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Deep-energy retrofits

August 26, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Pat Murphy, a keynote speaker at this year’s Aug. 8-9 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair in Oregon, Ill., sees the current world situation as very serious, requiring us to focus on survival. He accepts the need to reduce CO2 to 350 ppm from current levels exceeding 385 ppm. He indicated the International Energy Agency accepts the reality of peak oil and its significant global consequences. He sees the growing gap between the rich and poor as unsustainable, leading the poor to challenge existing imbalances.

While accepting technologies, he sees no technological solutions to the current complex crisis. He calls on the United States, western Europe and Japan to make the deepest energy cuts, as they are the major sources of excessive carbon.

With fewer than 1 percent of Americans believing in his Plan C, which calls for an 80 to 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, the challenge is one of changing public perception. Up to 90 percent believe we can continue current lifestyles based on massive consumption of fossil fuels, and another 9 percent believe green technologies, such as solar and wind, will allow us to maintain high energy lifestyles.

He suggests individuals and communities should address energy issues locally, taking into account global per capita consumption on barrels of oil equivalents, CO2 and income to devise realistic energy futures.

For global climate stabilization, a target of 1 ton of CO2/person/year is essential. The world now averages 4 tons/person/year while the current U.S. average is 19. Murphy suggests we focus our efforts on housing, transportation and food. We should implement deep-energy retrofit practices on existing homes aimed at 80 to 90 percent reduction in energy use. While retrofits cost around $40,000, we know how to do them, and could afford to if our government reduced expenditures in bank and auto bailouts and military spending.

Murphy’s next target would be a reduction in private car transportation. Using existing cars for jitney services is the quickest and least costly way to reduce transportation energy consumption by 80 percent. Passengers would be picked up by a van or private car on a regular route with a flexible schedule. Such a system can be run by computers and GPS. One is being implemented in Dublin, Ireland, and California and Massachusetts are expected to follow. Instead of an average of 1.5 people, cars could carry four to five passengers. Our transportation problems require a software, not hardware, solution.

His third target is food. It requires no new technology but involves gardening, buying local foods, supporting community-supported agriculture and eating less meat.

All the changes advocated are possible, if we choose to make them. He pointed to efforts in his hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, to develop an energy-use reduction plan. The community performed audits to identify high energy-consuming homes as targets for deep retrofits, retrofitted two homes as models, and established a profile of existing cars to determine their possible use in developing a jitney service.

He sees the current economic depression as an opportunity for a resurgence in community life based on cooperation, caring and sharing. While technology will play a role in the reforms, it is risky to assume it will come to our rescue. Community success will rest on our willingness to change habits and our way of life.

A recent Wall Street Journal article points out how communities are developing energy efficiency programs to help citizens purchase efficient furnaces, weatherize their homes and install solar panels on their roofs. They are providing loans to residents to implement such changes, which can be paid back over a decade. Milwaukee is using federal funds to launch a $1.8 million program targeted at upgrading the energy efficiency of 80,000 homes built prior to 1960. The average cost per home comes to $20,000.

While laudable, the investment per house is only half the $40,000 Murphy indicates is needed to achieve the deep-energy retrofits essential to protect the health of the planet and the future of our children.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue

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