9 No more dirty brown coal power!

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Woo hoo! Last week we got the last electricity bill from Origin so there’s cause to celebrate. And we’ve been on 100% renewable power (solar from our rooftop panels and wind from Powershop) for the past 3 weeks. It’s taken a while because when you change power companies there is a 10-day cool-off/changeover period so we had to wait for it all to go through. But apart from the wait it was all incredibly easy – I filled out a form online on the Powershop website and it all happened seamlessly. So NO MORE DIRTY BROWN COAL POWER! I’ved tried to logon to Origin to get the final readouts but they cut all that off straight away.

And, believe it or not, the cost for 100% power from renewable sources is cheaper by a country mile.

The comparison:

Origin: The “green” option on our last Origin bill cost (25.71+ 3.61=) 29.32c/kWh, plus the supply charge of 113.45 c/Day (which works out to about $102 for a 90-day bill) and then adds GST on at the end. I’ve done the calculations (four times, because I didn’t believe it the first time) and overall this works to a massive average cost of 49.25 c/kWh on the last bill and more than 41 c/kWh on the previous one. (The charges for all the bits were the same on both bills but the amounts are slightly different depending on how much power you use in a billing period.) Another thing, if you use Origin you will notice at the bottom of the “Your bill in detail” page there is an amount for “Average Daily Electricity Usage Costs (excl. GST)”. This is misleading as it is NOT your daily cost and excludes supply and any other charges as well as GST.

Powershop: combines all the amounts (cost per kWh + supply charge + GST) and then charges a combined unit cost, which varies a little depending on the packs you choose. (They do give you a breakdown of the charges on their website so you can compare with other companies.) We bought the Getup online saver pack so our new cost is 29.46 per unit all up. Massive difference.

If you want to switch over

Powershop have deals on at the moment where if you get a friend to sign up, you both get $75 credit – so let me IMG_3625know if you want me to
recommend you! Or, if you sign-up via Oxfam or Get-up, they get a donation as part of the deal.

The only negative I have found so far with Powershop is that their IMG_3627customer website doesn’t have the level of
information that Origin had on our
solar feed-in. They do a monthly update but don’t have the detailed graphs or daily info, though when I contacted them they told me lots of people had asked about this and they were “working on it”. It also takes a bit of time to learn how their system works and figure out how to use it, as it is a different approach to other providers.

Rooftop solar contributionenphase3

On top of the cost savings we only need to buy about 7 or 8 units a day on average at present (last Sunday we only used 4 units from the grid!) because the rooftop solar panels are producing so much – we are producing way more electricity than we are using.

It varies depending on cloud cover and temperature, but we produced 1275 kWh during October and November – an average of 21 kWh a day. Yesterday it was a whopping 30 kWh, though the lumpiness of use meant we still had to buy 7.8 units from the grid. This is where battery storage would really help. According to the home and online monitors, our peak usage time is around 7pm, which is probably quite common for most households. This is when you get home from whatever you’re doing during the day and are using lots of appliances at once: cooking, washing, showering, and turning heating or cooling on.

Carbon neutral vs carbon zero

However overall, assuming our household usage is around 12kWh a day at this time of year (see blog number 6), our excess production means we are must be heading towards carbon neutral territory, and offsetting our gas and petrol consumption to some degree. Which makes me feel good. Though I know this is not the same as carbon zero…

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8. A summary of where we’re up to

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I thought it was time to do a recap on what we’ve achieved so far in reducing our emissions, how much it’s cost and how easy the process has been. So here is a summary table of what we’ve done and how it’s gone.

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There are still a few things to investigate that could reduce our emissions even more. We need to do an audit of our appliances to see how efficient they are and also want to investigate batteries for power storage. There seem to be more and more companies offering various sorts of batteries for power storage – lithium ion, lead gel acid, zinc bromide and even salt-water (sodium ion). There are links to some of these here. The resident scientist says we need to research the different battery technologies and that over the next 12 months they will get better and cheaper so we should wait for a bit.

Our insulation is pretty crappy, and the back door doesn’t close properly, leaving a big gap for draughts. Fixing those would make a difference to the energy needed for heating and cooling the house. Our hot water system is instantaneous gas, so I am wondering if there’s any room left on our roof for a solar thermal hot water system. Double-glazing on the windows is supposed to make a big difference to the power required for heating and cooling – I’ll get a quote but I expect it will be a too expensive to do at present. And in the garden, my water tanks are only a quarter full and don’t look like being enough to survive the current El Niño.

