Friday, 27 January 2012

Why we need to use energy more sustainably

My guest blog on the British Gas Customer Newsroom website.

Two photographs illustrate the article.  The first depicts my schoolfriend, David Kidd, fitting a Navitron solar thermal heating system on my roof.  He's standing safely in a long, horizontal valley between two pitched roofs so no need for a harness.  The second shows the excellent downlights that I fitted into the bathroom cabinet recently, replacing 60 watts of halogen lights with 7.2 watts of warm white LED cabinet units from

Many people argue that we can best engage the public in climate change action using positive terms, such as money to be saved, rather than evoking fear and other negative sentiments by describing the threats of unmitigated warming.  A recent scholarly analysis of climate change communications by Jacqueline Stewart, of George Washington University, gives examples of effective and counter-productive attempts to communicate climate change but concludes only that success depends on the specific message, messenger and circumstances.

I believe people need to hear the truth about our situation - how can we care about something we aren't aware of? - but agree that this needs to be coupled with positive messages on what we can do about it.  

This guest post is my attempt to communicate the big picture on consumption, carbon emissions and consequences, together with clear proposals for personal action to reduce all three.  I am pleased that British Gas have agreed to post it on their customer website and hope that it will reach a wide audience.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Numbers not Adjectives

In the words of Professor David Mackay, we need "numbers, not adjectives" to compare, understand and manage our country's energy supplies and our own energy demands.  In this spirit, here are two charts.

The first shows my family's energy use at home each year from 2006 to 2011.  For reasons I have made clear throughout this blog, we used 52% less energy in 2011 than in 2006.

The second chart shows the costs of this energy.

Sticking to Prof. Mackay's injunction, I will simply note that, despite increases in the unit costs we pay for energy over this period, our total bill for energy in 2011 was 38% smaller than we paid in 2006.

There are all sorts of issues, from fuel poverty to carbon emissions, that this comparison does not address.  The simple point that it illustrates well, however, is that individual efforts and investments to use energy more efficiently have a real impact on our energy bills.  If my family had used as much energy in 2011 as we did in 2006, our bills would have risen by 17% over this period - despite switching to a cheaper supplier at the end of 2008.

And the carbon emissions from our energy use?  I calculate that, in 2006, these amounted to 8 Tonnes CO2.  In 2011, our annual emissions were down to 3.6 Tonnes CO2.  The total reduction over five years (2007 - 11) amounts to 15.7 Tonnes.

This may not sound much compared with, for example, long-haul flights, but we haven't taken any of those in the last five years either.  Cutting carbon makes each and every part of life more sustainable, from holidays to heating, from commuting to computing and from diet to DIY.  Oh dear, I've forgotten the Professor's advice and slipped into rhetoric so I'd better stop and leave you to do the maths.