Clean Energy and Affordable Clean Energy Systems

Clean Energy and Affordable Clean Energy Systems – Dan Johnson and Ron Kamen

GCI Everything Builders Podcast: Episode 73: Clean Energy and Affordable Clean Energy Systems

In this episode, Clean Energy and Affordable Clean Energy Systems, Dan Johnson, senior consultant for GCI Consultants talks with Ron Kamen, with EarthKind Energy Consulting. They discuss, “Clean Energy and Affordable Clean Energy Systems.”

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Dan: Welcome, everyone, to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I am Dan Johnson, senior consultant for GCI Consultants, and I will be your host today. I am very excited to have as our guest, Ron Kamen, with EarthKind Energy Consulting. We have an interesting topic today, “Clean Energy and Affordable Clean Energy Systems.” So, Ron, let’s start off by having you tell our audience a little bit about yourself, and then we’ll jump right into the podcast.

Ron: Thanks so much, Dan. Thanks for having me on the show. “Everything Building Envelope” is an outstanding podcast, and I love the work you guys are doing. And thanks for adding in my piece of this, which isn’t 100% building envelope, but it has an impact on the envelope in various ways, and then has a dramatic impact on the building performance in general for those who are interested in building performance. EarthKind Energy Consulting is my consulting company. I’ve been in clean energy for over four decades, actually. I started out with energy policy, and having clean energy policies that helped drive programs. I rolled out a number of different clean energy programs over the years that we can talk about.

But really for the two decades that I’ve been in business with my EarthKind Energy Consulting practice, which started out as starfire.net along the story. But for over two decades have been representing commercial building owners who wish to make clean energy transitions that reduce their cost, access, a number of government programs and utility programs that provide both cash and tax incentives, and then give an outstanding return on investment, and make their buildings more profitable, more efficient, healthier, and simultaneously have a positive environmental impact. So, looking forward to the conversation.

Dan: Whoa. That is a very thorough and an in-depth bio, and I’m looking forward to all the wealth of information that you’ll be able to give myself and our viewers during our talk today. So, let’s kind of jump right in. And one of the things that I’ve always had questions on, and through my research I’ve kind of somewhat done, seems other people have also, I know we’re gonna talk about clean energy. What is the actual definition of clean energy, and how does that relate, or does it even relate to renewable energy?

Ron: Yeah. Great question. And depending upon who you talk to, you might get a different answer on that. But my answer on this is that clean energy starts first with energy efficiency. And as a guy named Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute I think coined the phrase, the cheapest energy is that energy that you don’t use. So, becoming more efficient with energy always makes a tremendous amount of sense in clean energy category. The first category is efficiency and reducing your energy consumption. And you guys, of course, you know, look at the building envelope, and how tight the envelope is, and then how to supplement that tight envelope with fresh air so that you make sure that it’s a healthy building. So, those types of efficiency measures are part of clean energy in the conversation. And efficiency is always the first place that we start with. But then once you’re done with making a building, or making any entity as efficient as possible, then you look into the sources of energy.

And when you take a look at energy, we’re really talking about three aspects of energy. Everybody usually thinks about electricity as the first thing that comes to mind when we mention energy. And that’s definitely a key component is how do you get clean electricity onto a building? And we’re gonna talk a little bit about solar technologies in particular, which are applicable to almost any building everywhere now with various different technology improvements, cost reductions, utility, and government programs, and the ability to put solar on your roof, or in a parking lot, or on the grounds, or even have community solar where you have a solar system someplace in your utility territory, but you’re still gaining the benefit of that utility energy, that solar energy coming through your utility system to your particular property.

So, electricity, a key component, and there’s various aspects of electricity that go into the clean energy that wind up in electricity. Most people think of clean electricity, they think of solar, and that’s definitely the prime thing that everyone should think about as a first wave for their buildings. But then there are other aspects of clean energy which some folks look at, including wind energy, certain instances every once in a while would be hydroelectricity. And on electricity generation there’s some other clean energy technologies we can talk about there.

The second aspect of energy, though, that many people also come to mind if you’re asking what is energy, or what is clean energy would be the energy that we use to drive ourselves around our transportation system. And that’s a second form of energy, and that’s really gasoline, or diesel, or other forms of energy that we use to move our vehicles around. So, transitioning those from fossil fuels to clean energy is another piece of the energy equation and that’s in transportation.

