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How To Prioritize Sustainability Solutions For Your Home

Matt Ferrell separates the signal from the noise when it comes to strategies and solutions for making homes more resilient and more sustainable.

48 min read


Matt Ferrell

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Matt Ferrell joins the show to outline various ways everyday people can embrace cost-saving strategies that also make their homes more resilient and more sustainable.

Matt is the creator of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, where he has amassed more than one million subscribers on YouTube by applying his technology-focused eye to all things sustainability. Matt is also the co-host of the Still To Be Determined podcast. He tests smart and sustainable technology solutions and often offers advice to viewers and listeners who seek advice on making decisions about which solutions are best for their home.

Matt touches on batteries, solar panels, weatherization and the future of home sustainability tech, so we think you’ll appreciate hearing what he has to say.


Sustainable or Suspicious – (1:58)
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Top Headlines from SmartBrief on Sustainability – (13:44)
Corporate Sustainability Becomes a Team Sport
Green Product Claims Face Growing Consumer Scrutiny
Beavers to return to London as part of urban rewilding

Here and There – (17:05)
Efforts to make Ramadan more sustainable

Key highlights from Matt Ferrell
(22:08) – The most common questions from consumers
(23:12) – The Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to installing solar
(27:48) – The Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to installing batteries
(31:45) – How to prioritize energy efficiency needs
(34:37) – The low-hanging fruit when it comes to energy efficiency solutions
(37:12) – How the Inflation Reduction Act impacts consumers
(39:58) – The role of Community Solar
(41:14) – Exciting tech of the future: Flow batteries for homes
(43:11) – Matt’s bold predictions
(44:29) – Matt’s take on the future of EV charging



(Note: This transcript was created using artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim.)

Sean McMahon  00:09

Hello everyone and welcome back to yet another episode of the sustainability smart pod. I’m your host Sean McMahon, and I’m joined today by Jaan vanValkenburg, Evan Milberg and Karen Kanter. How’s everyone doing today gang?

Jaan vanValkenburgh  00:24

All good.

Evan Milberg  00:25

Very well, sir.

Karen Kantor  00:26

Oh, things are great over here.

Sean McMahon  00:29

Upstate New York is always beautiful. I take it, Karen.

Karen Kantor  00:32

Oh, things are nice here.

Sean McMahon  00:34

Okay. Coming up on today’s show, we’re gonna learn more about how each and every one of us can save money and make our homes more resilient and more sustainable. That’s because we’re going to hear from Matt Ferrell. Matt is the creator of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, where he has amassed more than 1 million subscribers on YouTube. By applying his technology focused eye to all things sustainability. Matt is also the co host of the Still To Be Determined podcast. He tests smart and sustainable technology solutions, and often offers advice to viewers and listeners, just like you and me, who might need a wee bit of help making decisions about which solutions are best for their home. And to be totally transparent. my conversation with Matt was actually recorded for one of smart briefs other podcasts, the Renewable Energy SmartPod, but we decided to share his insights on this show as well, because the topics he covers are absolutely perfect for a sustainability focused audience. Plus, Matt is a real straight shooter. So we know you appreciate hearing some of the tips he shares.

Looking ahead of the schedule for this show. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be joined by Jill Blickstein, the Vice President of Sustainability at American Airlines. Jill will update us on the latest advancements in sustainable aviation fuel, hydrogen electric zero emission aviation, and numerous other initiatives that American is undertaking to reduce its carbon footprint.

So that’s looking at the future. But right now it’s time for the first segment of today’s show, sustainable or suspicious. Evan, what are we going to be talking about today?

Evan Milberg  02:14

Well, I think the the topic on everyone’s mind right now is the latest IPCC report, which has said that the world is on track to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the near term, and emissions have to peak before 2025 for even a 50% chance of us not overshooting that target. So what does that mean? As our construction and infrastructure editor, I think about what that means for the built environment. And for the built environment. That means wholesale changes. We hear a lot about these, these green concrete materials, these carbon capture and utilization and storage technologies. And I think what IPCC is trying to tell us is that we need to be done with r&d. And the time is now to get these things not only deployed in the field, but scaled up.

Sean McMahon  03:14

Karen, what are your thoughts on the IPCC report?

Karen Kantor  03:17

Oh, I have a few thoughts. Let’s hear him. As somebody who is really interested in energy and chemicals, personally, I feel like it’s time to start closing a few things down. You know, we can’t keep drilling new wells and expect things to get better. At the same time, I realized that there’s a business case to be made. And of course, there’s always a business case. And people are not going to abandon their investments. So I think personally, that it’s time to look at international eminent domain, which I’m sure would be very popular. But we need something drastic. I don’t know what the people who might be in charge are thinking, but I really wish they’d read these reports and take them seriously.

Jaan vanValkenburgh  04:02

I think they read them.

Karen Kantor  04:04

But do they take them seriously?

Evan Milberg  04:07

Well, should they take them seriously? That’s the question I think we’re going to be talking about today.

