How I Give

It was my birthday a couple of days ago, and it made me reflect on “giving.”

Terrawatt was created to help.  It helps save energy, it helps people be more comfortable in their homes, it helps solve air quality/home performance problems, and it helps the earth.

We are all connected.  We live on the same planet, even though sometimes it seems like Ithaca’s its own world.  Because we’re all connected, we share the air that we breathe, the water we drink, and the energy we consume.

This week I had the privilege of helping a homeowner who wanted to get completely off propane.  She was most of the way there, and the only thing left was her water heater.  We removed it and replaced it with a heat pump water heater.  Now her house is all-electric.

This project wasn’t about energy savings for the homeowner, but they sneak in:

The “219.8” is how many gallons of propane she won’t use any more.  That’s how much was used, every year, for the water heater.  At today’s prices, that’s more than $450/year for hot water, but this project wasn’t about money savings either.

But look at the “-1603.7” number.  That’s how many extra kilowatt-hours she’ll use for her hot water now; about 950 for the “hot water” and about 650 for the “heat” she’ll need to make in her house to put into the tank.  The “heat” number reflects the fact that the water heater scavenges heat from the environment (the basement), heat that must be replaced.

Anyway, there’s a lot of math and conversions and such.  The short version is that, in the end, she’ll save about 4400 kWh per year’s worth of energy.  The trade from propane to electricity was worth it.  (For some perspective, the energy savings on this project are greater than the amount of energy the Trumansburg Montessori School uses in an entire year.)

But I don’t think that’s good enough, because in the end, this house will still use about 14,000 kWh per year.  That’s still a lot of energy.  So here’s my commitment to you:

Every house, every time, will be net zero.

“Net zero” is a term you may have heard, or “zero-energy ready,” or something with “zero” in it.  It means that the energy that goes into the house is accounted for positively somewhere else – usually it’s with solar panels.  But if you can’t afford solar panels, or you just want to “go net-zero,” there’s another way.

We are all connected.  We all live in the same world.  Look what’s happening with community solar; you don’t even need to put the solar array on your property anymore.  It can go anywhere – the panels go in a field, their production is tracked, and you get a credit.  It’s the same with energy savings – they can happen anywhere.  So what Terrawatt will do, on every one of its projects, is offset the carbon from the energy that wasn’t saved:

The work that Terrawatt does isn’t strictly about energy savings.  The goal is not to “save energy.”  The goal is to keep carbon out of the atmosphere.  When energy is produced in a non-renewable way, carbon is created and spewed into the air – and not “your” air or “my” air, but OUR air.

The production of the energy that this house will use will generate, in one year, more than 10,000 pounds of carbon.  By offsetting the carbon with a donation that helps jumpstart energy-efficiency measures for those in our community who need help, that money can be used on a project that saves energy in their house.  It doesn’t matter where the energy is saved – because we are all connected.

For more, or to donate (tax deductible!), go to the Finger Lakes Climate Fund.  And let’s zero out the problem together.

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