I think what we’ve done so far has made a big difference but there’s still more to do.

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7. Back to the house: LEDs are in

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The LEDs have finally been installed! IMG_3461Well, most of them anyway.
It’s made a fantastic difference
in the downstairs lounge room and study where the fittings were so old the globes kept blowing and the rooms have been in semi-dark for the past few years. With new downlights and globes it’s like daylight in there now, which is amazing. IMG_3463Though it also means we can see all the crappy paintwork and other things that need maintenance and fixing, and we also have about a dozen large holes in the ceiling to patch and paint.

It cost us a bit more than we thought as some of our fittings and wiring were very old and needed replacing completely. IMG_3462However, if you have a lot of halogen downlights, there is a government-subsidised scheme that will replace halogen downlights for free. Unfortunately we only had two of those, so couldn’t take advantage of it.

After the electrician left, I realised there were a few lights we’d missed, mainly outside. Most of them just need LED globes so I can do that myself, but there are some fittings in the upstairs bathroom that are a bit old and weird and there don’t seem to be any LEDs available to fit them. I guess we’ll have to replace them too.

Lifestyle interlude 6 – Divestment

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I figure it’s no good making a big effort to lower my own carbon footprint while still dealing with financial institutions and energy suppliers that have giant footprints. So there’s yet more goals to reduce emissions – find a bank and super fund that don’t invest in fossil fuels, and switch energy providers because I know ours is bad!

Gas

We have instantaneous gas hot water, gas stovetop and very old ducted gas central heating. There isn’t really an easy option here without spending money to get rid of the gas appliances and switch to all-electric that can run off our rooftop solar.

IMG_3450 IMG_3448 IMG_3447 I know gas doesn’t have quite the CO2 output as coal-fired electricity but it’s still not good. In the long term we’ve decided we will go all electric but it might take a while to get around to this so it’s on hold for now. Eventually we want to get solar thermal hot water and replace the old central heating with something better. In the meantime, we’ll just try to use the heater less and wear more clothes instead.

Electricity

Our solar output is improving, but although we’re now producing more than we use, our bills are still quite high (I’ll write a separate post about that). We still have to buy power. Our power supplier is Origin, known as one of “the dirty three”. We have to ditch them. We’ve been paying the 100% “green” levy option for years but I don’t really trust how that all works so it’s time to change. I did a little spread sheet to compare the alternatives using green electricity guides from six different sources: Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/climate/The-Green-Electricity-Guide/ , Switchwise https://www.switchwise.com.au/ , Getup https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/renewable-energy/switch/join-the-switch-to-save-renewables , Renew economy http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/who-is-the-greenest-energy-retailer-in-australia-90911 , Yourchoice http://www.yourchoice.vic.gov.au/ and Iselect http://energy.iselect.com.au/electricity/info/save-electricity/compare-energy-victoria.html .

Five out of six had Powershop as their number one recommendation, on price as well as greenness. Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 12.53.28 pmPowershop claims to be 100% green power from Meridian Energy, which operates wind farms in Victoria. There seem to be three other power suppliers in Victoria with relatively good credentials who were consistently recommended in the top four: Momentum Energy (Tassie hydro electric) Red Energy (Snowy hydro) and Diamond Energy (mix of renewable options but still sell the coal-fired stuff as well). It’s hard to compare costs directly, but Powershop and Momentum seem to have slightly better rates, though Diamond pays slightly more for the feed-in solar tariff – 8c per kW compared to the standard 6.2c (Powershop pays 6.4c). We’ve decided to go with Powershop but haven’t manged to make the switch yet as we need to give them a credit card number and we’re in the process of switching banks as well. Once the banking is all sorted, it’s goodbye Origin and hello Powershop.

Mortgage and banking

Our house mortgage was with the ANZ – one of the worst offenders (along with the other “big three”) with billions invested in various fossil fuel ventures including coal mines. One of my goals has been to join the divestment campaign and find a bank that is “clean”. Market Forces http://www.marketforces.org.au/ has done some comprehensive research here and is constantly updating its information about banks, super funds and government fossil fuel subsidies. The next two biggest banks in Australia after the big four are Bendigo-Adelaide Bank and the Bank of Queensland. They both claim to have no investments in fossil fuels, as do many of the smaller banks and credit unions.

