Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lets go Tankless.

In a zero energy home (ZEH), it pays to look for every little energy waster you can find. And you especially want to get to use every kilowatt hour you pay for, that's just plain sense. So, what's an energy waster we find in most houses? A water heater.

Water heaters heat water. (?) No doubt. But it's what else they heat that gives us cause for concern. If you own a gas or electric tank style water heater, you are heating water even when you are not using it. And that heated water is heating it's tank, and the tank is heating the closet it is in, and if it's a gas water heater, some of your heat is going up the flue. So, that's waste number 1. Secondly, if you are using a gas water heater, your efficiency is limited by the amount of heat that the water is unable to extract from the combustion products because of simple thermodynamics. Heat flows toward cold, the less cold the cold is, the less heat will flow there. So, heated water is inefficient to heat further, and that goes for anything above freezing. In fact, your standard gas fired tanked water heater is about 85% efficient while your high end (read expensive) flue gas condensing unit tops out at about 95%.

Enter the SEISCO electric tankless water heater. Its internals are made of thermoplastic so more of the heat made by the heater stays in the water. Actually, more than 99% of it. Yes, that's more than 99% efficiency. A sustainable liver's dream. It easily beats out electric water heaters on operational cost, and it beats standard gas units as well. High efficiency gas tanked and tankless heaters are close on the horizon and indeed, it has surpassed some of them in some areas with especially high gas prices.

The real goodie with this thing is its ability to be mounted almost anywhere. It is less than 16 inches square, and only 6 1/4 inches thick. Do you have six inches behind your fridge? I'm planning on putting mine behind the bathroom door. In the future ultra ZEH, I plan on using smaller units, about half the size of the one to the right, for several purposes. One will be used as a backup heater for the radiant floor heating solar combined system which will only heat the water to 90 degrees, and then the rest will be used in the rooms where hot water is needed, the bathrooms and kitchen. That way, the first one will only need to heat the water the few degrees needed to warm the floor, and the rest will only need to heat an additional 20 or 30 degrees for usage on site. Plus when the solar heater is doing it's job, such as in all the time except for deep winter, the electric units won't be needed at all.

As you can see, the benefits of a tankless water heater are many, and an electric tankless more than gas. I guess I didn't even need to mention the main selling point. Infinite hot water.


Friday, March 23, 2007

The Question of the Stove.

I found this really neat website today whilst searching for information on what was more efficient and useful, an electric range or a gas one. It provides a good comparison between types.

As you know, I am against the use of natural gas, propane, and other fossil fuels because of sustainability issues, and the property I am looking at has no gas line service, but I was wondering if just for the time being would it be more economical to use a propane tank with a gas range.

Question no longer. Yes, for a stove top, gas is slightly cheaper, but only in the range of less than $2 per month. On the other hand, an electric oven is more economical than a gas one. I think the difference lies in the fact that an electric oven is more or less air tight while a gas oven must be ventilated in order for there to be flame. Either way, the difference in cost is negligible, and I'd honestly rather pay a little more to keep combustion byproducts out of my home.

It all trickles back in to the point that I can make electricity, but I cannot make propane. Additionally, my power prices (with line fees and taxes and pork) are around 11 cents per kWh and propane is in the range of 2 to 3 dollars a gallon, so you can see the dilemma. At least, I think I see it.

Anyway, I am standing by my convictions and going with an electric range.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Coal and Natural Gas Power Plants in Arkansas and the South.

I was out to visit a new natural gas power plant in Tontitown Arkansas yesterday. Looked up some info, you can find articles here and here. The first deals with the Tontitown plant and the second deals with the larger SWEPCO network over Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

I got to see some of the plans, and you can see the substation that has already been built next to it on Google Earth here. The plant will appear in that (now enlarged) dirt area to the left of the substation. The article states that there will be two gas turbines and one combined cycle steam turbine, but on the plan, I saw a fourth unit of the same size. I believe the turbines will be GE 7FA units but I could be wrong. I am definitely sure of the 7 though. Notice the Tyson chicken farm right next to the plant.

Now I am definitely more ok with the natural gas peaking plants than I am with the coal mainline plants because of reasons listed before. And, I am much happier about a natural gas plant being a few tens of miles from my home rather than a coal one. But, that ignores the availability of wind power close enough to here to be useful. Any US wind resources map you look at will show you class 3 wind resources in two separate areas, on both sides of the River Valley. And I know there are not alot of people that live on those areas because they are mountainous (for Arkansas that is.) Additionally, there is a huge portion of Texas that contains class 3 and 4 wind, not to mention Oklahoma.

It is refreshing however to hear of more wind turbines going up in Oklahoma and Texas though. And I'll tell ya, it was very enlightening to find out how much more efficient George W. Bush's house is than Al Gore's.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'll give you a Hobbit hole.

One of my co-workers was looking at my screen whilst I was researching earth sheltered homes (as I often do) and made some comment about gopher homes and how he kinda liked some of them earth huts.

Earth huts and gopher homes.

