Categories
Going green

Getting into hot water

There’s a lot of doom and gloom from COVID-19 at the moment. So here’s something positive: I got a new hot water system.

Twelve years ago this month I got solar hot water installed: a collector panel on the roof, a tank to store the water, and a gas booster.

I thought it was going to be great. But to be honest, I never really saw a great difference in the gas bills. Over summer (when the heating doesn’t get used), gas cooking and water is still about $2 per day.

Recently the hot water has been playing up. The gas booster unit started leaking, and then stopped working – meaning the morning shower was somewhere between room temperature and lukewarm.

Twelve years perhaps isn’t a bad innings for a hot water system, so I started looking at replacements.

One philosophy is to migrate homes completely off natural gas, because unlike electricity, it’s not only non-renewable, it can never be renewable.

If you can get completely off gas, you also save a bundle in service fees. For me, this involves upgrades for hot water, heating (also due for an upgrade), and cooking (my stove is ancient, so ditto).

For hot water, I’ve ended up with a Sanden electric heat pump. A fair bit more expensive than other options, but they’re known for being very efficient. It was installed on Friday.

Despite COVID-19, the installers said they’re taking precautions, but they’d keep doing jobs for now – thankfully most of their work is outside, with minimal time indoors or directly interacting with people. And we avoided shaking hands.

A heat pump is best when accompanied with solar PV panels. This is the next step. There may be a challenge due to a lack of roof space, but this should cut my household emissions even further.

It’s a reminder that when the current crisis is over, society will still need to properly resolve climate change. COVID-19 is getting a serious response. Climate change will be just as big, if not bigger (but will probably creep up on us more slowly) if it’s not addressed properly.

Categories
Going green Home life Toxic Custard newsletter

Wall insulation

Improving my house’s heating and cooling and energy efficiency is an ongoing project.

This week it was wall insulation.

Obviously this is best fitted when the house is built, but in a house built circa 1930, the only way is to retrofit it.

They do this by drilling small holes in the walls all the way around the house, then spraying in filler stuff into the wall cavity.

Insulation installation

They’ve filled the holes, but they’ll need sanding and painting, which leaves me somewhat regretting I didn’t do this before I got the house painted in 2015. Not to worry, but for now the house looks like it has measles.

Last year’s winter gas bill (covering 15th June to 15th August) was a whopper, at $489 ($7.87 / 354 MJ of gas per day) – similar to 2016. (In 2017 we were away on holiday for some of winter.)

I’m hoping that by getting the new insulation in time for winter, the gas bill for winter this year can be reduced quite a bit – hopefully daytime warmth can be better retained into the evening and overnight.

It might be a while before the investment (not insubstantial) pays off, but already there’s a noticeable difference, which is good.

Future options around the house include:

  • double-glazing on the windows
  • under-floor insulation
  • PV panels for the roof
  • replacing gas cooking with electric
  • replacing gas central heating with more reverse cycle units
  • and one I learnt about recently which seems like an easy no-brainer: a balloon in the fireplace.

Categories
Going green Home life Toxic Custard newsletter

Decarbonising my home

While my most pressing home renovation need is the bathroom (planning to do this the next time my sons are away on a trip), I was also thinking:

Governments should be doing a lot more on climate change, but what are the major emissions in my home, and how could I decarbonise?

The car. I recently bought a petrol car, because given how little I drive, I couldn’t justify the cost of hybrid or electric, and with brown coal power generation, electric cars arguably just move emissions from the tailpipe to elsewhere. Hopefully by the time this car is replaced, most electricity (certainly in my house) will be green and electric vehicles will be more affordable. So let’s leave the car aside just for the moment.

In the house itself, several of the appliances involved are quite old and inefficient, and may need replacing anyway in coming years. So there’s an opportunity to move away from gas (unavoidably fossil fuel) to electricity (which can be renewable).

Gas central heating — this system is more than 20 years old, and not very efficient by modern standards. Maintenance also seems to be increasing.

