Although recycling may seem like a new concept that cropped up with the environmental movement of the 1970s, it’s actually been around for thousands of years. Whether by force or by choice, most of us are accustomed to separating our plastics, glass, and paper for weekly pickup on recycling day. How many of us, however, think about recycling energy?
In the Maryland/DC region, the average energy bill for a single family home (run mostly on electricity) is $350 a month, or $4,200 a year. With the ever-rising cost of gasoline, food, and other necessities, equally rising energy costs can be a major stressor on a family of four. Is there a way that we can recycle energy successfully? Fortunately, there is.
Picture a modest single-family home in the suburbs. Living there is an average family of four. The home is reconstructed and all fixtures and systems are replaced by energy-efficient systems, and a computer-simulated, or virtual family replaces the human family. The goal of such an experiment is simple—to eliminate the energy bill. This is what’s called a Net-Zero house.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) built such a house and just concluded the first year of its experiment this summer. The $2.5-million, two-year-long project, named the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF), has proven to be more than successful. Amazingly, every kilowatt of energy used was recycled, despite the extremely harsh winter last year, netting a surplus of $4,400 for the first year. In other words, the house produced more energy than it used.
In a recent post on the Clean Technica Blog, Hunter Fanney, the mechanical engineer who leads NZERTF-based research, was quoted as saying:
“We made it — and by a convincing margin. From here on in, our job will be to develop tests and measurements that will help to improve the energy efficiency of the nation’s housing stock and support the development and adoption of cost-effective, net-zero energy designs and technologies, construction methods and building codes.”
Clean Technica’s article also suggested that although NIST’s Net-Zero house is calculated to be about 70% more efficient than the average house in the region, the cost of building Maryland homes with similar technology is currently not feasible. Building a similar home, according to Maryland’s state building code, would add $162,700 to the cost of the home, and it would take three years to recoup these funds. So, we are not out of the woods yet, but it sure is promising.