The idea of zero energy homes is rapidly becoming the rallying cry for homeowners who want to save money, do the right thing and untether themselves from utility bills. Include me as an unabashed but hopefully thoughtful "zero energy" cheerleader.
Zero energy clearly defines the goal because it creates a scorecard to reduce energy consumption. I started a couple of years ago by watching electric bill and indeed, my family has worked down our consumption with little sacrifice. Over the winter, I insulated about 250 feet of copper hot water tubing. We've installed compact fluorescent lights and are starting with LED lighting. And I am investigating solar and wind. This is simply the low hanging fruit.
Zero energy is part of a new U.S. movement to live more efficiently and frugally in part from the drain on resources by the recession. Living with less is catching on out of necessity.
Yesterday, General Electric (GE) became the latest company to jump on the bandwagon with its Net Zero Energy Home. GE's idea is to create a "turnkey portfolio" of products that will accomplish the zero energy goal by 2015. The path to zero energy starts now, though, with products such as its heat pump hot water heater than will be available later year and promises to use half the energy of conventional units (2300 kWh v. 4800 kWh annually).
Next year, GE will come out with a $200 Home Energy Manager that promises to serve as "the central nervous system" of the zero energy home. CNET Green Tech blogger Martin LaMonica does a good job of covering GE's costs, timetable, products and the incentives for homeowners to sprint down the zero energy path.
What makes zero energy so appealing is relief from recurring electric, oil, gas, water and sewer bills. Electric vehicles will also be part of the zero energy equation, freeing us from gasoline and diesel.
Independance is appealing, but does zero energy mean we will be become slaves to devices, electronics, networks and complex systems that can be serviced only by expensive experts (one can argue we are already). What standards will emerge from all these devices and who will control the networks? Who will pay for them? How reliable will they be?
Presently, we are servants to utilities and if we can assert more control over our energy consumption, in theory, our lives will be simpler and we'll be doing a big favor for the planet. If we can makes choices about when and how we use energy, we can exert more control over our finances, CO2 production and our lives.
Nothing is free and as with GE's initiatives, there will by be upfront costs, uncertain and lengthy payback periods and technologies that will fail or deliver less than promised. But dammit, it's the smart and right path.