And then the third piece that most of your listeners are probably most familiar with would be the thermal energy in the building that’s required to heat, and cool, and provide hot water to our buildings. So, three aspects of energy, electricity, heating and cooling, and transportation. My practice covers all three and we work with building owners who wish to impact some or all of those systems. And again, we start with efficiency, but then move into clean energy generation with electricity, heating and cooling, and transportation.

Dan: Well, that’s very thorough and in-depth. A question, just me being a curious kinda guy, is when we classify clean energy, does that include the energy that’s needed to create the, you know, like you had mentioned, solar panels, or the batteries, or that type of thing? Is that taken into account, you know, when classifying clean energy?

Ron: Yeah. So, what you’re speaking about there is embodied energy, right? So, in addition to the impact of using that particular energy generation source, so whether it’s solar, or wind, or hydro, or whatever else to create electricity, or whether it is in a thermal energy sense using the electricity system to then use a heat pump, air or ground source heat pump in a building, or whether it’s electricity to supply the batteries that run electric vehicles, there’s the generation piece of that. And then there’s the embodied energy that goes into the materials that are now making that generation happen. So, when I speak of clean energy, generally I’m referring to either efficiency or to clean generation. And if you wanna take a look at and compare then what are the total carbon, the total greenhouse gasses, the total embodied energy that goes into any of those energy systems, then you’re taking a deeper cut and a deeper dive.

And what we usually say when we’re looking at clean energy is that almost every clean energy source, whether it’s solar, or wind, or heat pumps, or electric vehicles versus gas, compared to their fossil fuel equivalent, you’re always in the positive within a short period of time in terms of the net environmental impact, the net embodied energy impact. So, for instance, when the sun shines and you’re using solar electricity, you had some amount of energy that you needed to build those solar panels, and some amount of greenhouse gasses and other environmental impacts you have from building those panels. But once those panels are built and the panels are on your roof, or on your parking lot, or in the grounds, or on your grounds, or wherever it is that you put those solar panels, the sun shines and now you have emission-free electricity.

And the amount of time it takes to recover that energy that went into those panels versus the impact, the environmental impact of continuing onward with a fossil fuel generation source is usually measured in some number of months, or at the most a couple of years before you get back all the energy that went into producing that clean energy generation source. We can talk through the various different aspects of stuff. There’s a whole range of different studies, but when I’m talking about clean energy, I’m talking specifically about emission-free energy or low-emission, low-impact on the generation output, and that usually has a recovery period of embodied energy to make that particular clean energy generating asset. Does that make sense?

Dan: Yeah, that makes total sense. Yeah. I just had a few people that have kind of questioned me on that and I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a good for them, and you just gave us a wonderful answer. So, thank you very much, Ron. That clears it up for me, and hopefully, it does for our listeners also. When we’re talking about clean energy systems, can they really provide all the building’s heating, cooling, hot water, and electricity for the building? Can it really provide, you know, a one-stop-shop, so to speak?

Ron: Yeah. So, it’s easiest to do when you have a new construction, when you’re doing a new construction, right? Because at that point you have design considerations, how you’re orienting the building? What are the solar gains? What can you do with minimizing the solar gain in the summer, and maximizing the solar gain during the winter in terms of orientation, in terms of shading and various different things, in terms of materials that you’re choosing to build a building? And then, yes, absolutely. I work with a number of different developers and property owners, and in new construction it really becomes a no-brainer. I mean, at this point with the technologies that are out there, and the right architect, design team, working with the right implementation team, you can absolutely create buildings that are net zero in terms of their energy consumption, and that have resiliency built in so that in the event of power failures from dorm or whatever else, grid failures, you’ll be able to have resiliency built into that system so that it can carry you through with clean electricity, heating and cooling through that catastrophe. So, it’s absolutely possible.

When you look at retrofits of existing buildings, that definitely becomes a bit more of a challenge, although it’s significantly more doable than I think many people realize. I work with a lot of existing building owners who have high electricity bills these days, or they have high heating and cooling bills, or they need to replace their HVAC systems because they’ve been aged out, and they’re not running efficiently, and they’re having major problems. And on all those instances, when you take a look at the clean energy technologies that are out there, talking about specifically solar, solar electricity on many buildings makes a tremendous amount of sense, especially if you have a large roof, it make a lot of sense if you have a parking lot with, let’s say, 100 vehicles or more that you’re parking in a parking lot, or if you have a field nearby that you’re not using, you won’t be able to use for whatever reason for other purposes.

