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June 12, 2007

Where to go:
Energy Efficient Locations

Where to go? Every Summer I feel this question to my core. I want to leave, migrate, pick up and take off, revel in the freedom and sun, worry about life next season. "Must fly, must fight, must crow!"

This summer is no different, except that I feel it more than ever. Work is hard and getting harder, home is a cluttered mess suffocating me that I can't seem to keep clean and I long for the open road. Particularly with the tax season being so difficult this year, all those people dieing on my dime in the false name of Democracy.

Fortunately I am not alone. Many feel the way I do and have been here to support me in a positive project to unleash some of these feelings while working towards a better future. What follows is the results of an open submission process between friends to submit potential locations that we all might move to some day. The only real requirement for submission was that someone wanted to consider moving to the city, but readers will notice some trends in city size, there are no major metropolitan areas, and culture, most of the cities are liberal and commonly college towns. If you feel in any way slighted that your city is not represented, email it in and I'll publish an update.

We all look for different things in our future homes and I can't possibly evaluate cities thoroughly without actually visiting them so instead I have done what I do best. I've considered the environmental impacts of living in each city with the ultimate goal, previous readers know it already, the ultimate goal of zero energy living.

For those of you that only care for the charts and graphs, go ahead and scroll down; the next couple paragraphs are for the geeks out there that want to know how I did it.

I created an energy model for what's called a "Reference Home" in each location using the TREAT Software ( to evaluate energy use based on climate. TREAT Software uses a 30 year hourly weather data file for normalization so these energy models are quite comprehensive. My Reference Home was a two-story ranch style house placed in a suburban neighborhood without any passive solar design or energy efficiency concepts. It's just a normal house, built to code with regard to insulation and heating equipment, basically a middle class house.

Keep in mind that the Reference Home doesn't have ENERGY STAR Appliances, efficient lighting, efficient heating, good insulation (it's not bad either, just normal) and the house is probably a tad larger than most of need, but it's a national average house. You should expect your energy use to be lower than the Reference Home if you are trying to conserve in any way.

TREAT Software shows us the relative energy use based on climate and I translated the four major categories of use: Heating, Cooling, Electric Baseload (lights and appliances) and Heating Baseload (Domestic Hot Water) into a total energy use category so that I could make comparisons between cooling and heating climates without bias. Most of us agree that cooling climates are more pleasant to live in, but are they better for the environement? Read on and find out.

Once I had the Total Energy Use for the Reference Home in each climate I took 30 year Sunfall statistics to calculate the size of a solar system that would be required to offset your home's Total Energy Use with solar electrcity. In most cases this number came out to be unacheivable by normal roof mounted systems, but remember that by using energy efficiency techniques, living in a smaller home and being aware of your usage, you can reduce the Total Energy Use by around 70% while still maintaining your standard of living.

This process produced the holy grail for terrestrial zero energy living: the size solar system you need to completely offset your home, not just electric use, but total fuel consumption. Now I know if a zero-energy home is possible in all the suggested cities and that factors in to my plans for the future. See it wasn't just a waste of time!

During the course of the project I was forced to look up certain other data from Wikipedia and I have published this data as well for your reading enjoyment.

Which climate is the most environmental?

Submitted Cities: Ann Arbor, MI; Arcata,CA; Bahamas*; Boulder, CO; Eugene, OR; Flagstaff, AZ; Hilton Head, SC; Ithaca, NY; Lawrence, KS; Melbourne, FL; OKC, OK; Santa Cruz, CA; Sioux Falls, SD; Spokane, WA; Wilmington, NC. View Map

Population (highest to lowest):

  1. OKC, OK
  2. Spokane, WA
  3. Hilton Head, SC
  4. Eugene, OR
  5. Sioux Falls, SD
  6. Ann Arbor, MI
  7. Wilmington, NC
  8. Boulder, CO
  9. Bahamas*
  10. Lawrence, KS
  11. Melbourne, FL
  12. Santa Cruz, CA
  13. Flagstaff, AZ
  14. Ithaca, NY
  15. Arcata,CA

OKC was up to 500,000 in 2000 and Arcata was only 16,500 in the same census. All numbers are city only and do not include metropolitan areas excpet when the metro area can not be seperated. There's only one of those in this list.

