Multiple Benefits of Propane Homes
Cost savings, energy efficiency, and an environmentally friendly profile aren’t the only benefits of propane. For those who are so inclined it can also help fuel some of life’s luxuries.
Is propane a lifestyle choice or an ecologically friendly way to attain greater energy efficiency?
For builder Bob Knight, co-owner of Paul Homes in Cape Coral, Fla., it’s both. The combination of energy savings and outdoor luxuries is what prompted him to run most of his new home on propane—inside and out.
After he decided to install a propane-fueled grill and back-up generator in his new home, he kept finding more uses for propane. Now, propane is the energy source for a pool and spa heater, a fire feature in the pool, a fire pit, two tankless water heaters, a clothes dryer, and a wood-burning fireplace with a gas starter.
While saving money on his utility bills wasn’t Knight’s primary goal in using propane, it’s been a nice bonus. He estimates that he is saving about $1,300 per year on his total (gas and electric) utility bill—and that’s in a 3,500-square-foot, two-story home with 5.5 bathrooms.
“Electricity is still relatively inexpensive in Florida now, but I anticipate the cost per kilowatt hour will go up,” says Knight. “My energy costs are lower with this new home than they were in my 2,600-square-foot old home, and I think propane is what’s made the difference. Plus, it doesn’t take long to pay for itself.”
Knight’s experience is not atypical: PERC’s research with the Propane Energy Pod shows that installing propane systems instead of those running on other energy types frequently reduces overall energy costs—even in warmer climate zones like Florida.
The builder does a lot of entertaining, “so it’s great to have propane for everything in the backyard,” says Knight, who finished his home in May 2010. “I like sitting around a fire with no smoke, watching water from the fire bowl spill into the pool. I can heat up the spa or use the grill without having to worry about running out of gas.”
Knight’s extensive use of propane has also become a selling tool for him. “A lot of our customers aren’t familiar with propane, but once I tell them that I use it at my own home, that they won’t even see the underground tank, and that the delivery process is easy, then they’re comfortable with it,” he says. “Once they go for putting in a tank I say, ‘Let’s look at the things you can add on to this for the future.’”
Wind Power as a Viable Solution to Meeting Alternative Energy Needs
Although it is much less expensive to initially get hooked into the local electric company’s grid than it is to set up and hook into wind turbines, in the long run one saves money by utilizing the wind for one’s energy needswhile also becoming more independent. Not receiving an electric bill while enjoying the advantages of the modern electrically-driven lifestyle is a wondrous feeling.
Electric bills and fuel bills are rising steadilybut the cost of wind turbine energy is zero, and the cost of installing and hooking up a turbine is steadily coming down as demand rises and more commercial success is realized by various companies producing the turbines and researching technologies to make them ever more efficient. In addition, people are moving away from the traditional electric grids and the fossil fuels for personal reasons including desire for greater independence, the desire to live remotely or rurally without having to go primitive, political concerns such as fears of terrorist strikes on oil fields or power grids, or concerns about the environment. Again, this motivation to get away from the traditional energy sources is the same one that causes people to seek the power of the wind for their energy, giving more business opportunities to profit from wind turbine production and maintenance, which drives their costs down for the consumers. In nearly thirty states at the time of this writing, homeowners who remain on the grid but who still choose to use wind energy (or other alternative forms) are eligible for rebates or tax breaks from the state governments that end up paying for as much as 50% of their total green energy systems’ costs. In addition, there are 35 states at the time of this writing where these homeowners are allowed to sell their excess energy back to the power company under what are called net metering laws. The rates that they are being paid by the local power companies for this energy are standard retail ratesin other words, the homeowners are actually profiting from their own energy production.