Now what happens is that you can generate clean electricity on that site, and every time the sun shines, you’re getting electricity generated. And that solar electricity, depending upon the height of a building, the square footage of the roof, the parking lot space, or the grounds can provide some or most of the electricity that you need to run these systems inside that building. And then you take a look at, “Okay. Well, what kind of systems do we have inside?” And traditionally in many parts of the country, the heating and cooling systems and the hot water systems, you have the cooling, which is generally electricity based. So, you have some amount of air conditioning that has electricity as its energy source, so, you take a look at that air conditioning system. But then what happens with the heating systems are generally they’ve been fossil fuels, right? It’s been oil, or natural gas, or, in some instances, propane. All those costs are going up very dramatically. They’re very expensive, some significantly inefficient.

So, even if you have the most efficient natural gas boiler doing something, you know, 99 point whatever percent efficient, you’re always less than 100% efficient. And when you have oil-based systems, oil-based systems traditionally are very less efficient. And the most efficient oil-based is somewhere less than 90%, usually down in the 80s. If you have your oil and hot water on the same boiler and you’re just using that boiler for hot water during the summer months in spring and fall, I’ve seen efficiency as low as 30% on these oil boilers. So, what that means is that for every dollar you’re spending, you’re getting less than a dollar back in energy output from your fossil fuel heating system.

And that’s where all these new technologies, these air source heat pumps or ground source heat pumps become very cost-effective. So, when you take a look at an air source heat pump, an air source heat pump is really an air conditioner, and it’s the same technology that’s in our refrigerators and freezers, by the way. It’s a compression and expansion of a gas that then takes heat out of one space and expels it someplace else. So, an air conditioner really takes heat out of your building and expels it out into the air. Same with the refrigerator or freezer. It takes that heat out of our freezer and refrigerator and puts it out in the coils, in the back. In an air source heat pump, that process is reversed so that you can take and use that heat. And during the winter, air source heat pump technology has improved so that you can get heat out of the air even when it’s cold, down to minus 15 degrees. Those air source heat pumps are 200% to 300% efficient.

So, for every unit of electricity you put into an air source heat pump, because you are using the energy that’s in the air to either heat or cool your space, you’re getting two to three times that energy coming out of that unit and going into your space. So, air source heat pumps have efficiencies of 200% to 300% except when it’s extremely hot or extremely cold. When it gets extremely hot and you’re fighting 100 degrees temperature outside, and you’re trying to expel your hot indoor air outside, it’s fighting that extreme heat.

And similarly, when you’re trying to take heat out of the cold air when it’s 0 or minus 15, you’re fighting that cold and you’re not able to take as much energy out, and those efficiencies go down to the point where they get close to 1 with either on the cold side or the hot side. So, instead of the 200% or 300% efficiency when it’s really hot or really cold, your efficiency is going down closer to just 100%, which is okay, much better than less than 100%, but still not great especially when electricity prices are high. And that’s where this other technology, especially a new construction comes in, and those are ground source or geothermal heat pumps.

The ground source heat pumps have been around for a long time. There was a certain wave of technology that they used to grab water out of an aquifer, so you would take water up out of an aquifer, out of your well system, you would take the heat out of that, and then you would dump it back down into the ground. And those were called pump and dump geothermal heating and cooling systems. And they’re very efficient. They were very effective. The challenge with those types of systems are that you have to make sure that you keep those filters from the water coming in and the water going out very well clean, so you would get sentiments at scale, and other things you’d have to keep a very close eye on water quality.

In the last number of years, geothermal has become much more of a science than an art. And now what happens is that you have generally a closed loop. You drill a hole into the ground or you drill a series of paths through trenches, through your yard or under your parking lot, and now you have the ability to use that ambient energy of the earth to supplement and be combined with a heat pump inside your building to provide your heating and cooling and hot water.

