Posted in decarbonization, electrify everything, energy efficiency, home heating, no fossil fuels, solar

My Solar-Powered Frack-free Home

About our house

We wanted a frack-free, all electric, emissions-free home. So when we needed to move, we decided on a small house, a classic Philadelphia row-home offering about 1300 square feet of living space.

Getting into hot water

When we removed the gas hot water system, we replaced it with an on-demand electric system, with no storage tank. The main benefit is that water is only heated when needed. Another benefit is that this freed up space in the basement. 

[include research about calculating size]

Everyday needs

We replaced all the appliances with efficient electric ones – the fridge, the stove, the washer, the dryer, ceiling fans & double-pane windows. The fridge has a mere 10 cubic feet capacity, enough for the basics for our 2 person household, but not enough to stockpile! Though people with induction cooktops swear they don’t miss their gas stoves, we opted for a basic glass topped free-standing electric oven / range. The washer is a front loading machine; the electric dryer has heat pump technology and needs no venting to the outside; it drains water into the laundry sink, much like the washer does. The ceiling fans do a marvelous job circulating air the 9 months of the year when our windows are open; so much so that we haven’t missed air conditioning.

garage-wall
garage wall with electric panel, solar inverter, and EV charger

Oh, another feature of this smallish house is that it has a 2-car garage. Since the 2 of us share the one all-electric car, we have space for a variety of bikes in the second garage, adding to our multi-modal zero-carbon transportation options. How often does one get to show off a garage wall, complete with EV charger and solar inverter?

Wintertime needs

We also removed the gas boiler, which once pumped hot water thru the house via radiators. This too freed up space in the basement.

Insulated exterior wall using Ultra Touch denim insulation batting

We insulated the basement ceiling, for a warmer first floor. Since our rowhome has neighbors on both sides, we focused on reducing the drafts along the exterior walls. With new windows, and newly framed exterior walls, we added insulation to the exterior walls.

We’ve made the first floor living space so air tight that we often end up opening a window after a shower. There are plans to replace the non-functioning ventilation fan. And so far, have found that the inside temperature only drops by a couple of degrees overnight, even with the space heater off during the night. It seems humans create heat too, which can maintain the heat in a tight space. I’ve heard it to be equivalent of 100 Watts per person. For now, we plan to ride out the winter using space heaters. Next year, we’ll consider investing in a ductless mini-split system.

Powering it all with rooftop solar

Even before we made an offer on the house, we checked for interconnection issues on our electric utility, PECO’s map for interconnecting distributed energy resources (DER). This was in April 2017. The sellers disclosure gave no date for the roof, and the home inspection report stated that the roof was in fine condition, so we signed for it in June 2017. When we finally got a solar installer to assess how much solar this roof could hold, now November 2017, we were advised that we needed a new roof. Having never needed to replace a roof in all the houses we’ve lived in, we spent the winter finding a roofing company who would do the job. Finally, in May 2018, the roof was recovered with another layer. Another quote and another site visit by another solar developer and by July, we’d signed the contract. What were we getting?

In terms of equipment, we were getting 22 panels, each rated for 305 Watts, plus 22 optimizers, one inverter, one AC disconnect switch and one PV production meter. The optimizers, one for each panel, ensures that if one panel fails, or has cloud cover, the others keep on generating. 

The system would be 6,710 Watts (22 x 305), generating 7,811 kWh annually, averaging about 650 kWh monthly.

The fully installed system cost was $19,459, which works out to $2.90 per Watt (19459 / 6710).

We get a 30% Federal tax credit, meaning 30% of the system cost can be deducted in April 2019 when we submit our 2018 tax returns, a value of about $5,838. This means our out-of-pocket cost would be $13,621.

I remember when I bought another house, about 13 years ago. We got proposals from 2 different solar developers, both around $18,000 for a 2,000 Watt system, which translates to $9 per Watt. Compare this to the $2.90 per Watt we obtained today! Prices have indeed dropped.

People have asked, but prices will keep dropping, right? So we can wait a few more years to get a better price? Afraid not. Though prices for the equipment have gone down, a large portion of the cost is the installation, which is all local labor. We need to remain fair to the work force climbing ladders and walking on roofs in all weather.

Looking at a recent electric bill, our current electricity rate is $0.13517 per kWh, the sum of distribution, generation & transmission charges ($0.06710 + $0.06275 + $0.00532).

Our rooftop is expected to generate about 7,811 kWh annually. At our current electricity rate, this electricity would be valued at $1,056 annually (7811 x 0.13517). This is $1,056 that we won’t have to pay each year.

Assuming this system will remain on the roof for about 25 years, ignoring degradation of production and increasing electrical rates which could easily balance each other out, the electricity this system could generate would be 195,275 kWh (7811 x 25) and valued at at least $26,375 (1056 x 25).

Over the 25 year life of this system, it would generate 195,275 kWh, which is equivalent to an electric rate of $0.0698 per kWh (13621 / 195275). About half the rate that we’re currently paying. Turns out we’re both lowering, and locking in our electricity rate for a while.

