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Earth Month – 2 Making the Switch to Renewable Energy and how to save Energy at home

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC


The Switch to Renewables

Power Generation

Power Generation and Transport are major sources of emissions in most developed countries, but they are also amongst the easiest to eliminate. With renewable energy now cheaper than from coal, gas and oil, many countries are doing just that.

Blessed with abundant geothermal energy and hydro power, Iceland leads the charge having reached almost 100%. Norway, Costa Rica and Uruguay all come in second at 98%, followed closely by Scotland which reached 97% in 2020, Denmark -86% by 2020 and still growing at 5.9% year, and then New Zealand at 84%. Germany has managed to shut down its last three nuclear power plants and generated 60% of its baseload energy from renewables as far back 2013. Read more here or here.  For more on the top ten including a visual representation click here.  

Click here to see emissions data by country. Be aware however, that the highest emitters are generally the countries which produce either fossil fuels or manufacture goods using them, though there is also a link between comparative wealth and per capita consumption i.e. more people own cars and other goods and they are more likely to consume resource intensive food such as meat or dairy, not necessarily grown on their own turf. 

Stoppress: Germany has just banned the installation of new fossil fuel heating systems as of 2024 and is providing subsidies to consumers to make the switch. In the US President Biden has just announced plans to set aside $38 billion for loans so that some 10 million people on low incomes can to switch to solar and reduce their power bills and to create jobs in renewables. A further $10 million will be for jobs and training in the renewable energy sector.. 

 Advances in storage

Finland has just opened its first commercial sand storage facility to warm homes in winter. it is among 40 new ways of storing excess energy currently being deployed or in production including using ice to cool buildings or using timed charging for EVs and then using the stored energy at night.


The UK’s transport revolution

 On the subject of Transport, 81% of buses in the Netherlands now run on windpower.

I am ashamed to say Australia's EV policy lags far behind. With our great distances, far flung suburbs and low population  density which makes public transport less viable, we need them more than most countries. Apologies for the language in this clip, but it needs to be said. This is from last year. We are hoping for better things from our new Labor Government.


Renewables are also proving more reliable than both coal fired plants and nuclear, thereby debunking another myth. See for example Germany, Sweden, France and the USA. After Fukushima, Japan closed 40 nuclear power plants either permanently or indefinitely without loss of energy, without adding more fossil fuel generation and without increasing emissions, simply by adding renewables. The more wind power Texas has added to its grid - up to one fifth in 2020, the more stable its electricity supply has become. the excellent article from Yale  debunks many of the other myths about renewables such as the energy required to build them being more than they produce.

 So Why are Emissions still going up and not down?

However, the battle for a stable climate is far from over. According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, its 2022 research showed CO2 increasing for the 11th year in succession. methane, responsible for around 24% of global heating and largely due to the fossil fuel sector, had the  4th largest increase since records began in 1983 and nitrous oxide -mainly due to transport and farm machinery, also rose by 1.25 parts per billion. 

ironically, while China leads the world in wind and solar energy production, it was still the world’s biggest CO2 emitter in 2022 and is still building coalfired power stations,  the USA is still approving large oil and gas developments -a legacy of the Trump era and while Australia, may have cancelled some of the worst projects, it has also allowed several coal mines and fracking projects to go ahead and has over one hundred more in the pipeline. 

People argue that while China continues to use fossil fuels, what's the point of others cutting down? This is because other countries still make up 75% of emissions with the USA creating nearly four times as much per capita, followed by other resource rich countries such as Australia, Canada and Russia. While part of the problem lies in the way emissions are allocated, the reason China and other less developed countries are allowed to keep using fossil fuels till 2050 is because the majority of emissions in the atmosphere today have been created by developed nations especially the USA and in the EU. See more here.

Apart from urging our governments to be more proactive in switching to renewables and halting fossil fuel production, Australians should at least stop subsidising our own destruction and demand greater returns on our resources - either via resource taxes or windfall profits taxes, so that we can fund alternatives, as Norway has done. See one such petition in Australia, here. If goods made with fossil fuels attracted some type of tariff to cover their environmental damage to all of us, the transition would occur much more rapidly.

There are also a number of  things which individuals can do to reduce their personal carbon footprint. Thousands of people doing small things can make a difference. We can also withdraw our business from superannuation funds, banks and others which continue to fund fossil fuels. Even Harvard University which has one of the largest endowments in the USA, is doing exactly that, as is Norway's Sovereign wealth fund - the largest in the world.


Saving Energy at Home

In case we needed more incentive to reduce our power consumption, the high and rising cost of energy is a major factor for many of us, but the switch will also bring health benefits such as quieter, cleaner cities. Even if you can’t afford solar panels or an electric car, the internet is full of tips on how you can cut down.  The clip below is one of the shorter ones, but you’ll find plenty of others on YouTube. Not everything will work everywhere and a word of caution too.

Only licensed Plumbers, Electricians and Gasfitters may work on any gas or electrical appliance in Australia. For your own safety, make sure you know the regulations where you are. Voltages are different in North America. Germany has 3 phase Direct Current, whereas Australia has Alternating Current (AC) and so forth.