Some federal lawmakers are pushing to get the federal government to mandate these tax breaks and other wind power incentives in all 50 states. Japan and Germany already have national incentive programs in place. However, A lot of this is handled regionally by state law. There wouldn’t really be a role for the federal government, the Energy Department’s Craig Stevens says. And as might be imagined, there are power companies who feel that it’s unfair that they should have to pay retail rates to private individuals. We should [only have to] pay you the wholesale rate for … your electricity, according to Bruce Bowen, Pacific Gas & Electric’s director of regulatory policy. However, the companies seem to be more worried about losing short term profits than about the benefits, especially in the long run, of the increased use of wind turbines or wind farms. Head of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies of California V. John White points out, It’s quality power that strengthens the grid.
There is a lot of energy that we can harness if we only seek to research and develop the technologies needed to do so. We can get away from the fossil fuels and the old electrical grids by turning to alternatives to these energy sources.
One of these alternative energy resources is wind power. Wind turbines continue to be developed that are progressively more energy efficient and less costly. Wind farms have been springing up in many nations, and they have even become more strategically placed over time so that they are not jeopardizing birds as former wind turbines did.
Another alternative energy resource is the one that is most well known: solar energy. This involves the manufacturing of solar cells which gather and focus the energy given off directly by the sun, and translate it into electricity or, in some cases, hot water. As with wind energy, solar energy creates absolutely zero pollution.
Ocean wave energy is seen by governments and investors as having enormous energy generating potential. A generator in France has been in operation for many years now and is considered to be a great success, and the Irish and Scots are running experimental facilities.
Hydroelectric power has been with us for a while and where it is set up, it is a powerful generator of electricity and cleaner than a grid. However, there are certain limitations to the availability of the right places to set up a large dam. Many run-of-the-river, or small and localized, hydroelectric generators have been set up in recent times due to this limitation.
Geothermal energy is extremely abundant, since it lies directly beneath our feet, just a few miles below the earth’s surface. This energy is produced by the heating of water through the actions of earth’s fantastically hot molten core. The water turns to steam, which can be harnessed and used to drive turbine engines which in turn generate electricity. Great amounts of research and development should be put into geothermal energy tapping.
Waste gas energies, which are essentially methane, reverse the usual energy-pollution relationship by creating energy from waste that lies in the dumps and from some air pollutants. This gas is used in fuel cells and can be used in standard gasoline generators.
Ethanol is a gasoline substitute and is created from such things as wheat, sugarcane, grapes, strawberries, corn, and even wood chips and wood cellulose. There is controversy over this fuel with regards to its ever becoming truly economical or practical except in very localized areas, but technologies for its extraction and admixturing are continuously being refined.
Biodiesel energy is created out of the oils contained in plants. So far, the commercial stores of biodiesel have been created using soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils. At the time of this writing, biodiesel is typically produced by entrepreneurial minded individuals or those who want to experiment with alternative energy, but commercial interest from companies is on the rise. It burns much cleaner than oil-based diesel.
Atomic energy is created in atomic energy plants using the process of nuclear fission. This energy is extremely efficient and can generate huge amounts of power. There is concern from some people about what to do with the relatively small amount of waste product atomic energy gives off, since it is radioactive and takes hundreds of years to decay into harmlessness.
Decades of tree and biomass research jointly conducted by Florida Statue University and Shell Energy have resulted in the planting of the largest single Energy Crop Plantation in the entire United States. This Plantation spans approximately 130 acres and is home to over 250,000 planted trees including cottonwoods (native to the area) and eucalyptus (which are non-invasive) along with various row crops such as soybeans. This organization of super trees was brought into being as a result of the University’s joint research with other agencies including Shell, the US Department of Energy, the Common Purpose Institute, and groups of various individuals who are working to develop alternative energy sources (those not dependent on fossil fuels) for the future. This research is focused on the planting and processing of biomass energy supplies from fast-growing crops known as closed loop biomass or simply energy crops. The project seeks to develop power plants such as wood-pulp or wood-fiber providing plants; clean biogas to be used by industries; plants such as surgarcane which can be used for ethanol development; and crops such as soybeans for biodiesel fuel production.