Jaan vanValkenburgh  04:13

So there are a few parts that really caught my attention. So its netzero electricity generation by 2035, for developed countries. And by 2040 for the rest of the world. Basically, to do that. You can have zero more coal, you’re phasing it out in the next seven years. And for oil and gas, you’re ceasing all licensing of there’s no more expansion of oil and gas reserves, which of course, the US has just made an announcement in Alaska. So we’re not on track for this and shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to what they’re calling a just energy transition. This is basically to set the stage For kop 28 which is going to take place in the UAE, which is largely funded by oil and gas. And, yeah, they’re just putting it out there right now, if in the UAE later this fall, they don’t address this, it’s gonna really look bad on everyone. So I think this is a great five year report. It’s not telling us anything we really don’t know, to be honest, it just feels like more of the same.

Karen Kantor  05:33

Yeah, and I personally feel like, you need to say this over and over and over, because people are just not getting it. It’s background noise. I think it’s noise that we have to hear.

Jaan vanValkenburgh  05:44

I think I agree. I just liked the idea that there’s a international this is actually I think there’s some great poll quotes that they try to put out there. So it’ll get attention. But the idea is that it is not fake news. This is by a bunch of scientists, you cannot deny this. This is supposed to be a report you cannot deny.

Sean McMahon  06:09

Yeah, I just want to come in real quick on the on how this whole reports communicated. And weather, you know, separating the signal from the noise type thing. I have a pretty deep background, and you know, renewables and sustainability. I’m really passionate about these things, but are about to meet cynical Sean, when it comes to how the IPCC and and all these years put out these reports, because they seem to have no idea what the doing from a communication standpoint, this report itself seems like it’s absolutely intended for the echo chamber of people who are already interested and have read some of these other reports, I think, you know, he’s even got the silliest name ever. It’s the the name of the report is actually the AR six synthesis report, climate change 2023. What for the AR6 mean, is referenced, because there’s been five more before this. So already, you’re leaving outsiders out of the loop on what the heck the title of the report even means. So if I’m coming to this, and I didn’t know that there was already five other reports building up to this, I wouldn’t know what the heck that is all about. And also some of the points they make in terms of trying to motivate people to make this change. I mean, I’ll quoting from the executive summary here. But losses and damages will disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable populations, particularly those in Africa, and least developed countries creating more poverty will die. But I get cynical about it. Because I’m pretty sure that for the last couple 100 years, the world has done a really good job of proving that, at least the industrial world has done a really good job of proving that we don’t really care what happens in those regions of the world. Right?

Jaan vanValkenburgh  07:40

Yeah, I do think that another chapter on why you should care might actually because it is all connected. And so there are reasons why you should care what’s happening in Africa, even if you’re sitting in New York City, you should care.

Sean McMahon  07:55

Yeah, let me be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t I’m saying that that line, these lines that used to like get people’s attention. They haven’t worked for decades,

Jaan vanValkenburgh  08:01

A long time, right?

Sean McMahon  08:05

I mean, like I would, I would say something like, Hey, if you want to no longer be able to reliably travel to see your relatives in the holiday season, because the weather is crazy, or go on your summer vacation, because the weather is crazy. Pay attention to this, because those are the things that people in New York City in London and in Paris, actually hit home.

Jaan vanValkenburgh  08:22

But isn’t that the job of journalists? This is a scientific report. It’s not supposed to be? I mean, it tries to be engaging. I mean, Karen, you and I were talking about this earlier. I mean, it’s a freaking monster, even though even though the executive summary, you’re like, Ah, my God, there’s a lot here.

Karen Kantor  08:44

Sean’s right, that, you know, they have some responsibility to make it digestible. If they don’t want it to be in their little echo chamber. You’re absolutely right, Sean. And I also think they should direct some of their commentary to business rather than governments.

Sean McMahon  08:59

To be clear, I think, to your point, Jaan about journalists, like, the report could say things like, travel will be affected by extreme weather. I mean, that falls in the category of what these I think it’s 29 or 39. Scientists, pretty sure they could say that, you know, like that. That’s not interpreting too much from the data. And plus, it’s very, it’s very front of mine, for for everyday folks all around the world, like who have had, or at least or know someone who’s had their travel plans disrupted. And again, I keep going back to travel because that’s just an example of a real world thing. Like rather than telling me how bad things will get in Sub Saharan Africa, tell everyone around the world how bad things will get for them where they live at that time. The only thing I don’t like about these reports is when they start talking about the benchmarks right. So again from the report to keep within the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030. Compared to 2019 levels, and at least 60% by 2035.

Evan Milberg  09:55

Based on what modeling.

Sean McMahon  09:57

Exactly. And where are the My, what I want to try to make is like, where are we now? Right? I mean, there’s been other reports where other benchmarks where we’re trying to, you know, us, I think the Biden administration wants to cut reduced by 50%. By 2030, based on 2005 levels. What I want to know is where are we now? Like, what percent have we cut now? Or what percent have we increased? It’s almost a sports analogy, right? Like, tell me what this would the score looks like. Now, don’t tell me what’s going to happen if the score is not in my favor in 2035, or 2050. How bad am I losing the game right now? Am I maybe inching ahead. I mean, we just came out of this pandemic, where some folks would have hoped that emissions would have gone down. And we would have learned some lessons from that. But we’re right back where we were in 2019. You know, so I just, I feel like these reports struggle to just take a temperature check. Now, everyone is tired of being told how bad things will be 10, 20, 50 years from now? Because when you also set those benchmarks, what how does the corporate sector respond? A lot of those businesses turn around and say, well, by 2050, we hope to do this, this and that. Really, by 2050. Congratulations. If more of these reports were like current, hey, here’s where we’re failing. Here’s, here’s what we’re doing. Well, those same companies could turn around be like, in the last year, in the last five years, we’ve done this, we’ve cut this, we’ve reduced that. So I don’t know, I just feel like, again, cynical, Sean just reared its ugly head, just came at you. But from a communications perspective, I think these reports that come out, both here and during all the cops, they’re just missing the mark, there’s there’s nothing to invite people who aren’t already reading this stuff. They do nothing to invite them into these conversations and educate them on their way in.