Since we paid $13,621 for the system, and annual generation is worth $1,056, the system would pay back for itself in 12.9 years (13621 / 1056), after which, we’d have 12 years of free electricity. Return on investment would be 7.75% (1 / 12.9). So much better than money in the bank!

And the best deal? We can claim to reduce 5.5 metric tons of CO2e emissions each year, for at least 25 years.

So, invest in the local energy generation potential of your rooftop. Having lived in this all-electric house for the past 9 months, our electricity usage has been 6,000 kWh. I can say the experiment of living in a frack-free, emissions-free row-home is going well.

I’ll gladly answer your questions; please write me!

 

Advertisements
Posted in clean renewable energy, climate, decarbonization, electrify everything, no fossil fuels, solutions, transit

Understanding the climate crisis — with Al Gore

Late last August, I traveled to Los Angeles for a 3 day training with The Climate Reality Project. Many may not have heard of this non-profit anchored by Vice-President Al Gore. The training is free, but one needs to apply and get accepted to participate. We are also expected to pay for our travel and lodging expenses. 

la-training
Climate Reality Training, Los Angeles, August 2019. Photo credit: Meenal Raval

We were told this was the largest Climate Reality training to date, with over 2,200 people from all over the world. About 25% came from Southern California, another 25% came from the State of California, the remaining 49 states brought in 25%. The rest were from outside the US. Tweets from the training have the hashtag #LeadOnClimate. An example: 

  • 25% from LA, 25% from CA, 25% from rest of US, 25% from rest of world, all 2000 trainees ready to #LeadOnClimate

We were grouped by geographic proximity so I mostly interacted with people from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I ran into people I already knew plus some new ones, notably Tim Mahony (a science professor at Millersville University), Shweta Arya (an environmental educator from Delaware County), Dave Walbert (a grad student at Drexel) and Ankit Agarwal (a Center City Philadelphia resident). 

The 3 days with Mr Gore was interspersed with many notables, some very new to me.

There was Amanda Gorman, a young poet laureate, who was amazing. Her poem Earthrise brought us all to tears, find her @amandascgorman, see some quotes below. 

So I tell you this not to scare you,
But to prepare you, to dare you
To dream a different reality

And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet,
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Now
Now
Now,
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial.

So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.

Because an environmental movement of this size
Is simply another form of an earthrise.


Mr Gore led a question and answer session about “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solutions” with Dr Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Some tidbits from that session:

  • The climate crisis is inter-generational, thus the realm of religion and morals. It’s something he can’t bring to scientific discussions
  • He sees the cliff, and the shift in colleagues, all wanting to talk about shifting to solutions – working with 25 university collaboration – with demo projects – then bringing in community partners – He’s got no pushback when presenting because all scientists concur that this is an existential threat. This phrase was repeated by many of the presenters.
  • no massive public support
  • most important message from Dr Ramafor the climate crisis: It’s happening now, there’s an urgency, and we know how to solve it
  • Foreign Affairs magazine article referenced here
    • The climate crisis will affect the rich as much as the poor
    • The climate crisis will get worse if we do nothing
    • He is one of the advisors to the Vatican, which included best health experts
    • He doesn’t see how CA ag could survive 30 years out
    • Future generations don’t deserve what we’re doing to them
    • Referred to a climate solutions course at undergrad level, for all UC students – then at community college, to replicate across US, and also at K-12 level, working with DiCaprio Fdn, to build environmental literacy.
    • This 73 year old man says… we won’t solve this in his lifetime, but wants to leave by offering solutions to those in their 20s
    • The climate crisis is a human tragedy
    • Sees 2 degree warming in 7-8 years due to oceans warming
    • Reduced oxygen in oceans – due to GHG absorption, also fertilizer runoff – causing dead zone – sustainable ag imp to protect oceans
    • transpo sector has BIGGEST emissions
    • 40% of food thrown away – bio-digestor – regenerative ag to sequester more carbon in soil (also plants) – put a price, reward farmers – upcoming soil carbon conference in TN
    • V. Ramanathan shares $1.33M sustainable development prize with fellow climate science pioneer
  • black carbon from diesel – more potent than CO2 – the panel discussion on transportation repeated this message; see below. Must stop diesel combustion, esp in urban areas.
  • We must take CO2 out of the air

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Mr Gore for a discussion on “Inspiring Global Action thru Local Leadership”. 

