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?

Victorian Labor: Still advertising almost a year after the election

This billboard is still on display up high above Flinders Street, opposite the station, roughly across from the centre entrance*.

Victorian Labor: Still advertising almost a year after the election

It seems to refer to the 20% emissions reduction by 2020 pledged last year by Labor, and matched by the Coalition, though some say there are indications the Coalition will drop the target.

Perhaps it’s just too difficult for the advertising company to remove it, and/or they haven’t got another client who wants the space. Despite the size of the sign, it’s not really very noticeable.

Google Streetview shows a different advert up there.

(Tip-off: Mike Alexander.)

*At least, it was still there a few days ago. I haven’t checked this week.

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.

Federal issues

I would hope that everyone is actually considering what issues matter to them, and deciding how to vote on that basis, rather than just blindly voting for one side or the other.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of chosing Labor or Coalition, particularly in the upper house. It may well be that The Greens get close to having the balance of power in the Senate.

Here are some quick and not-necessarily very well thought out notes on a few Federal election issues.

The economy, the budget and the GFC

Seems to me that the Australian economy didn’t suffer as much in the GFC due to the management of past governments of both sides, going back a decade or more.

The relatively well-regulated banking sector (compared to places like the US), put in by Hawke/Keating and maintained by Howard ensured the financial institutions didn’t collapse as they did in some countries. Howard handed over a healthy surplus to Rudd.

Yes, the government’s in debt now, due to stimulus spending which appeared to work in terms of keeping unemployment levels down.

The schools stimulus? People are complaining, and there were definitely problems with the implementation, but my kids’ current and past schools both benefited from new buildings, so it’s not like it didn’t have its plusses… and only 2.7% of schools complained. Ditto the home insulation scheme (see below).

To draw a possibly shaky analogy, the stimulus spending is a bit like Y2K — people complained that the effort expended wasn’t worth it because they didn’t see big problems eventuate. When Y2K happened, I saw small problems, and it was pretty obvious to me that if the work hadn’t been done, there would have been HUGE problems.

To quote Joseph Stiglitz (some guy who’s won a Nobel Prize for economics):

If you hadn’t spent the money, there would have been waste. The waste would have been the fact that the economy would have been weak, there would have been a gap between what the economy could have produced and what it actually produced – that’s waste. You would have had high unemployment, you would have had capital assets not fully utilised – that’s waste. So your choice was one form of waste verses another form of waste. And so it’s a judgment of what is the way to minimise the waste. No perfection here. And what your government did was exactly right. So, Australia had the shortest and shallowest of the downturns of the advanced industrial countries.

Both sides claim they’ll get the budget back into surplus within a few years, so I don’t see a major problem here. Again, it’s not like we’re in the deep hole the US or Greece or plenty of others are in. I don’t at all have a problem with borrowing to make worthwhile investments. Heck, most of us do it.

As for claims the coalition are better economic managers, it seems Joe Hockey keeps making mistakes in his statements on the matter.

Emissions and environment

This is my major problem with both major parties: they don’t have a coherent plan to cut emissions; just vague and/or not-very-impressive goals.

Labor’s insultation insulation scheme was a great idea — it hit the buttons of stimulus spending to help employment, and real action to reduce energy use and emissions. (Someone should publish a study on how much energy it’s saving this winter.) But it was terribly badly implemented, with cowboy operators taking advantage, resulting in unsafe work, numerous fires and the tragic deaths of installers.

The Coalition say they’ll meet their emissions reduction target. But their target of 5% reduction (from 1990 levels) by 2020 is pathetic.

Population and immigration

Demographer Peter McDonald warns that we are blaming migrants for our failure to plan cities properly. I couldn’t agree more.

If we choose to do it and manage it well, Melbourne could become bigger in population, without PT becoming unusable, and without sacrificing livability. Other cities have managed it. Whether that’s what we want is the question; not where the people come from.

Given such a tiny proportion of immigration is refugees arriving by boat, neither party is really addressing the real issues here. And any promise to cut migration is pretty empty, given it’s already dropping rapidly.

National Broadband Network

The distorted, out of sync video of Julia Gillard’s press conference via a broadband connection from Cairns shown on ABC News 24 on the 4th of August was evidence that some parts of the country are missing out on the biggest benefits of high-speed broadband.