Evan Milberg  11:45

I would completely agree. And I would piggyback on that by saying, there isn’t a lack of stories that you can use to more compellingly tell this story, I would point to the strengthening Atlantic hurricane season, every year, you know, a hurricane from 1993 is not the same as, as it is today. It causes more damage, engineers have to win test structures to resist hurricane forces, in some cases, well over 200 miles per hour, where the threshold used to be maybe 120, or 130, at best. So there are things that you can point to that don’t just simply present the problem without a solution.

Sean McMahon  12:30

So this segment is called sustainable or suspicious. So I think we’d all agree that the report itself passes the test in terms of whether it’s sustainable, the way it’s delivered, and the way it’s communicated. I think at least, you know, cynical, Sean at least has made it clear that I think it’s pretty suspicious.

Evan Milberg  12:48

And that’s not nothing. Someone might be hearing this podcast and saying, Well, you guys are getting bogged down in semantics. But semantics are at the core of whether or not things change or not. All of these supposedly 2030 2040 2050 goals are all about semantics and how the world perceives your company.

Sean McMahon  13:09

Yeah, getting back to the the journalist part of it. There’s a lot of news organizations out there who have climate reporters, right, like that’s the beat they’re on. Yep. And that was not the case. 10 years ago, no. Right. So I would hope that those individuals would find a way to communicate these things in a more clear way. Because it’s their beat, you know, don’t just regurgitate the stats have reduced by 43% by 20. Come on, just break it down for your readers or who your listeners are, whoever, whoever the audience of those journalists might be?

Jaan vanValkenburgh  13:39

Well, I think we’re gonna be hearing about this report for months and months.

Sean McMahon  13:44

Okay, well, then I’m sure we’ll touch on it when it comes along. But speaking of interesting stories in the headlines, it’s time for the next segment of the show. Karen is the editor of the smartbrief on sustainability daily newsletter, and she’s gonna bring us three stories that are either the most popular among the readers of that newsletter or just the stories that caught her eye. Karen, what do you have for us?

Karen Kantor  14:09

Thank you, Sean. Top story that I have this week is from The Wall Street Journal. It is corporate sustainability becomes a team sport. And they’re talking about Chief Sustainability officers and how that role has changed over time. They used to be kind of a cheerleader. And now they generally have a bigger role. They’re involved in more strategy and planning for companies. I think it’s it’s a pretty big change. And it kind of dovetails into what we were talking earlier. In that we all need to be thinking about it.

Sean McMahon  14:44

Yeah, definitely seems like either the job itself has changed for Chief Sustainability officers or their profile within their given organization. I’ve definitely seen that across various sectors where the CSO now is, is leading the conversation and very, very much You even in some places guiding the CEO and some of the other executives on what moves to deploy next.

Jaan vanValkenburgh  15:06

I remember meeting a sustainability specialist about 18 years ago in London, and I remember going, but what do you do? I would never say that now.

Sean McMahon  15:23

Yeah, let’s be real part of it is, you know, reputation management. Right. I think in the last few years, even the CEOs and other C suite executives understand that their organization is at risk if they don’t take action, or at least gonna have a plan in place. And so that’s part of what shined up brighter spotlight on the CSS. Carrie, what are the stories you got for us?

Karen Kantor  15:42

From Bloomberg Law? I have analysis, green product claims face growing consumer scrutiny, which is basically saying, if you’re going to say that you’re getting green, or you’re doing something wonderful, be prepared to prove it or pay the price.

Sean McMahon  15:59

Is that a continuation of what we talked about in a previous episode about green hushing?

Karen Kantor  16:03

I think so. I think it’s also a little bit more consumer oriented. It’s more saying they’re looking, it’s not just that you don’t want to draw a lot of attention to what you want to say. But if you do say something, consumers are looking and you might even be challenged in court. So it’s not a game, you have to absolutely take it seriously. Okay, any more stories for us? Oh, I have one that’s much more warm and fuzzy. And that is that beavers are returning to London on the west end. And they’re going to actually be in the urban area. And so should be interesting to see. They’re spending about 50,000 US dollars to make them a nice little spot right in the city. And it’s a big change. Beavers were hunted to extinction about 400 years ago in Britain. So it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.

Sean McMahon  16:57

Thanks, Karen. Once again, for any listeners out there who want to subscribe to the smartbrief on sustainability. Go ahead and click on the link in the show notes for today’s episode. All right, the next thing I’m going to show here and there, Jaan takes us everywhere. So far, we’ve been to Dubai and Singapore. I feel like I’m a game show host in the 80s. And there’s gonna be a big curtain up by the price is right, it’s gonna be curtain opening up for my showcase and where my magical trip is going to be this week. So where are you taking us?