Current thinking seems to be that split system air-conditioners are more efficient than has central heating, particularly from electricity from renewable sources.

There’s a cost there of course — each area of the house would need a new unit fitted. I got one for the main living area a year ago for cooling, which is the other obvious benefit of installing them.

Good insulation also helps. I’ve done the roof, and we have external blinds for summer, as well as ceiling fans, but wall insulation is worth doing too.

My ancient stove

Gas cooking — my ancient gas cooker still works around 90 years after it was installed. It’s got minor problems though with gas leakage, and both the oven and cooktop are small and lack precision. We’ve learnt to live with this, but modern facilities would be nice – for instance an oven that’s big enough to cook multiple pizzas.

Replacing these with electric could be the way to go. Electric cooktops can be induction or ceramic — I like the sound of induction, though that may require replacing some of my cookware.

Gas water heaterten years ago I got solar hot water with a gas booster. It’s worked well, though a bloke who came recently to clean the panel mentioned that parts are likely to need replacing before too long — perhaps in the next five years.

Options might include a conventional electric hot water heater (expensive to run) or a heat pump, which can be expensive to install (up to about $3000), but are apparently quite cheap to run. Though come to think about it, I think I paid about $4000 for the solar hot water system.

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Electricity — currently I pay for green power, but an obvious upgrade would be to invest in PV panels, which have dropped in price markedly, and the new subsidies make it more affordable, even if the feedback tariff isn’t very high anymore.

One benefit of removing the solar hot water would be making more space on my relatively small roof for more PV panels. Some owners of houses with a small roof have been quite creative about maximising the number of panels – see photo above.

There are also different options for PV panels, which some expensive ones generate more power — and of course one can install batteries to make use of the power generated rather than feeding it back into the grid (typically during the day) and having to buy it back at peak times (typically in the evenings). Batteries are really expensive though, well over $10,000 it seems.

Can rooftop solar generate enough power at the hottest part of the day to run air-conditioning?

I also need to keep in mind future development around me. My neighbours on the western side have rebuilt their house as two storeys, reducing sun onto the roof in the afternoon. If the same happened on the eastern side I wouldn’t be surprised — there’s been a lot of similar development in my street.

Put all these things together, and (for a cost) I could move off gas completely, and move most of my power generation to solar, cutting my household emissions to hopefully near zero.

I’m sure I’m not the only one pondering these issues. What are other people doing?

Categories
Going green

Electric kettles use power. LOTS of power.

I have an electric kettle. It’s pretty fast to boil water, but wow, does it burn up electricity.

Here you can see our live electricity meter thingy on the fridge. On the left, a couple of lights are on, as well as the fridge and I think a computer was on as well. On the right — the kettle is boiling as well.

Power consumption - On the right is when the kettle was turned on

Conclusion: Put just the water in the kettle that you need; don’t fill it up every time if you’re only making a cup of tea or two. It’s not just quicker, but it uses a lot less power.

Update Wednesday 9:30pm: Some information from an Origin Energy insider (they are my power provider, and supplied the meter), in reply to the post and some of the comments.

The comments on your blog are correct. Almost all electrical appliances should have a power consumption label in an inconspicuous place that will tell you the maximum power consumption. Kettles are normally around 2200W. It’s interesting to see how much energy heating and cooling systems use – even ducted gas heating and evaporative cooling which require powerful fans to propel air through the house.

Your energy monitor will continue to work if you leave Origin BUT it may not show your energy costs accurately. It will stop showing costs completely after (I think) six months, because they didn’t want out of date energy costs being shown indefinitely. Your electricity consumption in kW will continue to be displayed indefinitely.

If you do a factory reset though it will lose the connection with your smart meter and Origin will have no ability to reconnect it, as only the current electricity retailer can do this. However, if you are in the United Energy or Jemena distribution areas you can use their ‘Energy Easy’ portal to reconnect it (you should be in the UE area?) You would love the Energy Easy portal anyway as you can do all kinds of number crunching on your electricity consumption (but not see it in real time).

