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The Quest to Get Off Fossil Fuel

I am on a quest to reduce my own personal use of fossil fuel. Given that our entire way of life in the US is based on massive consumption of the stuff, you might wonder, what can I, personally, do? First of all, you should realize that when millions of people start to do things they personally can do, this adds up to real change. Do not fall into that mindset that you can’t change the world by yourself. Because, yes you can! As a little aside, try this experiment: when in a traffic jam, fall back 6 to 10 car lengths. Just one person doing this can change the whole flow of traffic (and it also usually means you won’t have to come to a standstill at any time). You might notice other people start doing it, because they noticed, you never had to come to a full stop.

There are some obvious things you can do to reduce use of fossil fuel. Some of these are low-cost changes and some are not.
Low-cost, easy changes include:

  • Putting timers on things that normally consume electricity 24/7. Timer cost at Home Depot: $4.
  • Installing a programmable thermostat: $20
  • Turning things off when not in use: $0
  • Replacing incandescent lights with compact flourescents (CFLs): $1.5/bulb
  • Hang laundry on clothes line: $10 to put up the line, $30 for indoor drying rack

Long before I got solar panels, I did these energy-reducing measures. The one thing I did that was a bit more expensive was to replace my refrigerator with an Energy Star model. These simple things reduced my electric bill by a factor of FIVE. Yes, you read that right…my use was FIVE TIMES LESS after doing this simple “energy retro-fit”. Brag about that to your friends and pretty soon, they will be headed to Home Depot (http://www.homedepot.com/)  for some CFLs (or nowadays, LEDs are even better!) There has been something of an energy efficiency revolution in the USA, especially in the commercial sector. It has dramatically lowered the need for building new power plants.

But now I am ready to take fossil fuel use reduction to the next level! How can I reduce use of gasoline? How about home heating (gas or oil)?

The easiest and cheapest things to do to reduce home heating fuel use are:

  • Install proper insulation
  • Seal heat leaks (The Mighty Caulk Gun, Cans of expanding foam!)
  • The programmable thermostat

I have done all those things and now I am thinking about the next steps. There are two viable possibilities for me:

  • Get a Ground-Source Heat Pump (GSHP)
  • Put in a pellet stove for heating the main floor of the house.

Some of our customers have a GSHP, which does both heating and cooling, and they are powering it with solar electricity. Sweet! Here is a way to get completely off fossil fuel! Wood-burning is less pleasing because it has its own pollution issues, but wood is a renewable resource and could be carbon neutral if it were harvested without use of fossil fuel.

This brings me to the next tricky problem: Getting rid of fossil fuel use in transportation: See Blog #3: What in Car-Nation Are we Driving At?