Part III: Climate Change & Energy Series
Can one person really make a difference? For a lot of us, individual actions can feel trifle, in the face of the highly complex global issue of climate change. Environmental leadership researcher Steve Westlake has some words of wisdom for us:
“Clearly, in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, a single person’s contribution is basically irrelevant (much like the single vote in an election) … [but] doing something bold like giving up flying can have a wider knock-on effect by influencing others and shifting what’s viewed as normal.”
Now, giving up flying may be an impossibility – for whatever reason – for some, but the ability for behavior change to ripple through human society is a reason for hope and a place to focus. It’s a tempting to reflect that nothing that any one individual can do will impact climate change, but we should resist that type of thinking.
I’d like to tell you about some of the ways that we can start our journey on mitigating climate change. Firstly, as a collective society we have created the problem of climate change, and equally as a society we can collectively solve climate change. Secondly, a lot of the things I describe in this article have to happen one way or the other in the coming decades. Either through incentives, policy or other mandates, we are going to have to take the basic actions discussed below.
I should note that some of the items below require an upfront investment and of course not everyone has the money to take on all these projects, but everything listed below will save you money in the longer run. Some of the payoff periods will be long, but ultimately, they will pay for themselves while saving the environment (and also, they are pretty cool!!). Additionally there are lots of rebates and incentives for the suggestions in this article (you can find out more about them here).
A lot of what I describe in this article is about using electric alternatives to direct fossil fuel engines or boilers. People can reasonably object that if your electricity is being generated from fossil fuels then you are not really helping the climate. Thankfully in recent years it has become easier than ever to use renewable power in your home, which ensures that electrification will have the intended benefits to the environment. Some of the ways you can use renewable energy include:
Create your own: This can be done with solar panels or solar tiles. Tesla have interesting options here that you can review here and there are loads of alternative providers in the market.
Purchase renewable energy: This can be done through companies like Arcadia Power (https://www.arcadia.com/ ) who can get you setup very quickly with using either wind or solar power. The advantage of a company like Arcadia is that it doesn’t require changing your electricity provider. You can also switch to a direct provider of renewable power and you can find details on how to do that here.
Well, Let’s Get Started
Transport is a big driver of climate change and one we can do something about right now. The simplest thing we can do is replace our combustion engine cars with electric equivalents. This is a win-win, no brainer action for a number of reasons:
While the initial upfront cost of electric vehicles is currently typically higher than combustion engine cars, the total lifetime cost of ownership is less. This reduced cost is a result of cheaper fuel costs and lower maintenance costs due to the simpler nature of electric motors.
All owners of electric cars will attest to the fact that it is a joy to not have to go to a garage forecourt to pump gas into your car once a week. You do of course need to plug in your car, but that quickly becomes a habit no different than charging your phone and is an automatic nightly reflex within a week of ownership. It is true that on longer journeys you will need to stop to charge up your electric car, but typically this will take about 30 mins at a super charger and only comes into play if you are doing a round trip of greater than 600 miles, which for a lot of people is relatively rare.
Indeed the yet to be released Tesla Model S (Plaid Model) has a purported range of 520 miles, resulting in a 1000-mile round trip before you need to worry about charging! Obviously, Tesla are the big name in this market, but most manufacturers either have or are coming out with fully electric models in 2020 or 2021.
Electrification of the home will also have a major impact on your carbon emissions. The key areas with the biggest impact are:
Heating and Hot Water
Most Ridgewood houses use gas our oil boilers for their home heating and hot water. You can electrify your heating in a number of ways, but the easiest is with the use of heat pumps. For those homes with existing AC you can easily and cheaply retrofit an air sourced heat pump which will provide heating and cooling. You can read more about how heat pumps work and how to go about getting yourself one here.
For new construction you can’t beat Geothermal systems to provide the source of energy for your heating and cooling. The marginal cost of installing them at build time is very small and you will enjoy massively efficient heating and cooling using the earths ambient temperature in what are very low maintenance systems (the core technology behind geothermal is over 100 years old!). Geothermal can also be retrofitted to existing homes, but it will cost more than a new build and push the pay off period to 10 to 11 years in severe cases. You can learn more about geo thermal here.
For hot water you can also use an internal air sourced heat pump which uses the ambient air in your home to heat your hot water. It works on the reverse principle to your fridge or freezer and again they are very efficient.
If you want to go all electric, then you will need to replace your gas hob with an electric hob. The best models are induction tops as they are efficient and safer (they only heat metal objects so they are not hot to the touch) and prices have come down significantly in recent years. You can learn more here.
Although nothing beats the feeling of a real fire, the newer electric fire places come very close. They are beautifully designed and give off the same heat as gas fires but are better for the environment. MagikFlame and Dimplex are two of the main brands if looking for a realistic alternative to a real fire place. You can read a review here.
Swimming pools can also be heated using an air sourced heat pump or a solar heater. For Ridgewood you can reasonably expect to use your pool from May through to end of September with an air sourced heat pump (basically, if the air temp is over 65F you can heat pretty much any sized pool in NJ with an air sourced heat pump). Hayward have a decent model that we have used to great success.
Monitoring Electric Usage
Just understanding what devices are using electricity in the home can be a big step to becoming more efficient. We recently stated using Sense Monitors in our home to monitor just that. The Sense monitor installs into your electric panel and figures out all the devices that use power in your home and layers on tons of reporting and alerting features to help you better manage your electricity usage.
Using smart thermostats like Nest (https://nest.com/) can give you lots of insights and control into how you are heating and cooling you home. They also make it easier to adjust the system when leaving the home or in response to outside conditions. Most smart systems will also give you bench mark info on how efficient your home is compared to others in your area. Simply turning down the heating a degree or two can have a huge impact on your electricity usage.
Basic Energy Efficiency Actions
As this article is a little more tech focused, I won’t go into huge detail on the basic actions you can take in the home to become more energy efficient, but at a minimum think about:
Service your appliances (esp. replace/clean filters)
Open windows and use outside air to heat/cool as appropriate
Caulk air leaks
Use ceiling fans to better distribute cooler air throughout the room
Switch to LED bulbs