Jaan vanValkenburgh  17:32

Actually, everywhere, because this is Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. And we’re talking about how to make the holiday sustainable, and to make mosques sustainable. So those of you who may be familiar with Ramadan, it’s a month, adults are encouraged to fast from sunrise to sunset, and they break their fast at the end of the day, with if stars. Now, if stars are great, spreads a lot of fun. But it’s been in the news recently, just how much Iftar food goes to waste. There in Islamic countries, we’re talking about 15 to 25% of that food goes to waste. That’s a conservative estimate, especially since in the US, it’s estimated to be as much as 40%, which is sitting in landfills doing a lot of harm, especially since you have food insecurity in so many places. So what one agency in Bristol England has done is they’ve started a national campaign to make Ramadan plastic free. And by that they mean single use plastics. There are 500 mosques in the UK. So if this becomes something done regularly, this could be really have a good impact. Another thing that they’re doing is encouraging people to eat vegetarian, just not sure how successful that’s going to be. There’s a lot of meat at F tours, but also just to be more aware of overconsumption in general, and to donate food to the poor in regards to mosques. I mentioned about the Bristol group they’re talking about if tars at mosques, mosques are incredibly influential in their communities. And there is a group of 18 nonprofits have come together for uma for Earth, which is basically translates to Muslim Communities for Earth. And they have chosen 10 Major mosques around the world to make sustainable. They’ve done the math for solar, what it’s going to cost Next, and how to do it for each of these. Now they’ve, they’ve finished one in Jakarta and Glasgow. One of the ones on this list though, is in Mecca. It’s the world’s largest mosque. The influence this would have is pretty incredible as an example of sustainability, so I’m wishing everybody a blessed Ramadan.

Sean McMahon  20:26

Thanks, Jaan, for all that information. It’s great to hear that there’s groups out there trying to make Ramadan a little bit more sustainable all around the world. Okay, well, thanks, Evan Jaan and Karen. It’s always great talking with you all. Now it’s time for my conversation with Matt Farrell. Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining me today. My guest is Matt Farrell. Matt is the creator of the Still To Be Determined podcast, and the popular YouTube channel Undecided with Matt Ferrell, Matt, how you doing today?

Matt Ferrell  20:57

I’m very good. How are you doing?

Sean McMahon  20:59

I’m doing great, great, I’m really excited to have you on because a lot of episodes on this podcast are kind of, you know, the corporate lens, looking at the renewable space. But every once in a while like to bring in someone who’s going to kind of tell us, you know, what homeowners or small business owners, you know, look at, look at what’s going on in this space from that perspective. And obviously, someone with your background is perfect for that. I know you have a perfect background for that. But why don’t you tell some of our listeners a little bit about what you do.

Matt Ferrell  21:23

I create videos mainly on YouTube around sustainable technologies, and kind of have been documenting my experience with a lot of these technologies like home batteries, going solar, having an electric vehicle, how energy storage is evolving over time, basically looking at all of these kinds of sustainable tech advances and how they’re impacting us on our daily lives. So it’s kind of the whole bread and butter of what I do.

Sean McMahon  21:44

Alright, and I see you have more than a million subscribers on YouTube. So you must know what you’re talking about. Now, really, I think, the perfect guest because I want to bring someone in here to kind of look at these things from, like I said, the perspective of a homeowner or small business owner and things like that. So let’s tackle the home front first. So what are some of the most sustainable technologies out there that homeowners are adapting? I know, we’ll delve into things like solar and batteries, things like that. But just what are you seeing overall as some of the most popular trends? Or what are you get the most questions about, I should say,

Matt Ferrell  22:13

What I get the most questions about, honestly, is solar and batteries. But outside of that it comes down to this like a slippery slope once he goes solar, it’s like you start to become finely attuned to where’s my electricity? Who’s going? Like, how can I optimize my home’s energy use. And that’s where I think a lot of people are starting to kind of catch on smart thermostats, smart home tech, things along the lines of like smart light switches and outlets and things like that they can work together to help you understand where your energy use is going inside your home and how to control that in a better way. Because like, we have a lot of devices in our homes that are like drawing phantom power constantly. So you have a television set that even when it’s off is pulling five watts of power. So it’s like having systems that can just turn those off and just stop that phantom drain. Little things like that people are very concerned about and I see a lot more interest kind of growing around the smart technologies.

Sean McMahon  23:03

Alright, well, we’ll definitely circle back to some of that stuff. But I want to get back to the two things you get the most questions about solar and battery solar batteries, you know, not a surprise. Yeah. So what are some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to deploying solar at a home or a small business?

Matt Ferrell  23:17

I would say for homeowners specifically, the financing can be really kind of weird. And a lot of people are feel like they’re being taken advantage of by shitty installers that are coming door to door knocking on your door trying to get you to buy their solar panels and have an installation. So it’s like my typical recommendation for homeowners is not to do PPAs is that you should be looking at loans or paying cash. And there’s a lot of incentive programs in different states to help you get solar loans or home equity lines of credit and things like that. They can help you with that, or recommend that over PPAs mainly because PPAs add a layer of complexity when you go to sell your house. Like if you do this and three years later, you’re like, oh, no, I have to move. It creates problems because the person buying your house either has to sign that PPA to take it over from you. Or then you’re on the hook for having to get rid of it or have the panels removed, it creates a whole bunch of complication that typically a homeowner will want to avoid. So I’d recommend against that.

