Home Energy: Shall We Get It From Heaven or Hell?

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Home Energy: Shall We Get It From Heaven or Hell?

By Rick Reynolds

If you agree with the vast majority of scientists who assert that human activity in the form of carbon emissions is the primary culprit causing climate change, then it follows that most of our future energy will need to come from heaven, not hell—this according to green building proponent, Tedd Benson, who spoke at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association Building Energy 2016 conference in Boston this past March.

Speaking metaphorically, Benson, founder of Bensonwood and Unity Homes, was referring to the realization that to achieve the stringent measures urgently needed to curb carbon emissions, a large majority of scientists concur that we’ll need to leave most underground energy (such as oil, gas, and coal), buried down under, and take advantage of our heaven-sent energy sources from above: solar, wind, hydro, wave, and bio*.

While the “hell” part of the metaphor is admittedly somewhat of an oversimplification (geothermal being one exception), Benson has stressed that unmitigated use of underground fossil fuels would lead to unsustainable levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses that can threaten life as we know it on Earth. And while the cost of switching to renewable energy sources could be substantial, initially, it would pale in comparison to the remedial costs of doing nothing.

In addition, while the jury is still out on the efficacy of uranium-based nuclear energy (much of its fuel mined down under the “Down-Under” Australian continent), large-scale nuclear accidents in Russia (Chernobyl) and Japan (Fukushima) have pointed to the hellish risks of large-scale radioactive contamination lasting into decades and even centuries. The specter of nuclear proliferation is also “a clear and present danger,” so uranium mining will undoubtedly need to be curbed as well.

Lastly, the geopolitical implications of increased fossil fuel use would threaten world stability and further delay climate change accords.

It’s important to note that some in-ground fuels will be needed into the foreseeable future. From airlines flying above the clouds to submarines deep undersea, we will depend on some fossil and nuclear fuels, respectively, to maintain mobility and security.

However, for most ground-based applications where electrically-based systems are feasible, renewable energy can fuel the needs of 21st-century societies. Trains, cars, factories, commercial buildings, and homes can all efficiently operate using sustainably generated electricity and existing technologies.

Regarding stationary, land-based structures, the construction and operation of our buildings currently consume over 40% of the world’s carbon-based energy, thus contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, houses, commercial buildings, and public structures need not use any fossil fuels, at all, to operate.

Advanced building science has led to well-insulated, low-load, Zero Energy Ready structures that are tightly sealed with Passive House levels of air infiltration. These all-electric buildings can be heated and cooled using small, highly-efficient, air-source heat pumps with minuscule energy requirements, leaving only relatively low-energy lighting, appliances, entertainment equipment, and air handling systems with energy recovery ventilation (ERVs) to power. This reduced energy requirement, in turn, leads to smaller generating systems, such as fewer solar panels.

In terms of affordability, the fuel efficiency of energy-sipping buildings can more than offset any increased cost of our renewable, heaven-sent energy from the sun if only we could break our addiction to the netherworld of dirty fuel.

Back before the permanent perils of pollution were known, Mark Twain remarked: “I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell—you see, I have friends in both places.”

Friends aside, it’s our choice whether we commit to getting our energy from heaven—or make a deal with the devil and hope that all those scientists, despite their decades of research and mountains of data, are wrong.


*Burning biofuels does create CO2, though just the CO2 recently taken from the environment by the plants the biofuels were made from, resulting in no net increase. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are refined from hydrocarbon reserves sequestered millions of years ago, leading to a net increase of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
2017-01-12T13:48:49+00:00 April 19th, 2016|Comments Off on Home Energy: Shall We Get It From Heaven or Hell?