As I mentioned over on the Problems sister page to this one, we need to severely curtail our energy use in the future. We can look at this on many different levels – on the national level, we can campaign for more green, sustainable energy sources; it won’t please the NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard!) but we need a lot more wind, water, tide and geothermal energy generation. We could look at nuclear power plants as a carbon-free power generation strategy, though given the safety record of the human species with nukes, I’m not sure we’re fit to have the keys to the toybox – and there are carbon costs (not to mention other hazards) associated with mining, refining and using nuclear fuels, building nuclear powerplants, etc.
On a personal, individual level, we can take two separate adaptation routes. We can reduce how much energy we use in our daily lives, and we can generate our own power from sustainable sources.
Reducing our own personal power use starts with the easy steps, like remembering to turn off lights when you leave a room, unplugging the electronics rather than leaving them on standby, walking to the shops instead of driving four hundred yards for a pint of milk. Don’t drive the kids to school – it’s healthier for them to get the exercise walking, anyway. Cycle instead of driving to work – I don’t like getting cold or wet either, but there’s no such thing as unsuitable weather, only unsuitable clothing!
We can make our use of energy more efficient – instead of popping our for a pint of milk, get the whole week’s food shopping in one trip. Get a big chest freezer and keep it full for maximum efficiency (if you can’t afford to fill it with food, fill it with bottles of tap water to fill the space up) – this has the added benefit of enabling you to take advantage of cheap offers at the shops and put, say, six months’ worth of frozen pizza away while it’s at half-price, so you’ll save money, too.
Insulate your house (or nag your landlord to insulate it, if you’re renting), install double glazing, fit draught excluders to the doors – this also saves you money on your heating bills! In the past year we’ve doubled the thickness of the loft insulation and had the house cavity-wall insulated; our fuel bill for heating oil has dropped by nearly 30% through this winter, so we’ve reduced our emissions and saved money. Put thick curtains up in the windows to reduce heat loss further (and, co-incidentally, blackout curtains are a great security measure since burglars can’t tell if you’re in or not through them). Invest in heavier jerseys and turn down the heating a little.
When you’re replacing appliances, look for the most energy-efficient ones – the A-rated ones; they may cost a little more but they’ll save you money in operation and they’ll save emissions by using less power.
There’s one ingenious bloke I know of who cools his whole pantry to fridge-temperatures using just a system of two radiators – one is low down in the pantry and as the water in it warms up, it rises by natural convection through to the other radiator, fixed on the outside of the house on the shaded side, higher up. It doesn’t use any external energy at all, no pumps or heaters or chilling units! The air passing over the external radiator steals away the warmth and the cold water sinks back down to the inner radiator to repeat the whole process.
A friend of mine has converted his house to run 12V LED lighting and uses 12V appliances instead of 240V mains supply – as a result, he’s now able to light and power his house off a 12V battery bank system, which came in very useful last week when there was a power cut in his area and their house was unaffected. 12V is the kind of supply you get from a car engine through the lighter socket – you can easily source 12V fridges and TVs from caravan supply places, and 12V adaptors designed to fit into a car lighter socket are available for computers, mobiles and other gadgets.
This dovetails into the other big adaptation strategy, which is to generate your own power from renewable sources. My 12V-house friend charges his battery bank from solar panels; I have other friends who installed a solar array and a wind turbine at their place and now sell power back to the National Grid. I know of others who’ve used hydroelectric turbines to power their houses from small dams on local rivers.
Heating in houses can also be provided using a ground heat pump, which is basically a very long length of water pipe buried mostly underground outside, and partly under your house floor. Because the ground stores heat better than the air, the water in the buried section of pipe gets to be warmer than the the water in the section under your ground floor, and with the addition of a small electric pump you can transfer the heat stored in the soil to your floor in the house. You still need a small energy input to run the pump and you do need to dig up your garden and the ground floor of the house, of course! It’s well worth considering if you’re involved in a new-build house, a major conversion or a renovation project, though.
I’m at a disadvantage in this regard since our house roof faces the wrong way for mounting a solar array and the outbuildings don’t have strong enough roofs to mount panels there either. We’re also not in an area where we could put up a wind-turbine; to get enough wind to make it efficient, we’d have to mount it on a very high pole above the roof-line and the local planning officers wouldn’t approve. That leaves us with working harder on the energy-reduction side of things.
Part of our energy-reduction strategy revolves around what we actively do – we use the car as little as possible, use the bike or walk as much as possible. Another part of it is based on reducing the hidden emissions associated with what we buy – food miles, for example. We try to buy locally, from the village shops, and wherever possible we buy food that’s grown or raised locally, too. We grow as much of our own food as we can, and we swap produce with other home-growing neighbours in the village. We make our own compost rather than buying in artificial fertilisers made from hydrocarbons – there’s not a lot of food-miles attached to an organic carrot grown in a deep-bed ten feet from the kitchen door! This year I’ll be growing open-pollinated varieties of veg on my allotment – that means we can save our own seed for future years, so even our seeds will come with less emissions attached!