A future in which most houses generate their own electricity could mean a more localized system in which power is shared.
If Sandy has shown us one thing, it's that all being tied to one and the same power station can have disastrous effects. Apart from saving on fossil fuels and carbon by implementing clean energy systems in your home, investing in these methods now could ultimately guarantee your energy needs are covered, even when the grid breaks down. A future in which most houses generate their own electricity could mean a more localized system in which power is shared with your immediate neighbor should theirs run out, ensuring black-outs are a thing of the past. This blog post will discuss typical energy uses in one family households, and what it would take to cover them. What you can do to monitor your own households energy consumption and some of the grants and tax credits already out there to help make an investment in solar energy for your home easier.
A study in 2010 conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that the average U.S. household used 31.9 kWh per day and that in one state the average was as high as 45.8 kWh per day. The graph below compares some of the most common household appliances, and their average energy usages per hour and per day. Of course we are making some assumptions here, including that lighting fixtures have not yet been upgraded to LED's and higher efficiency devices are not yet being used (aspects which we will be sure to cover in future posts). Although we concentrated on the summer season in this particular graph, I think it is safe to say that a boiler or heat pump uses the most energy - not only by kilowatt hour, but also as seen by the aggregation of hours it is used on an average day. This is closely followed by central air conditioning consumption, and the hot water heater. Although an oven or a stove top have a very high hourly energy usage, they are generally used for less time. The fact that the energy needed to heat and cool our homes is by far the highest, underlines the role that well insulated buildings play in keeping down energy usage (more on that subject in another post). It also highlights that employing solar energy to heat your hot water (which is the most efficient way to use it) could immediately save you up to a third of your electric bill (this too will be a whole new post subject).
Monitoring your own energy usage is a good way to start down the road of awareness. We follow our bill very closely and can see definite changes through the seasons. We feel great when we've managed to lower our energy consumption compared to the same month of the previous year, and strive to figure out ways to get it down even further. Here is a great link that explores some other ways to measure your consumption of energy. This New York Times article suggests that immediate feedback and a consequential change in our habits could lower our energy bill by up to 30%.
Though our energy is generally delivered by ConEdison in New York City, you can choose to have a green energy company supply them with what you use. ConEd will offset your usage by buying clean energy - and the more people demand that service, the more we can ensure that burning fossil fuels becomes the minority type of energy supplied to our grid. We have the energy we use supplied to ConEd's grid by Green Mountain Energy Company, whose energy - at least in the New York City area - is generated mainly by wind farms. The cost is a little higher - where Green Mountain Energy charges $0.136 per kilowatt-hour, ConEd charges $0.11 per kilowatt-hour for energy that is derived mainly from coal, nuclear and gas. These numbers do not yet include the $0.12 that ConEd charges for the delivery of 1 kW/h or the $16 basic service charges. If you think about it, the more people sign up for energy coming from clean sources, the cheaper these companies will be able to sell their power, and we can each individually play a direct role in reducing carbon in the atmosphere.
Surprisingly, the next step - generating the electricity you use of your own roof with solar panels - is not as expensive or difficult as you may have thought. Below is the breakdown for a typical brownstone in New York.
We ran the numbers for a system of this size from Astrum Solar, an East Coast company that strives to make implementing their system as easy as possible. We discovered that for a system that would initially cost $33,600 you can receive an NYSERDA State Solar Grant of $10,550, a Federal Tax Credit of $6,615 and a Residential State Income Tax Credit of $5,000. If you additionally apply their Fall Promotion of $1,000 the price left for the system is $10,435 - which is a third of the original cost. Now if you own your own home this investment is truly a good one. Utilizing the current tax incentives, within 5 years the initial investment will pay for itself and begin providing significant savings.
If all the energy that you consume can be produced by the building you inhabit, you have Net Zero Energy building, the first of which just opened in Brooklyn. Of course this is not solely a matter of installing solar panels on the roof. Conservation is key. Additionally, a tight and well insulated building and state of the art windows can save you so much on the heating and cooling needed to keep your home comfortable, that you may even produce more that you use. (More about these methods in another blog post)
A lot of East Coast States already have a system in place by which you can sell the excess energy you make in your home back to the grid, which provides additional incentive and monetary return. One of these are referred to as Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) and - unlike Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington, DC - New York is not yet requiring energy companies to buy them from local producers. NY does however allow net metering of residential buildings, which will feed your excess energy back into the grid in return for energy credits.
Since 2006 U.S. generation of Renewable Energy has gone up from 7% to 12%. New York's '45 by 15' goal is to supply 45% of its energy from renewable sources by 2015. Lets keep it rising!!