And the reason why that’s important is because the earth for billions of years has been absorbing nearly half the energy from the sun. And that’s why when we go down more than four feet below the ground, the temperature down there is very constant. In the Northeast part of the United States, it’s a constant of around 50 degrees. Other parts of the country it varies a little bit more or less.

But when you have a pipe now that you drill down in a closed loop system and you do this in a field, or you do it under a building, or you just do it into the ground, that closed loop sends us a fluid down, water down, it comes back and now it’s 50 degrees. And now you take that 50 degrees water and you use it to either bump it up slightly if you’re trying to heat with it to 70 degrees with a heat pump that compresses and expands and bumps that temperature up, or you use that 50 degrees as the base to cool a building, and now your efficiencies go less than 100% with a fossil fuel, or 200% to 300% with an air source heat pump. So, 400% to 500% efficient with geothermal heating and cooling, it is the most efficient form of heating and cooling.

And now with the way the technology has evolved, the science has evolved, the case studies out there are just tremendous, people are saving a lot of money and realizing that by incorporating a tight building, like you guys are doing with all your building envelope work, with a geothermal heating and cooling system, now what happens is that you can take pretty much any building in the continental U.S. and North America, and just drilling 500-foot wells under the footprint of any building can provide the heating, cooling, and hot water up to 25 stories or more. So, there are buildings going up throughout the continental United States and Canada that are just drilling wells under the footprint of that building, and those 500-foot wells, and sometimes longer, are carrying the heat and cooling and hot water up to 25 or 30 stories.

The best example I like to give of a geothermal technology is actually at Manhattan. And most people have heard about and many people have visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral right in the heart of Manhattan. And a few years ago, the St Patrick’s Cathedral was trying to figure out the best options for heating and cooling. The cathedral in Manhattan and it’s an historical district, so heating and cooling was always somewhat problematic in terms of equipment, having the right equipment, and being visible. And they found that the geothermal heating and cooling by drilling 2000 feet under St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of Manhattan, that was the least capital cost, and it was also 30% less energy and maintenance than any other option. So, if you’re ever in Manhattan, happen to stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, take a look around, the Pope was there blessing the operation, and showing how tremendous geothermal heating and cooling is even in an urban environment like New York City, even when you gotta drill down 2000 feet under Manhattan.

Dan: I’m definitely gonna have to check that out. I have never been there, so the next time I’m there, I’m definitely gonna check it out. I’m assuming they probably have been advertised somewhat, you know, of the energy savings and the fossil fuel savings that they’re encountering. I’m sure they have it advertised somewhere, so I’m definitely gonna check it out.

Ron: Yeah. Go google the line [SP]. You’ll see various different articles about the whole thing and, again, you’ll see the Pope as well who blessed the initial operation. So, it’s great. It’s a great example. I just think it’s… Well, to me it’s a real fun one. But there’s plenty of other ones. There’s schools, there’s campuses, there’s office buildings, there’s multifamily buildings. There’s all different types of organizations, and buildings that have used geothermal heating and cooling as the most effective way and lowest cost way of providing clean, heating and cooling, and hot water to the buildings everywhere around.

Dan: Geothermal, it sounds like one of the no-brainers. I’m sure it costs a little bit more in order to start up with the geothermal. Do you have just an estimation on the upfront cost and operational expenses, you know, from a traditional fossil fuel to a geothermal?

Ron: Yeah. So, you know, the interesting thing is, again, you know, part of it depends everybody’s a little bit different, which is why a custom analysis is always key for any particular property. But in general, when you’re doing new construction, the fascinating thing is that while there is an additional upfront cost for geothermal compared to your traditional heating and cooling systems, what happens is if you are doing it at the beginning, and that’s when I tell my clients, it’s always the most important and the most effective time is to bring us in or someone like me in at the beginning to help define the project. But if you’re doing it at the beginning, you’re incorporating all the equipment into the design, into the actual mobilization of people and materials. And by doing that up front, since you’re already mobilizing people and materials, your incremental cost is significantly less than it would be otherwise.

And the fascinating thing is even on a retrofit basis, what you find is that incremental cost, because there’s a tremendous amount of incentives out there, the incremental costs can be recovered in a relatively short period of time. And everybody’s situation is a little bit different, everybody’s energy cost is a little bit different, and everybody’s usage is a little bit different. So, again, you have to take a look at your situation and what’s right for you. But a few things that impact the decision, a residential homeowner who looks at this realizes that there’s a 26% federal tax credit on a geothermal heating and cooling system.