  • how to lobby our mayor? – quote from movie ‘lost city of Z’ on Amazon – “reach should always be greater than grasp” – beyond what we think is possible – confront the reality
  • ask 4 questions of  local leaders
    • How do you and stuff get around? how do consumables get to you?
    • How do you stay comfortable? physical built environment? heat, cool and power buildings
    • How do you turn on the lights? What is the source of electricity? Then push people like him to get it done.
  • And then:
    • Be ready: Know your stuff better than people sitting with;
    • Be specific – green building ordinance;
    • Be flexible – get victory, bang it, and move forward. Learn to tie victories, one at a time
    • Be inclusive – desegregate, all engaged, labor, women, hunting, too important to get divided
    • Be proactive – stop playing defense – the power that you hold – exercise it
  • Layout a plan, desegregate sustainability – each of the 37 departments he manages, all have a sustainability component – eg police dept reports on reduced crime, as well as reduced paper usage
  • He has a 100 page plan – read it – replicate it – I think this is THE PLAN that he’s referring to. 
  • LA reduced emissions 11% in a year
  • Brother is Mayor of nearby Long Beach, a major port. Their emissions reduction at the ports is 5 years ahead of schedule – clean air standards
  • Mayor Garcetti co-founded Climate Mayors w Houston & Philadelphia Mayors when Trump pulled out of Paris, which brought in 100 cities, now 400 cities. If he’s out, we’re in!
  • Global network of Mayors – C40 – the mega cities – playbook includes bus electrification – local communities setting agenda for big countries!
  • Cannot be paralyzed by magnitude we face – we’re in the post NOW era – the post carbon era is now – the post ICE (internal combustion engine) is now – picture this – will realize the power we have – truth wins out
  • I wish I were a mirror – so you could see what I see – your power – we’re the writers of history – let us make history together! Really revved us up!! (and I rarely use double exclamation points)

Though we were excited, energized and exhausted, Mr Gore kept going. Next up was a conversation with Hal Harvey on “Getting Real about Rapid Decarbonization”. This is Hal Harvey of energyinnovation.org – has an upcoming book  – see Climate: How to Win – spoke of the 4 zeros for rapid decarbonization: 

  • Zero-carbon grid
  • Zero-emission vehicles
  • Zero-net energy buildings
  • Zero-waste manufacturing

Zero-carbon grid – electric utilities are biggest emitters on planet – 80% of our problem is from energy sys – solar and wind cheaper than operating capital of plant – who chooses whether we get brown or green electricity? small number of policies and small number of people – In the US, the PUC decides – 50 states x 5 commissioners = 250 people. If we exclude smaller states, and 3-2 vote is enough, only need to convince 90 people. We were promised an analysis of all 50 PUCs so we could pressure ours. Was told Advanced Energy Economy has research on each PUC, that we need to work with multi local corps (versus multi—national corps) – to show util how to make money, and they’ll come along – 2/3 of all wind and solar in US is in red states – TX, WY, IA – story about NV flipped PUC

Zero-carbon vehicles – zero grid enables others – Americans keep cars for 14 years – keep pressure on both clean cars and EVs

Zero-net energy buildings – Santa Monica zoning – insulated well, almost zero – CA has best building code – CA split to 16 weather zones – if tech pays for itself within 7 years, it’s in the code – written by Governor Brown in 1978. We expect seat belts to work, we expect air bags to work, why don’t we expect buildings to work? utils don’t make money selling electricity – they make money building power plants, then passing the cost to base rates – change incentive – performance based regulation – people want affordable, safe, reliable, clean electricity – give util 5 years, thy’ll get…?

Zero-waste manufacturing – China 70% of emissions from industry – substitute design for material – example of 3D printing to reduce concrete used in new construction – lets unleash our minds – hi value jobs – rethinking materials – SOlivia – carbon? DOE 90% of budget for nuclear – list 5 to 10 most energy intensive industries – study them – circular economy – bottle bill on steroids – manufacturer buy back

Mr Harvey’s advice? Be precise when we speak; we can’t afford to be fuzzy. He ended with a sermon on our levels of consumption. The we need to triage – ethos, pathos, logos – the ethics, the stories, the logic. 

There was a California specific discussion titled “California’s Roadmap for Climate Leadership“. Again, with Mr Gore moderating.

  • Al Gore’s quotes from this session
    • We must electrify the transportation sector
    • 100% committed campaigns, re-educators (an organized effort) leads to advocacy
    • Kept asking – Must we? Can we? Will we change?
  • We learned of monthly coordination amongst the many agencies within California. A collaboration on people working on air quality, electricity generation, with the Community Choice Aggregation team working together with the Investor Owned Utility.

A discussion titled “Fighting for Healthy Communities” was led by groups local to Los Angeles. The PSR-LA (Physicians for Social Responsibility chapter in Los Angeles) team spoke of capturing vapor and VOC (volatile organic compounds) when tankers were unloaded. The California Environmental Justice Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment wanted to get 1 million EV’s on the road. They spoke of SB350, a bill to get to 50% renewables by 2040. They brought young people in yellow shirts, saying these urban youth were the canaries in our current coal mines — the drilling within the City of Los Angeles. Their demand – Stop Drilling Where We’re Living, and asked why their human rights were not valued. These groups together asked that the city’s land use policy must be tied to proximity to fossil fuel infrastructure.

