Publix GreenWise Market Magazine- October 2008
|ENERGY INVESTMENT: GROUND-SOURCE HEAT PUMP |
The Johnson Family
Megan (44), Tim (48) Plus Jack (10) and Cey (8), not pictured
Home-schooling parent, Megan
These homeowners are blazing a trail in the drive to renewable sources of energy.
During August of 2007, when much of Tennessee sweltered under three weeks of 100+ degree weather, the bill for cooling Megan and Tim Johnson’s 4,000-square-foot farmhouse in rural Franklin ran a modest $100. There was no magic involved—just renewable energy from a ground-source heat pump. With this and other energy-saving technologies, owners can cool, heat and power their homes, often for less than they’re paying now and all the while reducing pollution and conserving natural resources.
Renewable energy comes from an inexhaustible source, such as the sun, wind or, in the Johnsons’ case, the relatively stable temperature maintained just below the earth’s surface.
“Renewable energy has multiple benefits, both for the people who use it and for society as a whole,” says Stephen A. Smith, executive director of an advocacy group, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (cleanenergy.org).
Throughout the Southeast, ordinary homeowners are starting to realize the benefits that clean power has to offer. For many the cost of making the switch to renewable energy has been eased by rebates, tax credits and other financial incentives offered by their utility companies as well as federal, state and local governments. For more information about federal tax credits, visit energytaxincentives.org. Details on state and local incentives can be found at dsireusa.org.
“Switching to renewable energy is one important way to make a positive impact on the environment and on the health of everyone around you,” says Smith. The forward-thinking families profiled here are doing that every day. That’s the true power of renewable energy.
FROM THE GROUND UP
When Megan Johnson and her family decided to build their Tennessee farmhouse, they already knew they wanted a ground-source heat pump to heat and cool the place. Johnson was familiar with the pumps (sometimes called geothermal systems) from her childhood in Ohio, where the local school and a number of homes used them. She knew that because they utilize the relatively constant temperature of the earth to do their work, they're big money savers.
“We didn’t want those crazy propane bills we would have had with a conventional heating and cooling system,” Megan Johnson explains.
The Johnsons’ ground-source system cost $12,000 more than a conventional one, with none of the incentives many states and utilities offer now. But they thought they’d recoup the cost in about 10 years, and since they planned on living out their days in the farmhouse, they figured they’d get a lot of free heating and cooling down the road.
With the rising prices of propane and electricity, the average $140 a month the Johnsons pay to heat and cool their 4,000-square-foot home now seems like a bargain. “Our payback time gets shorter and shorter,” Johnson says. She estimates they are saving at least $3,600 a year. “When I talk to people about the system, they’re intimidated because it’s unfamiliar. But there’s no maintenance besides changing the filters, which you’d have to do with a regular system. And it really cuts down on power plant emissions.” And that, she says, “gives me a lot to brag about.”
What the Experts Say: Ground-source heat pumps are fairly simple devices. A network of water-filled piping is installed underground, beside or beneath a building. The network is attached to a heat exchanger and a pump that runs the operation. “In the summer we remove the heat from the house and put it in the ground,” explains Jim Bose, an Oklahoma State engineering professor and executive director of the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (www.igshpa.okstate.edu). “And in the winter we take the heat from the ground and put it in the house.”
Ground-source heat pumps use 25–50 percent less energy than conventional heating and cooling systems, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
“The systems currently installed in the U.S. are saving the equivalent of 650,000 cars’ worth of pollution every year,” Bose says. And the DOE notes that the heat pumps also improve indoor humidity control, which makes them an ideal choice in humid areas.
|ENERGY INVESTMENT: renewable energy through the grid|
The Keyes Family
Tim (36), Alice (33), Molly (11 months)
Wildlife biologist, Tim
Water policy adviser, Alice
Tim Keyes, a wildlife biologist with Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, has been an environmentalist his whole life. So when he and his wife, Alice, learned that their local utility was offering renewable energy directly through the electric grid, much the way the company sells its other electricity, the couple jumped at the chance to sign up and put their principles into action.
“It was a lot easier than setting up a wind turbine,” Keyes explains. “And because we live in a wooded area with very little direct sunlight, solar wasn’t a realistic option for us.”
Making the switch to renewable energy—“green power”—was easy for Keyes and his wife, who are the parents of a baby girl. “I just called up Georgia Power and told them that we wanted the green power,” he recalls. “I haven’t had to do anything since.”
That green power option costs the family an extra $13.50 a month. But they’ve found other ways to save on their energy bills that more than make up for the difference: insulating their home, using compact fluorescent lightbulbs, switching from a top-loading washing machine to an energy-efficient front-loader and hanging out laundry when weather permits.
For the Keyes family, making the switch to green power was an important way to demonstrate their religious faith. The couple believes it is humanity’s responsibility to steward the God-given Earth. “For us,” says Keyes, “using renewable energy is part of that.”
What the Experts Say: Buying renewable energy from a utility means that the power the utility purchases on a customer’s behalf comes from a renewable source, such as a wind farm, a solar array or a geothermal power plant. Right now approximately half of all U.S. electric customers can buy green power straight from their local electric supplier.
“Over 800 out of approximately 3,000 utilities are offering it,” says Jeff Swenerton of the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS), which certifies renewable energy in much the same way the Department of Agriculture certifies organic food. To find out if renewable energy is available in your area, visit the CRS website at green-e.org/buy.
|ENERGY INVESTMENT: solar hot water heater|
The Morlesin Family
Alonso (35), Kimberly (31), Sebastian (6), Sara (3)
Industrial engineer, Alonso
Part-time ballet instructor, Kimberly
SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN
On the roof of Alonso Morlesin’s Jacksonville, Florida, home sits a 4×8-foot black panel. It’s a solar panel, but not the kind you’ve probably heard about. “Some of my neighbors think it’s for electricity. But when I explain that it’s for heating hot water, everybody’s interested,” says Morlesin, who shares the home with his wife, Kimberly, and their two young children.
The Morlesins had their system installed four years ago, and the energy savings have been substantial. “We save about $40 a month,” Morlesin says. “And my wife is very happy—the hot water never runs out.” The system is virtually maintenance-free and practically immune from the impact of hurricanes. “It’s rated to [withstand winds of] 145 miles an hour,” Morlesin notes.
The Morlesins purchased their system at an initial cost of $3,500, including plumbing and installation. But the final price was much lower after they received a $500 rebate from the state of Florida, an $800 incentive from their local utility and a 30 percent federal tax credit. Those financial perks brought the initial outlay down to $1,540. The installation by a licensed contractor was completed in one afternoon.
Morlesin estimates the system paid for itself back in December 2007; it’s under warranty for 10 years. Solar water heating systems typically last for at least 30 years, though, which means that the family can expect free hot water for decades to come. “Solar hot water is great and not just for the economic aspects,” Morlesin says. “I feel good knowing it will improve the environment and my kids’ futures.”
What the Experts Say: Solar water heating systems such as the Morlesins’ work fairly simply and can save a lot of energy and cash. A pump circulates water from the home into the roof-mounted panel, where the sun heats it to temperatures as high as 180°F. The heated water is then automatically piped to the hot water heater. If the temperature is too high for household use, a safety feature adds cold water to lower it. “The heating element in your hot water tank doesn’t have to come on very often because the water’s been heated on the roof,” explains Charles Cromer, Ph.D., of the Florida Solar Energy Center (fsec.ucf.edu). “That’s what delivers the energy savings.”
LEARN MORE: Visit the Department of Energy’s consumer site on renewable energy at eere.energy.gov/consumer/renewable_energy.