The "net zero" home: possible for the average person, or pie-in-the-sky green goal?
"Net zero," of course, means a zero-energy home -- that's right, no monthly bill -- that does consume energy but also generates enough to cancel out its overall footprint.
It's an incredible concept for homeowners and facilities managers alike, and no doubt you've heard of it on the local news.
But how do you actually get there?
To answer that question, I called up Barry Contrael, the director of the Low Voltage business division of Siemens.
Why Contrael? Because his team recently assisted popular television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to build an all-new, near-net zero energy home in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
With micro-inverter solar photovoltaic technology and some smart decisions, the homeowners have seen their electric bills drop from $400 to less than $100, despite a 50 percent increase in the size of their home. (If you've ever seen the show, them build 'em big.)
Here's what he had to say about pursuing a home of the future:
Contrael says an electricity-generating home can even be a small financial boon. "The best type of [energy] storage is financial storage. In the [Extreme Home Makeover] system, he overgenerates -- so Florida Power and Light pays him back each year."
You need a "net meter" -- one that runs in both directions -- to accomplish this, but Contrael says "the lion's share" of automated meter reading rollouts by utilities support this. You just need to figure out what kinds of programs your local utility offers -- the DSIRE website can help.
"Some states have a feed-in tariff that let you make more money on what you generate than what you're using," he said.
If it were this easy, more people would do it, of course. What are the hurdles for the homeowner?
"There's a certain upfront cost," Contrael said. "Cash flow has been a deterrent to larger rollouts of solar.
"The nice thing about the micro-inversion is that you can choose your investment -- you can buy one or two or five panels, not 15. You have to watch that the incentives cover what you choose, but you can still usually get a federal tax credit and perhaps a state tax credit as well. It's not uncommon to get well over half the system paid for by different incentives."
It also helps to take a long-term view, Contrael said.
"Large businesses like ours look for a two-year payback, but if you're living in a home for a long period of time, you might look at a seven year payback," he said. "I'm 47 -- I want to do the investments now, before I retire."
The good news: financial schemes are coming for consumers to lower that initial hurdle, much like the power-purchase agreement does for the commercial sector. "We're working on financial institutions on second-type mortgages to help spread those costs out," he said.
A net zero home? Not so far-fetched. And perhaps not just a lofty goal, but a necessity in the near future. Consider the emergence of the electric car, Contrael said.
"When I think about the ability to add another 10 panels to my roof and offset what would be my gas usage," he said, "that's huge."
Photo: LifeStyle Homes/Flickr
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com