Archive for January, 2015

Cold Pizza for Breakfast

January 25, 2015

Richard Heinberg just posed a long essay Our Renewable Future (Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy) which is a worthwhile read and something to return to later.

Near the end of section 7 he writes:

[there is only] one meaningful indication of success in all these [renewable energy] efforts, and that would be a decline in society’s overall energy use… What we need is not just to trim energy use here and there so as to save money, but to reconfigure entire systems to dramatically slash consumption while making much of the remaining energy consumption amenable to intermittent inputs. (emphasis mine)

‘Intermittent inputs’ is a reference to the idea that the wind does not always blow nor the sun always shine. He’s suggesting we need to organize ourselves to both make hay when the sun shines and be prepared to do something else when it doesn’t.

I already live with some intermittent energy supply. We heat the house with a woodstove. My evening ritual involves making sure there is enough fuel and kindling on the porch that I don’t need to make a morning trip to the wood pile in my bathrobe. The morning starts with lighting a fire. It gets stoked or relit periodically during the day/evening, depending on the day’s needs.

Energy storage is a way around intermittent supply, but it comes at a cost. Today I was thinking about what it would mean to my morning routine if I used only intermittent energy to start my day. After the fire, step two is making coffee. I use an electric kettle to boil the water. Since the winter sun is not up, I’d need a battery to power the kettle, or wait for the stove to heat the water. Step three is often making some toast.

Then comes the shower. My explorations at energy reduction have included making the hot water supply intermittent. Right now that involves putting my conventional hot water tank on a timer, its off when we typically don’t use hot water (eg, while we are sleeping or at work). Heinberg has me thinking about what it would mean to have the hot water heater “on” when the sun is shining.  I’d want to time my hot water use for late afternoon, and with an insulated tank, into the early evening. Morning would be the time of tepid water, and maybe not for wake-up showers.

Summer vs. winter is another way to think about periodic inputs. Perhaps I need to think differently about winter hot water, when I can’t count so much on the sun. Do I need two heating systems, the woodstove and a solar collector? Or do I need much more storage for hot water to “make more hay” when the sun does shine?

Perhaps I should I learn to like cold pizza for breakfast.

2015 Resolution – Reflect on Conservation

January 3, 2015

Progress on reducing my direct carbon footprint

Following on my conceptualization for the solution to reducing my direct carbon footprint (this analysis), here is the year in review:

Reduction. I think my theme for 2015 needs to be reflection on conservation, and its nuances.

In previous New Years posts I have tracked our car milage and was pleased to see our progress reducing miles driven. Alas, the reduction was lost in 2014. The lesson: bike/walking to reduce miles in town is easily overwhelmed by driving out of town, which should be obvious, it takes quite a few avoided short trips in town to equal the milage of one trip out of town.

2012 miles 2013 miles 2014 miles
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576
Prius (silver) new 12/4/14
totals  14227  10727  13418

My friend Stephen has a longer dataset and can demonstrate real progress reducing his driving, so it is possible.

spaeth carbon wedge car

In our cars, reduced use requires constant vigilance. In contrast, the area of lawn I mow is being reduced steadily by orchards, gardens and landscaping at the Cookhouse. I haven’t used the 15-year old riding lawn mower/snowblower in 12 months. Since, I’ve proven its possible to manage what is left without the rider, it needs to go away this spring.

Another notable experiment in reduction was to put a timer on our hot water heater. Now we make hot water for morning showers and again for evening dishes. While the savings from not maintaining hot water is small, we have proven in the past 6 months that we don’t lack for hot water when we want it. This experiment needs more study. For example, can we time the water heater so we use up much of the hot water and only store tepid water (rather than having the water heater reheat the water we just used and then storing that hot water)?

Substitution. Another of the strategies to reduce my direct carbon footprint is to substitute technologies.

The Cookhouse was built with all LED lighting and I thought I was done converting the Barn, but the other day I found one more CFL — a small one in a reading lamp. The house is partly converted, the Kitchen, family room and bathrooms are done.

My efforts at substituting LED lighting for CFLs are producing limited results; my home electric bill is not going down much (if at all), because the refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher and electric dryer are such a large fraction of the use that they overwhelm the savings in the lighting.

The used Prius that Krista will drive in place of the “red” car appears to give her 40+mpg vs the previous 25+mpg in “red car,” so if we can hold the miles driven steady, it should be a decrease in fuel used.

Replacement. The oven in our gas stove died last spring and (sigh) there are no parts to repair a 10 year old stove. The process of deciding has been slow, but we are headed toward an induction stove, all electric. The decision process was explored in this column. Replacing this appliance will produce a permanent decrease in our direct use of carbon, but a small one compared to the gas water heater. I’m having the electrician get me ready to do the water heater, but can’t afford that change yet.

While the 15 year old gas lawn mower is still running, I’m considering replacing it with an electric one. Since I’m not sure how that will work in when the grass grows fast in the spring, I’ll keep the gas one around for another season.

Generation. I have some more data on the impact of the solar air heater in the Cookhouse. My previous report was from a short duration observation. Now I have a year’s worth of data which appears to show April, May & June readings with less consumption than heating degree days would predict. Since the structure is still unoccupied the only energy use is for heating. Goals for 2015 are getting hot water preheating going in the Cookhouse and in our house. This data are also encouraging me to develop solar air heating to supplement in the barn.

849 electric usage

Electric heating in the Cookhouse for 2014