By Sarah Lozanova
Greater energy independence, freedom from fluctuating energy prices, and environmentally friendly living are alluring concepts that motivated my family to examine our housing and our lifestyle. We recently purchased a high-performance home and installed a solar system, making our home net-zero. We now produce as much power as we use over the course of a year.
Realizing the Dream of a Net-Zero HomeTo realize the dream of a net-zero home, we bought a superefficient home atBelfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine with triple-pane windows and doors, virtually airtight construction, a solar orientation and lots of insulation. The sun, appliances and occupants provide a majority of the heat needed to keep our home cozy.
On sunny winter days, our heaters remain off, as the sun gradually warms the house. Electric baseboard heaters kick on as needed, primarily at night or on cold, cloudy days. The home is all electric—with an electric range, hot water heaters and space heaters. Because we don’t use propane, natural gas or heating oil, a solar system can produce all the energy that our home consumes.
By Sarah Lozanova
As the US economy improves, the size of most new homes continues to expand. The average new home is now more than 2,600 square feet, compared to less than 1,000 square feet in 1950. Keep in mind that the average family size has shrunk considerably in recent decades.
This highlights a cultural shift, as many Americans are giving each child their own bedroom, and bathrooms are becoming more plentiful, sophisticated and spacious. Many families buy the largest house they can afford, which is encouraged by low interest rates. It is common for families to pay 1/3 to 1/2 of their income on housing. As homes become larger, the environmental impact typically expands as well, as more resources are needed to construct, maintain, heat, cool, and furnish them. Is there a green living alternative?
There has been a green living, tiny house and small house movement underway since the 1970s driven by environmental, financial, and time concerns related to the ever expanding American dream house. Tiny homes are typically less than 400 square feet, while small homes are usually under 1,000.
Some of my friends and family raised an eyebrow when I announced that my family of four (with a son and daughter) were to live in a new two-bedroom, 900-square-foot home in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BC&E)—a multi-generational community and ecovillage in Midcoast Maine, located 2½ miles from the town center and the Penobscot Bay.
By Sarah Lozanova, Corporate Sustainability Writer
Did you know that Americans use 50 billion plastic water bottles each year, with a recycling rate of only 23%? From an environmental standpoint, it brings up numerous concerns. Kicking our bottled water habit can conserve resources, but what are we going to do with the billions of plastic bottles that are recycled? How do we boost stubbornly low plastic bottle recycling rates?
Luckily, Patagonia has been looking at this issue for decades and has made considerable progress in turning plastic trash into polyester fabric for apparel. The company has found a way to actually upcycle plastic bottles, finding a good use for this waste stream by turning it into a higher value goods.
In 1993, Patagonia produced the first polyester fleece jacket from recycled bottles. It had a green tint, from green soda bottles. Now, manufacturing waste, plastic bottles, and worn out clothing is recycled into new apparel, literally closing the recycling loop. Patagonia's product line has expanded from fleece jackets to include 82 products with recycled polyester, including insulated pants, down jackets, and beanies.
By Sarah Lozanova
The U.S. has enough installed solar energy capacity to power 4.6 million homes. Solar energy accounted for 32 percent of total new power generation in 2014, exceeding coal and wind energy but lagging behind natural gas. In just nine years, the installed cost of solar energy has fallen by more than 73 percent – setting up the industry for explosive growth.
TriplePundit spoke with Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of EnergySage, the so-called “Expedia of solar,” about solar energy trends and what to expect for 2016 in the residential market.
1. Unprecedented boom continues
Last year, analysts predicted that solar would grow by 57.4 gigawatts in 2015. The recent five-year extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) in the U.S. for both residential and commercial installations further enhances the growth trend. Now that solar manufacturing capacity has expanded significantly, the price of solar equipment has plummeted – making solar energy cheaper than grid-supplied power in many markets.
“The residential solar market is a vibrant $7 billion industry, and on track to generate more revenue by year-end 2016 than Major League Baseball,” Aggarwal said. “The economics of solar are rapidly changing for solar shoppers, installers and financiers alike.”
By Sarah Lozanova
Most of us think of solar energy as consisting of photovoltaic solar panels, which make up 95 percent of the solar energy market. Solar towers, however, are proving to be a promising technology for commercial-scale installations as well.
Construction is now underway on the Ashalim Thermal Solar Power Station, where a vacant stretch of the Negev desert in Israel will be home to a 787-foot solar tower.
This is a big step in achieving Israel’s goal to source 10 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. The solar tower will produce enough electricity to power 121,000 Israeli homes, or meet 1 percent of Israel’s total electricity needs. Although the project is privately funded, the Israeli government has agreed to buy the power at above-market prices. Construction is expected to conclude late next year.