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Old 09-27-2021, 02:21 PM   #1
montcalm
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Can you build a "green" house in the Adirondacks?

By this I mean a year round residence which is not reliant on the grid, fossil fuel generators or burners?

I've looked at it many times and I don't think so, not even using the most sophisticated insulation/geothermal systems.

It also calls the question as to whether wood is "green". You can do it with wood (and a lot of concessions), but at some point, if enough people rely on wood for a large amount of energy, it's not sustainable. It's only a sustainable resource when you use a very little of it each year - I don't know the number, but trees take a long time to grow. I'm sure the internet could give you an acreage estimate per home size, but I'd guess that it depends a lot on the individual property.

I think even in warmer climates where the sun shines more this is a real stretch using everything you can throw at it. Cooking heat, hot water, and drying clothes are big heavy hitters that take a lot of energy and not something we are going to readily, sustainable go back to using wood for.
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Old 09-27-2021, 05:39 PM   #2
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You might be able to, if you have exactly the right location.

You need a south facing location with deep soil, and an all-year running stream. Such locations are hard to find!

Then you can berm in a partially underground house, get some geothermal, get whatever little bit of solar we can get around here, and get electricity from a tiny hydro plant.

It's tough to find a property with those features. (I live on a north facing hillside with no stream, so I am reliant on the grid.)
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Old 09-27-2021, 06:36 PM   #3
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I didn't think of Hydro! That seems like it might be a real nightmare to keep running all year round.

For sure I had already exhausted all the thoughts of an "earthship" type house with geothermal. That gives you a base, but I don't think it's going to be enough when it's 30 below and you've had a week of storms blocking the sun.

*sigh* This is why I keep think we're missing the big picture - we need to change the grid power or it's all for naught.
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Old 09-27-2021, 07:20 PM   #4
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"...we need to change the grid power or it's all for naught."

Yes.

Now: Fracking Natural Gas. (Next 100 years.)

Next: Thorium Nuclear. (Next 1000 years.)

Eventually: Solar Photovoltaic (Once a physics breakthrough makes it actually practical.)

This is easy, and you don't have to have a PhD to see it. But it's obscured right now by politics.
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Old 09-27-2021, 07:29 PM   #5
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I don't know that Thorium Nuclear is viable. Some people seem to think so, but seem like crackpots.

I think waste (unenriched) Uranium Nuclear is our only near term option. Natural Gas might be viable if we crack it and sequester the carbon, then use the Hydrogen Ions to run fuel cells. This is rarely mentioned although I know it can be done. Perhaps the efficiency (net) is very poor.

The unenriched Uranium is viable... right now and we can burn all the waste fuel from old reactors.
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Old 09-27-2021, 07:32 PM   #6
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I think the only "green" solar is using algae. Or perhaps truly harnessing chloroplasts. Photosynthesis solves a lot of our current problems. Getting it to produce the amount of energy we want is never going to happen, but perhaps it can be a good supplement to nuclear.
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Old 09-27-2021, 08:24 PM   #7
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https://www.wildcenter.org/belong/bu...r-adirondacks/


https://www.wildcenter.org/our-work/net-zero/
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Old 09-27-2021, 09:12 PM   #8
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I don't know that Thorium Nuclear is viable. Some people seem to think so, but seem like crackpots.
That's only because they are depicted as crackpots by the powers that be, that support the status quo.

The Thorium cycle was demonstrated successfully in the 1940s by the US Government. It was only abandoned because the Thorium cycle did not produce enriched nuclear bomb material, like the Uranium cycle did.

Thorium is totally feasible. Bomb makers were the opponents of Thorium in the 1950s. Today, Greens (who want all energy systems to fail) are the opponents.
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Old 09-27-2021, 09:39 PM   #9
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Promising, but not exactly what I was asking. Net zero they said they only on average can be carbon neutral, so they need to use grid power from fossil fuels during the winter.

Again if you add wood to the equation, it can work without that grid power during the winter.

So also the rub is all the construction, import, making of Si is heavily fossil fuel dependent. Ideally we'd like to offset that but unfortunately no renewable plants are enough for industry.