Sean McMahon  24:13

So we’re talking PPAs a lot of folks who are new to this, we’re talking power purchase agreements, right? power purchase agreements, yes. Okay. We got first time listeners here.

Matt Ferrell  24:22

You do not own the panels what is the PPA you as the homeowner do not own it. It’s basically like a utility has basically put panels on your roof and then you’ve agreed to buy the electricity at a certain rate from that utility. What makes it very appealing is there’s no upfront costs. You don’t have to maintain the panels. So if something goes wrong with the panel system, they’re on the hook for fixing it. So there’s a lot of what looked like pros, but it’s like as soon as you kind of peel that back, it’s when I’m like oh for a homeowner it gets kind of dicey after that. If you’re on businesses, that’s something completely different. And I think there’s a totally different equation when you’re talking about PPAs and businesses but for homeowners I don’t recommend that. The other thing that a lot of homeowners fall in the trap of, they get one quote. And then they either make a yes or no decision off that one quote, always get multiple quotes, always look up the going rate of the cost per kilowatt of the system. So like, if you’re getting a nine kilowatt system, you can take the total cost divided by that number, and you’ll come up with it costs $2.60 per watt for this system, you can then look at that and do an apples to apples comparison across the quotes you’re getting. You can look up on Google, just like what is the average cost per watt of solar in my area, and you will find out what that is for if you live in Kentucky or Massachusetts or whatever it is. So you can see if the installer is like gouging you or is in the ballpark or the right place. So it’s like those are things I don’t think most people know to do. And so that’s for me is the please do that, because you will save so much money. If you do that. I’ve helped so many people avoid that one issue, like they’ll show me a quote, I’ll do the little math, and I’ll look up in their area. And it’s like two to three times the average cost. And it’s like, I’ll let them know and then go back and find a different installer that comes in at a better rate. And they’re like, thank you so much, because it could sometimes be 10s of 1000s of dollars in difference. So you got folks sending you quotes. Yeah, I have people reach out to me and send me quotes from time to time saying, Can you please take a look at this? It feels a little dicey to me. So usually, when they have that feeling, follow your gut, because it’s like, it’s like, yeah, you you had every reason to be questioning this quote. But yeah.

Sean McMahon  26:27

So you’re a friend of the homeowners, and maybe not such a friend of some of the installers out there.

Matt Ferrell  26:31

I know. I know, I’ve actually become friends with many installers. And so it’s like, I know, a lot of reputable installers and it drives them nuts too, is that there are certain companies out there that take advantage

Sean McMahon  26:41

already. And then in terms of the technology for solar, are there any kind of you know, we talked about pricing and you know, what kind of deal structure to have for your home or your business? But are there any technologies out there that you highly recommend or say, Hey, stay away from this or hey, maybe wait a minute, develop more.

Matt Ferrell  26:55

There’s a lot of buzz around perovskites which really aren’t a thing yet. profs kites, solar panels. If you hear people telling you to wait for profs, kites Do not wait. Those are still they still have some baking in the oven to do. I think your standard panel, if you’re buying from any kind of reputable company like rec or Q Cell, there’s these different solar cell technologies that have good warranties, 25 year warranties, if you go with any of those, you’re going to be good. If you’re trying to save money, oftentimes, you’re getting a lower quality sell that might only last 1015 years. So you need to do those equations understand that why one panel might cost half of another one comes down to this may need to be replaced in 15 years, and this one will last you 30 plus. So you need to make sure that you’re looking at the warranties. But for me, it’s like que Sal and rec tend to be kind of like that middle, the top tier of what you would want to look for.

Sean McMahon  27:48

Okay, you mentioned you also get a lot of questions about batteries. So let’s kind of take that same tactic, what are some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to batteries?

Matt Ferrell  27:55

Batteries are dicey, because they’re still very expensive for homes right now, it really depends on where you live. It’s like a hyperlocal decision. Because if you have cheap electricity rates, and there aren’t good incentive packages in your area of battery, it’s just not going to make sense. But if you live in areas like Massachusetts, where I do, or California, if time of use rates were you, the electricity rate is really expensive during the day and really cheap overnight, if you have those kind of options. That’s when batteries can really start to kind of sing and really kind of save you money. In addition to just giving you that level of comfort, if there’s an outage you’re going to have it’s a basically a backup generator. So we’ll carry through the outage. So for me when I when people ask me, Should you get a battery or not? The first question I’m always asking is, where do you live? Because that’s like, I have to understand like, are you talking about like you live in Florida? Or do you live in California? Are there wildfires Do you have do you live in Vermont and get a lot of power outages over the wintertime, there’s so many different things you have to take into the calculation. For me, that’s the first thing I talk about. After that it’s really comes down to it’s maybe controversial, but don’t buy into the marketing hype, or the brand names that you may think of like the Tesla Powerwalls I have a Tesla Powerwall it’s great, I have nothing against it, but they tend to be more on the pricey side. And there are cheaper options that you can get that will work just as well as a Tesla Powerwall there’s nothing special about their technology that makes it a better battery than another one. It’s you have to look at the underlying chemistries. I don’t know how detailed we want to get here but most of these batteries are either they’re called NMC nickel manganese cobalt batteries, or their lithium iron batteries LFP batteries. Those are your two main options for home batteries. LFP tends to be the better for home use because it has a higher cycle life. Technically it’s a slightly safer battery so it will last you a longer amount of time that an MMC battery will and right now power walls are NMC and other battery companies like end phase, the Sony eco batteries, those are LFP and so For me, it’s like if I was going to recommend somebody to battery, look at LFP batteries, and then just kind of shop around and see what’s the best option for you in your area.

