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Check new energy conservations techniques periodically because it is fast changing

Posted by John T. Reed on

Today’s WSJ (12/22/2018) has an article about zero-energy-ready buildings. Those are buildings that use much less energy than traditional buildings—and if equipped with solar panels, they actually use zero energy.

I do not give a damn about renewable energy or fossil-fuel hatred. Like a guy in the article, I am just about maximizing income and minimizing outgo.

For capital expenditures like energy conservation measures, I want at least a five-year payback. That is, if I pay $5,000 for a heat pump, I want to save at least $1,000 per year from lower energy costs for heating and air-conditioning.

Over time in recent years, some stuff that used to give less than a five-year payback has moved into the five-year or less payback category. That is caused by technological innovation or increases in the real cost of energy or decreases in the real cost of the raw materials or components of the energy-saving device in question.

In addition to saving energy, these new technologies lower noise, pollution, and more consistent temperatures in the space being heated or cooled. That is worth something, but beyond the scope of this post.

One reason for the both the energy savings and the non-energy improvements is the buildings are tighter and less leaky.

Another for more stuff meeting the five-year payback is higher real energy prices. Oil and natural gas prices are low now as commodities, but liberal states like CA are adding so much tax or hassle to those energy sources that those cost changes by themselves alone lower the payback periods.

By 2020, CA will require all new houses building to be zero energy ready. That will likely cause a sudden jump in the cost of home preventing first-time home buyers from buying new homes, and raising the prices of existing homes in that same price range.

I am not an engineer per se, but I studied a lot of engineering in college and since we designed the house ourselves, I considered various energy saving features, including passive solar (south facing windows, lots of glass, a thick concrete floor and awnings with a certain length). None, like double-pane windows, had the payback period—mainly because our climate is so mild that we do not use much energy to begin with.

I asked about a heat pump then—in 1983. The builder said they did not work in our climate. I don’t know if the make sense here now. We got a new furnace and AC in the last decade. It was much more efficient than the old one, but the same basic technology.

I put almost all fluorescent lights in back then. Unusual and a big savings over incandescents. But LEDs are much better now. Washing machines are also more efficient now, but we tend to need a new one about every ten years so we generally get updated when we need to without thinking about it.
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The zero energy ready buildings are generally built from scratch. Trying to retrofit to that standard is too expensive.

The point here is technology on energy consumption is generally advancing such that stuff that did not make five-year payback five years ago may well now. Also, whenever real (after adjustment for inflation) prices of energy go up or prices of energy saving devices go down, things that previously did not make economic sense now do.

Finally, another non-economic benefit, if you live in some looney liberal state where they constantly try to jack the prices of fossil fuels and/or keep approving subsidies of tree-hugger energy, making sure you have the optimal energy conservation devices is a way to stick it to The Man (politicians and regulators). Keep in mind that in order to get a five-year payback, the device in question must LAST five years.

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