Also we'd want to consider home charging of vehicles and lawn tools for future load if we go that direction. Again it's getting harder and harder to meet the total energy requirement per capita.

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That's only because they are depicted as crackpots by the powers that be, that support the status quo.

The Thorium cycle was demonstrated successfully in the 1940s by the US Government. It was only abandoned because the Thorium cycle did not produce enriched nuclear bomb material, like the Uranium cycle did.

Thorium is totally feasible. Bomb makers were the opponents of Thorium in the 1950s. Today, Greens (who want all energy systems to fail) are the opponents.
No I mean the people I've seen promoting the Thorium cycle are promoting themselves, not being shown through some media lens. I'm not remembering a lot but I seem to recall these individuals acknowledging it isn't feasible right now, and that it needs a lot more development to work on an industrial power delivery scale. It was worked on by some pretty smart nuclear scientists up until the 1960s when it was abandoned for a number of reasons. Foremost I think the Uranium reactors of that time were thought to be superior and the focus of research. But we've come so far with Uranium design in terms of safety and using fuel that is waste from old reactors - yes! And the fuel can be used until it is safe. No more handling issues. We should be using up that old fuel just to get something out of it other than the environmental mess it is.
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Old 09-28-2021, 10:30 AM   #10
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You are right that the Thorium cycle is way behind the Uranium cycle in technological development. Thorium was abandoned by the US Government during the cold war because it could not be used to make bombs, and making bombs was the highest priority at that time. So it has been lying fallow for decades, while the Uranium cycle has gone through many generations of technological improvement.

But:

>The value of a nuclear cycle that does not make bombs should not be overlooked, especially in the international setting. Look at the problems we face with various nations that insist they are developing their nuclear industry for energy supply, and then we find out that all along the purpose was to make bombs.

>Today's engineers and scientists could "catch up" the Thorium cycle in 3-5 years of hard work. After all, the Manhattan Project brought the Uranium bomb cycle from zero to operational in that amount of time, with primitive engineering tools.

>Thorium would certainly be online before fusion, where the running joke is "every 20 years, it's 20 years farther away." And yet we are pouring billions into fusion.

>The US has the world's largest reserves of Thorium (estimates are over 4000 years powering the entire grid, even given increased needs).

>We have plenty of natural gas to tide us over until we get Thorium operational on the grid. Once we get it operational, the solar guys and the fusion guys have 4000 years to get their sources up to usable speed (maybe they will be able to do it by then!).
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Old 09-28-2021, 10:30 PM   #11
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not reliant on the grid, fossil fuel generators or burners?
With good siting, you could produce plenty of wind power, problem is there's no reliable on-site storage technology/solution that is reliable, scalable, and inexpensive enough to be considered "green". (forgetting for the moment how many birds and other flying things a turbine would kill, and that you'd probably never get the permits approved)

Anything that gets built in the park get "trucked in" and that sets you back from the start (energy wise).
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Old 09-29-2021, 09:45 AM   #12
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With good siting, you could produce plenty of wind power, problem is there's no reliable on-site storage technology/solution that is reliable, scalable, and inexpensive enough to be considered "green". (forgetting for the moment how many birds and other flying things a turbine would kill, and that you'd probably never get the permits approved)

Anything that gets built in the park get "trucked in" and that sets you back from the start (energy wise).
I really think a grid connection is a necessity. In the future we're going to have to design capacitance or even long-term storage into the grid.

I think on a large scale we should do it with reservoirs more than batteries. Apparently it messes our current systems up to switch between pumping and generating, but honestly I feel like there are so many concessions with Hydro we should only use it for storage.

It could definitely be done with two ponds and some elevation change on a small scale, but winter would be problematic.

I feel like wind has a lot of concessions too. The turbines are vastly expensive, need a lot of maintenance and don't put out much power for how much goes into them. I think near farm land where you already have cleared land they can be OK on a small scale.

For home use it might actually be OK if you only run your wind turbine in the winter, when it might actually produce more anyway. I don't think it will bother the birds and during summer and migration season you'll have less heat demand and have more solar - but that's a lot of systems. Much easier just to have a wire from the grid...