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After a bit of research and discussion we decided to go with Bendigo-Adelaide, though this has not been a smooth transition. We used a broker who got us a good deal on our mortgage with the Adelaide arm of the bank, but knowing what we do now, I would have gone straight to the local Bendigo branch. Although these banks have merged and are one organisation (and both fossil free), Adelaide Bank still operates separately from Bendigo; and has not been easy to deal with. We started looking around and doing our research last year, and although the mortgages were finalised in back in May, there were issues with the setting up of accounts and credit cards that are still being sorted out in October. It’s been very frustrating and not very straightforward. But it’s nearly all done now.

Investments and super

I’ve chosen the ethical option for my superannuation fund (VicSuper) and have requested a no-fossil-fuel option, which they claim they’re working on and will offer soon. If enough people email their super funds and ask for better options, it will increase the chances of this happening. Market Forces  have certainly helped put the pressure on with their research and publicity, and made it easy to contact banks and super funds through their website. As for our investments, we do have some and they need to be greened up too. But that’s my partner’s job. And he’s on notice!

Changing all these things is all harder and way more time-consuming than I expected. However, it feels really really good to have ditched the ANZ.

Lifestyle interlude 5 – Recycling

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I’m a good recycler and I think recycling is important but I have a huge problem with it. Or rather with people who think they’re doing their bit for the planet by recycling. IMG_3434The council campaigns have been so successful that it’s second nature now. Pretty much everyone across Melbourne puts their bottles, cans and papers into the kerbside recycle bin. It’s easy. But that’s all they do. I think it makes most people switch off to doing anything else. They can feel good about IMG_3432doing the right thing by recycling, so there’s no need to think any further about sustainability or climate change.

Even on the recycling front, there is much more to it than just putting the wine bottles and stubbies in the wheelie bin. It hasn’t reduced most people’s consumption of goods and packaging, and the kerbside bin only takes some recyclables.

So what else can we do?

I’m learning new things about recycling all the time. Firstly, turning the recycled material into new products uses energy (= CO2 emissions) and water and creates more pollution and toxic waste. So reducing what we buy is important and especially reducing the packaging. I’m not perfect here, but my goal is to keep improving all the time. Once again, Greenpeace has lots of tips on their website blog http://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/13-everyday-items-didnt-know-recycle/

  1. Bags and packaging. I’ve found IMG_3418the easiest thing to change is to say no to plastic bags. I always take reusable bags when I’m shopping, whether for food or clothes or anything else, and just make sure I hang on to the receipts so I don’t get stopped for shoplifting. Greenpeace has a good article on bags here https://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/cleaning-up-our-plastic-act/?utm_campaign=Green+Living&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_term=plasticact

I’ve also started to buy less processed and packaged food, which also cuts down on things for the recycle bin. My bad here is I still use those tear-off plastic bags when I’m in the fruit and veg shop. I’m trying to change this but it’s slow. Sometimes I’ll use paper bags instead, or no bag for bigger things. I always save the bags I bring home and have started taking them back to the fruit shop and reusing them, but it’s not an ingrained habit yet so I often forget.

Some shops supply what they call bio-degradable plastic bags but there is no such thing! These bags just break down into smaller and smaller pieces but they’re still pieces of plasti,c which will be around for almost ever. A recent study I saw in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/01/up-to-90-of-seabirds-have-plastic-in-their-guts-study-finds claimed that 90% of sea birds and sea life have plastic in them. So bags are only biodegradable if they are made out of something else, not from plastic. And there is so so much plastic in the ocean it’s scary http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/10/full-scale-plastic-worlds-oceans-revealed-first-time-pollution There’s an interesting story here about a young guy who is trying to clean up the ocean cleaning up the oceans

2. After finding out that you can’t IMG_3422put some plastics in the kerbside bin, I’ve started collecting soft plastics and food packets and dropping them off in the bin at Coles once a week or so. This was a bit of a hassle at first, but I’ve got a better system going now and it’s getting easier, though it’s still hard getting the whole family to remember to do it. It’s amazing how much difference it’s made to our rubbish. The kitchen non-recycle bin has such a small amount in it now, it would take more than a month to fill. And it feels a bit silly putting the wheelie bin out on rubbish night when it’s hardly got anything in it.

3. Compost. Apparently in Australia, we throw out about a third of our food. IMG_3426This means lots of energy and water and “food miles” for nothing. We have chickens and compost bins so that’s an easy one for us and cuts down on our rubbish too. I’m also resolved to try to not overbuy or overcook so there is less wastage.

