A House Without an Energy Bill

by Abigail Schantz 

In his article “Let There Be Light” in the January 2015 edition of the Economist, Edward Lucas uses the example of a particular energy-efficient house to illustrate his argument that forces affecting the energy market are currently pushing it in the direction of cleaner and more available energy. Coal, now the cheapest and most prominent fossil fuel, is also the dirtiest, and a major contributor of CO2 emissions. Geopolitical events and price collusion make oil supplies unstable, and both natural gas and nuclear power spark intense political debates.

The new phenomena of hydraulic fracturing has made American a major oil producer, leading to a decrease in oil prices. Edward Lucas believes that the price of oil will keep falling but, rather than this undermining clean energy sources, the cost of clean energy will also fall. In the past five years, solar, wind, and other renewables have received an average of $260 billion a year of investment worldwide. The implementation of clean energy production that corresponds to the natural environment of different countries are starting to be utilized. In areas where the weather is hot and access to most sources of power are expensive, such as India, Africa, and Hawaii, solar energy has become a prominent solution. Additionally, with all of the new investment, the ability to produce and store solar energy efficiently is improving immensely. And these renewables are not the only alternatives. Clean coal, which involves capturing released CO2 for storage or use, remains a viable option. The driving point: All of the technology for reducing emissions and resorting to cleaner energy is already available and improving rapidly. Implementing it has large upfront costs but also immense longterm savings. Lucas uses Michael Liebreich’s energy efficient house in London to demonstrate the possibilities. The house runs on solar panels and a 1.5kW fuel cell which is powered by gas with over 90% efficiency. A heat pump provides heating, low energy appliances reduce demand, and a water tank stores any excess heat. Extra electricity goes back into the grid. Although the house was expensive to construct, Mr. Liebreich expects to make money from it, receiving a net payment for the excess electricity he produces while not having to spend anything on an electricity bill himself. A standard house of similar size would cost at least $5,500 a year to run.

Lucas, Edward, 2015 Let there be light. The Economist. January 17th, 2015.


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