Dr Ramanathan was brought back for a discussion on “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solution” with with Al Gore and Don Henry. Some notes:

  • We need to wake people up, and also give them hope. 
  • There’s been noisy denial. During the last 3 presidential campaigns, there was not one  question about the climate crisis.
  • We need to develop innovative partnerships
  • Mr Gore working in collaboration with William Barber.
  • Most effective messengers are us – willingness to shoulder the burden – topic complicated – communicate to neighbors – once we reveal what’s right and wrong – there’s the opportunity to do right – massive GOTV (get out the vote) effort. 
  • Legacy businesses want to extend their business  plans & manipulating the system, tamping down concerns. 
  • For climate justice, we need to move from transactional to transitional movement. I remember Judy Wicks saying much the same thing years ago when talking about building the local living economy. 
  • We need to be multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and cross religions
  • University of California intends to be carbon neutral in 10-15 years
  • Mr Gore spoke of the necessity for a Sustainable Revolution, one with the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the Digital Revolution.
  • An example of speed – Google has largest server farm in world; leading artificial intelligence company (Deep Mind’s Mustafa Saleyman) analyze and within 30 minutes had a recommendation for 40% electricity reduction; with a reiteration of the algorithm, they achieved a 56% reduction. Just with smarter management. Stories like this are our Call to Arms!
  • There was a question about CCS (carbon capture and sequestration), nuclear, and methane (also known as natural gas) in helping solve the climate crisis. The advice?
    • NO CCS – It’s expensive, 30% of current generation would be needed to run CCS.
    • NO nuclear – no engineering firm in US would even design a nuclear plant now.
    • NO methane –
      • It’s 86 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 20 years
      • 34 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 100 years
      • and has 50% less CO2 emissions than coal
      • It’s NOT our bridge to the  future

Since wildfires were raging throughout California last summer, Mr Gore brought local experts to talk about “Facing Reality: Firefighters on the Climate Frontlines“. Some notes:

  • Ken Pimlot, Director of CA Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection said
    • things are different now
      • they’ve never seen a fire last as long as 13 days.
      • 100,000 acre fire was rare, now common
      • They’re experiencing fires of 2700 degrees F!
      • They’re experiencing a year-round fire season, even in December with weeks and months of deployment, away from home. The life of firefighters is much like soldiers, facing greater risk than they ever stepped up for.
    • Asked us to talk to the politicians!
  • Martha Karsten of Chief Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade said
    • The whole state of CA is a tinderbox
    • Their fire station used to run 6 months, now 9 months
  • Ken Thompson, Former Deputy Fire Chief, New South Wale in Australia said
    • It’s exactly the same in Australia.
    • In Melbourne, 1st responders to fire – gonna be 1st responders to global warming!
    • new level of fire code: catastrophic
    • it really is a tinderbox out there
  • Each of them said – Name them – call out the politicians

On a session on “Clean Transportation: Moving Beyond Carbon”, Mr Gore led discussions with people from LA Clean Tech Incubator, CARB (the California Air Resources Board), Proterra and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

We learned from Ryan Popple of Proterra Buses that a diesel bus uses 10,000 gallons annually. This is our tax dollars.

The NRDC speaker shared that diesel accounts for more than 70% of  carcinogenic effect of emissions. That diesel for transportation is like coal for electricity generation. We need community based policy. There was a belief that consumers will do the right thing when given options. One out of 12 Americans live in Southern California. Don’t underestimate the purchasing power of a City or County. Not a dollar more for fossil fuels. 

In a discussion about the Paris agreement, there was an excited discussion about we are still in, even if President Trump has walked away.

Being in Los Angeles and proximity to Hollywood, there was a discussion about “Climate Crisis on camera” with Alan Horn. We learned that Alan is also on the NRDC board, with wife Cindy Horn on the Climate Reality board. This one couple paid for the venue for over 2200 people.

In closing, some take-away quotes from Mr Gore: 

  • Climate change is not a political issue, it’s a personal issue
  • “95% of time spent persuading people to do something when they damn well knew they should do it in their own self interest” – Al Gore quoting President Harry Truman
  • We’re an army of activists that won’t go away
  • Each month less than 1 American hears about climate change from a trusted source. We need to present to family, schools, civics
  • Policy doesn’t match public opinion – amplify voices of others
  • 65% population get urgent need to act on climate, yet the climate crisis doesn’t make list of top 10 issues in US. In Germany, the climate crisis is #1, terrorism is #2.
  • important to change light bulbs, more important to change the laws and policy
  • we’re working with 3 budgets
    • time budget – complete presentation in allotted time
    • complexity budget – don’t overtax people
    • hope budget – this is a problem from hell, leave the audience with hope
  • Politicians see uncertainly as an opportunity to delay.
  • CA decision by cities and towns to go 100% RE – things change when you make commitment – yeah!
  • Georgetown TX example – red state, mayor was CPA and numbers made sense  
  • Colorado State – student pressure
  • GDP up, population up, emissions down – Both CA and Sweden show that economy can be decoupled from fossil fuel emissions
  • In response to a question about energy storage other than Lithium Ion, there’s compressed gas storage, flywheels, flo batteries (?), and… 90% of storage in world is pumped hydro. 
  • Paris agreement agreed not only on voluntary targets, but also transparency on the info. Our governments are obligated to review and ratchet commitments. My translation – we can demand more transparency from PHL.
my-pin
Pin awarded to each person completing the Climate Reality training. Photo: Meenal Raval

The Climate Reality Project has focused on training presenters. In 2017, they tried forming chapters, many across the globe. Of note is that the Pittsburgh chapter has 500 members. And a Mayor who is on-board with the transition. The Southeastern PA chapter, which would include Philadelphia, is gearing up. 

