What is the net environmental impact of a deep energy retrofit (DER)? We know that adding insulation, a more efficient furnace, modern windows and leak sealing foam to an older house will reduce the energy required to maintain a given temperature. We can calculate the cost savings and GHG reductions. But what of the environmental impacts from all of the inputs to such a project? To what extent do the upstream and downstream processes in the technosphere effect nature, and how much of our environmental improvement from burning less fossil fuel is offset by the manufacture and transport of the products needed to achieve that reduction? A life cycle assessment (LCA) of the Brownsberger’s deep energy retrofit project seeks to address these questions.
The goal of LCA is to compare the full range of environmental and social damages assignable to products and services. For more on Life Cycle Assessment, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_cycle_assessment.
To read the LCA on the Brownsberger’s deep energy retrofit, go to: http://willbrownsberger.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/North_LCA_E150_23Dec2010.pdf
Bravo – frequently “simple problem”/”simple solution” dominates government thinking. LCA promotes a deeper insight into the effects of proposed solutions. Having just recovered from the “sticker shock” of replacement windows (and the resultant 100+ year payback cycle) I would advise anyone considering major projects conduct a thorough investigation.
Nice job on the report!
I wonder – can you take the data and “reverse sort” it into an 80/20 scenario? (Do your projects in this order (order by a blended cost-retrieval / environmental-lifetime impact metric)?
Examples – simple solutions = bad solutions (They seemed like such a good idea at the time 🙂
In 1990, the Australian state of Victoria made safety helmets mandatory for all bicycle riders. While there was a reduction in the number of head injuries, there was also an unintended reduction in the number of juvenile cyclists – fewer cyclists obviously leads to fewer injuries, all else being equal. Research by Vulcan et al. found that the reduction in juvenile cyclists was because the youths considered wearing a bicycle helmet unfashionable. A health benefit model developed at Macquarie University in Sydney suggests that, while helmet use reduces “the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two-thirds or more”, the decrease in exercise caused by reduced cycling as a result of helmets laws is counterproductive in terms of net health.
Prohibition in the 1920s United States, originally enacted to suppress the alcohol trade, drove many small-time alcohol suppliers out of business and consolidated the hold of large-scale organized crime over the illegal alcohol industry. Since alcohol was still popular, criminal organizations producing alcohol were well funded and hence also increased their other activities. The War on Drugs, intended to suppress the illegal drug trade, often instead consolidates the profitability of drug cartels.
In CIA jargon, “blowback” describes the unintended, undesirable consequences of covert operations, for example: covert funding of the Afghan Mujahideen, which contributed to the rise of Al-Qaeda.
The introduction of exotic animals and plants for food, for decorative purposes, or to control unwanted species often leads to more harm than good done by the introduced species.
The introduction of rabbits in Australia and New Zealand for food was followed by an explosive growth in the rabbit population; rabbits have become a major feral pest in these countries.
Cane toads, introduced into Australia to control canefield pests, were unsuccessful and have become a major pest in their own right.
Kudzu, introduced as an ornamental plant and later used to prevent erosion in earthworks, has become a major problem in the Southeastern United States. Kudzu has displaced native plants, and has effectively taken over significant portions of land.
I’m in the process of doing the final financial cost-benefit analysis for the project. It should shed some additional light on the issues you raise.
Congratulations, Will, for walking the talk! We will all benefit from the results of your analysis, and I sincerely hope that your fellow legislators will get a chance to admire your thoroughness.
Please share with your admirers how you set about defining the costs, and then doing the LCA for your project. This too will help all homeowners who are serious about reducing energy costs and simultaneously contributing to the regeneration of the planet’s resources.
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