Categories
Going green Home life

CFLs – an everyday household object that is almost impossible to dispose of properly

The entire country converted to Compact Fluorescent Light-globes years ago, which is great, as they use much less energy and have a longer life.

Well, if you use them properly. For instance I don’t use CFLs in the bathroom/toilet, as these lights are generally on for short periods of time, and CFLs are better when used for 15 minutes or longer.

And the greenhouse gas reduction might be overstated – this Wikipedia article reckons it has resulted in a total nationwide GHG reduction of just 0.14%.

Stash of dead CFLsThe real problem is there seems to be no well-organised way to dispose of them safely. You’re not meant to just chuck them into landfill because they have a small amount of mercury inside them.

Proper disposal locations are few and far between, and a lot of the information available on safe disposal relates to fluorescent tubes, not CFLs. Or it’s clearly at commercial disposals, not households.

Some companies that sell CFLs are also involved in their disposal. I seem to recall both Ikea and Aldi advertising that they’d take them in the past, but I don’t recall actually seeing a collection bin in their stores.

More recently, apparently Ikea has said they’ll only sell LEDs by 2016 — this would be even better than CFLs, as they last even longer, and don’t have any hazardous chemicals.

So, how to get rid of them?

I asked my local council what their position was on CFL disposals. Their reply included a number of web links, the best one being Sustainability Victoria’s A to Z of household chemical waste disposal.

This lists a number of permanent and mobile collection points, the closest one to me being the Monash Waste Transfer and Recycling Station in Notting Hill. They will take CFLs for free, provided they are separated from any other stuff you’re dropping off (charges apply for most other types of waste).

This is fine for me, I can stockpile dead CFLs and take them there once every year or two, but really it’s pretty poor for something now used in most households.

How many people just chuck them into regular garbage because they don’t know?

And how many people would find it impractical to get to a drop off point, for instance because they don’t have a car?

A follow-up from the council said they’re investigating more collection points – not kerbside, but bins at places such as libraries and other council facilities. That could work quite well, but of course, part of the problem here is that there’s no nationwide, or even statewide approach.

Witness hard rubbish – with some councils doing scheduled pickups and some doing booked pickups, the different methods across parts of Melbourne means that confusion reigns. In Glen Eira, if you book a collection and put your stuff out, half the time your neighbours will put stuff out as well, thinking an area-wide collection is coming.

The other thing the council said is that apparently a scheme involving manufacturers/importers is being considered, but that sounds like it would require Federal legislation, so it could be years away.

Until an easy, consistent method is provided for disposing of CFLs, you can bet most people won’t be getting rid of them properly.

Or maybe it’s time we all moved to LEDs.

Categories
Going green

Going solar – when should I jump, and how many panels?

Pondering adding to the solar hot water on my roof with PV panels for electricity generation.

My last electricity bill says I used up 659 kWh in 92 days, costing $187.61 (only including the cost for power and the 100% GreenPower surcharge; excluding the $76.41 service charge which I’d incur no matter how much power used)… that adds up to 2614 kWh in a year costing $744.32, or about 28.5 cents per kWh.

According to Origin Energy’s online quote (which I’m using as a rough measure, because I use them at the moment and they have a 2-years interest-free deal — obviously other companies may have better offers):

  • a 1.5 kW system costing $2315 will generate about 1971 kWh in a year
  • a 2.07 kW system costing $4315 (which includes a $250 discount because I got the solar hot water through them) will generate 2628 kWh in a year
  • a 2.76 kW system costing $5815 (ditto on the $250 discount) will generate 3626 kWh in a year

Leaving aside feed-in tariffs, and assuming for a moment that every kWh generated I actually use (which wouldn’t be the case), theoretically the 1.5 system would save me $562 per year, taking about 4 years to pay off.

The 2.07 system would pretty much save me the full cost of power every year, but take almost 6 years to pay off.

