On the Path to Net Zero
Reducing carbon emissions has become an overarching motivation for us on the home front. My wife, Jerelyn, and I have now been through almost two complete winters in our largely rebuilt, early 1800s home in Dummerston, Vermont. There are some things we would have done differently with the house, but we are totally happy with our low energy use intensity and our overall energy consumption.
With more than a full year of data, we are clearly operating in net-positive-energy territory. During the 12-month period from November 2014 through October 2015, our all-electric, 1,500 ft2 home consumed 8,744 kWh, and our 12 kW solar array generated 12,457 kWh. (That span includes the very cold 2014–15 winter, and our solar array was covered with snow for almost all of February.)
Our net energy production was roughly 3,700 kWh. We burned a little wood as well, but not much. I started last winter’s heating season (in the fall of 2014) with a full cord of dry split wood (14" length to fit into our tiny wood stove), and two heating seasons later, we still have about three-quarters of that cord left. I think we only lit the stove twice this past (unseasonably mild) winter. Our single air-source heat pump (18,000 Btu/hour) is keeping us warm, and our heat-pump water heater is providing all the hot water we need.
To make use of that excess solar production, Jerelyn and I purchased a 2016 Chevy Volt at the end of last year. I’ve calculated that our excess solar production will power about 9,000 miles in our Volt—much more than our around-town driving. So far, we’ve been using about 210 kWh per month charging the Volt (296 kWh in the most recent month).
I believe that we will still have enough extra electricity to power a cold storage room for our farm, which I’m hoping to build in the barn this year.
The big nut still to crack, for Jerelyn and me, is our out-of-town driving and—especially—flying. We’re trying to fly less; and when we do fly, we plan to start purchasing carbon offsets. Offsets aren’t as good as not generating the carbon emissions in the first place, but they are much better than doing nothing.
When I fly to speak at conferences or participate in meetings, I’m now requesting that the sponsors or clients pay for carbon offsets. When that doesn’t work, we will buy the offsets ourselves. We are still researching carbon offset options but are likely to go with Native Energy, a Vermont company that has a good track record in funding real projects that are effectively offsetting carbon emissions.
Our goal with all this is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in our personal lives—to demonstrate that it is possible. Vermont has a goal to get 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and we want to show that it’s feasible to get pretty close to that goal today.
I’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Wilson, A. (2016, April 4). On the Path to Net Zero. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/path-net-zero