Passive Solar Design

It has been estimated that at least forty percent of the energy costs in the average home are for heating or cooling. Passive solar design takes advantage of the climate in order to maintain a comfortable living temperature. The principles driving this type of design are year round comfort for all the family, lower energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the life of your home.

Being aware of your building site and how the house is situated will assist you to take advantage of cooling breezes and the warmth of the sun in winter. Careful thought has to be put into the design of the walls, roof, doors, windows and floors of the home in order to stop excess heat in summer or its loss in the winter months.

Each particular climate requires different designs in order to take advantage of the exposure of the home to the sun’s light and heat. In most climatic zones in Australia living areas are best positioned facing north, or as close to north as possible. This is to ensure the shading of the windows and walls in summer, and to gain maximum exposure to the sun in winter months. In tropical climates this rule does not apply and different design features need to be taken into account. With a north-facing orientation, the thermal characteristics of the home create a very comfortable living environment with less cost for auxiliary heating and cooling. This is because it takes into account the direction and type of winds and the variations in the sun’s path in the summer and winter.

Brio’s range of exterior folding systems and exterior folding doors enable the householder to take advantage of cooling breezes by opening up the living area to the outside elements. Whether the type chosen is the sliding door system or the folding door system, the extra air flow will be greatly appreciated in the heat of summer. The doors themselves are not only functional but are also stylish and architecturally-inspired. The superior look and feel and functionality of the exterior sliding door hardware and folding door hardware means that anyone in the home can open and close the doors with ease. Interior folding systems will open up your living areas and add much-needed cooling in summer. But these systems can be closed off in winter to retain heat and warmth inside.

The ability of a material to store and absorb heat is known as thermal mass. High density materials such as concrete, bricks and tiles need a great deal of heat to change the temperature, so they have a high thermal mass. A material with a low thermal mass is wood. Thermal mass must be used wisely, as it can absorb your winter heat or radiate heat on a hot summer’s night.

Skylights contribute to comfort and energy efficiency in the home. They are a great source of natural light, and can also improve internal air circulation. However, they can cause heat loss in winter or heat gain in summer. So care has to be taken in choosing the skylight option that suits your climate, home and lifestyle.


Tesla’s Powerwall Battery

Tesla is an energy innovation company, not merely an automotive company. Tesla Energy has introduced a number of batteries in order to assist homes, businesses and utilities move away from dependence on fossil fuels and to a sustainable energy future. The aim is to use the batteries to provide backup power, manage power demand and increase grid resilience.

Tesla’s Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which has been designed to enable residences to store energy. One of the aims of the battery is to assist with load shifting – the battery can charge during low rate periods when demand is less and electricity is less expensive, and then that power can be used during peak demand times, when electricity is more expensive. In this way the battery will be of financial benefit to the owner.

The battery will also help the owner to increase the consumption of their own self-generated solar power. The battery is able to store surplus solar energy not used at the time it is generated – this energy can then be used by the consumer at times when it is needed and even when the sun is not shining. This means that

Powerwall also offers backup functionality in the event of a power outage.

Powerwall is available in 10kWh which is optimized for using as a backup power source, or 7kWh which is for daily use. Both can provide backup power, and both can be connected with solar or the grid. The 10kWh Powerwall can provide power when the grid goes down, meaning that you have power during the most difficult situations. The 7kWh Powerwall works well when paired with solar as it extends the environmental and cost benefits of solar by providing power when it is needed the most – at night.

Tesla Energy for Businesses is a storage system which allows businesses to capture the full potential of the solar arrays of the facility. The aim is to store the excess solar power that has been generated for later use and to ensure there is power to use at all times. Tesla Energy for Businesses anticipates periods of high usage and discharges power over that time, meaning that there is a substantial reduction in the demand charge component of the energy bills of the business. The system is designed to maximise the consumption of on-site clean power, to enable the business to buy electricity when it is the least expensive and avoid peak demand charges. Businesses may also be able to participate in grid services and so get paid by utilities for their input into the grid. Of course, one of the major advantages for businesses is to backup critical business operations in case of a power outage.

Tesla also has energy systems for utilities, which are capable of 2hr or 4hr continuous net discharge power using grid tied bi-directional inverters.


Storing Solar Electricity

The challenge with solar power is the storage of the electricity generated. Solar energy can be used as it is generated – which is during the day – but come nightfall, or extended cloudy weather, unless it can be stored, solar energy is less useful.

