Our lifestyle is powered by a lot of energy. With all the HVAC systems, plus all the electronic in the homes today, we use almost 40 percent more electricity than we did back in 1980s. However, without increased efficiency awareness and country-wide energy conservation standards, the figure would’ve been even higher. Let’s explore a few solutions aimed at both reducing the electricity bills and the home’s carbon print.
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As the people are becoming more connected, so are homes. The latest household devices and appliances are connected to the Internet of things to provide real time data, which helps us use them in a more efficient way. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is developing automated control systems for HVAC units, lighting and other home systems that use wireless sensors to measure variables such as outside air and room temperature, humidity, natural light, movement, etc.
Affordable smart solutions
The best part is that the new generation of wireless sensors will cost the fraction of costs of today’s units. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are also researching new solutions that will improve the appliances’ connectivity with other appliances and the utility grid.
A brainchild of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric, a new revolutionary type of refrigerator uses magnets to create cold environment. For the past 100 years, refrigerators have relied on vapor compression process, which uses coolants that are highly harmful to the environment. The new refrigerators use so called magnetocaloric effect, in which changing the conductors’ magnetic field is used to lower and raise the temperature. The coolant is water-based, which makes these refrigerators more efficient, and environmentally-friendly.
High-yield heat pumps
The new generation of heat pumps is being introduced by the Building Technologies Office. Using a process discovered centuries ago – which warms and cools the home by heat transfer from one space to another – a new generation of fuel-fired, multi-function residential heat pumps can cut down the energy consumption up to 30 percent.
Unseen savings for households
Another design, a natural gas heat pump and air conditioner uses an ultra-low-emission combustion burner. Finally, perhaps the most interesting solution for the homeowners, a low-cost heat pump reduces the cost of heating up to 30-45 percent when compared to conventional gas furnaces and boilers. The cost of such an energy-saving upgrade can be considerably reduced if the homeowners apply for home improvement financing. You can learn more about accessible and affordable energy improvement financing options here.
Low-carbon clothes dryers
Using the principle similar to one in heat pumps that keep our homes comfortable, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric are developing a new type of clothes dryers. The new designs use a heat pump system to warm the air used for drying. When compared to conventional models seen in appliance stores today, the new, more efficient dryer reduces the amount of energy needed for its operation by 60 percent.
As one of most important elements in minimizing a home’s carbon print as well as the energy bills, insulation is experiencing a complete overhaul. The Industrial Science & Technology Network is developing new foam insulation composed of advanced eco-friendly materials. The most critical area is the roof or the attic, where most of the heat escapes in winter months.
Reflective roofing options
Built with shingles and other materials coated with special sun-reflecting pigments, cool roofs absorb less sun heat than most of the roofing materials used today. The new fluorescent pigments developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and PPG Industries are announced to be even more efficient, making the roof even “cooler”. The amount of sunlight they can reflect is almost four times higher than standard pigments.
Next-generation window controls
New type of highly insulated windows are being developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pella Windows. They use sensors and microprocessors to automatically adjust shading level that corresponds to available sunlight and time of day. Solutions like these ensure better natural lighting and comfort, while saving money by reducing or increasing solar heat gains.
More light for the buck
LED lights have evolved from being mere indicator lights to become an ultimate high-yield low-cost lighting solution. The newest LEDs are 85 percent more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs, yet still several times more expensive. But, the Building Technologies Office’s Solid State Lighting Program is funding developments of even cheaper LEDs that consume less energy and last longer. Their aim is to increase the current efficiency of 125-135 lumens per watt to 230 lumens per watt in the next few years.
Although our total energy consumption has increased, thanks to the joint effort of industry and academic research centers, the consumption per household has decreased up to 10 percent as the equipment we use in our homes is more energy-efficient than ever before. State-sponsored research and private funding are pushing the limits of energy-saving technology even further, promising a very green future.
By Lillian Connors