University involvement in alternative energy research is also going on at Penn State University. At Penn State, special research is focused on the development of hydrogen power as a practical alternative energy source. The researchers involved are convinced that mankind is moving toward a hydrogen-fueled economy due to the needs for us to reduce air pollution and find other sources of energy besides petroleum to power up the United States. Hydrogen energy burns clean and can be endlessly renewed, as it can be drawn from water and crop plants. Hydrogen power would thus be a sustainable energy resource to be found within the US’ own infrastructure while the world’s supply of (affordable) oil peaks and begins to decline. The University seeks to help with the commercial development of hydrogen powered fuel cells, which would be usable in place of or in tandem with combustion engines for all of our motor vehicles.
When President Bush recently announced his alternative energy initiative, he determined that the government would develop five Sun Grant centers for concentrated research. Oregon State University has the honor of having been selected as one of these centers, and has been allocated government grants of $20 million for each of the next four years in order to carry out its mission. OSU will lead the way in researching alternative energy as it represents the interests of the Pacific Islands, the US’ Pacific Territories, and nine western states. OSU President Edward Ray says, the research being conducted through OSUs Sun Grant center will contribute directly to our meeting President Bushs challenge for energy independence. Specific research into alternative energy being conducted at OSU by varios teams of scientists right now include a project to figure out how to efficiently convert such products as straw into a source of renewable biomass fuel, and another one aimed at studying how to efficiently convert wood fibers into liquid fuel.
The US military knows that its branches must revamp their thinking about how to engage in the theater of war in the new, post-Cold War world of the 21st century. One thing that the military leaders stress is the desire for the forces deployed in the theater to be able to be more energy-independent. Currently the US military has policies and procedures in place to interact with allies or sympathetic local populaces to help its forces in the field get their needed energy and clean water when engaged in a foreign military campaign. However, this is not wholly reliable, as the US might well find itself facing unilateral military activities, or have itself in a situation where its allies cannot help it with the resources it needs to conduct its military actions successfully.
The US military is very interested in certain alternative energies that, with the right research and development technologically, can make it energy independent, or at least a great deal more so, on the battlefield. One of the things that greatly interests the military along these lines is the development of small nuclear reactors, which could be portable, for producing theater-local electricity. The military is impressed with how clean-burning nuclear reactors are and how energy efficient they are. Making them portable for the typical warfare of today’s highly mobile, small-scaled military operations is something they are researching. The most prominent thing that the US military thinks these small nuclear reactors would be useful for involves the removal of hydrogen (for fuel cell) from seawater. It also thinks that converting seawater to hydrogen fuel in this way would have less negative impact on the environment than its current practices of remaining supplied out in the field.
Seawater is, in fact, the military’s highest interest when it comes to the matter of alternative energy supply. Seawater can be endlessly mined for hydrogen, which in turn powers advanced fuel cells. Using OTEC, seawater can also be endlessly converted into desalinated, potable water. Potable water and hydrogen for power are two of the things that a near-future deployed military force will need most of all.
In the cores of nuclear reactorswhich as stated above are devices highly interesting, in portable form, to the US militarywe encounter temperatures greater than 1000 degrees Celsius. When this level of temperature is mixed with a thermo-chemical water-splitting procedure, we have on our hands the most efficient means of breaking down water into its component parts, which are molecular hydrogen and oxygen. The minerals and salts that are contained in seawater would have to be extracted via a desalination process in order to make the way clear for the water-splitting process. These could then be utilized, such as in vitamins or in salt shakers, or simply sent back to the ocean (recycling). Using the power of nuclear reactors to extract this hydrogen from the sea, in order to then input that into fuel cells to power advanced airplanes, tanks, ground vehicles, and the like, is clearly high on the R & D priority list of the military.
Amelot Holdings is a company which presently specializes in the development of biodiesel and ethanol plants throughout the US. Amelot’s objective is to establish relationships between various suppliers of alternative energy who are biodiesel and ethanol researchers or producers to further their ends with long-term profitability and growth in mind. Amelot furthers the cause of these alternative energy suppliers through the formulation of joint ventures, mergers, and construction contracts.
