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12-13-30 - A Message from Andy Ferguson on Climate Change and What's He's Doing About It

David -


Your suggestion [on Xmas day] about contributing to is inspired. The climate crisis has alarmed me so much that I'm getting rather revved up on the issue. It was one thing to consider global warming, which threatens a lot of land based habitat, extreme weather events, droughts, and other disruptions.

What truly has me starting to obsess is the ocean acidification issue. CO2 emissions are being absorbed by the ocean and threaten to literally destroy most oceanic ecosystems within decades. By that I mean that the end of millions of species, including most fish and shellfish, and including the critical plankton at the base of the food chain. The science around this is solid and indisputable Our kids, and certainly our grandkids (I have a granddaughter now) will likely witness the death of the oceans if we don't mobilize and act.


For a quick intro to this problem, see this three minute video narrated by Sigourney Weaver. (Here's a longer version)


My personal response to the climate and ocean crisis has been to act on several fronts. First, I installed solar on my house and bought a Nissan Leaf, which we love (it is so much fun to drive!) and now use for virtually all our local driving (within 40 or fifty miles). The solar panels power the Leaf nicely. We get a tiered rate from the utility company that lets us charge the car at low nightly rates and sell unused power back to the grid at higher daytime rates. I also installed a tri-head mini-split heat pump system in my house that warms and cools three zones (rooms). Since it runs on electricity we also utilize the solar to power that system. Next, I put in a Geospring heat pump water heater. This type of water heater looks and acts much like a regular 50 gal water heater, but it runs on electricity and utilizes a heat pump, so it is vastly more efficient than a conventional electric water heater. For just Lisa and I, we can operate it on its "full heat pump" setting most of the year and we've stopped using natural gas to heat water. I've also purchased a "Insta-Pot," a pretty cool invention. It's a pressure cooker that is automated and runs on electricity. It is programmable and automatically regulates itself so you don't have to watch it and don't have to worry about it blowing up. It is astoundingly energy efficient and makes soups, rice, etc with one touch buttons, and it even has a sauté setting. I bought a good quality toaster oven to help displace the gas range. As a result of all this not only did most of our driving and electric bill get covered by solar, but our natural gas usage almost disappeared as well. I installed most of this last March and since then my total costs for operating the Leaf (900 miles/month) plus all house utilities, gas and electric, has been about $50, total. I've also still had to pay the usual PG&E surcharges that get tacked on to every utility bill, but things are working out very well. At this rate, I think I'll get payback on everything except the car (meaning the solar panel installation, the mini-split heating/cooling system, the water heater, etc) within 7 or 8 years. The car's net cost here in CA was about 20K. But I would recommend that people who want to imitate what I've done should simply lease the Nissan Leaf, which can be obtained for about $200/month. That's a great approach, since you can trade up to the new technology and longer driving range every three years!


Lately, we've had a bad cold snap, so the $50 we spent so far went to use the furnace to back up the mini-split heat pump. The heat pump wasn't designed to heat/cool the whole house, just three zones. Lately I noticed that if I leave the heat pump on at night, set a few degrees more than the furnace, and leave the furnace fan on, then the furnace is hardly used at all. Thus we maintain at our night time preferred temperature of 60 degrees with little gas furnace use. This causes more electricity usage, but my plan is to expand my solar panels to cover this extra power requirement this coming spring.


Oh, I forgot. We were due for a new washer and dryer, the old ones were dying, so I bought high efficiency LG models from Best Buy for about $1300 total. This has also reduced not only our utility bills but also cut our water usage a lot (that along with high efficiency toilets equipped with those cool Japanese wash/dry your rear end toilet seats that are available for $175 at Costco - a personal hygiene luxury I can't resist!)

The mini-split heat pump technology has been perfected in Asia, where it is widely used. It is coming down in price and there are new models out now by companies like LG that are ultra-efficient, capable of heating your house down to temperatures as low as 0 degrees F. Installing this sort of ductless heating/cooling system in a couple zones of a house eliminates the inefficiency of heating and cooling the whole house when you are mainly using one or two rooms. You can keep your furnace as backup, but rely mostly on the heat pump and solar to heat and cool. Yes, the system is also a highly efficient air conditioning system that will cool the zone also. That's a feature Lisa loves.

I dry my clothes on a clothesline all the time in the summer and pretty often in the winter. Lisa does it sometimes in the summer and never in the winter.


On a less personal note, I'm trying to help out in various climate related campaigns. Nowadays something called CCAs (Community Choice Aggregation)s are coming into force. They are essentially local power companies, set up by local government entities or private companies, that buy and sell power in competition with established utilities. Locally, here in Sonoma County, there is a new CCA power company called "Sonoma Clean Power." It promises to sell power at rates competitive with the usual utility company and offer special incentives for green tech development. For example, if I put extra solar capacity on my house I can actually sell extra capacity at attractive rates to the grid. That's the theory, we'll see how it works out. I made a video that got quite a bit of local attention that supported the establishment of Sonoma Clean Power. It also explains the changes I made to my house. The video is on Youtube.


If anyone who reads about my experience wants some advice on how I did things and what I learned they can email me.


I plan to put on a solar panel deck awning in 2014, and use the power to charge a second electric car, plus eliminate the power I still buy from the power company.


Financing for what I'm doing comes from Redwood Credit Union's second mortgage loan program. Also, Sonoma County offers PACE financing, which means they will help pay for solar upgrades and you can pay them back on your property taxes over a 20 year period. Other similar financing methods are around.


People who don't own a home or a place to install solar should soon be able to purchase solar panels and get their benefit anyway. Renters and others can buy panels in a solar garden that is not located on their property but then still get credit for that solar energy on their utility bill. Check it out here.

Now I'm working on another video that explains the exact scientific reasons why we are sure climate change is happening. I'm using information provided by a climate scientist friend of mine. I'm explaining it all in layman's language so that anyone with half a brain will understand why climate change can't be doubted.


I'll let you know when that video is ready for viewing.