That 26% federal tax credit, because you’re doing the geothermal as part of an integrated design, that tax credit applies to all the heating and cooling equipment that you do with that geothermal system. So, now you have, you know, what traditionally would be just amortized or depreciated over a long period of time in a home and you get a 26% tax credit by integrating the geothermal into it right at the beginning. So, all your air handlers, and all the piping, and venting, and everything else that goes into the combined geothermal system now can qualify for a 26% federal tax credit.

In many states, there’s state tax credits that go along with it. In New York state, there’s a $5,000 tax credit that also can apply to the geothermal heating and cooling system. And then there’s often utility incentives that help bring down that price even more. And in various different parts of the country, there’s incentives from $1000 return to, in New York, there’s up to $6000 or more per time depending on the utility.

When you take a look then at the energy savings that you’re going to get from a geothermal system or an air source system compared to a fossil fuel system, you find returns on investment that are at least 10% or better. Generally, I’ve seen returns for my clients are somewhere between 25% and 33% or better, which is a pretty outstanding return on their investment for the best heating system they’re gonna have with the least amount of maintenance, with the least amount of hassles and the most comfortable heating and cooling system around. So, a tremendous number of benefits that come out of it, but just on a dollars and cents basis financially find outstanding returns on investments, and the great payback, and long-term savings, and reduced maintenance.

Dan: It sounds like, you know, if a person would wanna go this route, they should do their research and they can get quite a bit of the initial upfront costs taken care of just to switch over and it just makes sense. I know we’ve talked about this a little bit, but maybe kind of digging a little bit deeper. What are some of the misconceptions about the affordability of switching to clean energy?

Ron: Yeah. So, a lot of misconceptions out there that have merged over the years, right? So, you kind of need to take a look at each of them a little bit separately in some ways, but just to give you a couple of examples. So, solar. Solar came out, everybody thought, “Boy, it’s a very expensive technology. It costs a lot. Only rich people can afford it.” Those prices have come down since solar first came out by over 99%. So, solar’s cost-effectiveness now is so much better. Every year they’re going down another 15% to 20%. So, every year it gets better and better. And the majority cost of solar now is actually not in the equipment, but it’s really in the installation cost to put it wherever you put in the solar.

So, things have changed dramatically with solar. Similarly, things have changed with heat pumps where air and ground source heat pumps used to be considered a very expensive technology with long payback periods. And now what people are finding is that because of the incentives, because of the cost reductions, cost of the energy savings, the return on their investments are pretty outstanding. And the misconception that it’s gonna cost me a lot more money upfront, that it’s gonna take me a long time to get that money back really is being disproved day after day after day.

So, that’s one misconceptions that it’s gonna cost a lot of money, that it’s gonna take a long time to get your money back. And the reality is that if you’re done doing it right and you build in the planning at the beginning, it may not even cost you any more money than what you were planning to spend anyway. I have some clients that actually looked at the numbers and they were like, “Wow. I’m kind of getting paid to do this stuff,” because of the savings that they were able to generate in the design and the material and labor cost by doing it upfront, looking at it upfront and incorporating that into this.

So, that’s one common misconception. Another common misconception is that the technology is not reliable. And if done right and always, you know, there’s a full range of people out there doing work, so, always make sure that you get references, and get quality contractors, and quality manufacturers, and back of them. But this equipment is done right, has a much longer longevity, much higher reliability, and much less hassles than a traditional fossil fuel system. When you look at a geothermal system, for instance, all you’re really doing is you have a pump that’s moving water, and it’s just moving water down and around. So, it’s a closed loop. So, it’s a very low energy usage and there’s very little that can go wrong with it and very little maintenance that you need to do on it compared to a fossil fuel system, which always needs someone to come out and do a cleaning and maintain it and all like that.

So, the performance also of these systems has improved dramatically from when people first maybe thought about it, or had a misconception, or heard somebody say something about it. The technologies are tremendously reliable, have great guarantees, much less maintenance and lower hassles than fossil fuels. So, those are the two main misconceptions. And I don’t know if you had others that we could address.

