Going Green: Audit Your Energy Use
When trying to go green, many people look at changing their energy supply. For some, in countries where this is possible, it means switching to a supplier that uses renewable energy sources such as wind energy or solar energy. For others it means investigating getting a solar energy installation at home. All these are great initiatives and I would want to encourage them. But there is one step that should be taken first.
Energy Saving: The Free Renewable
The first thing everyone should do, before even thinking about changing their supplies, is to investigate free renewable energy that they can make at home by saving energy. I know it is a bit odd calling it a free renewable, but it makes sense because it is almost like a two-for-one deal. For every kilowatt of energy that you save at home, this is a kilowatt that doesn’t have to be generated. It means one less kilowatt coming out of a stinky old coal fired power station and one kilowatt of clean wind or solar energy going where it is really needed and displacing yet another kilowatt of stinky old carbon intensive energy. The experts call this a negawatt, which is a shorthand for a negative watt. By saving a unit of energy at home, you are destroying another unit of dirty energy production somewhere else.
The negawatt saving
The great thing about energy saving is that instead of costing you money, it makes you money. A landmark study by McKinsey, a consulting company, into the costs of cutting carbon dioxide emissions around the world, found that almost half the cuts could come from energy efficiency improvements that actually pay for themselves.
Think about that for a minute. Instead of paying money to live sustainably, you end up getting paid to do it.
Start with an audit
The way to start is to try to audit your energy use and see where easy savings could be made. One way is to get a cheap smart meter with a remote. This has a unit that connects to the mains (usually you don’t need to do any wiring, just wrap a sensor coil around the main wire). The remote then gives a digital readout of your current power consumption. Each time you turn a switch on or off it will tell you exactly how much energy is being used.
You would be surprised to discover just how much power idle gadgets use. Many electrical devices such as televisions, stereos, cellular phone chargers and the like use huge amounts of power when they are on standby or just plugged into the wall. Doing an energy audit of where you power is being used can allow you to make huge savings just by switching devices off completely or unplugging chargers when they are not in use.
Examine your heating and cooling bills
Next try to figure out how much you spend heating and cooling your house. The cheapest way to save on these is to add insulation to the roof. This is often a simple DIY job and costs almost nothing. The payback in places like Britain is often less than a year for a house that has no or very little insulation. The more you already have the less benefit there is to adding. It still does some good, but there is a law of diminishing returns here.
Then consider the costs of professional insulation. How much would double glazed windows and wall insulation cost? Compare that with your bills and the potential savings. Often you can cut heating and cooling bills by 40% or more, depending on how insulated your house already is. The payback on these jobs is usually a bit longer, think 5 years at least. But once again, this is a one-time investment with a guaranteed return. You won’t find that on offer on the stock market.
It is only once you are sure that you have exhausted all reasonable options for energy saving that you should start looking at alternative energy or renewable energy supplies, which I will talk about in later posts.