Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and Conservation

There is strong scientific evidence that the continued burning of fossil fuel is changing the climate, polluting the air we breath, and endangering our health. A three part documentary, funded by the National Science Foundation, entitled “Planet Earth, the Operators’ Manual” provides an informative overview of the scientific evidence for climate change and global warming, and the positive steps that are being taken to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. These videos can be seen at

A documentary produced by Academy Award winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio and others that also considers the politics of climate change can be seen at

Fossil fuels include gasoline used in our cars, coal used in electric power plants, and natural gas used to heat homes or cook. The continued burning of fossil fuels will result in a warmer planet, the melting of glaciers and polar ice, increased sea levels, reduced farm output, the pollution of the atmosphere, and the extinction of species whose habitat is destroyed by the climate change. 250 to 251 million years ago, when the CO2 level spiked due to natural causes, it is estimated that 90% of all species were killed.

We can stop the the destruction of the planet and the health risks associated with the burning of fossil fuels by increasing our use of renewable energy sources and by reducing our energy consumption. Renewable sources for electricity include solar power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal power, and ocean wave power. In 2012 about 15% of U.S. electricity is generated by renewable energy sources. The transition from fossil fuels to a sustainable economy based on renewable energy requires the concerted effort of homeowners, the government, and industry.

Government assistance has played a crucial role in our nation’s increase by more than 50% in renewable energy production between 2009 and 2012. Solar and wind power have roughly tripled their production during this time period, spurred on by the federal stimulus. In one of the videos cited above, the narrator observes that it was once thought sewer systems would be astronomically expensive and that the only option was to collect human waste in bedpans and dump the waste out the window each day. As time passed, it was realized that the cost of a sewage system could be relatively small and well worth the investment. Similarly, today it has been argued that renewable energy is too expensive, and all we can do is burn fossil fuels and dump the combustion waste products into the air where they accumulate in ever increasing quantities. However, a closer inspection of budget data indicates that the federal cost of our renewable energy development has been relatively small: Our annual Federal budget is more than 3,000 billion dollars, but the total subsidies for the development of wind power, which has received most of the renewable energy subsidies and which in 2012 provides about 4% of our total electricity generation, is about 5 billion dollars in 2012, less than 1/600th of the annual budget.

What can we do to help steer towards energy independence built on renewable energy sources? The League of Conservation Voters web page records the votes of members of Congress related to environmental issues. This data bank provides a wealth of information for evaluating your representatives and interacting with them. As homeowners, one scorecard for our environmental consciousness is our utility bill.

Starting in 2005, I decided to see what could be done in my own home to reduce fossil fuel consumption by eliminating waste in the use of electricity. Average daily electricity consumption in kilowatt hours/day (kwh/day) is shown below for each month during the past 12 years (about 5000 square feet heated and cooled, data courtesy of Gainesville Regional Utilities):

    2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Jan   16   23   23   27   51   51   61   67   65   75   60   47   55
Feb   14   22   28   27   37   48   61   68   66   68   59   44   44
Mar   14   23   23   29   35   49   60   64   68   69   56   47   40
Apr   13   22   22   25   36   48   55   63   64   62   56   48   40
May   13   19   24   26   39   46   58   74   63   60   69   75   43
Jun   16   16   30   32   43   69   65   88   93   84   81   79   66
Jul   21   21   42   43   58   71   84   97  116   90   94   92   81
Aug   20   22   45   49   46   71   98  107  123   99   93   89   80
Sep   23   21   39   41   43   75   85   95  116   82  103   88   92
Oct   19   18   29   31   39   61   71   77   98   67   92   86   60
Nov   15   15   22   26   27   54   54   62   77   56   81   68   48
Dec   15   15   25   24   26   53   53   60   65   58   76   57   45
Ave   16   20   29   32   40   58   67   77   85   73   77   68   58

Consumption peaked at 85 kwh/day in 2005. It has declined in each succeeding year. In May, 2012, the refrigerator and freezer were replaced by energy star units reducing electricity consumption by 10 kwh/day, and in June, 2012, a coolant leak in the air conditioning system was repaired, reducing electricity consumption during the summer months by 10 kwh/day. In 2013, the average electricity usage was 16 kwh/day. This represents a 5 fold reduction in electricity consumption (from 85 kwh/day down to 16) over 8 years. Most of the energy consumption in 2005 was simply due to energy inefficient water heating, pumps, appliances, and lighting. Hence, by paying attention to energy efficiency when making purchases for the home, tremendous reductions in electricity consumption can be achieved.