Sean McMahon  30:07

And so you mentioned a lot of the conversation starts with Where do you live, which I think also answers the question is why they want to get it. Some folks wanted to just lower their monthly bills. Other folks, like you say, got wildfires and power outages, and they, you know, they want to keep the lights on and keep the refrigerator running for, you know, as long as they can. So does the type of battery kind of determine your answer on those questions like these are better for just from a resiliency perspective. And these are better from, you know, regular use and lowering costs,

Matt Ferrell  30:32

I think that would come down to how big of a battery you get. So like, if your goal is I just want to make sure that you know, we get power outages in the wintertime that you know, maybe last half a day, okay, you don’t need a massive battery pack, just get an LFP battery that may be you know, like a 10 kilowatt hour system. And that will be all you need. Or somebody to say I’m gonna go off grid, I want to be as self sufficient as I can, understanding how much energy they use and saying, Okay, you might want a 20 kilowatt hour system or a 30 kilowatt hour system. Again, I’m always, almost always recommending an LSP over an MC just because of that cycle life equation. So it’s a cost wise, they’re not that different. So it’s like Tesla Powerwall versus the end phase IQ system. It’s kind of six of one half dozen, other cost wise. So it just comes down to what kind of energy output you need. That’s the other factor that we haven’t talked about, because like not all batteries are created equal. Like if you’re running your stove, you’re charging an Eevee, you’re doing all this stuff at once. How much energy you can output at once is an important factor as well. It’s not just how much energy can store but how much can it deliver at once so that if your air conditioning kicks on, it doesn’t trip a circuit and shut the battery off. You don’t want that either.

Sean McMahon  31:45

So let’s dive into that. So I mean, obviously there are some folks who like you said, you’ve got an Eevee going they got a larger square foot house, we’ll just say I don’t want to, I don’t want to draw the demarcation line of what’s big and what’s small these days, but you know, a McMansion or something like that. But you know, how do you tackle or excuse me, how should the homeowners tackle something like that? Like, just identifying, okay, I got all these appliances, you know, a car, maybe two cars? Yeah. How do you help them sort through all that?

Matt Ferrell  32:11

The easy, well, I say easy and gigantic air quotes, it would be like, you just want to kind of create a list of all the main things in your home, like your HVAC system, your stove, dishwasher, your, you know, the things that draw a lot of power, just come up with a list of all the main things, and then just, you find the spec sheets, and so you know how much wattage they pull just based on the spec sheets. And you can just use the back of the napkin math and and go, oh, there’s a total of, you know, 5000 watts. So it’s five kilowatt draw, if I had all these things on at once, that kind of gives you a nice baseline. The next step up is what I was talking about before about how a lot of people like are concerned about like, well, how much energy Am I actually using, if you have smart outlets, a lot of these smart outlets track how much energy using, you can buy cheap energy meters online from amazon for like 25 bucks, where you just plug it into the outlet and plug the thing you want to track into it, and it will show you how much wattage it’s pulling. If you want to get really detailed, you could actually put that on your you know electric dryer and see exactly how much energy it pulls when you’re running it. So if you kind of get this back of the napkin math understanding of like, my home is typically on a heavy load pulling four or 567 1000 kilowatts, you’ll then understand what you need to do for a battery. So it’s like you’d want a battery that can achieve at least 6000 7000 kilowatts continuous output with a spike of 10,000. Because most of these batteries can handle a short spike to a higher load. So if the air conditioning kicks on, it has a huge spike of energy and then it drops down to what it’s going to run at. Just want to make sure that you can handle those spikes, and just look at the spec sheets on the batteries and what you have in your home.

Sean McMahon  33:50

I gotta tell you, man, I’m I’m really grateful that you’re kind of teaching folks how to tabulate all the Watts they use in their house, because because I’ve mentioned this on a few episodes in the past. I’m on my soapbox here, like I don’t think most people speak watts. No, I really think like, and that’s in the context of, you know, these massive renewable energy projects like, Oh, it’s this solar farm or wind farms going to generate a bunch of megawatts and I’m like, people don’t know what that means. Like they drive by a wind, you know, a wind turbine out there in the field. And they have no idea like, how many home yet one turbine power. So getting back to your recommendation, like, figure out how much you need and kind of, you know, educated them on how to speak the language a little bit. So, yeah, I love the fact I love that you’re doing that. So, you know, following on that conversation, you know, we’re all trying to figure out ways to increase energy efficiency, you know, lose, use less power, or, you know, try to design the net zero house. So, what’s some of the low hanging fruit there for homeowners in addition to stuff we’ve already mentioned, right, you know, kind of the outlets that measure, you know, TV pool and things like that. Is there anything else that just in two or three moves, a homeowner could really see results in terms of reducing their costs?

Matt Ferrell  34:51

Oh, weatherization. That’s like number one, like you should get an energy audit, somebody to come out. Help kind of audit your house. Take a look at how airtight your Houses if the insulation needs to be updated, because you know, insulation, your attic, if you have blown insulation, it can settle, it can blow out, it may not be enough. And I mean, it may not be deep enough. So you might just need to have some additional insulation flown in my house, I had this done on my house, the current house is I had an energy audit done, they added, I think it was like about a foot of blown in insulation, they re blue new insulation, the exterior walls, and it was covered by a Massachusetts program that covered most of the costs. So for me out of pocket, it didn’t cost me much. And it had a huge impact on how much heating and air conditioning we needed to do to keep our house comfortable inside. So not only did it save us money, but our made our house more comfortable. So it’s like it’s kind of a win win on both fronts. So definitely get an energy audit and get some weatherization updates on to your house. Any other low hanging fruit, smart thermostats, things like that, they can be a very cheap and effective way just to kind of like a DIY project. It’s like you don’t need a professional to come in and change your thermostat, you can do it yourself, it’s pretty easy to do. It’s a simple upgrade. They’re affordable now, and sometimes even utilities will give you rebates on the cost of a smart thermostat. So it’s like there’s also programs like my ecobee is enrolled in a local program called ConnectED solutions. So the utility during peak times where they’re trying to shave electricity costs off the grid, they’ll just like, it’s fascinating to watch it happen. And over the summer, it’s like they will crank up air conditioning in the middle of the day leading a couple of hours leading up to the peak demand, which usually happens around dinnertime. So like three o’clock in the afternoon, my air conditioner will crank up gets the house really nice and cold. And then the system shuts off. And so then during the peak shaving moment, which is like maybe six to seven o’clock, my house is just slowly warming back up. And by the time the peak demand is over my house, maybe up to like 76 degrees, 78 degrees, and their conditioning kicks back on again, in there’s rewards for these kind of programs. Not only does it save you money, but sometimes they’ll give you money back like the utility will give you at the end of the summer, we’ll give you a small check or a gift card or something like that. So easy ways to kind of save a little money for a simple.

Sean McMahon  37:12

Alrighty. So now on the policy front, obviously the the passage of the inflation Reduction Act, that thing is chock full of all kinds of incentives, tax incentives for various technologies that can be deployed in the home. And I was joking earlier. I’m not sure if a lot of people speak what I’m not sure if more or fewer people speak taxes are specifically tax incentives. So you know you’re in there’s incentives for heat pumps, and solar and batteries and things like that. What did you think about those incentives? And if you’re a homeowner, how should you prioritize these things, if you’ve got budget limitations,

Matt Ferrell  37:45

I love the incentives they put in the IRA, it’s like it, they’re hitting all the right notes, when when it came out, I was very impressed with what was in there. I was also very impressed with how they had taken. Not all people were gonna like this, but they take income into account. So like the more income household income you have, the less of a rebate, you’ll see. Because they’re trying to make it equitable based on, you know how much money you make every year. I’m a big fan of that as well, because oftentimes, these programs only help the people who are wealthy in the first place, it’s nice to have programs are going to help as many people as they possibly can. It covers everything from heat pumps, to dimensioned electrification of your house, because some of these things are gonna take more electricity in your home. So it’s making sure that your home can handle all the electricity needs going to need all these kind of rebates, it makes your head spin how much is in there? And then even when you look at Oh, it’s a heat pumps? Well, it’s no, it’s actually how much I’m gonna get him a heat pump. Oh, that’s how much do you make. And it’s like, there’s all these different ways to calculate it, which makes it difficult. But if you’re going at this, and you’re trying to kind of see how you should prioritize things, it’s kind of similar to what we just talked about, I would prioritize the energy audit and the weatherization, because that’s part of the IRA is they will help homes improve their efficiency. That’s where I would start because that’s like the lowest hanging fruit biggest bang for your buck. That’s where you’re gonna go. And then after that, I’d be looking at things like hot water heaters, if your water heater is kind of old, and might be a year or two away from being needing to be replaced, I’d be looking at the hot water heaters, heat pump water heaters are fantastic. And then the heat pump systems for your home for the H vac system would be the next place I’d be tackling. It’s kind of like the way I’m looking at it. It’s kind of like the return on investment. It’s like, what’s the biggest bang for your buck. And it’s like, the more expensive the ticket of the item is the lower on my list. So it’s like the cheapest stuff is the weatherization. The next most expensive item would be the heat pumps, which would be the next place to hit. And then the last place I’d be looking at it would be solar and home batteries to home batteries would be the last on the list. I’m a huge fan of solar, a massive fan of solar, I would still put it down the list because it is such a up front expensive system to put in place where the other ones are going to give you immediate benefit for a lot less money.

Sean McMahon  39:58

Yeah, and you mentioned the upfront costs with solar Solar, you know, a lot of businesses are being approached about community solar, you know about that? What’s your what’s your take on the benefits or the drawbacks of those kinds of programs.

Matt Ferrell  40:09

I’m actually a big fan of community solar projects, mainly because a lot of times somebody can’t afford to put solar on their home, or they live in a multifamily home and they have no control, they rent, they can’t put solar on their house, what do they do they want to get solar, but they can’t. And so for me community solar answers that question, because it puts some of the control in your hands of I want to get clean energy, I want to save a little money on my, my bill, how do I do that? And community solar interest? That question, depending on this is one of those, this is the Wild West, it comes comes to solar, each project is handled differently. So you kind of have to be wary when you go in to understand are there early cancellation fees when you’re going into it, because that could be a potential con, where you’re, you’re locked in for a certain number of years, if you cancel early, there’s some kind of like, you know, 500 bucks for the cancellation. So you want to make sure that there’s no early cancellation fees, that the rates that you’re gonna get are competitive and are gonna save you money. But if you kind of do the basic due diligence, community, solar is a fantastic option for I would say, the majority of people, the United States,

Sean McMahon  41:14

You’re obviously someone who’s pretty tech savvy, specifically when it comes to all these energy efficiency things. So we’ve talked about a lot of things that exist now. Are there any technologies out there on the horizon that you’ve read into there maybe being developed that really got you excited?

Matt Ferrell  41:27

Oh, yeah, I think once it’s kind of the home energy front. Again, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of flow batteries, redox flow batteries. But they’re typically batteries that are meant for grid scale storage, like when you meet, we read news articles about flow batteries, it’s typically like, Oh, they’re building this massive flow battery installation in China, they’re building one out in California somewhere. It’s a very new technology, even for the grid. But it’s a battery system that will last decades, and is going to be competitively priced. There’s a company that’s working on a model that will be built for homes, it’s about the size of a refrigerator, it would give you gobs of energy storage, and it’s a system that would last you 30 years. So it’s like, here’s a battery storage system that will last as long as the solar panels that you put on your roof. So if you’re getting solar panels, and one of these flow batteries, it’s like it’s like a lifetime system. So it’s, that’s a technology that I’m really keeping my eye on. It’s not on the market yet. But it’s very, I’ve talked to one of the companies that’s working on it, and they have a model ready to go. There’s just some hurdles they have to get through. So it sounds like it’s going to be a system that will start to hit the market in the next two or three years.

Sean McMahon  42:35

That’s great. So residential flow batteries, because a couple months ago, we talked to Hugh McDermott from ESS and their main line of businesses is like you said, utility scale and kind of large, large commercial operations. But I’m gonna look into residential ones the size of a refrigerator, you say how to power my power my whole place?

Matt Ferrell  42:51

Yeah, I did not think that was gonna be possible. And I talked to this company, and they showed me what they were doing. I was like, Oh, my, that’s kind of a mind blowing thing I did not know that was going to happen. That’s the part that bothers me about batteries today is they’re too expensive. They don’t last long enough. But there are technologies on the way that are going to solve that problem. They’ll be cheaper, and they’ll last few decades, which is what we need.

Sean McMahon  43:11

Okay. And now, you know, one of the things I’d like to do on this show is I asked guests for their bold predictions. We’ve already talked about those new technologies looking forward to but what are some of the new technologies you think will be commonplace in the next five to 10 years, you know, be it utility size that we’re all kind of benefiting from or residential scale, where it’s just individual folks can just one day go to their local, I don’t know Lowe’s or Home Depot and bring it home.

Matt Ferrell  43:36

I think it’s gonna be energy storage for homes, honestly, it’s like, right now, it’s too expensive. But there are so many systems coming on market that are modular, that will be DIY friendly, that you could go to your local Walmart and pick something up and just slap it in your garage next to your electric panel and hook it in. Those are coming that kind of plug and play. Affordable. Battery tech is going to become commonplace, along with what I think is like virtual power plant systems for the grid, where if every home has a battery in it, and the utility is able to tap into that mass group of batteries and use them as like one giant battery, it’s going to really, really kind of make the grid sing. And it’s going to really kind of unlock a lot of possibility not just for us as homeowners but for the community as well. For me, that’s kind of what I think is the big thing that hopefully plays out over the next decade.

Sean McMahon  44:29

And one of the questions I want to ask you about evey charging. I see we’re seeing we’re seeing more and more EVs out on the road. Is that technology kind of just where it’s going to be for the next five to 10 years? Or do you think there might be game changers coming along? in that market?

Matt Ferrell  44:42

It’s a good question. I think it’s kind of where it is for the time being. There’s kind of like a the more kilowatts you’re pumped into that cable, the hotter that cable is going to get. And so it’s like there’s it’s only going to get so fast before at some point it just melts itself. So it’s like there’s I don’t think there’s like a huge, game changing thing that’s going to happen in the next five years for that, I just hope the infrastructure gets built out because right now it is, depending on if you have a Tesla, it’s a pretty good experience. If you don’t have a Tesla, it’s kind of a crapshoot. So I’m really hoping that the infrastructure kind of matures over the next few years to make it kind of ubiquitous and easy to charge no matter what car you have.

Sean McMahon  45:22

Okay, Matt? Well, hey, thank you very much for your time today. It sounds like you’re also helping a lot of homeowners out there separate the signal from the noise when it comes to building a more efficient home. So appreciate all your insights.

Matt Ferrell  45:31

I appreciate you having me on. It was a lot of fun.

Sean McMahon  45:39

Well, that’s our show for today. We hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to like, follow or subscribe to this show on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow us on Twitter, where our handle is at Sustainability SmartPod. And if you want sustainability news delivered to your inbox every day. Click on the link in the show notes to subscribe to the SmartBrief on Sustainability newsletter. I’m Sean McMahon. And on behalf of Karen, Evan and Jaan, thank you for listening to our show.