huge tracts of land in order to mine and extract these resource. Of course big utility corporations have enjoyed their boom years and have hijacked the way most view energy.

Lie #2 is that energy inexpensiveness has not cost something. We have entered a time period of “Global warming” no matter what the corporations would like the general populace to think. Fossil fuel burning has led to the destruction of our atmosphere and in a very short 200 some odd years. At this time we must slow the singular reliance on these non renewable energy sources. Grid system methodologies hide facts about the dirtiness of their production. Because we cant see the massive energy plants we don’t see the dirt, but our environment does and its sending us some clear messages at this time.

Lie #3 : Grid transmission of power is cheaper than making it locally. Grid transmission is only cheap because of mass numbers of customers, that is what makes it cheap as well as our good old federal government subsidizing such power for many years through breaks to the utility companies. These breaks are coming to the end with the E.P.A starting to send clear signs that stripping coal and new off shore oil wells will not be tolerated. So the resources will become more expensive and utilities will charge more in the future. Cheap electricity has relied on coal. Coal will become more expensive, and the burning of it to generate energy will become more expensive as the EPA cracks down further on emissions standards of carbon dioxide from these plants.

Lie #4: Local power production is unsightly, and noisy. Windmills, solar collectors, and wood burning yes have impacts but so has the grid system. Miles and miles of overhead power lines litter the roads, even woods, fields, and blight the landscape as a whole. At this point most of us just ignore it and don’t see it because who really wants to acknowledge it. I guess we have gotten used to it in the very brief time since its introduction a century ago. But what we do recognize are things that are new…. and wind mills and solar collectors are relatively new… so we see them, but I would argue this is just for awhile… once homes employ their own generation systems they will not be so alien to us. Have you ever heard anyone say “wow those power towers are lovely”?

Lie #5: Local power production is more expensive. Well it is and it isn’t. Much of the expense has to do with local resource availability. Heating by wood stove makes sense in areas that renewable wood sources are plentiful. Wind produces electricity makes sense where there is wind. Solar electric power and passive solar heating make sense where there is ample sun. There are combination of energy gathering systems where the region has a little bit of both. There are other energy sources as well locally available that we do not use due to our dumbed down monolithic grid system energy reliance. The expense often comes in hiring experts to assess the needs of a home in power and which systems make sense in the making of it there on site. The apparati that make the energy usable on-site are initially expensive due to installation and material but the life cycle cost brings this down over time. If our government would subsidize this type of local energy production rather than the corporate energy I would say it would in the end “pan out”.

Grid transmission of energy is fairly inefficient when you look at the losses of energy over the lengths of the power lines or 6.5% in 2007. The infrastructure is also expensive in cost, material, and unsightliness. With increased needs throughout the USA electric transmission can be unreliable found in the form of Black outs. Oil, natural gas all require shipping which is dependent on cheap oil which as we must realize will run out.

Pluses on localized energy production and utilization are that it uses locally available natural and renewable energy resources. It promotes and creates local jobs involved in home energy assessment, installation, manufacturing, harvesting of wood, and design. Using local energy keeps home inhabitants connected to their energy consumption which often promotes energy saving. When home occupants have to think directly about their energy usage they tend to me more frugal whereas with grid type energy and petro/gas utility purchase power it is more abstract by being reduced to dollars. A simple example of this is wood heating, home owners that heat with wood have a pretty good idea of how much wood they need to cut, stack and split in order to make it through the winter and they typically are good at rationing the usage of it. See my blog on radiant heat wood stove retrofit. Oh by the way some might argue that wood burning is dirty… modern wood burning boilers have come along way and do meet EPA standards.
It is easier to make small energy systems less impactive because they dont require train loads of coal. Some might argue that each one of the energy producing systems need to be manufactured. This is true but with simplicity there is less infrastructure, my belief is that it balances out over shipping and grid transport. Also in this same vain your home already has furnaces, meters, wiring, etc its just that its not set up to utilize energy found nearby.

My next blog will deal with passive solar and implementation in the home. See write up here


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