Friday, December 15, 2006

Save money and be green

Being ‘green’ is about two things really, reducing our impact on world pollution levels, and saving money.

If you imagine the world, when it was first formed, being a hot place full of fire and smoke, you may not be far wrong. Over millions of years most of this was absorbed by plants and locked up in the ground in the form of oil and coal. The plants took in the CO2 and were buried, leaving us with a clean breathable atmosphere. If we were to remove all the oil and coal, known as fossil fuel, then the world would revert back to what it once was.

The areas that we all have an impact on are: cars, aircraft, central heating and electricity use. There are others, they are not as simple to see.

To start with cars would be the most obvious place. We all need and want to drive, but there are ways in which we can reduce the impact on the environment. The best thing to do would be to fuel a car on a non fossil fuel, and I don’t mean electricity as that can burn a fossil fuel at the power station to generate the stuff. Electricity is also very limited in performance and range. So we are left with petrol and diesel. There are steps being made to find alternatives to petrol, but for diesel they are here now. Bio diesel is made from crops growing in fields. The crop absorbs CO2 in the year it is growing and releases that CO2 when it is burned in the car, thereby having no net impact on atmospheric CO2 levels. A diesel car is also more efficient than a petrol car, so even if we stick to fossil fuel there will be less CO2 and it will cost owners less to run.

Aircraft are a different matter. They run on a fuel similar to diesel and the difference between an aircraft with 150 passengers as opposed to 100 is very little. The aircraft would use more fuel with the added weight of the 50 extra passengers but it would probably be less than 3%. We would need the aircraft to stop flying completely to stop the pollution. Just like diesel, aircraft fuel does not contain lead, not that lead is an atmospheric pollutant anyway.

We all need to heat our houses, so central heating is a necessity. If we could reduce the amount of fuel we burn in a system we would also reduce cost and CO2 emissions. The easiest way to do this is to increase the amount of insulation in our houses. An amount spent on loft insulation would pay back in the form of reduced heating bills very quickly. You can never have too much. My house has about 300mm at the moment, but I intend to increase that to around 500mm soon.

Electricity is generated by power stations burning fossil fuels, nuclear power and hydro electric. There are also wind farms which generate power and along with hydro electric schemes these do not produce CO2 in the generation stage. Solar power is a good alternative and here in southern France I believe that there should be more investment in this source for water heating. That is also one of the projects that I have in my mind.

Water usage also make a difference in that the water that we all flush our toilets with has been cleaned to drinking standards, had chlorine and fluoride added and is pumped to our houses. Just fitting a rainwater butt and feeding the toilet cistern off that would save hundreds of litres per year for the average house and here in France where we all have meters, that would save money. I have converted mine and have two inlets to the cistern, each with a standard ball cock on them, that way I can switch to town water should the water butt freeze. I estimate that we save around 20 to 30 thousand litres per year.

Electricity use is very easy. Just by changing light bulbs we can save CO2 and money. A standard 60 watt light bulb gives out most of its power consumption in heat, great in the summer, what a waste. A low energy bulb which gives out about the same amount of light uses 11 watt, but is not as hot. The revolution in lighting that is happening at this very moment is LEDs (light emitting diodes). These are the little light that you see on the front of the TV when it is switched off. An LED spotlight uses around 3 watts of electricity and last many times longer than a normal light bulb. LEDs are now appearing in torches and car light bulbs. In torches the batteries last around 12 times as long. I have LED rear light bulbs in both the motorbikes as they do not blow with vibration and reduce the power consumption should we leave the parking lights on. I also have a 240 volt LED spot lamp above the front door which uses less than 2 watts of electricity. Most people have seen LEDs in the solar garden lights that can be bought, these are not very bright because there is only one LED and the light has to be diffused to light an area. If you see 15 or 20 of these LEDs clustered together they make an effective lamp. Many motor manufacturers are now designing LED tail lights for cars.


At 11:59 am, Blogger François said...

Heh, I see you have some concerns about our future too.... like me.

I noticed one other 'new' thing in Germany for heating homes: warmth taken from the ground your house stands on. They bury some tubing deep into the ground that take up the earths warmth and use it for heating the homes. Seems an intersting concept too, nect to solar energy, which should be abundant in the south of France.... and everywhere else too if things continue like this ! ;-)


At 12:00 pm, Blogger François said...

Did I say Germany !?? How odd. I meant 'France; of course !


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