Sunday, July 25, 2010

Half Plan Update for 2010

We started the "Half Plan"  back in 2006.  The initial object was to cut our total energy use in half.  "Total"  was to include energy for space heating, electricity, and transportation -- basically all the energy use we have direct control over.  It seemed like a pretty big commitment at the time.

We went about this in a pretty systematic way.  We worked out how much energy we were using and for what.  Then identified a whole slew of potential projects we could tackle to reduce our energy use, and then went about doing the ones that paid off the best. 

Here are the results in a nutshell:

Space Heating energy use is down from 1610 gallons per year to 700 gallons, or a 57% reduction. 
At usual propane prices, this is worth $1,800 a year.
The CO2 emissions reduction is 12,300 lbs a year.

Electricity use is down from 940 KWH per month to 170 KWH per month, for an 82% reduction.
At 10 cents a KWH, this is worth $925 a year.
The CO2 emissions reduction is 13,900 lbs a year.

Gasoline for car transportation  Switching from a small SUV to a Prius has cut our gasoline use by more than half.
The dollar saving per year at $3 a gallon is worth $1,880 a year.
The CO2 emissions reduction is 11,900 lbs of CO2 a year.

So, we have exceeded the going in objectives in all areas -- sometimes by a wide margin.  In hindsight it was a lot easier than we thought it would be.  No lifestyle changes.  It has also proved to be a very good investment with an excellent return.  
We are still working on further reductions -- I can see lots of remain opportunities.

I guess the thing that puzzles me most is that there is not more interest in the plan.  It seems like its just a no-brainer way to save energy, save money, and save Carbon.  But, while other areas of Build-It-Solar get ten thousand of visits a day, the Half Plan gets a couple hundred.  I get very few emails on the plan.
Maybe the Half Plan section is poorly done? Poorly organized?  
Does not get the message across?

Anyway, I'd really be interested in hearing your thoughts on why it does not work better and what might be done to improve it  --  you can leave a comment here, or email me...

It seems to me that if this plan were widely adopted it could significantly change the picture of energy consumption and carbon emissions in the US.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lee Adds a Self-Propulsion System to His Solar Electric Lawn Mower

In the past Lee has described his project to convert a Troy-Bilt gasoline powered mower to a battery electric mower, and then went on to provide solar charging for the mower batteries.

Lee's latest project is to add electric powered self propulsion to the mower.
First version of the gas mower converted to electric.
The new self propelled mower uses a drive unit salvaged from another scrap Troy-Bilt self propelled mower.
The new self-propelled mower with larger batteries.

All the details on the original mower conversion from gas to electric ...

All the details on the new addition of electrically powered self-propulsion...

Thanks very much to Lee for sending this material in!


One BIG and One small Micro-Hydro Project + a Micro-Hydro Calculator

This entry covers a couple nice micro-hydro projects as well as a good calculator for estimating micro-hydro system output.

Micro-Hydro Calculator
This is a nice and easy to use calculator that provides both power output and optimal pipe size for a given vertical drop, flow rate and pipe length.  This calculator has a good deal more capability than most of the small hydro system calculator, but is still very easy to use.

The calculator is a small program that you download and run on your own computer.

Details here...

Judy of the Woods New Hydro System
Judy is a very self-reliant person who lives on her own homestead in Wales.  Her website has a wealth of information on living a simple and self-reliant  life.

Anyway, Judy has managed to combine the output from a few springs and route them downhill several hundred feet to a small hydro generator.

Details on Judy's new hydro system here...

A Big Micro-Hydro System
This is a detailed description of a relatively large micro-hydro system in Chile.
Turgo runner for the hydro generator

The system uses  a long run of 6 inch PVC pipe to run a Turgo wheel turbine that drives an about 4KW synchronous brushless AC generator.
The synchronous generator with runner attached.

Lots of detailed pictures covering the whole hydro installation...


