Imagine you knew you’d loose a quarter of any money you put in your pocket, it would get pretty annoying pretty quickly wouldn’t it? You’d have a couple of obvious options – put an extra 25% into your pocket every morning, so when you needed money you’d still have enough left, or alternatively, (drum roll) you could fix the hole.
What if you had a computer that that crashed 25% of the time, taking your recent work and files down with it . . . you could either spend more time redoing the work, or fix the computer.
Or what if you had a dishwasher that broke 25% of your plates . . . you could either keep buying replacement plates, or fix the dishwasher.
You get the idea.
What if you lived in a badly insulated home, so that 25% of the energy used to heat it almost instantly disappeared via draughts, or through the walls and roof, as waste heat ?
Sometimes I think that if heat was perhaps a luminous red colour, rather than being invisible, and we could see it wastefully escaping from our homes and workplaces, we’d probably be much better at conserving it (of course if you go draught hunting around your house with a thermal camera, that’s exactly how it’ll look).
We read almost constantly about the energy crisis the country, and indeed the whole world, is facing. There’s plenty of disagreement about where the extra energy we need should come from, but whether we import more gas, decide to build nuclear power stations, turn to fracking, or try our very best to expand renewables, there’s one thing no one seems to be disagreeing about – whatever we do, we’re very likely to be paying a lot more for our energy in the future. This isn’t news. We’ve all noticed our bills rising for some time, along with the rising cost of fuel and the knock on effects on the cost of all transported goods.
It’s not all about economics of course – there are also climate consequences, safety and pollution concerns, visual impacts and land and water resource implications. Clearly some possible sources of energy are worse than others, but they all have some downside.
But there is another alternative open to us.
We could use less !
It’s almost always easier to use less energy than produce more, and pound for pound it’s far more cost effective – even over quite short time frames. Buying another £1,000 of energy heats your house for a year or so. Spending £1,000 on energy efficiency measures, will mean your house uses less energy every year thereafter, and without generating any radioactive waste, upsetting anti-wind farm types, or contributing (much) to climate change.
In a typically confused environmental way, the current UK Government has policies that both support and work against energy efficiency at the same time. The Green Deal and the new national Green Bank are now both helping to support the public and businesses improve their energy efficiency. While at the same time energy efficiency regulations have been relaxed for a range of construction projects – a decision which looks set to land the government with a judicial review !
We tend to think of energy efficiency mainly in terms of low energy light bulbs, loft insulation and snake shaped draught excluders, as well as all kinds of other improved technologies from better car engines to smarter and more efficient power networks.
But improving efficiency isn’t just down to the technology
If we want low carbon affordable energy, we’re also going to have to change our behaviour, and make sure we’re using energy as efficiently as we can.
Most of us will already be doing all the easy stuff – switching off lights in empty rooms, turning things off properly – not just putting them on standby, not overfilling the kettle etc. All very sensible of course, but surely we all know it’s going to take a lot more.
Are we ready to give up our holiday flights ? Reorganize our lives and jobs so we need to drive much less ? Start repairing our things rather than constantly replacing and upgrading them ? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Another option for many of us could be to try getting used to having our homes a little colder. Thanks to central heating, our homes are now an average of 5 degrees warmer than they were thirty years ago.
If your thermostat is set at between 18-20 degrees or so, try dialing it back a little.
Photo by JBLM MWR Marketing via Flickr