See this post from another attendee: THREE MOVING MOMENTS FROM CLIMATE REALITY’S TRAINING IN LOS ANGELES.

I’m now a member of the Climate Reality Corps, able to give presentations on climate science, and able to customize for audience and geography.

 

Posted in climate, no fossil fuels

London just announced a climate emergency

Returned home from today’s City Council hearing. It was a discussion about the environmental health disparities & the impact of pollutants in at-risk neighborhoods, and organized by City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services, chair Council member Cindy Bass, see resolution No. 180785.

students testifying on poverty, air quality & health in Philadelphia

Many people testified, including these:

  1. Dr Thomas Farley, Health Commissioner, City of Philadelphia
  2. Glen Abrams, Senior director of Sustainable Communities, PHS
  3. Mike Ewall, Founder & Director, Energy Justice Network
  4. Jerome Shabazz, Executive Director, Overbrook environmental education center
  5. Sue Edwards, Sierra Club PA & southeastern PA Group of the Sierra Club
  6. Terri Burgin, Climate Justice Fellow, POWER Interfaith
  7. Dr Walter Tsou, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
  8. Tammy Murphy, Medical Advocacy Director, Physicians for Social responsibility
  9. Jennifer Clarke, Executive Director, The Public Interest Law center
  10. Lynn Robinson, Neighbors Against the Gas Plants
  11. Peter Winslow, Evolve Foundation
  12. Eric Marsh, parent
  13. Karen Melton, citizen
  14. Alexa Ross, Philly Thrive
  15. Pat Libbey
  16. and more that I missed!

I, Meenal Raval, spoke up at the end, essentially this:

London just announced a climate emergency.  The health impacts we heard about today are symptoms of our fossil fuel addiction — our children are the canaries in the coal mines.

Let’s accept it. There’s no future for the teens who were here today. I could have told them about the students in Sweden and Australia are on a #ClimateStrike. Young people in their 20s are rising up for a #GreenNewDeal.

Philadelphia, too, must declare a climate emergency. We need to set up a Committee on the Climate Crisis, develop a Green New Deal for our City, and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions ASAP!

Media coverage from the day;

 

Posted in ban plastics, electrify everything, no fossil fuels, solar, transit

We can do it!

Testimony at State of the Environment hearing held by Philadelphia Council’s Committee on the Environment, led by Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown, November 29 2018 by Meenal Raval / meenal.raval [at] gmail.com / @meenal19119. Video recording of the entire hearing found here, starting at 1:14:00


What is the most pressing environmental issue facing us? Some seem to think it’s litter. Or storm water. Or air quality. These are all symptoms of the global climate crisis and our addiction to fossil fuels. And, it seems, we have only 10-12 years to kick our habit!

Some say we, the public, haven’t shown enough outrage about the IPCC report, the report that alerts us to this 10-12 year timeline. Some say we, the environmental groups, are too polite and rational. So I’d like to state that we are indeed enraged, outraged, and yes, fearful, for all our futures; that people come to us, asking what we should be doing. So those of us leading the climate movement in Philadelphia, people like me, know we’re in this for the long haul. And that we need to remain calm and help solve the crisis we’ve gotten ourselves info. So…

Meenal offering testimony on 11/29/18

What are fossil fuels? Coal, Oil and Gas. I’d also like to list their derivatives — gasoline, diesel, and plastics.

How do we use fossil fuels? Most visible are our cars, trucks & buses — combusting gasoline and diesel. Not as visible is the equipment in our basements – the boilers, furnaces and water heaters. Also invisible are the distant power plants burning coal, oil and gas to generate electricity.

So, how do we get off fossil fuels? We decide to stop spending on anything that uses fossil fuels. We do this each time we make a decision, which is what you all do on a daily basis!

This means planning for every new car, truck & bus to be electric, starting today.

It means when the boiler goes out on that cold morning, everyone knows that that oil or gas boiler will be replaced with an electric option — whether for our homes, our schools, or our workplaces. The homeowner, the contractor, the utility — all of us need to be aware of, and repeat, this same message. Currently, contractors are insisting on gas options even when the decision maker asks about electric option.

And when the hot water tank springs a leak in the basement; the same. Opt for an electric option, whether it’s got a tank or an on-demand feature.

And when there’s talk of subsidizing a limping refinery or partnering to liquify natural gas, the decision is simple. We just say no.