Environmental Power is an alternative energy supplier that has two subsidiary companies. One of these is Microgy, which is Environmental Power’s research and development arm. Microgy is a developer of biogas facilities for the cost-effective and environmentally clean production of renewable energy derived from food and agricultural waste products. These biogas fuels can be used in a number of different applications. They can be used in combustion chamber engines, used directly to make fossil fuel reliance less of a need, or cleaned up to meet natural gas standards and then piped to offices or homes for heating. Environmental Power’s other subsidiary is Buzzard Power. Buzzard has an 83 megawatt power facility which generates green energy from mined coal waste. Environmental Power says of itself, we have a long and successful history of developing clean energy facilities. Since 1982 we have developed, owned and operated hydroelectric plants, municipal waste projects, coal-fired generating facilities and clean gas generation and energy recovery facilities. We are proud to have a management team and board of directors comprised of leaders from both the public and private sectors, including the energy, agriculture and finance industries.
Intrepid Technology and Resources, Inc, is a company that processes waste into natural gas as an alternative source of energy. The company’s vision centers on the fact that the US produces two billion tons of animal waste every year, while at once the US’ supply of natural gas is dwindling. ITR builds organic waste digesters local to sites of organic waste. These facilities produce, clean, and distribute the methane gas from the organic waste; methane gas is a viable alternative to natural gas. ITR is presently operating in Idaho with plans for national expansion.
Nathaniel Energy is a company with the objective of protecting the environment and minimizing total cost of business ownership. The Nathaniel Energy Total Value Preservation System (TVPS) gives companies unique benefits through Nathaniel’s recognition of the alternative energy potential of materials that are usually seen as nothing more than waste or pollutants. Nathaniel Energy’s technology allows it to extract and transform into alternative energy virtually all of the potential energy locked in waste materials. All of this is produced at almost no additional cost beyond what a company would have had to spend in order to install pollution control and prevention systems. Nathaniel Energy’s innovative TVPS recovers valuable resources which other processes fail to. Throughout the entire process, the maximum amount of valuable material is recovered for reuse, which results in lowered costs and environmental protection. Usual pollution cleanup and control processes treat these materials as mere contaminants that are either destroyed or discarded. The TVPS therefore decreases the total cost of business ownership through the provision of an additional stream of income.
Photovoltaic cellsthose black squares an array of which comprises a solar panelare getting more efficient, and gradually less expensive, all the time, thanks to ever-better designs which all them to focus the gathered sunlight on a more and more concentrated point. The size of the cells is decreasing as their efficiency rises, meaning that each cell becomes cheaper to produce and at once more productive. As far as the aforementioned cost, the price of producing solar-generated energy per watt hour has come down to $4.00 at the time of this writing. Just 17 years ago, it was nearly double that cost.
Solar powered electricity generation is certainly good for the environment, as this alternative form of producing energy gives off absolutely zero emissions into the atmosphere and is merely utilizing one of the most naturally occurring of all things as its driver. Solar collection cells are becoming slowly but surely ever more practical for placing upon the rooftops of people’s homes, and they are not a difficult system to use for heating one’s home, creating hot water, or producing electricity. In the case of using the photovoltaic cells for hot water generation, the system works by having the water encased in the cells, where it is heated and then sent through your pipes.
Photovoltaic cells are becoming increasingly better at collecting sufficient radiation from the sun even on overcast or stormy days. One company in particular, Uni-Solar, has developed solar collection arrays for the home that work well on inclement days, by way of a technologically more advanced system that stores more energy at one time during sunlit days than previous or other arrays.
There is actually another solar power system available for use called the PV System. The PV System is connected to the nearest electrical grid; whenever there is an excess of solar energy being collected at a particular home, it is transferred to the grid for shared use and as a means of lowering the grid’s dependence on the hydroelectrically-driven electricity production. Being connected to the PV System can keep your costs down as compared to full-fledged solar energy, while at once reducing pollution and taking pressure off the grid system. Some areas are designing centralized solar collection arrays for small towns or suburban communities.
