Tennessee Fuels Research into Alternate Energies
Energy Efficiency in Tennessee
Many homes in Tennessee are known for their “Zero-energy” housing - referring to homes designed with energy-efficient and renewable generating technologies.
From switchgrass to light switches, Tennessee is positioning itself to be an energy-conservation leader on multiple fronts in the coming years. The state has partnered with the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on two major projects that are expected not only to provide cleaner homes and energy sources, but also fuel investment and jobs. The state has put its resources behind the University of Tennessee’s Biofuels Initiative, a program designed to grow and harvest switchgrass for use in “grassoline” production. More than $70 million from the state has been committed to the program over a five-year span. The first crop was harvested in 2007 and a cellulosic ethanol refinery soon will be constructed in Vonore to process the grass. Meanwhile, further testing is being done on the material to examine not only its power capacity, but also its growth cycles and how well it holds up during storage, says Dr. Kelly Tiller, director of external operations for UT’s Office of Bioenergy Programs. “The funding from the state has leveraged our ability to secure additional funds, including a $135 million bioenergy science center grant from the Department of Energy,” Tiller says. “Another reason we’ve been successful from the beginning is the state’s involvement. We involved the farm bureau, the extension service and the whole farming community, so by design we’ve had a lot of input and cooperation with the program’s development.” At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, research on “zero-energy” homes has moved into the field. The goal for these homes is that they produce as much energy as they consume, hence the zero-energy name. Since 2002, ORNL has been working with Habitat for Humanity in Lenoir City, where five homes were built to begin testing renewable energy and energy-efficient technology, says Jeff Christian, director of the Department of Energy’s Buildings Technology Center at ORNL. “We have worked with the state and with the Tennessee Valley Authority, which have made strong commitments to this research,” Christian says. “We wanted to be the first ones on the block to get some houses up and some measured data, and we’ve done that. The state has been a critical piece of this, providing funding and creating the position of zero-energy house coordinator.” The homes feature wall, window and roof systems that promote high energy efficiency by keeping indoor heat in during winter and outdoor heat out during summer. The homes are fitted with solar panels, with the electricity produced purchased by the TVA’s Green Power Generation Partnership Program. Data collected on energy use, temperature and flow of water and electricity for each house indicate they use 50 to 70 percent less energy than typical new U.S. homes. From those initial five test houses, the groundwork has been laid to enter into a residential development, with three houses being built in mid-2008. Those will be a mix of new construction and retrofitting, and will provide strong data on how far the technology has come in meeting the zero-energy goal. “It’s a two-year study, and if some of these things we’re doing can be served up to progressive builders, and to homeowners, this could get to be the norm for housing in Tennessee,” Christian says.