It means planning for our municipally owned utility, PGW, to transition away from selling gas (another fossil fuel) to doing something else. Like what?  It could be installing geothermal projects. It could be air sealing and insulating all our buildings. It could be replacing all gas appliances with electric ones. We’ll find a way, together. Otherwise we’ll all be in deep water. Yup… a little climate humor.

Next up — Plastics. Though not directly contributing to our greenhouse gas emissions, most of the plastic we use and dispose of ends up in our air (most trash gets incinerated) or our water ways. From the Wissahickon Creek to the Schuylkill River to the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find plastic choking off all life.

Though very useful for things like eyeglasses, we need to curtail the use-once and throw-away plastics — items like forks and spoons, take out containers, plastic bags, and yes, disposable water bottles. I hear Councilman Squilla wants to enact a plastic bag ban; so I’ll be working with him on that! 

You may ask how we’d fund this rapid scale effort? Each day I get alerts about another institution divesting — shifting funds invested in fossil fuel companies to clean energy companies. To issuing green bonds. To setting up a public bank. We can do all this in Philly~ 

This sounds like an insurmountable task, I realize. But I’m living proof that it can be done. I live in an all-electric house, with an electric bike and an electric car, all charged by the soon-to-be-installed-solar panels on my roof. All emitting zero greenhouse gases, so all emissions free. If only the bus I rode to get here was also electric…

Perhaps we need to create a new committee, say, the Committee on the Climate Crisis. This could parallel the House Select Committee at the Federal Level being led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the Green New Deal.

Who wants to step up to this, the Committee on the Climate Crisis? We could work on one climate-related policy each week, to deliberate over and implement.

The physicians say we need to act. The scientists say we need to act. Yesterday, I was at a workshop with the Bar Association, and learned that even the lawyers say we need to act. Let’s focus on the task at hand. We can do it!


 

Posted in energy efficiency

Ecstasy over LED lighting

Of course we’ve all heard of and used LED lighting — as string lights over the holidays, and perhaps a somewhat expensive replacement bulb for an existing fixture. During our current rehab, we needed to replace ceiling fixtures and selected ones that highlighted the uniqueness of LED lighting. This meant the fixture wouldn’t have any screw-on replacement bulbs. 

For the eat-in kitchen, we selected a track lighting fixture with 6 lamps. Together, 6 lamps together would consume about 40 Watts. The flexible track allowed for more variety in positioning the lamps and by the time we’d installed 3 of the lamps, we felt the room to be bright enough! We settled on 5 lamps.

The average rated life of these lamps? About 50,000 hours. This means we could use them for about 4 hours a day for over 40 years. It’s hard to grasp that there are no bulbs to replace — not quarterly like with incandescent bulbs, not every 5 years like with compact fluorescent bulbs, but 40 years!

Sadly, these lamps are planned for obsolescence after that, but I’m sure the next person living in this space may have their own ideas for lighting up the dining area. And the mostly-metal components mean this fixture could be recycled at end of life. 

For a hallway, we selected this ceiling fixture. Again, to showcase LEDs and the no-need-to-change-bulbs feature. 

Posted in ban plastics, no fossil fuels

The Right to Bear [Refillable] Water Bottles

The Climate Crisis — It’s asking us to cut out our dependency on fossil fuels. Not only the extraction, transportation and combustion of these fuels, but also our dependency on all the stuff made from fossil fuels — think plastics, especially single use plastics such as the ubiquitous water bottle.

Last week, when I went to the scheduled meeting of the Philadelphia City Council, I was met with the security team insisting I empty my refillable water bottle. This is something I carry to all public meetings. One, because I like staying hydrated. Two, because I don’t believe in paying for water. Three, because our waterways are clogged with the remnants of our single use plastic addiction. And four, to encourage conversation on the subject.

Settling into a seat at Council chambers with my now-empty container, I noticed other visitors sipping their coffee from styrofoam cups, and drinking water from single use water bottles. Why was I singled out? Not as a role model, but as a trouble-maker who couldn’t read the “No Food or Drink” sign? A sign that no one present was able to explain the reasoning for.

photo: Meenal Raval

Yes, there was a water station inside Council chambers, but beside this were, again, single use plastic cups. Cups which I, and many others, will not drink from because they’re made from plastic.  Indeed, the local Sierra Club is forming a no-plastics committee to ban single use plastics in Philadelphia. The Weavers Way Environment Committee has a Plastic Reduction Task Force; see here, here and here about what they’re up to, plus their petition to the co-op’s main supplier to switch to reusable pallet wrap. The Trash Academy, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia, is working on a plastic bag ban in Philadelphia, in collaboration with Clean Water Action and the City of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet.  

Outside Philadelphia, there’s Narberth making some news:

And in West Chester, the mayor pitches plan to limit use of plastic bags at checkout. Across the pond, the European Parliament votes for ban on single-use plastic.