Some big-name corporations have made it clear that they are also getting into the act of using solar power (a further indication that solar generated energy is becoming an economically viable alternative energy source). Google is putting in a 1.6 megawatt solar power generation plant on the roof of its corporate headquarters, while Wal Mart wants to put in an enormous 100 megawatt system of its own.
Nations such as Japan, Germany, the United States, and Switzerland have been furthering the cause of solar energy production by providing government subsidies or by giving tax breaks to companies and individuals who agree to utilize solar power for generating their heat or electrical power. As technology advances and a greater storage of solar collection materials is made available, more and more private investors will see the value of investing in this green technology and further its implementation much more.
There are many different forms in which alternative energy is available.
One of these is solar power. Solar power is driven by photovoltaic cells, and these are progressively getting less expensive and more advanced. Solar energy power can be used for electricity, heating, and making hot water. Solar energy produces no pollution, as its input comes completely from the sun’s rays. However, much more work still needs to be done in order for us to economically harness the sun’s energy. For the time being, the resource is a little too conditionalstorage batteries are needed to be used as backups in the evenings and on inclement days.
Wind energy has become the most-invested-in (by private investors and governments together) alternative energy source for the time being. The great arrays of triple-bladed windmills are being placed all over as wind farms, to capture the motion of the wind and use its kinetic energy for conversion to mechanical or electrical energy. Of course, there is nothing new about the concept of a windmill for harnessing energy. Modern wind turbines are simply are more advanced variations on the old theme. Of course, the drawback to wind energy is…what do you do when there is a calm, still day? Needless to say, during these times the electric company kicks in for powering your home or office. Wind energy is not altogether independent.
Hydroelectric energy is available as a source of alternative energy, and it can generate a substantial amount of power. Simply put, hydroelectric energy uses the motion of waterits flow in response to gravity, which means downhillto turn turbines which then generate electrical energy. Needless to say, water is ubiquitous; finding sources for driving hydroelectric turbines is, therefore, not much of a problem. However, hydroelectricity as a source of alternative energy can be complicated and expensive to produce. Dams are often built in order to be able to control the flow of the water sufficiently to generate the needed power. Building a dam to store and control water’s potential and kinetic energy takes quite a lot of work, and operating one is complex as well,and conservationists grow concerned that it. Of course, a dam is not always needed if one is not trying to supply the electrical needs of a city or other very densely populated area. There are small run-of-river hydroelectric converters which are good for supplying neighborhoods or an individual office or home.
Probably the most underrated and under-appreciated form of alternative energy is geothermal energy, which is simply the naturally-occurring energy produced by the heating of artesian waters that are just below the earth’s crust. This heat is transferred into the water from the earth’s inner molten core. The water is drawn up by various different methodsthere are dry steam power plants, flash power plants, and binary power plants for harnessing geothermal energy. The purpose of drawing up the hot water is for the gathering of the steam. The Geysers, approximately 100 miles north of San Francisco, is probably the best-known of all geothermal power fields; it’s an example of a dry stream plant.
The Germans have really taken off when it comes to renewable fuel sources, and have become one of the major players in the alternative energy game. Under the aegis of the nation’s electricity feed laws, the German people set a world record in 2006 by investing over $10 billion (US) in research, development, and implementation of wind turbines, biogas power plants, and solar collection cells. Germany’s feed laws permit the German homeowners to connect to an electrical grid through some source of renewable energy and then sell back to the power company any excess energy produced at retail prices. This economic incentive has catapulted Germany into the number-one position among all nations with regards to the number of operational solar arrays, biogas plants, and wind turbines. The 50-terawatt hours of electricity produced by these renewable energy sources account for 10% of all of Germany’s energy production per year. In 2006 alone, Germany installed 100,000 solar energy collection systems.