4. Dead batteries, light globes, old phones, electrical and electronic appliances.
There are quite a few organisations that will collect these things as they should NOT go in your rubbish. Some are listed on the Greenpeace site above. I’ve found the best way for us is to collect them at home and then take them to the IMG_3421council depot. For us, the closest is the City of Yarra one in Clifton Hill where there are separate bins for everything. This is not hard.

5. Old clothes and furniture. There’s charity shops and sites like ebay and gumtree. Easy.

Lifestyle interlude 4 – Cleaning and other household products

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Who gives a crap?

Can’t resist plugging this one. http://au.whogivesacrap.org/
I heard about WGAC a year or so agoIMG_3428 and ordered some to see what it was like. 100% recycled dunny paper delivered to your door. 50% of the profits go to water and sanitation projects in third world countries. Not sure if it reduces emissions or not as it’s made in China rather than Australia, but I think overall it is doing more good than harm.

Cleaning

For a long time now I have only used “green” cleaning products, though it’s hard to know exactly how harmful or not they are. We use white vinegar instead of the blue liquid in the dishwasher, and grey-water-friendly detergents. I also employ a cleaner once a fortnight but have changed to a cleaning company that uses no chemicals http://www.earthfriendlycleaning.com.au/ There’s quite a few similar cleaning companies like this around if you search online.

Things I need to change

Two things I need alternatives for are better ways of keeping mosquitoes away, and getting rid of ants when they come inside in summer. These things are a real nuisance – I’ve tried lots of rustic ways of getting rid of ants that are generally messy or fiddly or don’t work. I don’t spray anymore (unless they get really, really, really bad!) but do use a dab of liquid borax. I don’t think this is very good but I’m not sure. So I need help here.

As for mosquitoes, I’d love to find a better product than the chemical ones but the citronella and herbal concoctions just don’t seem to cut it. We have tried to cut down on breeding places around the house, which helps a bit; and have wire screens on the doors and windows. But we live near the river and in the warmer weather there are always mozzies around. Any suggestions that really work?

Household goods

My resolve here is to reduce emissions by only buying the highest star-rated appliances if we need to replace any; only buy natural fibre bedding or furnishings, LED globes, recycled or FSC wood products and, overall, to buy and consume less. I recently bought a non-synthetic doona for my daughter made from wood fibre, from sustainable plantations. I don’t know if this is a better choice or not. It was from Ikea so probably had high “food miles” but the label claimed this fibre used less water and was more environmentally sustainable than cotton. I hope this is true, otherwise I was sucked in by the label.

Green labelling

Actually this brings up a sore point: so many products and labels claim to be “green” or have the words “eco” or “organic” or “earth” on them. But there’s no reliable regulatory or rating system to go by. How do we tell what is really good and what’s a con?

Lifestyle interlude 3 – Clothes

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The sort of clothes we buy contribute to climate change. Greenpeace actually has good advice about this: http://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/green-your-wardrobe/ Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.02.37 pm

First, there’s the reuse (ie buy less and wear out the stuff I already have) and recycle thing. This is easy as there are so many op shops and vintage cloth stores around.

Secondly, there’s the BSL op shopsupporting-local-handmade-design thing, which is also
pretty easy as there are artisan markets somewhere or other
every weekend in Melbourne, eg: http://www.shirtandskirtmarkets.com.au/ ; http://www.melbournedesignmarket.com.au/home/ ; http://www.mymarketsvic.com.au/directory/category/fashion-and-clothing-markets/

Thirdly, there’s choosing good new stuff made from natural fibres rather than petrochemical synthetics, and trying to find natural fibres that are made using good production methods. I’ve wasted a lot of time looking and this is much harder than it should be. IMG_3443Reading labels is tedious, finding brands or shops that specialise in natural fabrics is hard, and searching online gets millions of pages of not very much. Finding things made from organic or low-water cotton, linen, bamboo or hemp seems to involve luck more than anything, though I am determined to keep trying. None of these fibres are grown or produced locally, and I can’t find a lot of information about the production processes either, so I’m disappointed with how hard this is. The upside of this is I’m saving money by not buying as much!

I guess there is a fourth alternative – making your own. There’s a fantastic blog about a woman remaking old clothes into new ones: http://refashionista.net/ She’s been doing this for a few years now and explains in words and pictures how to do it step by step.

I could do this, as I come from a generation that learnt to sew and knit at school, but I don’t really enjoy it. There’s a million other things I’d rather be doing. I tried to take up knitting this winter but have only managed to knit half a scarf, which is next to useless.So I guess I’ll try to stick to the first three ideas.

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