Reducing our energy use reduces our greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions we hope to lessen the impacts of climate change. Being mindful of the energy we consume is a key component of living lightly and reducing our environmental footprint. It also has a direct impact on our cost of living.
Most energy reduction measures will result in decreased costs to you so whichever way you look at it, reducing your energy use is a good thing.
Reducing our energy use requires action in four key areas:
1. Improving the buildings we live and work in, and the energy using appliances within them, so that they use less electricity and gas. The best value interventions are typically through: hot water, heating, dryers, refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners.
2. Switching our energy supply for our home or work place to renewable energy.
3. Reducing our vehicle emissions by replacing short trips with active transport, switching to electric vehicles, taking public transport, and travelling less.
4. Choosing products that have travelled less kilometers to get to us, and that have less ‘embodied energy’ in their production. Embodied energy is the amount of energy (usually electrical energy or heat) that has been used to make the product in question.
Improving our buildings so they are more energy efficient usually makes them more comfortable spaces to live and work in. Key principles to think about when building and renovating are:
1. Insulating the building to prevent heat loss in winter and heat entry in summer.
2. Sealing the building to prevent drafts and unnecessary air movement (note that it’s also important to ventilate old buildings or moisture build up can result in mold!).
3. Clever design to allow the sun to enter the building in winter (north facing windows!), and to ensure the sun does not enter the building in summer (no west or east facing windows, eaves, vegetation on the west side).
4. Good use of thermal mass (materials that hold their temperature such as earth, concrete, stone, or brick) so that in winter there is a heat source, and in summer there is a cooling mechanism.
In addition, ensuring you consider energy use when purchasing appliances and fittings will make a big difference to your household energy use. Household appliances in Australia are required to have give an energy rating. This is always accompanied by a number, which represents the amount of kilowatt hours that appliance will use in a year assuming a defined amount of use. The lower the number, the lower energy the product will use. Comparing the numbers will tell you the relative performance of products. And if you multiply the number given by the rate you pay for electricity per kilowatt hour you will be able to calculate the cost of the appliance annually.
The following choices will make a big difference to your annual energy use:
1. LED lighting.
2. A very energy efficient fridge, and a fridge that is fit for purpose. Bigger fridges use more, even if the star rating is higher. Don’t oversize your fridge and you will save energy.
3. A hot water system that runs off your solar panels, or a solar hot water system. Heat pump hot water systems are the most energy efficient.
4. A well-sized, energy efficient, fit for purpose heating and cooling system. A good guide to choosing a heating or cooling system for your needs is available from Sustainability Victoria at the link below.