It seems like we're adding a new gadget to our homes every few months (these wires represent half of those around my desk), and most of them will contribute to a higher electric bill. You might never think about that when you buy an Amazon Echo or a garage door opener. And you probably don't realize how your electricity usage is increasing if you don't monitor increases in your monthly utility bills (Read: How to Pay Less for Utilities). So maybe you'd rather have no electric bill?
After reading this amazing book about the electrical grid in the US, The Grid by Gretchen Bakke, I realize there are many reasons why we need to focus more on sustainable energy.
- Our demand for energy is growing quickly due to population growth and more electrical gadgets.
- The generation of electricity is adding to global warming with the release of greenhouse gases when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.
- The electrical infrastructure or “the grid” is being pushed beyond the limits for which it was designed and built, with the number of outages increasing year over year.
So the ability to build homes which will have no electric bill makes a lot of sense. But to clarify, when you generate your own electricity by using things like solar panels, you typically are connected to the grid for several reasons.
- When you're generating more power than you need, you can store the excess energy in batteries or push the electricity to the grid so someone else can use it.
- When you aren't creating enough energy to meet your family's needs, you can pull extra power from the grid to maintain your lifestyle.
Today's electric bills cover three costs – generating power, distributing the power and maintaining the grid. If you have solar panels, if you rarely use the grid but you're connected to it, you will have a small monthly bill to cover infrastructure maintenance.
Zero energy houses are coming sooner than I could have imagined, for some. For most of us, our best opportunity will be solar panels. That's a huge investment so if you want to start with smaller energy savings, there are lots of product choices you can make today that will save a little bit of electricity.
California Goal to Build Zero Energy Homes = No Electric Bill
When today's economic mood is to cut regulation, you might find it surprising that California wants all new homes in the state to be designed for zero energy homes beginning in 2020 (that's only 3 years away). It's a bold strategy when the first net zero house in the US was built in 2006. The superinsulated home was built in Wheat Ridge, Colorado was by the Metro-Denver chapter of Habit for Humanity.
What's important to understand is that we have the technology to do this. We also have the processes to manage the process so homeowners get what they pay for. It's called the HERS (Home energy Rating System) process and it's able to measure the energy efficiency of new and existing homes.
According to Zero: The Cinderella of Energy Efficiency, an architect, green building expert and board member of the Net Zero Energy Coalition, “The barriers to net zero are not technological; they are cultural and educational.” so if you want to learn more, click to read a summary of the presentation she recently gave, titled Zero: The Cinderella of Energy Efficiency.
If you're ready to learn more about green building and net zero houses, here are some resources to check out. We hope you decide to own a zero energy house in the future.
- ZeroEnergyProject.org – is there to help you find the resources to buy, build or sell a zero energy home.
- Energy.gov's website, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy – offers a directory of zero energy homes across the US.
- Wondering if zero energy homes look different? They don't and you can visit Zero-EnergyPlans.com to learn more.