by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts I said earlier that wind was a form of solar energy, and I stand by that. Reread my past column if you need an explanation. The most economical way of capturing the wind for producing electricity is by using large towers with huge blades—as many as possible—called wind farms. They are being used throughout the world as a very dependable source of electricity. They work very well if placed in an area where the wind is pretty much constant. Michigan has areas that will work very well, yet people seem to be afraid of them. It can’t be the size, because no one is afraid of cell towers. It can’t be the looks, because… those cell phone towers again—those things are ugly. So what is it? Maybe it’s change. Northeastern Michigan is embracing this change. The thumb area has many wind farms and the energy is sold as fast as these farms go online. I’m not going to get into the idea of putting them in Lake Michigan. I’m just saying I have mixed feelings. I happen to think wind generators are beautiful—kinetic art even—maybe because I’m so Dutch and windmills are a part of my heritage. They work very well and will help us use less conventional energy.
by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts Today we talk about the exotic form of solar energy—the one that techies drool over. The one that gives people that far away look in their eyes, as if they are in the Mars Rover or the space station or at the communication satellites that our phones and iPads bounce off of. Well that last was a bit of a stretch. Solar electric or PV panels make all those things possible. They are also powering our lighted signs on the highways, among many other things. A solar electric installation is what I’m asked about most by homeowners. The cost is dropping dramatically, which is what has kept most of us from purchasing such wonderful technology. New inverter technology has made questionable sites more positive, and bigger panels means less mounting hardware. Inverters, by the way, change the voltage from the panels to that which we can use 120v AC to such a fine quality that we can now grid-tie them. Grid-tie means that we can sell our extra production to the utility company at the same price they charge us, so no batteries are needed. We just buy back at night what we sold them during the day. What a deal. Batteries can still be used for people who need them. The panels can be mounted on a roof, on poles and on trackers which follow the sun’s path through the sky. They work very well, are quiet, will last for many years (I have some that are 25 years old) and are beautiful to behold, at least I think so. Don’t forget: energy efficiency first.
Solar hot water collection by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts This week we are writing about solar hot water collection. This is the most cost effective way of using the sun’s energy in our existing homes. Most people don’t realize that about 20 percent of your total annual heating bill is used to heat water. It can be more depending on the fuel you use and the number of teenage girls you have in your house (personal experience, of course—I like an occasional long shower myself, so I can’t blame her too much). Electric energy is the most expensive, with propane close behind and natural gas the cheapest per BTU. Solar hot water panels and controllers have been around a long time and have been improving along the way. I’ve serviced 25-year-old systems and got them back on track by re-insulating and replacing a few worn parts. The new ones will last just as long or longer, I’m sure. Basically, the panels lay flat on a south-facing and unshaded roof. There are insulated pipes that go to a solar storage tank which uses any heat collected to preheat the water going into your existing hot water heater. When you ask for hot water from your faucet, the hot water goes from the solar tank into your existing tank and heats that water so that your conventional energy doesn’t need to. Spring, fall and summer give me gas bills that are mostly fees. In winter, I take what I get and am thankful for it.
by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the three ways of using solar energy in our homes. The first way is using it to heat the air in our homes, which heats everything else in there as well. Passive solar is one of my favorite ways to use the heat of the sun. It just means that you use south-facing windows that are not shaded in the winter when the sun is low and are shaded in the summer when the sun is high. Passive means that you don’t need any fans or pumps for it to work. It works best when there is some mass to absorb the heat in the day and release it at night. This system is easiest to implement when building an addition or a new house. Sunspaces (facing south) make a wonderful addition to a home. Even when the sun isn’t blasting, it’s still brighter. It makes us feel better in the dead of winter. It’s healthier that way, and I believe in building healthy houses. We cannot forget the first rule in using renewable energy and that is conservation. The less energy you need, the higher percentage of conventional fuels will be replaced by renewables, and they become more cost effective.
by BETH ALTENA New state energy codes are forcing builders to more efficient homes, but Rockford’s Dan Vos has been using new energy-efficient techniques and more for years. He is the creator of the most energy-efficIent home in the state of Michigan—a second feat for him following last year’s home he built that scored highest at that time. “I graduated from college 22 years ago when we were in the energy crunch of the seventies,” Vos said. “You had to buy your gas on odd or even days and OPEC had an oil embargo.” Vos said gas quickly became plentiful again, but it made sense to him that using less energy when possible was a good thing. He has built his professional career with energy use in mind. “I’m also kind of Dutch,” he noted, and designed and built his own energy-efficient home 12 years ago. Vos is ahead of the game as Michigan residents, and the rest of the country, struggle with energy supplies. He has a bachelor of science degree in renewable energy and has taught college courses in solar and climate-specific designs. He is passionate about saving energy, but the concept is now becoming more prominent in his field and many others. On the verge of statewide compliance in the elimination of traditional light bulbs in favor of the compact energy fluorescents, wise energy use is becoming less of a personal choice and more of a fact of life. All new commercial buildings in the City of Grand Rapids are required to be LEED-certified, Vos stated. The house Vos just built for architect Eric Hughes of Image Designs, is one of a kind—so far. It is certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum, the highest rating. When tested, Vos said he thought the home might score a 30 in the Home Energy Rating System (HERS). Low scores are best, with a zero meaning the owner will never spend a dime in energy costs. To his surprise, the new building scored the highest in the state at 12. Building energy-efficient involves nearly every aspect of a home design and construction, although Vos often helps homeowners increase the energy efficiency of an existing home. With his latest house, he had been asked […]