The 2.76 system would give me an excess of about 1000 kWh of power each year. The feed-in tariff is only 8 cents per kWh these days, so I’d be saving $744 plus another $80 or so, so it’d take about 7 years to pay off.

Some factors to consider:

If I cave and get some kind of cooling system, then my energy consumption will of course go up.

From what I understand, PV panels are dropping in price pretty fast. The longer I wait, the cheaper they’ll be (which is why I’m a little cynical about the ads you see on the telly implying if you don’t get in and order quickly, you’ll end up paying more).

Meanwhile, electricity prices are expected to rise only moderately in the next few years.

The bigger the system, once paid off, the greater potential in future years to make more money back from the feed-in tariff.

But I also need to check how much space I actually have left on the north and northwest-facing sides of my roof, given the solar water panel already up there.

And of course, once I jump in and switch to solar, I’ll be markedly reducing my personal emissions, which will be good!

Categories
Going green

A record 9 days above 30 degrees

Thank goodness that scientists aren’t warning of any kind of permanent warming of the climate that might prove, y’know, dangerous — otherwise a record-breaking run of hot days might be a tad alarming.

Thank goodness scientists aren't warning the climate might get so hot it'd be dangerous.... oh, wait.

One shouldn’t jump to conclusions of course. As Jon Stewart quipped:

“Global warming is a total hoax. And I’ll tell you how I know. Because it’s cold, today, where I live. That’s jus’ science.”

…and the opposite applies.

I don’t know if this record run of hot days is some freak weather event caused by something else, or a demonstration of how climate change manifests itself. But at the very least this record being broken should be a warning of what’s likely to keep happening into the future as temperatures rise.

Categories
Going green

Yallourn: impressively big, but inefficient

On the way back from Walhalla, we decided (at Peter’s suggestion) to go via Yallourn. He said there was a lookout with a good view over the Latrobe Valley, and the power plants, and the road through Yallourn was very close to one of them..

We started off by diverting off the road to a spot called Peterson’s lookout. This turned out to be a long narrow dirt road to a view which, you’d have to say, wasn’t outstanding — but reading up on it now it sounds like we needed to go a little further down the road for the real view.

In any case there was a better more-accessible view a bit further along, on the main road itself. Looking over the Valley, you could see a fair bit of haze, and many smokestacks in various directions.

(Andrew Highriser actually posted just yesterday about who owns which power station.)

We drove on, stopping briefly in the town of Yallourn North, which apparently originally opened as the romantically named “Brown Coal Mine” in 1917, and was renamed in 1947. There’s still a Brown Coal Mine Road leading into the eastern side of town, though the signs seem to have disappeared in favour of the less descriptive C103.

Big cooling towers

A little further on was the power station itself. It looms, huge, over the road. We stopped off in the viewing area, which has a picnic barbecue, powered by — you guessed it — electricity.

The cooling towers are impressively large.

Of course, they often shows these on the news when talking about carbon emissions, even though (as I understand it) it’s steam that comes out of them, not the smoke from burning coal.

Down the road a bit was an open cut mine viewing area. It’s not hard to see how decades of mining for coal has ravaged the landscape. It ain’t beautiful, that’s for sure.

Latrobe Valley power stations

But one could argue that farms of wind turbines or solar panels or dams aren’t beautiful either. You know, eye of the beholder and all that.

The real problem is the emissions. Yallourn isn’t as dirty as Hazelwood, but as this table notes, coal sits at about 1000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour over the lifecycle of the generator, compared with about 10 for wind or hydroelectric, or 32 for solar.

Grams CO2/Kilowatt hour

In other words, even the cleanest coal is much, much dirtier than renewables.

And while there might be doubts about a single renewable source being able to provide baseload power, other countries such as Germany are using a variety of sources, with a stated aim of 35% renewable electricity by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Impressive stuff, and I bet we get more sun than they do.

Categories
Going green Politics and activism

A few thoughts on the carbon scheme

New for June… a Lego house with solar panels on the roof.