Do I look like some moron who thinks the solution is to live in a whole in the ground? Do I seem like someone who is not always on the ball of renewable energy and sustainable technology? Do I look like someone who gets my vital information from TV?

This just goes to show the prevailing attitude regarding renewable energy and sustainable living. It is in vogue to drive an SUV, dress in the hottest stuff, and hire someone else to spray and manicure your perfectly green lawn where there is as much biodiversity as at the center of the earth, plus one variety of grass. Anyone aspiring to do the kinds of things I do is a hippie. Never mind that more solar panels are sold in Japan than the US. Never mind that solar water heaters are huge business in China. Never mind that Europe has always been miles ahead of the US in wind energy. I am a sustainable living person, so I get branded as a hippie.

People need to keep their fat yap shut about things they don't understand.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Be your own Waste Treatment Plant

Many or all of the problems related to human waste treatment could be eliminated at home. A very large proportion of our water usage (some estimate 40%) is nice clean water that we flush straight down the toilet.

This does us a disservice. All those nice nutrients that we've taken from the earth we are now going to flush down the crapper and it will end up most likely somewhere where it will do us no good. Most of our waste will end up as carbon dioxide, and the rest will be flushed down the river or sprayed out somewhere, or dried and landfilled.

So if we use composting toilets, we suddenly retain most of our nutrients for reuse and save 40% of our water usage. So what do we do with that extra 60% of water that gets used in the house? Well the first and best idea is to conserve it which can be done with standard low flow sink faucets and shower heads. But, since the water is not from toilets, it is much more free of harmful bacteria such as most fecal coliforms, it can be easily treated with plant and tree roots. This does not mean we just dump gray water out on the ground, this would cause mosquito and other pest problems as well as possible utrification. Do a couple of searches around, and you will easily find systems that treat gray water.

There are a couple of good ideas such as a reed bed system, or underground deposition similarly to a leech field, but much closer to the surface so that plants and trees can benefit from the water and nutrients. Most of these systems incorporate some type of holding tank that holds the water until there is a batch to be sent out, but not longer than a day to avoid the mix going south. The water then goes to a reed bed system, or to underground pipes that distribute it directly to root zones.

This type of system not only allows you to eliminate your water waste, but allows you to recycle it into your garden or lawn and water them too.

Water is one of the most important resources in the world, and just because it is easy come, it should not be easy go, because it may not always be that way.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Tesla was a Genius.

I was thinking the other day about how there are many off grid homes and other highly efficient homes who use gas for heating and cooking. So, in my ultimate sustainable house, why don't I use gas?

The answer is this. I can't make gas. I can make electricity, but not gas. The same thing goes for why I like electric cars so much, I can make electricity, but not gas.

So, this is the reason why I have not implemented gas appliances in my house design. For ultimate sustainability, you must provide for yourself everything you need on a consistent basis. Additionally, your supply cannot be dependent on a large supply of some resource far away. Unfortunately, that rule can still apply to batteries.

Speaking specifically of natural gas and propane, we have a substance that is a fossil fuel, which by nature has a limited supply, and by limited supply, an increasing price. Also, it must be burned to release energy. Burning uses oxygen, and creates carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide as well as water. In a nearly sealed house, these things can cause problems. Carbon monoxide is obviously poisonous, nitrogen oxide is the main component of acid rain, carbon dioxide can be an asphyxiate, and water can condensate and cause mold.

Natural gas like other fossil fuels will increase sharply in price in the very near future. Production of oil has already begun to drop, and there will probably be a half hearted switch to natural gas for cars which will increase demand without increasing supply. Who in the last year hasn't had their gas rates raised at least once? One month this last winter, we spent $140 just on gas for a small house. Our electric bill in the heat of summer was never that high. The sorry thing is that I know there are many of you out there who have to pay even more than that.

So what fuels do I feel are worth while? First, electricity is the universal fuel, it powers everything, it can easily be generated in a wide variety of ways, it makes the digital world possible, it can be stored for a limited amount of time, and it can be made to do almost anything. This is why my house is all electric. Yes, it will mean that I will have to have additional generating capacity to make all the kWh's I need, but I will never have to have any fuel tanks filled up at a cost I have absolutely no control of.

Ethanol is second on the list, because it is something that everyone can make who has access to sugar and water. Additionally, you can drink it, and it can be used in car engines with little modification. You can use it as a fuel to distill it, or to heat fermenting tanks.

Third is biodiesel because not everyone has access to the oils or the chemicals necessary to process them into fuel. But as a biofuel it is very clean and useful and can be made in country and to use it in a modern diesel engine requires no modification.

Fourth is biogas. Unless you have a good source of poo, or alot of organic material for biogas digestion, this is gonna be out of your reach. However, there are many sources of poo and other materials and biogas can be refined to utilities grade natural gas to replace or dilute it. It is also a completely natural process which goes on whether we take advantage of it or not. So I say let's. In fact, in China, there are millions of household sized biogas digesters that provide methane for cooking, heating, and light.

And Tesla invented alternating current so that electricity could be used all over the place, that's why he was a genius.


Friday, March 9, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a Plan.

