Wrap up, cool down

The heat is going on our energy use, writes Tom McKinlay.

The is rich in irony. People remark on it often, smiling ruefully as they identify yet another occasion of the ironic.

This state of affairs came into sharp relief in the second session of Dunedin's Sustainable Living Programme course, which is currently running out of the back room of a city church. It focused on energy use.

Energy use, as we know, is in the hot seat, with climate change foremost among concerns.

Despite the protests of a few, there is no real debate about the science behind anthropogenic (man­made) climate change. Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat, so if you have more of them in the atmosphere, you trap more heat. As a result of the industrious last century or two, more of those gases are up there.

Ironically (you see), we can help address this by keeping a little warmer ourselves.

Among the best responses to climate change is to cut our output of greenhouse gases. And in the home, one way of achieving that is to install more insulation.

Yes, that old chestnut. Besides making our houses healthier, insulation reduces energy needs. A little more insulation in our homes could make for a little less insulation in the atmosphere.

You are not on your own with this. The Green Party initiative, Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart, will chip in a third of the cost of insulating homes built before 2000. It has done so for about 201,000 homes so far. Its target is 230,000 homes.

But, consistent with the Sustainable Living Programme's emphasis on what can be achieved right here and now, there are even easier gains to be made.

Simple things such as turning off a few lights, doing a cold wash when you can, closing the curtains when dusk falls, drying clothes on the line.

While electricity is regarded as one of the cleaner energy sources in this country, it still has its footprint.

In 2011, 77% of electricity generation came from renewable resources, according to the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA). That was the highest renewables percentage since 1996. But it still meant 23% of electricity generation came from fossil fuels (mainly gas and coal).

And a report for the Climate Change Office in 2003, designed to cover the period through to 2012, found that only 60% of New Zealand's electricity is supplied from sources that do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in one way or another.

On that basis, the average New Zealand home, which chewed through 8176kWh of electricity in 2011, was responsible for almost 5000kg of CO2 emissions from its electricity use alone.

An opportunity to switch on to energy efficiency, as it were, presents next Saturday, with the annual Earth Hour. The WWF­sponsored initiative encourages everyone to switch off the lights at 8.30pm for an hour.

 

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