Saving energy and improving energy efficiency is vital to restoring the environment, reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change and creating sustainable jobs. It’s being debated all over the world, but the debate over how to get there has left out something more meaningful to a lot of Lane County residents: saving them money.
In the long term, saving energy means saving money. Since Lane County is a net energy user, this is money that goes outside of our area, in effect transferring money from us to someone else — usually oil and natural gas companies. Savings can be realized on both small or large activities. For example, walking saves money on gasoline. On building and construction projects, an investment to save energy every day can lead to a real money savings.
Small projects could mean installing better insulation, windows, solar heating or even a new energy-efficient ductless heating/cooling system in your home. On a larger scale, my intern, Julia Schmidt (who’s here in Eugene for a year and helping me, including researching this column) recently visited with Executive Director Terry McDonald at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County (SVDP) building at 11th and Oak in Eugene. This building is heated and cooled by a deep geothermal well. McDonald says that the building saves energy and money, and residents of the building have low energy bills.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average U.S household could shave about 70 percent off its heating bill and 40 percent off its cooling bill with a geothermal heating/cooling pump system.
If we look across the Atlantic, the Germans want to cut 20 percent of their energy use by 2020. The German government offers its residents different kinds of grants and low-interest loans to make their homes more energy efficient. Another part of the effort is that by the end of 2020, all newly built houses need to be passive houses — nearly zero energy buildings. A passive house concept is today’s highest energy standard. At the International Passive House Conference, experts estimate that of the 114 passive houses examined, energy savings averaged 90 percent.
Passive houses are very well insulated and are virtually air-tight. This protects the inhabitants against cold in the winter and heat in the summer.
We’d be smart to significantly increase our use of incentives to bring about greater savings, both in money and energy.