The USA has a large checklist of ways to save energy at home too including a whole -house approach. Just having an energy efficient hot water heater can save a household up to $300 a year. Getting the right heat pump and getting its settings right can save up to $800 a year. There are also rebates, tax credits and government assistance available for many items. Check them out here

Heating, cooling and hot water

Choice also lists a number of ways to cut your heating and cooling bills such as reversing ceiling fans in winter to drive heat back down into rooms, shading your windows and cooling your house early in the day before things heat up. It goes without saying that keeping heat pumps and the like well -maintained will increase their output and cost effectiveness as will looking closely at matching settings to your needs. Insulted curtains will also do a good job of keeping out heat and don’t forget that white roofs will deflect heat in warmer climates too. Click here  for more.

I did notice in one of the longer videos from the UK, that none of the hot water pipes appeared to be lagged – in other words covered in a specialist product or something like felt, underlay or an old blanket, to prevent heat loss. Perhaps it isn’t necessary there, but it helps in Australia. If the family has left home and there are now only two of you, or less, it may be worth getting a smaller hot water service, because in Australia it can account for up to 30% of your power bill. It's also worth closing off unused rooms. Unless you are in warm climate, fewer showers and shorter, cooler showers will probably not pose a health or hygiene risk either. 

On the subject of water heaters, there are quite a lot options depending on what's available where you are. For example you could have solar hot water even in cold places as Austria has or tankless or instantaneous hot water systems which don't waste energy at all and then some which use the heat from your heat pump or drainwater. See more here..


Insulation can make a big difference. Although double glazing and roof insulation are more common now, not many people think of insulating their floors. With bare wooden floors being very popular in Australia, you might want to consider under floor insulation. If you have a crawl space under your house as my daughter has you may be able to do it yourself at modest cost, but do get professional advice first and make sure you have all necessary protective clothing. 

I was very impressed with how far the UK had come in terms of double glazing, underfloor heating and general comfort, since I was there in the 1970s, but one thing did bother me a bit. In one of the videos, the speaker mentioned closing off the ventilation in the top of double glazed windows. This is a really bad idea for several reasons.

A Word about Ventilation

By all means close gaps and seal window frames, block unused chimneys and put draught excluders under your door, even cover letterboxes and keyholes but DON’T block all ventilators.

Firstly it’s unhealthy to have no air flow at all and in damp places it encourages moulds. Secondly, it has lately been shown that gas stoves leak methane even when not in use, contributing to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. 

According to youngest son who has looked into this, if you want to have the best of both worlds e.g. no heat loss, but none of the other issues, you need something like the German Passivhaus ideal which uses a heat exchanger to warm or cool the air coming in. Other places are also upgrading their building codes for greater energy efficiency too. See for example Washington DC. The changes are expected to save homes and businesses $US 138 billion over 30 years and individual consumers around $US 162 annually.

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves are more efficient than fireplaces – more heat for less wood, but there are risks with woodstoves as well. Make sure yours is an approved model to reduce particulates and leave the damper open slightly at night to ensure that it doesn’t leak carbon monoxide into your home. Whether you use gas or wood, a carbon monoxide detector may be a  good inexpensive investment to keep your family safe. Don’t use green, treated or painted wood either as these also give off fumes and may clog up your chimney.

Smart Devices

Smart meters and devices can save you energy, money, time and emissions. Check them out here. I haven’t used any of these nor am I endorsing them, but oldest son does. Although it’s more about convenience for him, there are some things which are environmentally beneficial such as blinds which close automatically when it gets dark and open at sunrise and can be operated remotely, lights which automatically turn off when there’s no one in the room and a sprinkler system which comes on automatically unless rain is forecast.

More on Lighting

Presumably by now you will have replaced all the standard light globes in your home with LED lights and various forms of task lighting and you still turn them off when you leave the room. As well as some of the smart solutions in the video above, you can avoid having to use lights during the day by having skylights installed. These too have come a long way since they were first introduced. My in- laws had a great spiral one which brought light around corners and lit up a dark hallway.


In Australia we have star ratings according to an appliance’s energy usage. More stars mean more efficiency. The USA has this too and promises to save consumers up to 30% of their energy consumption. As with hot water services, don’t buy a bigger fridge than you need or you’ll be doing a lot of cooling for nothing.

As far as laundry goes, my washing machine has an eco -wash function which does fewer rinses which is fine for things which aren’t too dirty. This means both energy and water savings. There is also an express setting which is much shorter.  Line drying not only helps to sanitise your wash, but gives it a lovely smell. If it’s wet or cold enough to have the heater on, we set up a clothes horse inside. Dishwashers in the USA use less energy than washing by hand, especially if you can do it at offpeak times. I do both laundry laundry and dishwashing during peak solar periods. For more money and power savers -see here or here..

 Green Power

Not everyone can afford to go solar despite various types of subsidy available, but you may be able to buy greener energy through various providers. Here’s a list for Australia. There are similar programs in the USA as well. Check the list Green energy providers here.

Should you need a reminder as to why it matters.....