Gillard live from Cairns via dodgy broadband

Maybe it’s not a problem if the Real Julia is out-of-sync and suffering from MPEG compression artefacts, or if the kids in the outback can’t watch HD Youtube of someone’s cat. It might be a problem if it were a connection set up between a patient and a medical specialist though. And it may well hold back development of high-tech industry (and more importantly, high-tech assisting other industries) in some parts of the country.

But while I’m convinced of the benefits of a high-quality high-speed broadband network, I’m in two minds about whether $43 billion of public money should be paying for it, since in the next decade, wouldn’t the major telecommunications companies be able and willing to provide the type of service proposed, at least in urban areas where it’s likely to be profitable?

Perhaps the point is to leapfrog anything what could be provided by the private sector, and trigger high-tech economic growth, as well as essentially replace the current (degrading) copper network. Evidently the implementation study shows it would be worthwhile.

I suppose (at first glance) the Coalition are proposing something a lot less impressive, aimed at getting more of the country up to the current standards (ADSL2+ and similar), rather than a bold new super-fast Fibre-To-The-Premises-type future. Certainly it seems to be getting flak for proposing too much reliance on wireless, as well as older technology including copper wire, and not providing fast enough speeds.

The Net filter

I think the whole idea of the filter is flawed, like some kind of luddites destroying looms. And the proposed implementation — with a secret list — wasn’t going to work.

The emphasis should be on providing opt-in tools and education (such as: parents not placing computers in kids’ bedrooms, but in public parts of the house), and taking down the publishers of dodgy material.

As such, the Coalition announcing they wouldn’t implement it is a positive move, and credit to them for it.

High-speed rail

If Melbourne to Sydney is the 4th (or 3rd, depending on who you ask) busiest air-corridor in the world, there must be an opportunity here. Get the trip to less than 4 hours (but preferably closer to 3), and it’d be competitive with air. (The poster-boy for this is, of course, London to Paris.)

Of course, it should go via Canberra — in fact Sydney to Canberra should probably be the first stage, to relieve Sydney airport. (In fact maybe if trains between the two ran every 15 minutes and the trip was about an hour, Canberra should become Sydney’s second airport?). But Canberra to Melbourne presents big problems (a lot of extra cost) with mountains getting in the way, unless you take a big detour.

Interesting that after a push from the Greens, Labor has announced they’ll do a feasibility study if elected. But they appear to be talking about Sydney to Canberra in 2.5 hours, not one. And Sydney to Melbourne in 6 hours, not 4. Hmmmmm.

(If I ran the world, airlines would be convinced to invest in high-speed rail so they could keep moving people and making money but avoid emissions taxes.)

Other PT funding

Labor announced they would fund Brisbane’s Petrie to Redcliffe railway; the Coalition matched it.

Things have obviously changed since the days when the Coalition refused to fund urban public transport, which is good to see. The Rudd government funded most of Victoria’s Regional Rail Link. Whether either side will pledge more projects remains to be seen. Doing so in a targetted manner might well provide them with the kind of direct action against climate change that they seem to want to fund.

Update 7:55am. Labor have just announced they will fund Sydney’s Parramatta to Epping rail link.

Other stuff

Check this great piece by Annabel Crabb on how the campaigning works.

That’s all I have so far. Thoughts?

Poor advert placement?

Not sure this advert placement is a good idea:

Bus advert

Not that the exhaust actually comes out of that grill, of course.

And one should not overstate the pollution caused by buses.

Measuring just the CO2 emissions, a diesel bus emits about 1800 grams per kilometre. By comparison a diesel Landrover emits 295 grams per kilometre. At an average 1.2 people per private vehicle, that’s 245 grams per passenger kilometre. So a bus has to be carrying just 8 passengers (which is comparatively empty for a bus) to be more efficient than a diesel Landrover (or about 22 people to be as efficient as a Prius).

The number of people on a bus varies widely. It could be no passengers (just the driver), or if packed it could be 80-100. Some may catch it for many kilometres, some just a few stops.

And of course, you can’t just run the services you know will be packed. You get more people onto PT as a whole if you have a cohesive network, running frequently, and covering the hours that most people travel, so they can rely on it to be there whenever they need it. Smartbus is proof that more buses gets more people using them.

So while the advert (and specifically its placement) above may not have been a good idea, we do need more buses on the road.