July 25, 2012 – Vol.17 No.19
GOOD NEWS: Green innovation continues to grow, even in our weak economy
by Tim Snyder, courtesy of Dr. Energy Saver, Inc.
Home construction and remodeling remain weak sectors of our economy. Homeowners still don’t have confidence that the money they pay to remodel a kitchen or build an addition will translate into meaningful increases in resale value. But green home improvements that save energy have stayed remarkably strong. And manufacturers haven’t stopped pushing to develop better insulation, more efficient appliances, low-watt lighting and other green products.
Growth in some areas of green technology was undoubtedly spurred by rebates and other financial incentives included in the Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and in local and state programs. Today many of these incentives have been reduced or eliminated, but green growth is happening nonetheless. Here are just a few examples of how this sector of the economy is humming along.
--- Geothermal heat pumps take off. This HVAC system is green because it harnesses a renewable energy source: the moderate temperature of the earth about 10 ft. below the surface. A GHP provides heating, cooling and hot water, and can cut home energy use by 40 percent-70 percent. Thanks to a continuing renewable energy incentive from Uncle Sam, it’s still possible to get a tax break of 30 percent on the installed cost of a GHP. For people who need to stay in their homes, this HVAC system upgrade is a very attractive investment. And it’s spurring great growth in the remodeling sector. In 1983, a mere 11,000 GHPs were installed in North America. By 2009, the number jumped to 92,000.
--- Plummeting PV prices. OK, maybe “plummeting” is too strong a word for what’s been happening to the price of photovoltaic panels. But the global market for PV technology continues to be strong, fueling innovation focused primarily on cutting manufacturing costs. In 1980 the price per watt for a PV panel was $22. Today it’s less than $3. Some experts are predicting $1 per watt prices by the end of 2013. You can already see the news headline: “Solar electricity for the middle class.”
--- Off-the-grid energy makeovers. What happens when you combine a volatile global energy market with a high incidence of extreme weather events that cause power outages? One result is a growing demand for stand-alone power systems that enable homes and businesses to operate independently of utility companies. What’s interesting (economically and technically) about stand-alone technology is that it demands the skillful integration of numerous systems: photovoltaics, solar thermal heating, super-efficient “direct-exchange” geothermal heat pumps, low-energy LED lights and high levels of insulation and air sealing, just for starters.
Bruce Angeloszek, a Connecticut-based electrical contractor who started to specialize in PV installations, soon discovered that he needed to take a comprehensive approach to home energy. He needed to offer low-tech solutions to energy problems (like attic insulation) in addition to the most advanced PV technology. There’s more about low-tech energy solutions here.
“It’s ambitious to transform an energy-wasting house into a home that can generate as much power as it consumes,” he explains, “but it’s entirely possible with the technology we have today. And it’s got to be good for our economy because so many of the products we’re installing are made right here in the USA.”
Tim Snyder can be contacted through Dr. Energy Saver
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