We’ve all heard about electric vehicles, Energy Star appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs, but university and private researchers are developing the next generation of green products that will be both energy-efficient and affordable.
SOLAR FOR ALL. The increasing attractiveness of power purchase agreements (PPAs) to solar-power system installers leads us to believe that widespread residential use of solar power is nearing reality. Under the terms of a solar PPA, a company pays for and installs a solar-power system on a resident’s roof in exchange for the right to sell excess power to the local utility and to collect a related tax credit of 30 percent. Homeowners lock in a fixed rate for the power that they use for 15 to 30 years (typically lower than what electricity from the utility costs over the course of the agreement) and pay none of the upfront costs. Meanwhile, solar power continues to become more efficient. By using an ultrathin layer of aluminum oxide, Bram Hoex, a physicist in Germany, converted an average of 23 percent of collected solar heat to electricity. The previous record was 21.9 percent.
Green Quotient: Solar power is a constant, renewable resource. Having a static, locked-in rate would mean that your power bill wouldn’t spike whenever the price of energy fluctuates, like it can now. Another benefit is that you never have to worry about blackouts or brownouts.
Seeing Red: Not all utilities will buy excess power from a “solar provider,” so this option won’t be available everywhere. There’s also the question of how to deal with the PPA-financed solar-power system on your roof if you decide to sell your home. With most PPAs, you’ll need to buy the system from the provider or transfer the lease to the buyer.
ERASABLE PAPER. Xerox has kicked around its erasable-paper idea for a while, but it’s showing it more frequently to the press. The company appears to be closing in on a product that it says will hit the market in the next year. The paper is coated with photosensitive chemicals that turn white when hit by light, which will erase a page 24 hours after it has been printed.
Green Quotient: According to Xerox, at least 45 percent of printed paper ends up as trash within 24 hours. Erasable paper allows you to reuse the same sheet and conserve on paper products.
Seeing Red: You’ll need to buy the paper and use a special printer from Xerox, which certainly won’t come cheaply. Worse, the paper is worthless if it has been folded or written on with a pen. Also, there are certain printouts that you won’t want to erase, so you might need to constantly switch between regular and erasable paper.
ENERGY-CONSCIOUS APPLIANCES. Today’s energy-monitoring systems for the home allow you to look at energy use to pinpoint how much electricity is being consumed by an appliance or other electrical device. The idea is that you can opt to manually use the appliance at off-peak times. Internet Protocol-enabled appliances would connect to the monitoring system to automatically turn themselves on and off.
Green Quotient: You can conserve energy and save money, perhaps hundreds of dollars per year, after setting up your system. It also will help to reduce the risk of widespread brownouts across a utility grid.
Seeing Red: Manufacturers are tight-lipped about the cost of such appliances. Getting them to work well with both a variety of energy-monitoring systems and with the dozens of local utilities throughout the country will dictate when such appliances make it to market. According to Celeste LeCompte, author of the research briefing “The Smart Energy Home,” it’s only a matter of time before appliance-ready networks entice manufacturers to make smart appliances. Still, the appliances likely will be priced at the top end of the market.