I know there are many of you who are way ahead of me on this one. I must confess that not only am I a late-comer to the joys and environmental value of wood burning stoves, but I actually bought a house with one and removed it in the renovations!
Now, I see the light. First of all, it calms you better than an aquarium. The hearthiness, the earthiness, the physical engagement (you have to manage the wood flow, the air flow, the cleanliness, the timing), the visual comfort of the flames, the colors and the show, especially if the window is spacious. (The heat of the fire cleans the window constantly so it is always clear.)
I have a backyard filled with wood, and with the cost of oil these days (yup, my electricity is all wind powered but my heat is oil), this stove will pay for itself in 2-3 years.
Here are things I am learning about the benefits of a wood-burning stove:
-- the newest stoves have a burn cycle that consumes most of the smoke's particulate matter and is said to burn so efficiently that it leaves less of a residue (including less CO2 - though I welcome an explanation of how this works) than naturally decomposing wood.
-- CO2 put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is CO2 that what would have been safely sequestered deep underground, save for the fact that we dug it out of the ground, and are now releasing it. Burning fossil fuel changes the CO2 equation, for the worse.
-- CO2 put into the atmosphere by burning wood would have been released into the atmosphere through decomposition anyway. So by burning wood, we are not adding to the cycle of existing above-ground, loose, CO2. That is, burning wood is CO2 neutral - and sustainable, as long as additional trees grow in their stead. (The source of the wood for these stoves could become an issue if we begin to destroy more trees than are replanted. A net-loss of tree cover is bad - no matter what the reason for cutting down the trees.)
-- Most interesting to me, however, is what I learned about radiant stoves and how that is being emulated in the broader construction and building maintenance business.
Wood stoves largely come in two varieties: circulating air and radiant. They both burn wood efficiently. They both heat the house. But one (circulating air) heats the air directly, and the other (radiant) heats a material (cast iron or soapstone) that absorbs and stores the heat and releases it evenly over an extended period of time. To heat air directly is to allow the heat to dissipate quickly. When the fire is gone, so is the heat. But when the fire's heat is absorbed by these efficient heat-storing materials, and released slowly over time, the fire keeps heating even after it is out.
The lessons learned here go beyond wood burning stoves. We build power plants to meet the maximum peak energy demand of a region. That is, we have to build new power plants mostly because most of us wake up between 6 am and 9 am and use hot water, lights, shavers, hair dryers, toasters, microwaves, coffee machines all at the same time. However, at 3:00 am, almost all of us are asleep, and the energy demand is minimal. If we could somehow shift our energy use schedule, and spread it out more evenly over the course of the day, we would not have to continue building new power plants at the same rate as is demanded today.
However, few of us are going to get up at 3:00 am or stumble around in the dark or otherwise make the significant shifts we have to (moving up to 50% of our daily energy use to off-peak hours). However, if the burden were placed not on the consumer to shift their use, but placed on the industry to create ways to store its energy, that might be a most useful tactic.
That is, what if the power companies generated a steady rate of energy 24 hours a day - and stored it in big batteries (or whatever creative technology they can devise - and I believe they can with the proper incentives and investments). The public, you and me, would draw on the energy as we needed it - and could even be enticed to shift some of our energy use, say, dishwashing, oven cleaning and clothes washing to off-peak hours, especially since many of these appliances are coming with built-in timers to help us do that.
But mostly, with efficient storage systems, the generation of energy could be constant even while the consumption of energy would still follow the circadian flow of human activity. Would this reduce our energy use or our CO2 emissions? Maybe. I need to learn more about that. But it would reduce the cost and waste associated with building and operating additional, unnecessary, facilities.
Heat storage and delayed release is what my stove is teaching me. That is what some construction companies and businesses are doing. They are using materials that can store and time-release the heat and cool that they have stored to ease peak-time energy crunches.
Solutions are at hand. There is no one single magic bullet - but with thousands of little innovations, we can conserve, shift and redirect our energy so that we can run a more efficient, and ultimately healthier society, both for the economy and the environment.
Labels: Energy, Green House Gases, Simple Solutions