I think roof top solar is something that almost every house ought to have. You'll have a cooler house in the summer (less radiation going to heating your attic) and probably be able to offset any AC energy cost. Geothermal might be OK for new structures but it would cost a fortune to update an existing house with geothermal and radiant floor heating.
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Old 09-29-2021, 11:01 AM   #13
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This is a good run down of various options.

I love the Adirondacks, but it's REALLY tough here to try to live off-grid, just based on the latitude and the weather. If I really wanted to live off grid, I would never attempt it here; I would move WAY south (Georgia / Florida for example). Cooling is MUCH easier and less expensive than heating. If you are on a water source like a brook, you can make a "swamp cooler" with a fan and wet towel that will get you through the hot periods.

On the grid topic:

Energy storage is VERY difficult, because at its heart, energy does not like to be stored. The goal is to power the grid with reliable steady sources, to obviate the need for lots of storage. If you do have to store energy, pumped storage is the only practical way. Batteries, despite all the hype, are not even in the running due to cost, leakage, and toxicity.

From Wikipedia:

"Pumped storage is by far the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2020, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for around 95% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide..."

So engineers have figured out that pumped storage is the only practical method, and that's why it's 95% of storage. And pumped storage facilities have a really big footprint on the scenery. Look at the recent furor over the proposed pumped storage facility in the Catskills.

So large scale storage is simply not coming in the near future. That's the reality. And that's why the grid has to be powered with steady sources (natural gas and nuclear).
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Old 09-29-2021, 11:49 AM   #14
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Geothermal might be OK for new structures but it would cost a fortune to update an existing house with geothermal and radiant floor heating.
We

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Old 09-29-2021, 01:45 PM   #15
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We upgraded our forced hot air oil/wood furnace to geothermal. One vertical 400 foot closed loop well and a new state of the art heat/ac unit where the old furnace stood. The new electric hot water heater is preheated by the ac/heat unit. Existing duct work was used with some upgrades. You don't need radiant and if you do use radiant it you don't get AC. We thought it was affordable as we we needed a new furnace anyway and the tax breaks. Our heating and cooling cost are so much lower!
Right - I was referring to the system they were using in the video. They get cooling somehow - maybe it's a separate water-to-air system? They didn't say.


Does your system heat your home in the cold of winter by itself, or does it need a booster system?

They mentioned antifreeze in the video and I think they said ethanol, which isn't that bad if there was a leak. I was concerned about what kind of chemicals they might use in those systems and if they'd "poison yer water hole" if there is a failure. Is your system using any chemicals or just water?
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Old 09-30-2021, 10:30 AM   #16
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On the grid topic:

Energy storage is VERY difficult, because at its heart, energy does not like to be stored. The goal is to power the grid with reliable steady sources, to obviate the need for lots of storage. If you do have to store energy, pumped storage is the only practical way. Batteries, despite all the hype, are not even in the running due to cost, leakage, and toxicity.
It's early - I'd give the batteries some time, I bet we'll see some battery farms in the future. I'm not a fan of the idea but a lot of people are pouring money into it now, so it's gonna happen.

Energy "likes" to be stored in certain things. Chemical bonds like those of fossil fuels are fairly stable. The energy stored in mass is pretty stable.

The thing is for a "good" capacitor, be it electrical, hydraulic, or whatever, you want it to be able to store and release energy effectively - you don't want something too stable, but you don't want something too ready to give it up to many different sources.


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From Wikipedia:

"Pumped storage is by far the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2020, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for around 95% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide..."

So engineers have figured out that pumped storage is the only practical method, and that's why it's 95% of storage. And pumped storage facilities have a really big footprint on the scenery. Look at the recent furor over the proposed pumped storage facility in the Catskills.

So large scale storage is simply not coming in the near future. That's the reality. And that's why the grid has to be powered with steady sources (natural gas and nuclear).
While Wikipedia can be hit or miss, I tend to agree with this because I sat with some engineers about a decade ago and we all came to the same conclusion that hydraulic capacitors were likely best large scale way to store (or rather smooth) grid fluctuations.