Unique Shading Structure on French Passive House

This house built to Passive House Institute standards in France has a very unique shading structure made from hinged bamboo shutters that can be used to shade the full south face of the home.

The home has a number of other energy saving features, but the shading structure seems very unique.  The shutters are set off from the front face of the house enough to make a veranda.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Surya -- An Inflatable, Concentrating Solar Power System

The Surya is an interesting new development in the effort to get the cost of solar power down to a level where it will compete with fossil fuel generated power.

The Surya is an inflated cylinder with a mirror surface along the mid-plane of the cylinder.  The mirror is reflective plastic film that is shaped by a slight differential pressure between the top and bottom halves of the cylinder.  The mirror is shaped to concentrate light on PV cells that are mounted in a linear array along the outside of the cylinder (the brown box in the picture above).   The Surya tracks the sun, so that it is always aimed to collect solar radiation efficiently.

The idea is that the light weight and low cost Surya inflatable structure coupled with greatly reduced PV cell area compared to non-concentrating collectors can reduce the cost of solar generated electricity.  As a further benefit, there is also the possibility of collecting thermal energy (heat) as a part of the cooling system for the PV cells.

Mithra, the inventor of this project, is a friend and was a co-worker back at Boeing before I retired.  I helped Mithra with the building of the small scale prototype for the first version of the inflatable heliostat.   I'm really impressed with this full scale prototype of the new design -- it really shows what a small, skilled team can accomplish without millions of dollars of funding.

Quite a bit more detail on Mithra's website
Details on the Surya...
Other energy related ideas on Mithra's site...

More new interesting and mind stretching ideas in solar and renewable energy on our Experimental Page...


The Edison 2 Very Light Car X-Prize Entry

The Edison 2 is one of only two entries remaining in the 4 passenger, 200 mile range mainstream car X-Prize class.

Its a pretty amazing car that get a hundred miles per gallon, and can go a hundred miles per hour.  The main ingredients are light weight, low drag, and an efficient (non-hybrid) internal combustion power plant.
This is nearly five times our current US fleet average mpg, and twice as good as a Prius!

The Edison website is good and brings up a number of interesting points about designing and efficient and safe car. 

More on efficient  and solar cars on our Solar Vehicles web page...


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Elisolar Combines Shading and Thermal Collection in One Attractive Package

Elisolar has an interesting new line of architectural shading structures that double as solar thermal collectors to heat water.

The shading louvers are aluminum.  Water to be heated is run through each of the shading louvers to pick up solar heat.  The water is supplied by PEX tubes that are concealed by the louver support frames.  The structure simultaneously provides shading for the building and heats water.

As indicated by the red areas in the diagram above, the shading structures can be used in a number of locations on a building.

Given that the "collectors" are unglazed and open to air circulation, a high collection efficiency should not be expected -- especially in cold climates.  But, the advantage of getting both shading and water heating out of one simple device may offset the expected low efficiency.  Elisolar is in the process of getting SRCC certification, so performance data should be available soon.

Anyway, this idea of combining shading and collection seems like a good one, and might take other forms -- any ideas?

If nothing else, it should keep overzealous Home Owner Associations at bay.

The Elisolar website... 
See the Experimental page for more mind stretching adventures in solar energy use :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Denver in Ohio Does a $1K System for $800!

This is a very nicely designed example of a $1K type solar water heating system by Denver who lives in Ohio.

The system has several unique new wrinkles:

The tank is a relatively small footprint but is relatively tall and holds a good deal of water.  It is the plywood box, framed with 2X4 perimeter frames at 4 levels.  The tank uses internal polyiso insulation and  the standard EPDM liner.
The pump is the Swifttech pump, which is intended for cooling PC processors, but works well as a solar pump.  Denver built his own controller, but its similar to the type of differential controller that John C. sells on his site as a kit.  The pump and controller combo are only about $100 total.

