[Paleopsych] "Zero Energy Homes"
shovland at mindspring.com
Tue Aug 9 01:38:32 UTC 2005
Aug. 15, 2005 issue - Nicholas and Loan Gatai used to cringe when they
received power bills that routinely topped $200. Last September the
Sacramento, Calif., couple moved into a new, 1,500-square-foot home in
Premier Gardens, a subdivision of 95 "zero-energy homes" just outside town.
Now they're actually eager to see their electric bills. The grand total
over the 10 months they've lived in the three-bedroom, stucco-and-stone
house: $75. For the past two months they haven't paid a cent.
Almost unknown outside California, ZEH communities are the leading edge of
technologies that might someday create houses that produce as much energy
as they consume. Premier Gardens, which opened last summer, is one of a
half-dozen subdivisions in California where every home cuts power
consumption by at least 50 percent, mostly by using low-power appliances
and solar panels. Several more are under construction this year, including
the first ZEH community for seniors.
Aside from the bright patch of solar modules on the roof, Premier Gardens
looks like a community of conventional homes. But inside, it's clear why
they save energy. "Spectrally selective" windows cut power bills by
blocking solar heat in the summer and retaining indoor warmth in cold
weather. Fluorescent bulbs throughout use two thirds the juice of
incandescents. A suitcase-size tankless hot-water heater in the garage,
powered by gas, saves energy by warming water only when the tap is turned
The rest of the energy savings comes from the solar units. Set flush with
the roof tiles, the two-kilowatt photovoltaic panels unobtrusively turn the
sun's rays into AC power with the help of an inverter in the garage. An LED
readout shows the system's electrical output. Just looking at it can give
owners a warm feeling. "When I pull into the garage, sometimes I just like
to look at the Sunny Boy [inverter] to see how much power we've generated,"
says homeowner Kurt Gonzales, whose family bought a 2,200-square-foot
In ZEHs, the solar production doesn't just feed the home it serves. If the
panels are generating more power than the home is using-when the house is
empty during a sunny day-the excess flows into the utility's power grid.
Gonzales and other residents are billed by "net metering": they pay for the
amount of power they tap off the grid, less the kilowatts they feed into
it. If a home generates more power in one month than it uses, the bill is
That sounds like a bad deal for the power company, but it's not. The
Sacramento Municipal Utility District's solar expert Mike Keesee says
that's because solar homes produce the most power on the hot sunny
afternoons when everyone rushes home to turn up the air conditioner. "It
helps us lower usage at peak power times," says Keesee. "That lets us avoid
building costly plants or buying expensive power at peak usage time."
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