We definitely need steady load sources, you are 100% correct. No way we could manage the wild swings of 100% wind and solar with hydro. My thought is they will be used to smooth the minor ripples caused by household solar and commercial wind. Not sure what % of power that might be, I'd love to see it go near 100% in the summer and 50% in the winter for residential, but that may be a pipe dream. For commercial I think it's going to be WAY less and they'll likely need steady loads from power plants.

In area like where I live, where there's natural gas, I don't see people switching for heat. That's why I'd like to see less NG power plants and more nuclear - nuclear is far greener and in this area of the world we don't have much worry about catastrophic events (maybe some minor flooding and light tremors) but the NE has it pretty easy. It makes nuclear pretty ideal.

We also have untapped NG reserves - but the danger of polluting ground water or destabilizing aquifers is too big a risk with fracking IMO. We take ground water for granted but if we lost it we'd be in a world of trouble. We already dump far too much salt in our wells.

I really hope in areas where there isn't NG access that geothermal will be a safe, clean option. It really would save us a lot of mess with fracking and pipelines.
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Old 11-21-2021, 11:15 AM   #17
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I've done a lot more studying on this - not a lot of tech has changed in terms of solar passive in the past 60 years or so since it was first realized as a functional system, but there are a lot more options to make it work better - I think mainly a lot more environments have been used and the modelling is a lot better now. The Adirondacks would be no better or worse than any other environment if the design is done properly, that means south facing, long east-west profile and the south face clear of most trees. I have a curiosity if the system can be optimized more by using broadleaf trees on the south face to block solar input in the summer. Maybe it's a wash... be interesting to find out.

I was thinking Red Maples would be the ideal for the NE- they grow fast, they grow almost anywhere, they have a thick foliage that blocks a lot of sun in the summer, and when they leaf off they let almost full sun through. It's be nice if they were longer lived, but I think they'd be acceptable for most homes and cheap and easy to replace.

Heat pump systems, like those used in active geothermal are the key. I'm not 100% sure this is ideal technology but it works - two big systems that can be switched to heat pumps besides a heating furnace are the hot water and dryer. Both of which use a HUGE amount of power if run on electricity, but by stealing energy and "moving" it with a small amount of electricity like a heat pump does (think AC in reverse), you can meet all these needs easily with solar.

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Old 11-21-2021, 06:52 PM   #18
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So bottom line: Yes, I think it can be done, and not even necessarily "Net Zero". I think full off-grid, solar with wood/propane backup is possible.

Cost at this point in time... eh... not great I don't think. Obviously depends on size but to make it work you need -
  1. passive solar home design - use greenhouse effect and thermal mass to retain stable base
  2. lots of insulation or a partially subsurface design. Up to R80 in the walls!
  3. very efficient windows
  4. solar panels and the associated hw - sized of course to home and weather conditions. I did see something along the lines that even the simple, non-tracking systems deliver almost as much output, so it seems like just adding an extra panel and using a fixed system is the best way to go for residential.
  5. battery bank - probably err bigger in the Adirondacks during winter although at this point in time probably just cheaper to use your backup i.e. wood or propane to cover.
  6. state-of-the-art heat pump heat/ac, hot water, and dryer. Stoves need to likely be induction for electric or stick with propane.
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Old 11-21-2021, 07:29 PM   #19
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Right - I was referring to the system they were using in the video. They get cooling somehow - maybe it's a separate water-to-air system? They didn't say.
or just water?
The
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Old 11-21-2021, 07:32 PM   #20
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The system heats the house without any booster.. There is a electric heater built in the water furnace, it has never been used, except when we return from vacation and are bringing the temp from 50 degrees up to 70 quickly. I think they filled the closed loop with ethanol, I am not concerned with a leak it is very sturdy. It seems a no brainer to us.
Yup - thanks. I did a lot of reading on this since I asked and they seem more than capable. Especially attractive for solar power coupled with passive solar.

Lots of people up in the mountains of Colorado with functioning systems with winters as harsh or harsher than ours - less moisture, but still cold.
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