The projects that resulted in a 5 fold reduction in electricity consumption were the following:

  1. Install a solar hot water system. All my hot water is generated by the sun, I have not had to use the backup electric heating element except when the house was reroofed and the solar system had to be disconnected. There are 80 square feet of panels on the roof and 200 gallons of hot water storage. 30% of the cost of the system was paid for by a federal tax credit, and my local utility provided an additional $500. In a few years the system paid for itself through a lower utility bill. (see Note 1 below)
  2. Replace pool pump and koi pond pumps by energy efficient pumps. My home, like many homes, used single speed pumps. Today, much more efficient variable speed pumps are readily available. With a $500 rebate from the local utility, the cost of the new energy efficient pumps were paid for by reduced electricity consumption in a few years. (see Note 2 below)
  3. Replace all appliances (washer, dryer, dish washer, refrigerator, and freezer) by energy star appliances. The pay back time for appliances is longer than either the solar hot water or pool pumps. Nonetheless, there is a net savings and these energy efficient appliances are well worth it.
  4. Replace AC system by one with a higher energy efficiency rating.
  5. Incorporate LED lighting in all high use areas of the house. 15 watt compact florescent lights were replaced by 9 watt, 900 lumen LED lights with greater light output and better color quality.
  6. Turn off unnecessary lighting. Indirect lights that provide relatively little luminosity are no longer used.
  7. Disconnect appliances that continue to draw electricity when off. One television set consumed 40 watts even when it was off. This unit is no longer used.

Energy conservation helps the environment since most electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels and by reducing the consumption of electricity, less fossil fuels are burned. In addition, energy conservation saves the homeowner money. Without the energy conservation program started in 2005, my electricity bill would be about $5,191/year; in contrast, my electric bill in 2013 was $828 for an annual savings of about $4,363.

A step taken towards renewable energy production was to install a 10 kilowatt photovoltaic system on my roof. The local utility pays for the generated electricity which flows into the local power grid. Photos (photo1 and photo2) of my roof power station are courtesy of Pure Energy Solar. The annual and average daily production of the photovoltaic system is shown in the following table. The years begin at the start of the day on September 8. The decline in production is mainly due to increasing cloudiness during the late spring, summer, and early Fall.

  Year      KWH   KWH/day
2011-2012  14,800  40.4
2012-2013  14,315  39.2
2013-2014  13,579  37.2
2014-2015  13,762  37.7
2015-2016  13,776  37.6
2016-2017  13,734  37.6
2017-2018  13,448  36.8
2018-2019  13,213  36.2
2019-2020  13,213  36.1 (leap year)

On January 9, 2014, a second 10 kilowatt photovoltaic system went into operation on my roof. The annual and average daily production of the new system are as follows:

  Year      KWH   KWH/day
2014-2015  13,427  36.8
2015-2016  12,789  35.0
2016-2017  13,800  37.7
2017-2018  13,303  36.4
2018-2019  12,762  35.0
2019-2020  11,934  32.7
2020-2021   9,175  25.1 (blown fuse wiped out 1/4 of the panels for the year)

These are some steps that have been used to reduce a fossil fuel footprint through both energy conservation and renewable energy production. Although every home and every community is different, it is hoped that this information can stimulate homeowners and voters in their quest to leave the planet a better place for future generations through both energy conservation and renewable energy production.

Note 1. My solar hot water system was installed with single speed pumps that use 200 watts of electricity when the system is running. If variable speed pumps were used, then the electricity consumption would be almost nothing. Be sure to require variable speed pumps.

Note 2. A few years after installing the variable speed pumps for the swimming pool and koi pond, DC pumps powered by a solar photovoltaic panel became available. If the variable speed pumps were replaced by the DC solar powered pumps, then the electricity consumption of the home would decrease by another 40%.

September 17, 2012
Gainesville, Fl

Bill’s first electric car arrives, April 23, 2013