They call it the Net-Zero Energy home. It has ground source heat pumps (promising a 30% reduction in energy use), photovoltaic arrays, supplementary wind power, high efficiency appliances and battery storage, all talking to each other through a Home Energy Manager.
That's a lot of impressive technology. But are green gizmos the best way to achieve net zero energy?
Kevin Nolan, vice president of technology at GE's Consumer & Industrial unit, shows off GE's demand response appliances and Home Energy Manager
GE says that the net-zero energy house will cost 10% more than a conventional house. That's a lot of money; if people would pay that much for extra insulation and better windows they would probably save 30% of their energy costs without fancy heat pumps. But they won't, and when builders offered it, few took them up on it.
Justin Moresco at earth2tech put it really well:
GE's emphasis on next-generation gadgets and gizmos risks masking the dirty little secret behind green building design — that the construction industry already has on hand, but has largely failed to deploy, the tools to make homes and other buildings much more energy efficient than they typically are today.
Moresco notes that Passivhaus design easily achieves 80% reduction in energy use without any high-tech gizmos, just insulation, tight envelope and orientation.
The fundamental difference between smart green building designs and GE's approach is the former's emphasis on energy efficiency over energy production and other high-tech gadgets. As Graham Irwin, principal of Essential Habitat Consulting in Fairfax, Calif., told me, "There are already tools to get us to net-zero energy. The emphasis should be on efficiency first."
Green design often means higher upfront costs, and an historically complacent public regarding energy use allowed the construction industry to continue with business as usual, even while better solutions were available.
General Electric has the kind of reputation that can make this kind of hardware mainstream, and can generate a volume big enough to support an infrastructure of sales, installation and maintenance that doesn't exist today. There are tens of thousands of existing houses that can be upgraded with it.
But if you are starting from scratch, it is better to design so that you have less expensive technology to pay for and maintain, not more. Go for efficiency, not green gizmos.
More on Green Gizmos: (and credit to Donovan Rypkema for the term)
Donovan Rypkema: LEED stands for "Lunatic Environmentalists Enthusiastically Demolishing"
The Green house of the Future in the Wall Street Journal
Passive Houses Get Good Graphic Explanation
Greenwash Watch: Solar Panels Do Not A Green House Make
The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall