Zero Net Energy House

Kevin Pitts

I’m sure you’ve heard this joke, “A theoretical physicist walks into a zero net energy house…”

Ok, it’s not really a joke, it’s actually a very interesting story.  Scott Willenbrock is a theoretical particle physicist.  He’s done seminal work on the theory behind things like top quarks, neutrinos and the Higgs boson.

A few years ago, he got very interested in energy issues.  What drove that interest?  Well, like most ideas we get at a university, it came from students.  Scott was the main developer of a course called, “Physics of Societal Issues,” a course for non-scientists that talks about practical physics.  I call it practical physics because the course covers physics issues that you might find in the newspaper: energy, climate, space travel, weapons, communications, etc.  It’s a great course, and Scott did a fantastic job developing it.

Along the way, he got really interested in energy issues and started looking at his own house, an 85-year old colonial.  As you can imagine, an older house like that was well built, but not the greatest on energy efficiency.  Scott started looking at the issues like efficiency, insulation, geothermal and solar options.  Long story short, his house is now a zero net energy house.  On sunny days, he puts electricity on the grid (and gets $$$ credit for it) because his house generates more energy than it uses.

Want to learn more and see some cool pictures?  Check out his web site.  He also talks about financial aspects.  You have to pay money to upgrade your house, but you recover the energy in part because you are immune from future energy prices.

Physics is great because we’re learning about the universe, and we’re also tackling very practical issues.

Solar panels are one aspect of Scott's house.
Solar panels are one aspect of Scott's house.