The Paris Climate Deal, signed recently by 195 countries, was a momentous occasion in the fight against global warming. Our salvation, however, cannot be left in the hands of a pact that contains neither concrete action steps, nor reasonable deterrents for failings. We must take action ourselves.
Ryunosuke Satoro said that “individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean”. If each of us can thereby make our own small contribution to reduce our impact on the world, the cumulative effect will be great.
The following energy saving technologies (along with a few other energy hacks we’ve covered) can be introduced into our homes to reduce our environmental impact. Not all will be affordable to you just yet. Hopefully they will all become the norm in the near future, though. But you will be able to introduce others with barely a dent to your wallet.
Use Smart Power Strips
Many electrical devices continue using power even when they’re turned off. Those glowing stand-by lights don’t run on air alone, you know. Some of the main culprits include DVD players, printers, TVs, and computers. What smart power strips do is completely cut off the power to these devices when it’s sensed that they are not in use. This can shave between 5%-10% of your total energy bill.
Some models, such as the Smart Strip 4941 ($30) can also be used to sense when, for example, the TV is switched off, and will automatically cut power to your DVD player and game console, too. There are plenty of individual smart plugs you can choose from as well.
Install Solar Panels
By taking energy from the sun to heat water or generate electricity, you can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. To ensure cost effectiveness, in the Northern Hemisphere face them due South. In the Southern Hemisphere, face them due North. Obviously, this tech works best in sunny climates, preferably with little cloud or shadow cover.
The panels used for solar thermal energy usually come in two types: evacuated tube collectors, and flat plate collectors. Generally, these are used solely for heating water. If you want to use solar for your central heating system too, solar thermal energy can be used in conjunction with some combi-boilers or bio-mass heaters. In effect, these panels concentrate heat captured from the sun toward a series of water-pipes which is then used to heat water within a hot water tank.
Solar photovoltaics (solar PV), on the other hand, is the solar technology that’s used to generate electricity. The solar panels (modules) used are made of solar cells. The cell receiving the least amount of sunlight dictates how much power the entire series can produced. Once the electricity has been passed through an inverter, it can then be used in your home.
Electrochromic Smart Glass
Electrochromatic technology allows a material (in this case glass) to change color when an electric current is applied. This can be done manually via a smartphone app, or set to alter automatically.
The variable tint applied to the glass controls the light and heat that passes through, allowing you to substantially save on air conditioning costs while keeping the glass transparent, and minimizing glare.
View, the company behind some of this technology claims, “savings on lighting, electricity, heating, ventilation and air conditioning can amount to 23% at peak times”.
Although electrochromic smart glass is currently many times the price of standard glass, the cost is set to reduce substantially in the future.
Monitor Your Energy
By installing a wireless energy monitor in your home, you’ll get a better understanding of how and when you’re consuming power. The insights you’ll gain allow you to make decisions to reduce that overall usage.
With a smart energy meter, you can now see your gas and electricity consumption in real time. Many energy companies already offer a basic monitor, but there are more impressive options out there.
Efergy’s option, the Ego Smart Socket and App (video above) is a great kit. This monitoring system allows you know which appliances are currently on, current and past energy use, as well as the ability to remotely turn off appliances via the system’s iOS app. You can even use the Ego as a replacement for smart power strips using the built-in timer functions. Used in conjunction with a smart thermostat, such as Google’s Nest, as well as Energy Star Appliances, this could make your home a lot more efficient.
Build a Cool or Green Roof
In warmer climates, your roof could be emptying your bank account faster than you might think. After all, on warmer days, your roof will be the hottest part of your building, forcing you to keep your AC on for longer than necessary.
Based on the idea that light colors reflect light and heat, cool roofs have a high solar reflectance, bouncing both light and heat away from your house. The resulting cooler temperatures within the house can substantially reduce your air conditioning costs, with some research suggesting cool roofs can reduce energy consumption by 10-15%.
Not only this, but cool roofs also reduce an effect known as the urban heat island. This is where human activity causes the air in urban environments to be several degrees higher than the surrounding rural areas. Reducing the amount of dark materials in urban areas thereby lessens this increase in air temperature.
Green roofs are based on similar ideas. By growing vegetation on a special soil system on top of a building, the heat transferred indoors is reduced, meaning your AC will be used less.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
If you want to go all out with energy saving, you could consider installing a geothermal heat pump. These geothermal systems collect heat from below the ground to use for heating your house. They can also be reversed in the Summer to cool your house.
Closed geothermal systems are relatively similar to the solar thermal systems mentioned above. The heat-collecting water pipes are below ground however, rather than on your roof.
Another option is an open system, where hot ground water is pumped from the ground through a heat pump located in or near your house, then back into the ground.
Tesla’s Solar Battery
In May 2015, Elon Musk announced the Tesla PowerWall Home Battery, which we covered in detail. These 7-10 kWh batteries can be mounted on the interior or exterior of your house and provide a far more efficient way of storing solar energy than ever before.
For a while now, the growth of solar power has stalled due to the unsuitability of many batteries on the market. What Tesla’s batteries offer is a more reliable energy supply at night, as well as more reliability during power outages. As more people start to use batteries like these, there will be far less worry surrounding the reliability of solar power, as we’ll be confident we have enough energy stored to cover any emergencies.
What Else Can We Expect?
The climate deal signed in Paris has already led to billions of dollars being earmarked for renewable energy projects. Many of these projects will focus on improving some of the technologies mentioned above. But we’ll also be introduced to projects and technologies we’ve never heard of. Never even imagined. These will be the projects we’ll thank in the future for drastically cutting our effects on the environment.
This is both an exciting and incredibly important time for us all — governments, corporations, and individuals — to do our bit. You can get started by looking at home, and seeing where you can cut back on your own energy consumption.
What other technologies can help us to reduce our home’s carbon footprint? Which have you introduced to your home? And which will you be introducing next? And do you think it’s even your responsibility to reduce your carbon footprint?