Dan: I’m somewhat new to the clean energy world. Those are a couple of things that I have. I’ve always thought it’s costly, you know, in order to get into. And from our conversation today, it sounds like in new construction it’s not really costly. Sure, it’s more involved and a little bit more costly throughout the renovation or anything like…or the cost comparable, is there a percentage difference, you know, just a rough estimate?

Ron: Yeah. So, you know, it all depends upon what you need to do with a particular building and how you’re looking to do it. But if you were just looking at saying, “Hey, you know, I’ve got an existing system. I wanna rip it out and put in a new clean energy system,” now you have to look at not the incremental cost of what it would be to go with a new fossil fuel system versus a new clean energy system because that delta, that incremental cost is relatively small and pretty easy. What happens is if you have an existing system and you have to take the whole thing out and you weren’t planning to take the whole thing out, now you have to look at how do I recover the total cost of the equipment and the installation? And that, you know, clearly becomes a little bit more challenging because now you’re trying to recover the entire cost in your analysis as opposed to just the incremental cost.

When you’re doing new construction, this stuff is a no-brainer. I mean, people that look at this and they, like, say, “Wait a second. It’s gonna cost me 10 cents more and I’m gonna make $1 back a year? Of course, I wanna do that. Why wouldn’t I wanna do that?” So, on a new construction basis, this stuff almost always makes sense if it’s done right and looking at it the right way. When it’s in retrofit, it definitely gets a little more challenging depending upon your existing energy source, depending on what else you’re doing. Right? So, if you are doing an existing heating system, you’re gonna rip out an existing heating and cooling system because, let’s say, it’s old, it’s gonna need replacing soon anyway, it’s starting to need a lot of maintenance, it’s getting costly, you don’t like the emissions, it’s causing air quality issues, or direct concerns.

It’s also you don’t wanna have that same climate impact with the emissions into your environments. All those different reasons that someone would do that. And you take this tonnage of the existing system and you say, “Okay. Well, do I need that same tonnage now for this new heating and cooling system, or can I combine that with some thermal barriers and make the building more efficient? And therefore, by doing something with my envelope, I can reduce the amount of heating and cooling I need, which means that I can put in a smaller system.” And now when I look at the combined effect of doing building envelope work with installing new, clean energy, heating, cooling, hot water and electricity systems, now all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, okay. Now the numbers are working much better because I have much less cost.”

So, it really is an analysis that needs to be done on a custom basis. Everyone needs to have somebody that can look at it from their perspective about how much are they currently paying for energy? Where is that energy being wasted? Where can they improve their efficiency, whether that’s in the envelope, or in the windows, or an additional insulation in their attic, or wherever else? How can they use more efficient equipment inside, energy efficient lighting being the best example where you have a 100-watt light bulb you can take out and put in a 20-watt LED, and you get the same amount of light, but it’s 80% less energy and no heat waste that you’re then dealing with. So, energy-efficient lighting is kind of a piece of that. So, first, how can you combine efficiency measures, and then look at the cleaner energy measures you need to do. And that’s on a retrofit basis, you still wind up with good returns, not quite as good as you do when you’re just looking at the incremental cost on no construction, but still very good indeed in most cases.

Dan: Okay. Yeah, that sounds perfect. Yeah. It makes sense. If your heating and cooling equipment is on its last leg, like you had mentioned, it’s a no-brainer to at least have your building and energy needs evaluated and be designed for clean energy. We’ve been able to kind of talk quite a bit about costs. And how much of our greenhouse emissions come from fossil fuels for our energy?

Ron: Yeah. So, when you take a look at greenhouse gas emissions and carbon emissions, almost 90% come from the energy that we’re using in our electricity systems, our heating and cooling systems, and our transportation systems. So, if you’re concerned about the impact we’re having on the climate and greenhouse gas emissions, the largest barrier that we have to have an impact on is on our energy systems and that’s on electricity, heating and cooling, and in transportation.

And the great part about that is that most of us have significant control over those three aspects of our lives, some more than others in terms of electricity. Can you have solar? Can you do energy efficiency inside your building? All those kinds of questions. But on heating and cooling, we can almost all use some more efficient type of heating and cooling system whether it’s take out a central air conditioning system and put it in an air source heat pump or go the next round and actually grab that energy under our feet, the heat beneath our feet to provide the heating and cooling and hot water for our buildings with geothermal.

