From Dan Harding on January 30, 2012 in Remodeling News
Life is changing fast in the 21st century. We are seeing a rising awareness that heating our homes and otherwise providing power to them using oil and gas just isn’t sustainable. We’re reaching the point where the search for clean energy options isn’t just a concern for the few. It’s a concern for everyone.
But, where to begin? Here are a few examples of developing trends for energy efficiency and clean energy that we expect to go mainstream as our century rolls forward.
Home solar power
The sun is the primary source for life on our planet, and using the sun’s energy to sustain us has been central to our lives as a species even before there was such a thing as technology, or civilization. In the modern era, solar energy has been high-profile as a form of technology since Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1979 (and when Ronald Reagan removed them in 1980).
But, in the 21st century, solar energy has taken a huge leap forward on a residential, mainstream level. It’s now much easier to estimate costs on a solar energy installation, and much cheaper as well (for costs near you, click here).
As the 21st century proceeds, we should expect to see residential solar energy supplement local grids on a grander scale, to be a standard feature in new homes, and to be a central part in a new trend of mass retrofitting on older homes, too (even the oldest of Victorian homes, like this one in New Jersey, can benefit from a solar update).
On-demand heating and smart thermostat technology
A big energy hog in your home is your water heater that heats a lot of water just in case you need it, as opposed to your actually needing it. Also, your thermostat and heating system will heat your home to comfortable levels whether you’re there or not, in the off chance that you will be. But, an emerging technology is on-demand heating and smart thermostat systems that delivers hot water and warmth only when you ask for it. Why shouldn’t we expect this to become standard in the 21st century home, as costs rise, and as resources dwindle? It just makes sense, right?
About six meters below the ground, with minimal variation depending on where you live, there is a constant temperature range of 50º-60º. Imagine, if you could somehow regulate the base temperature of your home to that temperature in order to manage how warm or how cool your interior was all year round? Well, this is the basic principle of geothermal heating. geothermal heating. It’s much easier to manage a comfortable temperature in your home starting from 50º-60º than it is starting from 0º, 0r 90º. With that kind of energy efficiency, coupled with solar energy and wind power, the public grid can afford to take a holiday! Or at least, you’ll now be able to - from worrying about your energy bills. This is an exciting prospect for the 21st -century homeowner. Imagine the possibilities of a future where geothermal lines buried in neighborhoods are as common as phone lines, or water mains?
Residential wind turbines
Most associations with wind power evoke images of towering wind farms, which are certainly a prime strategy as it stands today in many parts of the world. But, residential wind turbines in North America are become more and more viable for the average homeowner. Offsetting carbon emissions by installing a wind turbine on a residential scale is something we should expect to see as a key strategy to take the burden off of the public grid. And less energy consumed there, among other things, make for lower energy bills. Now, that’s also something to look forward to when thinking of the future.
Energy efficiency isn’t just about installing cool gadgets in your home, although it certainly can include that, as we’ve seen. It’s also a concern, more and more, at the actual design stage of building new homes. When designers think about building placement and structural design in relation to sun and wind exposure as they affect heating and cooling, it’s called passive design. Passive design is based on scientific heat transfer principles, making the most of every kilojoule of energy your home can absorb and contain by means of strategic design. It submits to unchangeable factors like sun exposure to make it a whole lot easier, and much more inexpensive, to heat and cool the average home. And once again, since it makes so much sense, more and more 21st century designers are turning to passive design, keeping all of the above benefits in mind.
Community investment and local grids
One inspiring story in recent years is the story of Samsö, an island community off the coast of Denmark that transformed their local energy grid in a 10-year span. The residents of the island once relied heavily on imported oil and coal from the mainland. But, with the help of some of the clean energy technologies listed above, they were able to foster their own energy-efficient energy grid for a landmass that is about the size of a medium North American town. They achieved it through dedicated cooperative investment in their community.
The way I look at it is that if they can do it there, it can be done in communities in North America, too. A lot of that will rely upon geography and climate, of course. But, the central idea is that a movement toward localized grids that are entirely powered by clean energy is an exciting prospect. It’s also a great means to create real community spirit, too.
There is hope for clean energy and energy efficiency
As a culture, we have a big job ahead of us where energy efficiency and sustainable, clean energy are concerned. Technology isn’t going to be the key to success so much as our willingness to embrace where common sense is telling us to go. That’s really the hardest part. But, in reading the stories of innovation, and about how the mainstream is warming to ideas that seemed radical and far-fetched at one time, I think there is hope.
Rob Jones is the Editor-in-Chief and sometime writer for the BuildDirect green blog. He also is Social Media and Content manager for BuildDirect, an technologically innovative online flooring and building materials firm.