Our PHL Council could start by

  1. photo: Meenal Raval, location: 18th Floor, 1515 Arch St, Philadelphia

    Replacing plastic cups with paper cups at the water cooler inside Council chambers. 

  2. Replace the water cooler with a water bottle refilling station, like at most schools and libraries, which would be connected to city water instead of needing 5 gallon water jugs to be trucked in.
  3. Encourage the security team to block single use bottles from entering the Council chambers.
  4. Have each Councilmember sport a refillable water container, building on the effect of appropriate role modeling, showing how easy this could be. 

Want to help with this effort? Contact me!

 

Posted in electrify everything, no fossil fuels, transport

Electrifying it all — starting today

Today marks the long awaited announcement from Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, the release of  Connect: Philadelphia’s Strategic Transportation Plan.

Connect is meant to guide the City in creating a transportation system that benefits everyone. A transportation system that is safe, affordable, accessible, and reliable at moving Philadelphians, visitors, and commerce so neighborhoods thrive, people are healthy, and the economy grows.

Though I’ve yet to read the plan, you can view the data book, download the executive summary, or the full plan, here.

electrification of all modes of transport

Later today, the newsfeed showed

When Paris banned cars with even-numbered plates for a day in 2014, pollution dropped by 30%. So last year, it led with plans to ban all petrol cars from the city by 2030 in pollution crackdown. Since then, it seems other cities have taken Paris’ lead, and to date, 13 cities that are starting to ban [gasoline] cars.  The future is today, if we can grab it!

Posted in clean renewable energy

A suburban oasis

Today I visited the home of Ed & Priscilla in Hatfield PA. As part of the national solar home tour, they showcased their brick ranch home built in 1960, modernized with solar hot water, solar electric, an electric car in the garage, and day lighting.

Years ago, Ed teamed up with Alan Rushforth and learned about the installation of large scale solar hot water systems. And about 8 years ago, he installed 2 solar hot water panels above their porch roof. The generated hot water is piped into a 400 gallon tank that he custom-made from his experience with Alan. This non-pressurized drain-back system needs no antifreeze because all the water drains back when the pump shuts off. The panels are US-made by Soleen.

 

Two years ago, Ed decided to install a rooftop solar electric system, also known as PV (photo-voltaic). The 16 panels, each rated for 345 Watts, results in a 5,520 Watt system, generating about 6,600 kWh, enough for this household.  The panels are Canadian-made by Silfab Solar; the inverter is a Sunny Boy 5000.

In the garage, they’ve got an electric car, a Nissan Leaf. They need never go to the gas station with it, since the car is powered by a rechargeable battery and electric motor. The amount of electric required to keep the car charged is covered by the amount generated by the solar panels. So one could say the car is powered by the homegrown electricity.

In the kitchen, they brought in more daylighting with Solatubes fitted into the roof.

Being avid gardeners, we also got to see their rain barrel, their vegetable garden, and their composting area. In addition, we were surprised to see their bee-keeping operation along the back fence, complete with fish pond providing water for the bees, and a pollinator garden supplying food for the bees. I returned home to savor some of their scrumptious honey.

 

 

Posted in decarbonization

Why trees?

Trees not only have symbolic importance in many sacred texts but they have numerous practical purposes, as well.

We each inhale 35 lbs. of oxygen daily, all from plants and we require 7 trees to convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into oxygen. Asthma and other chronic respiratory ailments are devastating, especially to children, in many urban areas. Trees in the US alone remove hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution from the air.

watercolor: Kishor Raval

Trees save energy by shading homes in the summer, releasing cooling moisture into the air, and providing windbreaks in the winter.

Trees enhance water quality by filtering and storing water because they act to prevent excess storm runoff.

Studies have shown that planting trees increases property values, improves recovery times for hospital patients, encourages serenity and relaxation, reduces violence, and increases pride in local communities.

Trees are critical in combating climate disruption by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the wood, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. To be specific, “A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can sequester 1 ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.”

Do we need more reasons to plant trees?


Thanks to Mark Smith of Germantown Interfaith Power & Light Tree Tenders — a community outreach project by the Philadelphia Chapter of PA IPL.

Posted in no fossil fuels, solar

Heating our Philadelphia row home without fossil fuels

As we gut a Philadelphia row home, we’re also making plans for it to become a frack-free house, a phrase popularized by the architecture firm Bright Common. This translates to: No gas appliances delivering fracked gas from Western Pennsylvania into our home. Everything that used gas will be replaced with electric options.

So far, we’ve happily removed the gas oven / range and the associated gas pipes out of the kitchen. For cooking, we’ve selected an electric stove. And already have other electric appliances to supplement this: toaster oven, microwave, induction cooktop and crockpot.

We’ve also begun removing the cast iron radiators in each room, along with the associated hot water pipes coming up from the boiler in the basement. 

For heating the house, we realize the row home design that abounds in Philadelphia means we are tucked in between two neighbors. The only heat loss would be from the exterior walls. We’re therefore building out the walls by 4” so that we can pack in insulation. Matus Windows, a local company with a good reputation, will replace the windows. After this, the exterior walls should be draft free.

