While recently researching solar hot water, I came across this story about The Glen Hotel in Brisbane, which this year built a new 44-room accommodation wing. They decided to take their energy usage and ongoing running costs seriously. This resulted in the installation of insulation, LED lighting, energy efficient air conditioning as well as a solar hot water system. The Apricus installation provides hot water to all 44 rooms, and is expected to reduce hot water energy usage by 70% or more!
After half a lifetime as an academic and author writing best-selling books on climate change, Bill McKibben changed course. This memoir covers two years of his life, much of it spent crisscrossing the US as a climate activist fighting the Keystone XL pipeline (to transport dirty tar sands oil) and the start of the fossil fuel divestment campaign of his organisation, 350.org. These insights into environmental activism, fighting against powerful fossil fuel interests and bought-out politicians, are contrasted against lyrical passages on life in the Vermont countryside and working alongside his bee-keeper friend. He tries to find the balance between big-picture climate action, and small-scale local answers to climate change. This takes place against the background of increasingly severe weather events across the US, such as Hurricane Sandy in New York. I found this book a really interesting window into the frantic pace of his life as an activist, and the financial and political forces being fought against. Available for purchase online or from Sunshine Coast Libraries.
Vacation Village in Port Macquarie, near Coffs Harbour, is a holiday resort that I’ve visited several times over the last twenty years. On my last trip there in April, I was impressed by the moves they’ve made to reduce power use, recycle, and conserve water. They are proud to promote it, with a display of their achievements, under the motto that, “What we do today affects everyone’s tomorrow”. It really does show what can be done with some thought and investment, which would have paid off handsomely in operating costs. A few impressive stats:
- since 2004/5, VV has cut electricity use by 49%, through use of energy efficient lightbulbs, timers, and reverse-cycle air-conditioners in place of older heaters.
- a very inefficient pool heater was replaced with a heat exchange pump. This alone led to a saving of 49 000kWh during the first nine months of operation. This has meant a 21% reduction in total electricity use for the whole resort.
- apartments come with recycling bins, and green garden waste is mulched and used on the gardens. There are future plans to set up a worm farm and solar panels.
- water use has been reduced by 7.5% since 2005, with the installation of water tanks (45 000 litres), mostly used to supply the pool and water the gardens. Apartments have been also been fitted with water saving shower heads and dual flush toilets, which were not really available when the resort was built in the 1970s.
This is a short list of options to consider to make your business or community organisation more eco-nomic. Most of these ideas will save money, and they will all reduce your environmental footprint.
- Install LED lights. After the initial outlay (dropping in price all the time) this will not only save on electricity, but also on maintenance. When we switched from halogen to LED downlights, we were delighted by the difference. After needing to get out a ladder to change a lightbulb almost every week, there have been no LEDs in need of replacement for the last two years. Lighting accounts for 12% of electricity use in Australia, so there is room for improvement.
- Use a worm farm to deal with food waste. They come in many different sizes, and reduce costs by diverting some waste from landfill. The resulting castings/liquid can be used on gardens around your building, or given to grateful staff. They need very little maintenance, less than a compost heap, and don’t smell. Some larger worm farms suitable for a business can be found here: http://www.wormsdownunder.com.au/wormfarms.html
- Choose photocopy paper with recycled content. The average photocopier/printer gobbles through the paper, so at least make sure that not all the paper requires the cutting down of more trees.
- Insulate your ceiling, and keep down heating and cooling costs.
- Set up your system so that all computer screens are turned off at night, perhaps centrally.
- More to come….
“You are one of seven billion people on Earth. Whatever you or I do personally—eat tofu in a Hummer or hamburgers in a Prius—the planet doesn’t notice. In our confrontation with climate change… it is what several billion people do that makes a difference. The solution? It isn’t science, politics, or activism. It’s smarter economics.”
Written by environmental economist (not actually a contradictory term) Gernot Wagner, this book looks at how the incentives of capitalism, used intelligently, can help solve environmental problems. He gives examples of economic solutions used for problems such as acid rain and leaded petrol and endangered animals, and suggests how solutions that appeal to human self-interest can be utilized to tackle our biggest environmental problem, climate change. Written in an entertaining and accessible manner, and making excellent arguments for measures such as carbon taxes, this is no dreary economics book. Available for purchase online or from Sunshine Coast Libraries.
Written by Australian renewable energy expert Mark Diesendorf, this new book tells you everything you might want to know about renewable energy. It gets down to some technical nitty-gritty in some chapters, but also makes an excellent case for the “great transition” towards renewable energy, and shows how it can be done. The old arguments used against renewable energy sources are refuted, and there is an interesting chapter on why nuclear power is not the answer. He looks at the politics and policies affecting climate change action, and gives some pointers to how people can overcome vested interests and push reluctant governments to take action. This is an important book, with information useful to both an Australian and international audience, and so relevant at a time when the Australian Government is trying to push back against renewable energy growth. It isn’t a light read, but I found it fascinating, and with a constructive focus on how to fight climate change. I borrowed my copy from Sunshine Coast Libraries, but it is also available for sale from CSIRO and UNSW.
Recently, at the World Environment Day at SC Uni, I spotted this I-miev electric car on display. There are a handful of electric cars on the coast, but I’d never actually seen one before, other than online. Unfortunately, the bonnet was down, so I couldn’t check out the engine. Although some will argue that an electric car still causes CO2 emissions through using electricity, at least they have the potential to use clean energy from renewable sources. Even if using coal-sourced electricity, the emissions are still less than half of using a petrol or diesel-powered car. With peak oil and a carbon-constrained future, I love the idea of electric cars and look forward to when there are as many in Australia as in countries such as Norway or the US (the blokes in the photo are my husband Adam and son Jesse).
Solar electricity being fed back to the grid in South-East Queensland is now the 6th largest generator of power in the state, according to Giles Parkinson at http://www.solarchoice.net.au/blog/news/rooftop-solar-queensland-6th-largest-power-plant-020414 This electricity is now providing 11% of electricity provided by the grid in SE Qld, not including the solar electricity being used in solar owners’ own homes rather than being exported. This is an incredible growth rate for solar, and there are more than 3000 systems a month still being installed in SE Qld, despite the reduction in feedback tariffs. With another 13% boost to domestic power prices starting in July, home-owners have strong financial incentive to try and cut their bills. And of course, every KWh from solar power means less burning of fossil fuels.
Twenty-four council buildings and facilities have solar panels with a collective capacity of 158kW. The electricity generated averages 242,214 kWh per year, which contributes to an annual saving of $50,114 in electricity costs. The solar panels are reducing council’s carbon footprint by 213 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.