Energy conservation in your own space will become increasingly important as I see it. We require energy for our living space, both heating and cooling. We need energy to provide light when it is dark, to warm or cook our food, and in most cases to wash and dry our clothes. We also need energy to power our appliances and gadgets of all kinds.
At one point, a point most of us can remember, energy was cheap. In many ways energy is still cheap, but soon that may not be so. There are also many reasons why we will see a heavier dependence on renewable and cleaner forms of energy. Coal, oil and natural gas should be left in the ground. Also, biofuels represent an unlikely long term substitute, but we may depend on them for a while as we begin to ease away from coal, oil and natural gas. Hydrogen as a burnable energy-generating gas is an interesting intermediate chemical fuel, but is for most applications not yet economically viable. This is actually not the case in some relatively isolated locations such as Iceland where hydrogen is obtained locally and purified from volcanic venting gas more cheaply than petroluem-based fuels can be imported. Indeed, the use of hydrogen as a primary chemical energy source to meet Iceland’s energy needs may continue to improve moving forward, and we may begin to see what a major hydrogen economy looks like.
For now, we are mostly dependent on oil, gas and coal. But, these may leave us more quickly than we imagine as renewable, clean fuels become more and more efficient and cheap. Solar, wind and geothermal energy use are all on the increase. Solar is likely to be most wide spread because the Sun is everywhere, whereas not all locations are windy, and not all places have the same levels of underground heat close to the surface. Further, both passive and active solar systems can be developed in individual homes as well as for more general community use. Here, we want to focus on home use and what we can do to economize in the face of increasing costs associated with availability as well as the real costs of coal, oil and gas. At some point we may be asked to pay for the cost of what these fuels do to the Earth and at that point their costs may really begin to increase substantially. It may be more cost efficient to advance our energy needs through both individual and collective use of one or more of the clean renewable forms.
Within individual homes we should begin to see a trend toward construction that is solar friendly. We can see this developing in Germany where serious efforts to develop solar technologies both passive and active began earlier than in other places. Smaller homes with about 500 square feet of space for each occupant with heavy insulation on sides of the house where we less sunlight and tight fitting windows as well on sides where there is less sun. The resulting heated air can they be distributed within the house by fans or by other more efficient strategies. Solar photovoltaic cells can also be located on the side of the house with more sunlight and used to power a battery system that can provide for electrical needs including heating during the day and electrical needs at night when the sun is not activating solar systems. Also, pipes with high heat capacity molten salts heated passively by the sun during the day can provide a supplementary source of heating during cold nights. However, if the large windows are covered on the inside by thermally insulated shades at night and the rest of the house is well-insulated, then the molten salt pipes heated during the day may be sufficient to meet most needs.
The above description, of course, affords only one vision of how things may develop in the future, but for now when most homes have been built without such a concept of future energy requirements in mind, we need to think about how to move toward the future. An eye for energy efficiency will be required. First, whatever our living space we need to be certain there are no drafts coming in windows or doors or through some perhaps poorly insulated regions of the house. Fix drafty doors and windows with weather stripping and caulk. If the windows are made of old plate glass and are really cold to the touch on cool days you can cover them with transparent plastic sheets that can be purchased in most hardware stores. Other drafty areas can be at the back of closets or cabinets built against external walls that may be poorly insulated. Obviously we need to get into those areas and properly insulate them. We can use thick insulation and then cover those areas tightly with a thick wood or other covering, caulk any loose-fitting areas and paint over them. We can paint both inside and outside with paint containing insulating micro-polymer beads. These are generally available and easy to obtain. Just mix them in with the paint and paint as usual.
In general, most houses will never become completely air-tight, and you don’t want them to be. Removing the drafts will make them much more comfortable and will save on heating and cooling costs that can add up over time. In addition, use energy-efficient electric lights and a programmable thermostat. Set the latter to run at least 4-5 degrees cooler over night — starting about one hour after everyone is in bed and coming back up to daytime temperature one hour before anticipated rising. If you live in a location where heat pumps offer a practical solution to supplementary heating look into purchasing one. Examine possible solar photovoltaic systems with enough capacity to run heat pumps or air conditioning and furnace systems if possible. These solar systems may drop in price by five fold or more during the next decade. They are not simple to understand or integrate into an energy plan for your home, but they are worth learning more about and even putting one of your own if you are handy with simple construction projects. You can find simple directions on the Internet.
You may also want to look into constructing your own solar oven and experimenting with it.