We’ll still need a heating system. Looking at our options, we’d heard that mini-split ductless systems are the most efficient. So we called in a recommended HVAC company to advise us on this. They were fixed on one brand: Mitsubishi, and that’s what was priced for us, a 20,000 Btu system. They were unable to advise us how much electricity this would use. And we learned that our favorite thermostat, the programmable and self-learning Nest, would not be compatible.

What we did learn was that one outside compressor and 2 inside air handlers would do the job, offering us 2 zones to heat and cool. I’d hoped the compressor could stay in the garage or basement, spaces with the least temperature swings during the summer and winter, but was advised this was against the building codes in our area.

I’ve since learned that 12,000 Btu equals 1 ton. Also, that estimates vary on the area this would “condition”; from 400 – 500 sf, and up to 800 – 1000 sf. Most sites mention ductless mini-splits when discussing indoor cooling, but since we prefer to cool off with ceiling fans and have rarely used air conditioning, our focus is on using the mini-splits for wintertime heating.

Per one site (7 tips to get more from mini split heat pumps), we also learned to

  • plan for average lows, not record lows.
    • For Philadelphia, the mean minimum is 6.4F, with record low of -11F. We should plan for 6F.
  • plan on using space heaters during extreme cold spells.
    • We’ve got plenty of these from when we used a gas boiler to ramp up indoor heat in the mornings, and then, like task lighting, used space heaters in the specific rooms with people.
  • plan for outdoor compressor to draw air from indoor space.
    • This makes so much sense, since the interior air has less temperature fluctuation. The one installer we called advised us this isn’t to code. I’ll have to see what the next company says.
  • position interior air handler about 18” off floor
    • This too was a surprise. Most mini-split installations I’ve seen are mounted closer to the ceiling. But perhaps that’s because they were designed for cooling the space.
  • an actual example of a 3/4 ton (or 9,000 Btu) system suffices for a  1,500 sf home in Massachusetts, and uses about 1,500 kWh per year.
    • A system this size (9,000 Btu) should definitely work for our 650 sf row home in Philadelphia. Note that this is much smaller than the size recommended by the first HVAC company (20,000 Btu).
    • Assuming it will use proportionately less electricity, we estimate the annual usage to be 650 kWh per year.
  • select higher HSPF (heating season performance factor), which is measured in Btu / Wh.

The buying guide from Consumer Reports suggests we also consider noise levels and demand defrost options. The recommended noise level is about 7 decibels. The demand defrost option is to keep icicles from forming on the outdoor compressor fans, which sounds worthwhile.

My initial reason for asking annual electricity usage from the HVAC company was because we’re also planning to install rooftop solar. We wanted to know that the rooftop system would not only suffice for our lighting, electronics, cooking, and hot water needs, but also for our heating and cooling needs.

Chatting with Dara Bortman of Exact Solar (an area residential solar installer), I learned that there were solar mini split systems out there, powered by either DC from the panels or AC from the grid. The system I’ve got my mind set on is the unit by HotSpot, sold as an air conditioner, i.e. cooling needs.

This 35 SEER system cools by using 11,500 Btu per hour, or about 328 W (11,500 / 35).  Assuming we might only need cooling for 8 days, about 8 hours per day, the electricity used for the season would be

328 W x (8 days / season) x (8 hours / day) = 20,992 Wh, or 20.9 kWh per cooling season.

Of more interest to us is the heating season. This 10 HSPF system heats by using 13,000 Btu per hour, or about 1300 W (13,000 / 10).  Assuming we need heat for 5 months, 8 hours per day, the seasonal electricity usage would be

1300 W x (5 months / season) x (30 days / month) x (8 hours / day) = 1,560,000 Wh = 1560 kWh per season

Note that we had estimated 650 kWh per heating season, based on the Massachusetts example. It could be they like the house a little cooler. Or it could be we don’t really need to run a heating system for 8 hours per day. The other difference is that their 9,000 Btu Fujitsu system has an HSPF of 12.5, whereas the Hotspot’s HSPF is 10.0.

My concerns are

  • Noise – the indoor noise level is stated to be 26 dB at the low setting, while 7.6 dB is recommended. Would this feel too loud?
  • Placement of compressor – I would like the heat exchanger to be in the basement,  not outside in extreme temperatures. If it must be outside, we’re thinking of mounting it over the garage door, with the 3 panels above as a protective awning.
  • Circuit load – Could I have the heat going, while making tea or taking a shower on a cold morning? Without blowing a fuse? The stove is rated for 30 Amps, the tankless hot water system at 60 Amps, and the mini-split heating system at 5.3 Amps. All together, about 95 Amps. Well within the 100 Amp panel in the garage.
  • Thermostat – It’s unclear how the setback thermostat works for this. I plan to keep the house cool at night, and expect a thermostat to warm up the house before I wake up.

Thoughts?