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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
- Replace AC system by one with a higher energy efficiency rating.
- 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.
- Turn off unnecessary lighting. Indirect lights that provide relatively little luminosity are no longer used.
- 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