Thoughts about energy and sustainability

My recent blog post, that was basically me just venting my annoyance about tech that is designed to be e-waste soon, did spark a couple of interesting responses. So I figured I might not be the only one interested in living a bit more sustainable.

Also recent events and the possibility of Austria and Europe being cut off their gas supplies seems to have jump-started the public interest in where our energy comes from and how to get a bit more independent.

So I decided to milk that cow a littler more and shamelessly use this situation to promote my blog.

No, seriously this is an important topic and I do have some thoughts about it and also some experience I gathered in the last couple of years, so here we go.

The current situation

With a war on European soil and one of the parties being the major energy supplier of our little union, whom we try to punish by cutting our selfs off of our supply, we are for the first time facing the serious possibility of an energy shortage since the oil price crisis in the seventies of the last century.

Politicians and mainstream media are already giving out warnings and tips on how to save energy, making grand plans including only allowing companies to heat their offices to 19°C during winter and limiting the use of ACs during summer to 26°C.

Or even more useful ones like putting a lid on your pots while cooking! Now that is going to save us!!

Drive less and while driving drive slower. Nobody suggested only doing cold shower during summer, but I guess that’s up next.

Everything suggested so far requires people to make sacrifices on their comfortable way of living and if CoVid-19 taught us one thing, it is that the limit of our sacrifice is way below the possibility of not having toilet paper at home.

Thus these suggestions will fail, mark my words.

Oh and also we have known for a couple of years that our way of living and consuming resources is actively harming our planet, well not the planet really, just us humans and our chance on keeping in existence..

But apparently a situation needs to actively threat our economy to start a serious process of dealing with it. Who knew?

Ok, I’ll cut the sarcasm now and try to get my point across more seriously.

The way I see it a crisis is always a chance for improvement and this one is no exception.

The solution here has two angles and we are going to need to deal with both.

1.) Energy production

2.) Efficiency

My thoughts on solutions

I’ll deal with the more difficult one first, production. And I am going to start off with a joke.

My town council sent out a letter today, that they installed solar panels with 50kW peak to supply our town with energy during the coming hard months. I have a little shy of 50% of that on my roof….

But while this is nothing more than a little pr-stunt for the mayor, the direction is the correct one.

One thing that is way better than counting on the voters to cut their standard of living and still vote for you the next time is creating a more independent way of generating energy.

And this is something most of us can do as well, if you can afford it, putting solar panels on your roof is not the worst investment you can make.

At current energy prices only the amount of payout for the energy I sell will balance my investment to 0 in 4 years. Even faster if I count the energy I don’t have to buy.

But that is only the economical part here, more solar power means less burning of fossil fuels and less fuel we have to buy from questionable partners. Thus making us more independent.

My panels sell 10kW for about 9 hours a day during this season. Sell not produce, they produce way more. That is 77g of CO2 saved per hour only by my home and believing the official values of the carbon footprint of energy in Austria. Almost 7kg of CO2 a day. Not counting my consumption!

I know, I know, solar panels are not a perfect solution, there are cloudy days, there are nights and also winters, but it is something to start with. There are 4.000.000 homes in Austria, that comes down to a lot of roofs and a lot of space for panels. Lets say 10kW per one of these homes and we make 40GW per hour during summer, if my math is correct. Nice, eh?
And it is something we all can do, without a government starting to move.

So why did I call the 50kW of our town council a joke? Well they are only half a joke really, 50kW is very nice and on a public building which are not included in those 4m homes, so they add to the whole.

But they are never going to power our town during winter. (Also this is not how the powergrid works)

A couple of things we are going to have to think about here are however harder to solve. Currently there are still winters in Austria and these reduce the power-output of panels heavily. There are no efficient ways to store electric energy for the long run so far, but there are a couple of interesting ideas out there.

Including hydrogen tanks, sand batteries and even old ones like hydro-electric power plants which can be built out. Solutions that are interesting for the public sector, not a private household I might add.

But, if properly set up and stored, solar energy can help us reduce the usage of fossil fuels during spring, summer and fall to almost 0, leaving only a couple of months where we need to burn dead dinosaurs and that way stretch our limited supply.

At least in Austria, sadly, the government is currently engaged in more pressing issues, like figuring out a way to make everyone pay for our shitty public TV stations, who are definitely objective, which is shown by new governments assigning a new executive board once they take over….

(Okay, I promise, last bit of sarcasm, or is this already cynical?)

Enough about production, what about that efficiency?

Luckily this is a bit easier, since the way we use energy really only depends on us and most steps don’t require us to leave the comfort zone.

There are easy steps, like thinking twice before you jump into your car to go somewhere, even if it’s an EV, still uses more energy than a bike. Or maybe there is a good way to get around by public transport. All reducing your traveling costs while not posing discomfort and some even improving you health.

The next one is more for those business owners out there, grant more home office, if possible. No matter how your staff commutes, they use energy for that commute. Also a plus here, less people commuting means less traffic jams for those who must commute. More people on time, more parking spaces, less stressed staff. If they have a long commute and don’t have to go to work every day, they even get more sleep which should increase productivity.

On the side of a bit bigger changes, an EV is more efficient in energy usage than a diesel or petrol powered car. However and this is important. Getting a new EV means wasting a lot of resources too. If you already have a car and do not drive a lot, keeping it is the better option. No matter what Elon or the green parties are telling you. But, there are used options, which have already been produced, production has come a long way and even new ones brake even at around 60.000km these days. Used up batteries don’t got to waste, they can be recycled almost completely!

Heat pumps are more efficient for heating your home, sure, but also here, producing isn’t for free and if you don’t heat you house a lot, the gains are only minimal. Better isolation and only short intervals of opening windows during winter also go a long way. And I don’t even mean packaging up your entire building, often sealing windows and doors bit some 5€ tape from the next hardware store does miracles.

Also, AC units are basically heat pumps, using them to heat you home, especially when you are having solar panels works very well and consumes less energy than burning gas or oil. (Yes, ACs aren’t always evil)

Using stuff longer means less impact. If you buy a new appliance, take a moment and check if it’s repairable, if maybe there is a market for spare parts. Yes, I know, we all want that shiny new thing and the phone we had for a year suddenly seems so dull when the new one comes out, but try not replacing things, that don’t need replacing. It doesn’t only save us all resources and reduces our carbon footprint, but as an added benefit it saves you money.

Something I found rather enjoyable the last two years is growing my own food, you don’t need meat every day and there is a certain joy to eating the vegetables you watched growing in your garden or on your balcony. Not sure how much impact growing vegetables has, but reducing our meat consumption is an important step to tackling climate change, which won’t be going away, after that war ended.

You see, eating the green thing is more efficient than growing a lot of green things, feeding it to the meaty thing and then eating that meaty thing.

Anyway, what I am trying to get along here is that a cleaner production of our energy and a more efficient use go hand in hand, but don’t mean we have to leave our nice comfortable lives behind, if we apply just a little amount of thought to it.

Both on an individual and a global scale.

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