Denver used the 300 ft coil of 1 inch PEX for his heat exchanger, but took pains to recoil it for better heat transfer.

With some good design and creative scrouging, Denver managed to keep the total cost of the system to $800 -- this is about 1/10th of what equivalent commercial systems cost!

All the details on Denver's $800 DIY Solar Water Heating System ...

More examples of $1K DIY Solar Water Heating Systems here...

Thanks to Denver for sending this material in!


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Two Water Savers: Todd's dual flush toilet, and a Laundry to Landscape Grey Water Recovery System

Dual Flush Toilet Install
Todd sends in a first hand report on installing and living with his family's new dual flush toilet
Its good to see a first hand report on performance in that there are still people who don't think that a one gallon flush is enough -- Todd would strongly disagree (so would I based our our dual flush toilet experience).

Details on installing and living with a dual flush toilet from Todd...

More on efficient toilets and other water conserving stuff...

A Laundry to Landscape Grey Water Recycling System
This is an account of installing the laundry water recycling system from the Homegrown Evolution blog.  The system design comes from Oasis Design, which has a lot of information on various types of simple grey water recycling systems, and some good books.

These systems allow laundry water which would otherwise just contribute to overtaxing the municipal sewer system to instead by used for landscape watering.

Links to more detail on both systems...


Realtime Reporting on Our PV System is Back

We have a 2150 self installed PV system that uses Enphase micro-inverters.  In this kind of system, each PV panel gets its own small Enphase inverter, and each inverter reports back to the Enphase internet server on a regular basis throughout the day.  Enphase then puts the data together on a website that they set up for each customer PV array -- it provides near realtime data on how your PV array is doing.

This is ours:

The main part of the report looks like this:

This shows the output for the 4th of July.
The first page shows the current output by individual PV panel, and some day, week and total life summaries.
The 2nd graph shows the power output history for the whole array for up to 7 days.

The system also emails out notes when something has gone wrong with the system and needs attention.

For the past few months we have been on a cell phone based internet service that was incompatible with the Enphase system and had to forgo the realtime reporting.  We are now back on a regular internet service, and the realtime reporting is back :)
I have to say that while I thought the online reporting was mostly fluff, I've come around to thinking that this is a good way to do it -- its nice to know that someone else in monitoring the system and will let you know when something breaks.

A very detailed how-to on our PV system, which was surprisingly painless to install...

Details on the realtime reporting feature....


Root Cellar Using Earthbag Construction

This is an article from Mother Earth News giving a good and detailed account of constructing a root cellar using the earth bag construction technique.

The building could also be used as a storage or garden shed -- or whatever.

 Link to the MEN earth bag root cellar, and other root cellar plans...


DIY Electric Car -- good site for EV conversions

DIY is a good site for people interested in doing an conversion of a regular gas powered car (or other vehicle) into an electric vehicle.

Lots of good, hands-on information and lots of real projects.

Link to DIY Electric Car (and other electric car conversion sites)...


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Two Year Update on Gordon's Deep Energy Retrofit of Schoolhouse to Home

Gordon sent in the results for his 2nd full winter of operation on his schoolhouse retrofitted to a VERY energy efficient home.
The results continue to be just amazing -- these are the total wintertime space heating energy used:
  • $199 of firewood
  • $13 LPG
  • $7 for electricity
Pretty impressive for a home in a tough Canada climate.

Gordon and Sue's house is a retrofit of an old schoolhouse that had no insulation, poor windows, ....
They did a very carefully designed retrofit that includes adding an R40 Larsen Truss for wall insulation, very efficient passive gain windows, a masonry heater, and a new solarium (shown in the picture) that provides solar space heating for the house.  The house is beautiful inside and out.

The home comes close to meeting Passive House Institute standards , and uses about 6% of of the energy of a similar size typical home in their area -- all in a retrofit!

Details on Gordon's deep energy retrofit of a schoolhouse into a home....

Performance update after two full winters ...

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