As promised, I have a PowerPoint presentation of the plans for my ultimate sustainable house.

Download the file here.

This presentation outlines the major aspects of my Sustainable Home Design idea. I welcome more ideas or more efficient incarnations of the plan.

If anyone wants to invest in renewable energy systems for the betterment of the planet, I am accepting donations, it's kind of in the same vein as greenhouse gas deferments that people can buy to offset the emissions caused by their carbon footprint. If you wish to give a donation, please PayPal it to wiredforstereo at yahoo dot com.

If anyone has any topics for discussion, I'd love to address them, I think I'll do BioDiesel next.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

I like Global Warming!!!!

Ok, that title was just to get your attention.

There exists a great debate about global warming. Who caused it, what will happen, and what's Al Gore been eating anyway?

I rented "An Inconvenient Truth" with an open mind. As a sustainable living minded person, I thought it would be a good subject to ad to my repertoire. I didn't immediately buy the thing hook line and sinker, but I thought his points were good and I believed the science. I was at the time very interested in the concept of electric cars (still am) and eliminating gunk in the air is the main benefit of that (as well as electricity being much cheaper than gasoline.)

So, I began my research into global warming. I looked at catastrophic weather changes, I looked at glacial melts all over the world, I looked at CO2 and temperature graphs.... wait, there's something interesting. It appeared to me at that time that CO2 levels seemed to follow global warming cycles, not precede them. This made sense to me. When you compost, the hotter the pile is, the faster it rots, creating more carbon dioxide in the process. When the temperature in the world gets hotter, things rot faster, on land and in the water.

Plants like carbon dioxide, it makes them grow faster, it's the fundamental building block of plants and sugars and food. In fact, many commercial greenhouses boost their CO2 levels to about 1000 ppm, four times the atmospheric level to achieve a substantial increase in production.

An additional point is that CH4 methane (found in cow farts and *gasp* natural gas) is a far greater threat as a global warming gas than is carbon dioxide. But plants don't eat methane.

I have said in the past that I don't buy the world ending alarmism that seems to pervade some circles, but I support global warming because it furthers my goals of a sustainable culture powered by locally generated renewable energy. I stand by that today in true political style, I support something I don't believe in because it helps something I do. It's not hypocritical because I openly espouse the truth and the facts in what I am doing.

Aside from global warming, pollution is a huge problem, NOx, POx, SOx, VOC's, heavy metals from mining and coal power plants and ozone depleting chemicals are all still a huge problem. These are the problems our culture needs to focus on. Carbon dioxide is barely a nuisance (and may be considered fertilizer) whilst entire forests are perishing due to acid rain (see Sweden.)

Yes the planet is warming, yes humans are partially to blame, but the planet will go on, it's we humans who need to rearrange ourselves around it, not it around us. It's a perfectly built system, it's a garden of Eden. We can live on this planet without wrecking it, but even in wrecking it, it can still recover and outlive us.

If you really want to help global warming, STOP EATING MEAT, because that's where most of it comes from.

I hope this is a well reasoned explanation, I would love some comments.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Oklahoma Energy Video

Here is a great video I've found dealing with renewable energy. One of the featured guys is Mike Bergey of Bergey Windpower in Norman, OK. Also featured is a guy who works with biodiesel at a university.

Yes, I know they misspelled "Oklahoma."

They also have a natural gas guy, but as you know, natural gas is a limited resource fossil fuel, and therefore I believe should be left in the ground or done something with besides burnt. Fortunately for the time being, natural gas is a relatively clean resource, and makes for good emergency style power plants that are good to back up wind and solar installations. It is a dwindling resource with increasing cost and usage, and therefore, I cannot recommend it in a renewable fiscally minded home.

I wish there were more videos that featured presentations and Q&A sessions like this one, but I guess for now I'll have to settle for reading.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Sustainable Home Project

I am finally getting the chance to possibly build my own home and to incorporate the innumerable sustainable ideas I have discovered. I wish I had time to talk about them here more often, and in the future I will. They include: solar and wind power, solar water heating, radiant floor heating and cooling, passive solar heating and cooling, LED lighting, and earth sheltered design.

Unfortunately sustainable living can be expensive initially even if it does pay off in the end. It's hard to generate power without shelling out money for solar panels and the like.

I was thinking the other day about companies that take donations and invest them in renewable energy or planting trees to help offset people's carbon footprint. I think this is a great idea, and with the house I am designing, I am doing just that, plus more. My idea was that perhaps people would donate money to the project in the same way that they donate to foundations supporting trees and renewable energy. This house will incorporate trees and renewable energy as well as extreme efficiency all over. It should last for 200 years or more and in that time, will avoid all kinds of pollution and energy requirements. It will continue to be good to the world long after I am fertilizer.

It will be difficult to get any funding since no one reads this blog yet, but perhaps in the future, it will be possible.

If you should come upon this and want to help out, you can PayPal any donations to wired for stereo at yahoo dot com. Be sure to fix the email address, I had to put it in that way for anti-spam reasons.

I will soon have some details on the implements in the house design up here, so just you wait.