But we all have the ability to control some aspect of that. And of course, now with electric vehicles becoming much more prevalent, what we’re seeing is that even those incremental costs for an electric vehicle is coming down compared to a fossil fuel equipment and you get better performance, you’re getting less maintenance, 20 moving parts instead of 2000 in a fossil fuel engine, internal combustion engine. So, an electric vehicle is tremendously more simple in terms of the moving pieces of technology. And the cost have been coming down just like they come down in our computers and all other electronic equipment. So, we’re gonna keep seeing this evolution and the step moving forward and we need to have it because 90% of all the greenhouse gasses come from our energy consumption, so it’s good for our pocketbook and it’s good for the world.

Dan: Perfect. Yeah. I know you had mentioned a little bit just now about electric vehicles and, you know, battery power and that type of thing. And one question that I’ve had, once the batteries, you know, on electric vehicles are used up, are they refurbished and put back into service or what happens, you know, to the components of the batteries?

Ron: Yeah, great question. And that question comes up a lot. So, when you’re moving around in an electric car, right, number one, they have great performance, right, because it’s 100% torque. So, you know, you have cars like a Nissan Leaf that gets the same performance as many of the Porsches out there. So, it’s pretty incredible in terms of 0 to 60, right? I mean, actually, if you do a google, you can see a Tesla SUV that blows away the fastest Lamborghini on the planet, which is kind of fun to see. But when you’re looking at electric vehicles, you have to have high performance in those batteries, right? So, when you step on the gas, you have to have a certain amount of acceleration, you have to be able to go so far, so fast.

Once you are through that life cycle on an electric car, and all these batteries in electric vehicles standard now are warrantied for 100,000 miles…so, 8 years or 100,000 miles is kind of a standard warranty. And then once you get beyond that, okay, maybe you need to do something else and take that battery pack out. And then what happens to it? And interestingly enough is that that energy, the battery systems are still quite good. They’re just not forming well enough for fast transportation. So, the secondary use of those batteries then becomes energy storage devices for either buildings or for the utility grid. And that secondary use is now moving into a large practice opportunity for people to take those electric vehicle batteries, and then use them for stationary storage. Once you’re through those two waves, then the question becomes, “Okay. What happens now?” And because there are a lot of pretty costly metals and other elements in there, rare earth elements, they actually have a value.

So, what we’re seeing now is more and more electric vehicles are put on the road, as more and more capacity, and need, and demand is there. What we’re seeing is recycling of those components now starting to become a bigger industry and a more, you know, just like we’ve recycled other things, for instance, aluminum. We throw out aluminum. And over 90% of the energy for aluminum is from the first wave of it. So, recycling aluminum has become very prevalent. We recycle almost all the cans that we produce. Some of the things are starting to happen now with battery technology where we’ll take apart those batteries, reclaim, and recycle, and reuse those elements, and then recycle a vast majority of it. So, the first wave of the batteries is used on the vehicles, the second wave is used on the stationary storage, the third piece is recycle.

Dan: Perfect. That answers a lot of my questions because, you know, in the back of my mind I’m always thinking, “Okay. Are we gonna be filling up more and more landfills?” And it sounds like that is not the issue at all. The whole, you know, battery, you know, has a long life. It may not be just in the vehicle, but it’ll be hidden away somewhere and still very useful. I thank you very much for expanding on that.

Ron: My pleasure.

Dan: Well, Ron, that’s kinda the list of things that I had on my agenda for today’s talk. And I greatly appreciate you being with me. In case the listeners would wanna reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to contact you and your business?

Ron: Oh, great. Thanks so much. So, it’s earthkindenergy, so like mankind or humankind, or in this case earthkindenergy.com. So, just go to our website, earthkindenergy.com. There’s a form there, there’s emails there. You can do it that way. Of course, you can always pick up the phone and call me at 845-266-3723. Or my direct email, if you prefer that, is just ron@earthkindenergy.com.

Dan: Well, thank you, Ron. It was a very informative talk that we had today on clean energy. And I’d also like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast today. If you’d like more information about our company, GCI Consultants, you can find it on our website at www.gciconsultants.com, or you can give us a call at 877-740-990. And again, I thank you. And I look forward to talking with everyone next time on “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is Dan Johnson, saying so long.