Over in the US, the BP corporation has established an Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) to spearhead extensive new research and development efforts into clean burning renewable energy sources, most prominently biofuels for ground vehicles. BP’s investment comes to $50 million (US) per year over the course of the next decade. This EBI will be physically located at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The University is in partnership with BP, and it will be responsible for research and development of new biofuel crops, biofuel-delivering agricultural systems, and machines to produce renewable fuels in liquid form for automobile consumption. The University will especially spearhead efforts in the field of genetic engineering with regard to creating the more advanced biofuel crops. The EBI will additionally have as a major focal point technological innovations for converting heavy hydrocarbons into pollution-free and highly efficient fuels.
Also in the US, the battle rages on between Congress and the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA). The GEA’s Executive Director Karl Gawell has recently written to the Congress and the Department of Energy, the only way to ensure that DOE and OMB do not simply revert to their irrational insistence on terminating the geothermal research program is to schedule a congressional hearing specifically on geothermal energy, its potential, and the role of federal research. Furthermore, Gawell goes on to say that recent studies by the National Research Council, the Western Governors’ Association Clean Energy Task Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all support expanding geothermal research funding to develop the technology necessary to utilize this vast, untapped domestic renewable energy resource. Supporters of geothermal energy, such as this writer, are amazed at the minuscule amount of awareness that the public has about the huge benefits that research and development of the renewable alternative energy source would provide the US, both practically and economically. Geothermal energy is already less expensive to produce in terms of kilowatt-hours than the coal that the US keeps mining. Geothermal energy is readily available, sitting just a few miles below our feet and easily accessible through drilling. One company, Ormat, which is the third largest geothermal energy producer in the US and has plants in several different nations, is already a billion-dollar-per-year businessgeothermal energy is certainly economically viable.
Record high prices at American gas pumps and continued trouble-brewing in the Middle East, Nigeria, and other areas of importance to the oil-driven economy have made it clear to Americans that we are in need of developing many new avenues of energy supply and production. In short, we need to reduce our dependency on oil, for it is ultimately finite and, frankly, the cheap sources of oil (not all oiljust the stuff that is cheap to remove from the earth) are running out. Energy consultants and analysts are insistent that cheap oil has peaked or is very soon going to peak. What this means for us is an expensive futureunless we can find new sources of powering our mechanized and electronic civilization, new sources which are alternatives to oil.
We must also switch to alternative forms of energy because our present forms are too damaging to the atmosphere. While this write does not believe that the global warming trend is much, if at all, sustained by the activities of mankind (in short, it’s a natural cycle and there’s nothing we can do about it except prepare for the effects of it), we certainly do contribute at present to the destruction of the environment and to things like air pollution with our energy sources as they are. Coal is another source of energy that we need to wean ourselves off ofagain, it is finite, and it is filthy, and the mining of it is dangerous and environmentally disruptive. We can also explore new, streamlined methods for producing electricity that we presently generate so much of via hydro-power so that we are less disruptive of the environment when we have need of constructing things such as large dams.
Developing nations which have turned industrialized in recent decades especially will need the benefits of alternative energy research and development, for they are presently doing much more environmental damage than the United States. The United States, Japan, and some European nations have been implementing studies into and programs for the development of alternative energy sources, and are therefore already leading the way in doing less environmental damage. The developing nations such as China and India need to look to Japan and the West as examples of what research and development to give government backing and private investment currency to. We could also add great robustness to our own economy by being at the forefront of such alternative energy sources development and then marketing the technologies and services to nations like India, China, Brazil, and so on and so forth.
Biofuels from things like supertrees and soybeans, refined hydroelectric technology, natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells, the further building of atomic energy plants, the continued development of solar energy photovoltaic cells, more research into wind-harnessed powerall of these are viable energy sources that can act as alternatives to the mammoth amounts of oil and coal that we presently are so dependent on for our very lifestyles. The energy of the future is green.