Diversity (least White to most White):

  1. Bahamas*
  2. OKC, OK
  3. Wilmington, NC
  4. Ithaca, NY
  5. Ann Arbor, MI
  6. Flagstaff, AZ
  7. Santa Cruz, CA
  8. Spokane, WA
  9. Lawrence, KS
  10. Arcata,CA
  11. Melbourne, FL
  12. Hilton Head, SC
  13. Eugene, OR
  14. Boulder, CO
  15. Sioux Falls, SD

In the full version of the data (see below) you will notice that the percentages don't add up. This is because Hispanic and Latino don't count as an individual demographic, but instead overlap with other races. I don't understand this really, I'm just using Wikipedia's numbers.

Most Heating Consumption:

  1. Sioux Falls, SD
  2. Ithaca, NY
  3. Spokane, WA
  4. Ann Arbor, MI
  5. Flagstaff, AZ
  6. Boulder, CO
  7. Lawrence, KS
  8. Eugene, OR
  9. Arcata,CA
  10. OKC, OK

No surprises here except Flagstaff. Who would have though Flagstaff was colder on average than Boulder, CO or Eugene, OR? Also, who would have thought I would currently reside in such a cold place?

Most Cooling Consumption:

  1. Bahamas
  2. Melbourne, FL
  3. Hilton Head, SC
  4. OKC, OK
  5. Wilmington, NC
  6. Lawrence, KS
  7. Sioux Falls, SD
  8. Boulder, CO
  9. Ann Arbor, MI
  10. Spokane, WA

This could be good or bad. Cities on both lists should be avoided as you will see in the next list.

Total Energy Use (low to high since lower =better):

  1. Santa Cruz, CA
  2. Melbourne, FL
  3. Bahamas*
  4. Hilton Head, SC
  5. Wilmington, NC
  6. Arcata,CA
  7. OKC, OK
  8. Eugene, OR
  9. Lawrence, KS
  10. Boulder, CO
  11. Flagstaff, AZ
  12. Ithaca, NY
  13. Spokane, WA
  14. Ann Arbor, MI
  15. Sioux Falls, SD

I am not above manipulation, most readers know this, but I promise you that I did not unfairly reward coastal cities in this study. It's the honest truth that living along the coast is easier on the environment in terms of energy use.

Most Sunfall!:

  1. Flagstaff, AZ
  2. Boulder, CO
  3. OKC, OK
  4. Santa Cruz, CA
  5. Melbourne, FL
  6. Bahamas*
  7. Hilton Head, SC
  8. Wilmington, NC
  9. Lawrence, KS
  10. Sioux Falls, SD

Oh yes, let the sun shine.

Lowest "Break Even" Solar System Size:

  1. Santa Cruz, CA
  2. Bahamas*
  3. Melbourne, FL
  4. Hilton Head, SC
  5. Wilmington, NC
  6. OKC, OK
  7. Flagstaff, AZ
  8. Arcata,CA
  9. Boulder, CO
  10. Lawrence, KS

Hello Santa Cruz! If I could afford a house there, I'd be there.

Now I think I'd like to compare cost of living with each of these cities, but that's a project for another time. For those scientists and spreadsheet geeks out there that want the raw data, download this CSV file and open it in the spreadsheet program of your choice. For the extremely nerdy readers that can't get enough or that just like clicking stuff, I also have the Sun Hour Calcs for each location. The Bahamas has an asterisk because in some cases I was unable to find international data and had to use the best data available.

Seriously, that data shows how geeky I am about energy stuff. I really can't imagine anyone else doing this project in their spare time. I know you all feel sorry for me now, like "Dude, just go outside and get away from the computer." I know because after looking at the data, I feel sorry for myself.

Have a good 4th of July!