Net-Zero Energy in the UP?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Can Cold-Climate Net-Zero Energy be Accomplished in a Small Town?

By Bobbie Stacey - Founder of Home Run Innovations Inc.

Off and on over the past year I have searched the internet for examples of affordable, net-zero energy, cold-climate homes. So far, I can count the results on my fingers with digits to spare. Net-zero energy commercial buildings are just as sparse. The Department of Energy Zero Energy Buildings Database holds a whopping seven examples. Only three of these were constructed in cold-climate locations.

The most affordable residential home example to date (pictured above top) was built in Wheat Ridge, Colorado as a joint project between the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Habitat for Humanity. It has plenty going for it - simplicity, off-the-shelf appliances and materials, ease of mainenance and affordability. But it also lacks aesthetic appeal and like any other net-zero energy design it cannot control the habits of the occupants. Plugging in large inefficient TVs and forgetting to turn off appliances can counteract the design efforts.

Regardless of cold-climate, Wheat Ridge, Colorado averages over 255 days of sunshine per year. Michigan's Delta County averages almost 100 fewer days of sunshine, greatly limiting the value of a solar panel investment. Retrofitting my own eight year old home with solar panels to produce 90-100% of electricity consumed would currently cost in excess of $60,000. The payoff just isn't there. Zero energy would probably have to be achieved by employing a combination of solar, geo-thermal, wind power and the installation of prototype appliances and fixtures that aren't easily serviced in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

My favorite net-zero home example so far is a remodel of a 100 year old farm house in New Jersey (right side photo above) Resembling so many houses in Delta County, I see hope in this example for what I believe can be accomplished in our community. The problem is that this is one of the only examples of its kind in the nation. There are few predecessors to show the way.

Does this mean that zero-energy properties are a territory to be avoided? Not in my opinion. It's all the more reason to forge ahead. Delta County would lead all cold-climate communities in the nation and land on the map doing so - gaining world-wide recognition.

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Home Run Events: Innovative Ideas for Community Revitalization by Roberta (Bobbie) Stacey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License


David said...

Your web site is really well done!

Youth & Rural Revitalization

Actively engaging youth and their families toward both personal fitness and community involvement will slow drain of rural population migration to urban areas.

One of the ways this youth engagement is accomplished in Delta County, Michigan is through family-oriented, community health and fitness events. See The Salvation Army Home Run as an example.

About this Blog

Home Run Events is a forum for solutions that create Sustainable, Healthy, "Inclusive", Neighborhood Environments (SHINE) in our communities - beginning with the homeless.

We aspire to relocalize rural economies through affordable net-zero energy housing, local organic agriculture and financially self-sufficient social services programs.

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