Lego house 5771 - with solar panels

Here’s a few thoughts on the carbon scheme announced yesterday:

1. I simply don’t understand how the deniers can continue to be taken seriously by anybody when the vast majority of climate scientists agree there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

It also seems a peculiar view that the world’s population can continue to burn fossil fuels in huge amounts with no consequences.

2. It’s true that Australia represents only a small fraction of overall global emissions. But people are are watching, and influence is important. On any issue, people look to those who are leading the world. Here’s a small example: while I’m not even sure I agree with it, it turns out that inner-city Melbourne has been hailed as a world leader in pedestrian-friendly streets. If we have any hope at all of convincing others to do something about reducing emissions, we have to get our house in order.

3. The scheme sounds like a pretty good start. If the modelling is right, it’ll have a minimal effect on the overall economy (0.1% of GDP) while providing a good price signal that big companies in particular need to find better ways of doing things.

4. The Opposition’s view on this doesn’t make sense to me. A plan of direct action? There seems to be agreement from economists that this is less efficient than a pricing scheme:

The main finding of the research is that the experience from these six schemes indicates that a general price on carbon emissions is preferable to specific measures. – markets are generally more efficient in encouraging innovation than direct government intervention. — CPA blog

And wouldn’t direct action be far more like a socialist response than letting market forces figure it out? Interesting quote from Alan Kohler about just who wants what:

For what it’s worth, what I think is that the entire scientific, business, bureaucratic classes – all the serious people – are in favour — Alan Kohler on Twitter

Those against carbon pricing are the Shadow Cabinet (and not even all of them) plus some attention-seekers. That’s all. — Alan Kohler on Twitter

5. There’s some niggles. The Australian Railway Association notes that with petrol exempt and heavy (road) vehicles exempt for some time, railways, which should provide a less carbon-intensive way of moving people and freight, will be disadvantaged by not being exempt. One estimate is that it may push up public transport fares by about 2%.

6. The second niggle (but a political reality) is that the scheme is aimed squarely at the big emitters, and with lots of compensation to individuals, there’s little or no incentive to change personal behaviour. Hence, petrol is exempt (but as Phil Hart from ASPO said at a recent PTUA member meeting, including it wouldn’t have made much of a price difference compared to what will happen when peak oil really kicks in).

7. Personally I’m not sure if I’ll end up ahead or behind in economic terms. The Estimator tool on the government web site told me “The household situation described by the information you have entered is not covered by the scenarios used by this Estimator.” Oh well.

From the looks of it, wealthier people can’t count on the tax changes to get all their costs refunded. But then, they are precisely the people who can afford to cover their roofs in solar panels themselves to cut their electricity and gas costs, and cut their direct emissions and costs that way.

8. Niggles aside, I do think it is important to get the ball rolling on reducing emissions, and it does seem to me that putting a price on pollution sends an important market signal that will get that process underway.

Categories
Going green

When not to use CFLs

Letter the other week in The Age:

Not worth the cost

AM I the only person having trouble with expensive ”green globes” alleged to last 10,000 hours? Used eight hours a day, a globe should last more than three years. I have replaced the globe in one lamp four times already this year. I want my cheap, long-lasting, environmentally unfriendly globes back.

Leone Garro, Northcote

My CFLs are lasting ages… provided they’re in the right places.

I would bet the globes referred-to above are switched on for short durations (less than 15 minutes), many times a day. That kind of usage is bad for CFLs, and it’s precisely why I’ve avoided using one in the toilet, for instance, and also in the bedrooms — our particular usage there seems to predominantly involve ducking in to get something/drop something, then out again.

For those types of spots, it’s far better to stick to non-CFLs, such as the energy-saving incandescents still available. (My local supermarket has the Philips EcoClassic products, which for instance provide 100w of light but burn 70w of power.)

Evidently this message isn’t isn’t getting through.

Or possibly Leone’s light fitting or wiring is faulty, but I’m betting it’s the former.

(Previous blog post on this topic)