1/2 -- Lessons and Comments


This is a list of a few things we noted during the 1/2 process.


Answers to the initial questions

These were the things we wanted to find out when we started the 1/2 project:

Can we cut our energy use and green house gas emissions by 50%?

Yes -- Results To-Date:  (1)

Reduction in Energy Use 59,100 KWH/year A 63% reduction
Green house gas reduction 36,100 lbs/year A 60%reduction
Total cost of projects $11,725  
First year saving on energy bills $4,830 41% first year return


Projects now in work will result in some further reductions.

How hard is it?

Not very hard -- see the details on the projects.


No lifestyle changes needed -- the next 50% might require some lifestyle changes, which is fine.

What will it cost?

Our total cost to date is $11,725

This may seem like a lot, but look at the rate of return (below), and the protection that this buys against future fuel price increases.

If this seems like more than you want to bite off, take a look at the Top Eight Projects ..

How much money will we save?

Our estimated first year saving is $4830 - this is a first year return of  41%.  This will go up over time as fuel prices rise.

(1) The small print: This includes all energy to run and heat our home and gasoline to run the car. It does NOT include the energy used to manufacture or transport the things we buy.  Maybe someone has some ideas for these areas?


I think that investing in energy saving projects is indeed a win-win.  You reduce green house gas emissions (your kids and grand kids will appreciate that), and you earn a very good return on the dollars you invest.


Prioritizing the Projects

If you want to get the most energy reduction and green house gas reduction for the dollars you spend, it's  important to make a long list of potential projects, and then try to work out the cost, energy, and green house gas saving for each.  You will likely find a huge difference in the bang for the buck.  In our case, simple things like controlling the amount of power that our PC's use, or basic insulating projects paid well.  Some easy to implement solar heating projects are also paying well.  On the other end of the spectrum, the solar PV project we intend to do in the future will cost as much as all our other projects put together (22 in all), yet will only account 2.5% of the total energy reduction.


Its hard to say which projects will work well for any given situation, but the types of projects that are likely to be among the most cost effective in all situations are:

Reducing your use of electricity

Driving a more fuel efficient car (or altering your transportation habits)

Insulating, Infiltration control, and duct sealing

Insulating window treatments

Simple solar water or space heating projects (and passive cooling)


See the planning area for ideas on how to make a good list of projects for your situation.


So, why is economic payback so good?

When you look at the first year rate of return for all of the projects completed to date its a whooping 41%.   This return is tax free, and it will likely go up each year as fuel prices go up. While I expected a descent return, 41% surprised me.  After looking through the projects again, I think this is why the return is high:

Another bonus is that some of these projects also qualify for rebates or tax credits that will further improve the 41% return.

You can also further improve the economic return by doing only the most cost effective projects -- for example, the Top 8 projects ...


The Hybrid

When I look at our total energy use picture, I have to say that buying the Hybrid Prius had the biggest impact of any single change. 

The Prius:

I thought that cutting the automobile transport portion of our energy use in half was going to the the most difficult part of our 1/2 project -- instead, it turned out to be the easiest part.  Highly recommended.


Saving Electricity

Cutting down on electric use is really effective in reducing green house gas.  The fact that most of our electricity comes from inefficient coal plants that burn a high carbon fuel (coal) makes them put out a A LOT of CO2 for the energy they produce.  Most people will be able to easily find many hundreds of kilowatt hours that can be saved easily and cheaply with minimal change (for example, putting our 2 PC's on a power diet saved nearly 1800  KWH per year and 3500 lbs of green house gas!!). 


Electricity and Green House Gas

This paragraph applies particularly to the US where most of electricity is generated in coal plants.


Notice that the projects that save electric energy reduce green house gas by about 2 lbs of CO2 per 1 KWH of energy saved.  And, projects that save heating fuel reduce green house gas by about 0.5 lb per 1 KWH of energy saved.  So, 1 KWH of electricity is 4 times more "dirty" that 1 KWH of heating fuel.  This is because electricity generation at coal fired plants is inefficient (30 to 35%), and coal has a high carbon content.  The point is that electricity in the US is a very "dirty" fuel in terms of green house gas emissions.


To me, this argues for doing an especially aggressive job of trimming your electricity use.  It also argues for not using electricity for things like space heating.  Electric heaters generate about 4 times as much green house gas as a gas heaters for the same heat output.


We should be shutting down coal plants -- instead we are on course to build more of them -- many more.

"We now stand at a watershed moment. An entire generation of obsolete coal-fired power plants built in the 1950s and 1960s needs to be replaced, and U.S. utility companies have announced their intention of building more than 100 new coal plants over the next 10 to 15 years. Unless something happens soon to tilt the balance toward more environmentally benign alternatives, nearly all of those power plants will use the old-fashioned, intrinsically dirty technology known as pulverized coal. The largest plants will have generating capacities of around 1,000 megawatts (MW), enough to supply electricity to as many as 900,000 homes. Such a plant costs close to $1 billion to build and has an operating expectancy of 60 years or longer. Every year of its lifetime, it will spout six million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere -- about the same as two million cars."


From "How to Clean Coal", Craig Canine  http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/05fal/coal1.asp

This is an excellent article on the future of coal in the US.


Another good blog entry on coal: http://alt-e.blogspot.com/2006/10/clean-coal-or-dirty-coal.html


Here is another way to show what a large role coal generated electricity plays in the pollution puzzle.  Look at the following two charts.  They show my family's energy use and our green house gas emissions.  Note that electricity (blue bar) is a relatively small part of the energy we use, but that small part contributes the biggest share of green house gas.






This is a little unfair, in that it assumes all of our electricity is generated in coal plants, and it's not -- but, it looks like it's the way we are headed.


What's included?

We included the energy used in our household (propane and electricity) and automobile for transportation.  These are the things that we have direct control over, and can change. 


The not (as  yet) included items is the energy used to produce and distribute the products we buy, air  travel., and probably a few other things I haven't thought about.  It's not that these things are not consequential (they are), but we have little direct control over them.   As a former Boeing engineer, I believe its likely that Boeing could build a jet transport that uses half as much fuel, but I don't think I could convince them to do it -- maybe all of us could?



Gary 08/04/06, 5/13/07, Nov 13, 2007