Enter the lithium-ion battery. These are usually the size of a small fridge and are easy to control. The prediction for battery storage in the global market is that it will grow from $US220 million ($302 million) in 2014 to $US18 billion by 2023. At least this is what the International Renewable Energy Agency considers to be the situation.

It has been estimated by Morgan Stanley that 2.4 million east coast homes will have batteries installed within the next few years to ensure they are able to use more of the solar power they generate during the sunlight hours. Australia has such a popular rooftop solar power industry, that the leading energy retailers are now supplying batteries to those people who have expressed they want to be a part of the renewable alternative energy source revolution. The issue is that the financial incentives for householders to feed the excess energy produced by rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) panels back into the grid have been greatly reduced – so home owners want to use the power themselves.

So, using the stored power themselves also means the householder is saving money by not having to pay for peak-tariff electricity from the grid. John Grimes of the Energy Storage Council considers that storage has been the ‘missing link’ particularly in the uptake of solar energy. He states that: “Feed-in tariffs for solar PV around the country have really been cut to a punitive level so many people are now receiving 6¢ or 8¢ per kilowatt hour for the energy that they feed into the grid and are having to buy energy back at the full retail rate of 25 to 28¢ per kilowatt hour.”

Storage for intermittent renewable sources means that grid peak times will be less and the large thermal power stations will not need to pump out huge quantities of power at specific times, thus causing less pollution.

The high tech battery systems are not cheap though – and the costing is so high that in the first few years uptake is not expected to be great. But the price of the batteries would be expected to fall after the first few years and then they are likely to become extremely popular. However Paul Reid, the head of Panasonic Australia, suggests that not all consumers base their decisions solely on financial factors and may become involved in the battery scenario even before costs fall to a lower level. Some people want to be empowered by knowing they have greater control over their energy usage and needs.

John Grimes considers that consumers and their needs should be at the centre of the energy market, rather than the energy companies.

Source:  How battery-powered homes are unplugging Australia Angela Macdonald-Smith SMH August 1, 2015.

Energy Efficient Alterations and Additions

When you are creating additions to your home, it is a great time to look at the energy efficiency of the building. While you are planning the improvements, plan to make these as effective as possible to improve its energy performance. The result will be lower costs and much more comfortable living.

A National Energy Efficient Building Project publication which assists in this process is ‘A seven point check list for home owners –  Aiming for best practice – energy efficient alterations and additions to existing homes.

The first point in the checklist is to Understand a house is an energy using system. This point focuses on the fact that a house contains many types of equipment that use a great deal of energy. Refrigeration, heating and cooling all need to be considered. Energy efficiency means that there is a minimal waste of energy.

Point 2 is to Understand the main routes to energy efficiency. It stands to reason that less energy is needed in an energy efficient house. Such elements as insulation, blocking off air leaks, controlling the access of sun and choosing the appropriate size of windows, are all issues.  Brio has many designs and styles of exterior folding systems for you to open and close to allow more sunlight and warmth into the house in the winter, and cool, fresh air into the house on summer evenings. Brio has a pleated insect screen which has been designed to be used with folding doors or sliding doors, and allows you to leave the doors open on a hot night, without pesky insects intruding into your home.

The design of your extension or alteration will greatly affect your energy efficiency. Window positioning is a vital consideration, as well as ensuring you are taking account of the position of the sun to reduce heating and cooling costs. Eaves, awnings and verandahs are also great ways of protecting the house against the hot summer sun.

A whole house energy assessment will mean you need to do lots of research and perhaps even appoint a professional to assist with this. For example, maybe your electrician can change your halogen down-lights with energy efficient LEDs.

When you Know the roles of those involved with the alteration, you can call on each person to assist in the energy efficiency agenda. For instance, the electrician then knows that the insulation that was removed for work on the wiring, needs to be put back in place. Or, the carpenter installing the exterior folding doors will then be aware that there cannot be any gaps to allow cold air in, when installing the doors.

Choose energy efficient products and make sure that they are used. One of the suggestions here is to choose a cool roof – that is, one with a light colour – if you are in a hot climate.

One terrific idea is to get an independent check on the alteration, with an energy efficiency focus. This is different to the state-required structural and safety inspections. So, for example, have the wall insulation checked prior to the plasterboard going on. The insulation should be the correct grade, and installed correctly, with out any gaps.