Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
In this issue
- This week: Save it!
- Virtual Snacks
- Bizarre Searches
- Quotation and joke
How much do you pay for your electricity?
It’s a fair bet that if you’re living outside Europe, you’re paying a lot less for it than you would in the UK. There are all sorts of reasons why. One of them might be lower tax on fuel – a succession of UK governments have raised taxes to try to encourage greater fuel efficiency and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being pumped into the earth’s atmosphere. Some of the other developed countries are doing the same, but not all of them; and the least developed and the emerging economies argue that they should have the chance to develop too before they start thinking about cutting down on energy use.
You’d think that with oil prices shooting through the roof people would be trying to cut down on the use of petrol, diesel and gas. Apparently not, though. Many developing countries actually hold the price of power down, or subsidise it, in an attempt to promote economic growth and protect the poorest – often farmers – who rely on low energy prices to keep their irrigation systems going.
And, of course, if you’re living in the tropics or sub-tropics you don’t have to worry about heating or running clothes-dryers for most or even all of the year. Air-conditioning can be a pretty hefty burden on the electricity bill too, but not everyone likes to use it that much. (It gets a bit silly when the sun’s blazing down from overhead but you still have to carry a jacket or shawl around with you so that you don’t freeze to death in bars, offices and restaurants.)
So, on the face of it, there’s little incentive to economise, especially if you’re comparatively well off – as most of us are when living overseas. Which probably explains why not much is being done at a domestic level to reduce energy consumption.
Of course, there are things that can be done. Even in a country like the UK where there’s comparatively little sun and it’s a good deal weaker than at the tropics, you can design a house to make the most of the sunshine you get. Solar panels on roofs are becoming a far more common feature than they were even ten years ago – London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s house is a famous example. But they’re pretty expensive; the average town house costs £20,000 to kit out with panels, even though a 50% grant is available. Nevertheless, the price is dropping slowly, although it’ll be some time yet before they save as much as they cost. And some authorities around the world, including the Spanish and Swiss governments, are biting the bullet and insisting on solar panels being incorporated into new builds. But even if you’re not ready to go that far, a solar water heater is a relatively cheap first step and one that can pay for itself in just a couple of years.
Clever house design can also help. Those who live in sunnier climates will be familiar with the phenomenon of the dark living-room that’s surrounded by other rooms and needs the light on even at the height of the day – the idea being that if the force of the sun is reduced, it won’t get so hot. True, but it’s a miserable way to live and it’s a pretty poor solution to the problem. However, modern building materials and clever adaptation of traditional indigenous design mean that it’s possible to have most of the light of the sun without most of its heat. For those in temperate or cold climates, much the same is true but in reverse – improved glazing, better insulation and better building means that the amount of heat lost through doors, windows and above all the roof can be cut dramatically. And while there’s only a limited amount you can do with an older property, you may still find it worth your while to check out what’s available locally in the way of better glazing and insulation, no matter what kind of a climate you live in.
Whether you’re in an older property or a new build, it’s worth having a look at your appliances. Chances are that if any of them’s older than about ten years, it’s using a fair bit more electricity than it needs to. Drinks fridges – which have often had a full life as a kitchen fridge – are a particular burden on the electricity bill. A fridge can typically account for 13% of the average family’s power consumption, and older fridges with perishing seals or worn compressors can use even more than that. (ElectricityAustralia has started a fridge retirement scheme where they offer householders AUS $50 and free disposal for second fridges over 10 years old.) Much the same goes for clunky, noisy old-fashioned air-conditioners. And modern washing machines use less power and less water as well – twice as much reason to consider ditching the old model.
None of these measures is going to save the world overnight. But they’re a start. So if you’re worried about global warming, scared that the oil’s going to run out or just don’t like the idea of waste, why not have a look round your home and see what you can do about it?
Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us about it?
Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:
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You’ll find a vast amount of links and resources at aresearchguide.com – enough to keep you reading for weeks!
And if you’re interested in energy-efficient house design, The Energy and Resources Institute (based in Delhi) have some interesting examples – you can read about them (and about their Green Rating Scheme) here:
TERI: About green building
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Till next time…
British Expat Magazine
“As we watch the sun go down, evening after evening, through the smog across the poisoned waters of our native earth, we must ask ourselves seriously whether we really wish some future universal historian on another planet to say about us: ‘With all their genius and with all their skill, they ran out of foresight and air and food and water and ideas,’ or, ‘They went on playing politics until their world collapsed around them.’
– U Thant, third UN Secretary-General (1909-1974)
An energy conservation fanatic is on his deathbed surrounded by his family.
He asks for his wife, “Are you there, Mary?”
She replies, “Yes, I’m here, love.”
He asks, “Are the kids here?”
They reply, “Yes, we’re all here, Dad.”
He asks, “Are the grandchildren all here?”
They all say, “Yes, we’re here, Grandad!”
Then he lifts himself up in his bed and points out of the door: “Well, if you’re all here, why the bloody hell are the lights and the telly still on in the living room?”