Carbon Conservation & Energy Efficiency


Bruce Rowse & Team

Budget 2009: Pay twice to cut carbon.

May 13th, 2009

Direct quote from the government’s 2009 budget web site:

“Households and small businesses will be able to calculate the potential dollar savings from their energy efficiency actions and make tax deductible donations to the Energy Efficiency Savings Pledge Fund. The Australian Carbon Trust will use these donations to purchase and retire Australian emissions units or purchase carbon offsets.”

What this means:

  • If you voluntarily cut your household energy consumption to save greenhouse gas – sorry the greenhouse savings don’t count! If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you have to actually now go and pay to “retire” the carbon you’ve saved – and pay the government to do so. See my earlier blog posting rantings about the disincentives in the CPRS (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) for more detail. Basically if you don’t pay to retire the greenhouse gas you’ve saved, the entity generating the energy (say an electricity generator) can claim it. And trade it. And you have contributed no additional greenhouse savings beyond that which the emissions trading scheme would achieve anyway.
  • If you are a small business…. hang on… what is a “small business”? As only Australia’s top emitters get to participate in the CPRS doesn’t the definition of a “small business” in this context mean anyone who can’t participate in the CPRS? To participate in the CPRS you either have to directly generate over 25,000 tonnes of carbon a year, or consume more than 100 Terajoules of energy. In other words you are a small business if your annual energy consumption is less than 100 TeraJoules of energy or you directly produce less than 25,000 tonnes of carbon. What is a tera joule? You are probably familiar with kilojoules (1,000 joules), a tera joule is actually 1,000,0000,000,000 Joules. 100 TJ equates to an annual energy expense of about $2 million (as does the production of 25,000 tonnes). So, if you spend less than around $2 million a year on energy you are a “small business”!

So let me rewrite what budget actually means in plain English. “If you spend less than around $2,000,000 a year on energy, and you cut your energy use, in order to be able to also say that you’ve cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions you need to pay the government for it to recognise that what you’ve saved is an actual saving.”

Or, lets do a hypothetical here. Lets assume that you are a “small business” – ie your energy expense is less than $2 million a year. (What a tiny, wee business you’ve got if you’re not spending $2 million a year on energy!) You invest $10,000 in upgrading your lighting (using Mirrorlux Reflectors say). This saves you  $5000 a year on your electricity bills and about 25 tonnes of carbon annually. But if you want to say that your investment has reduced Australia’s emissions you actually have to pay. Lets say the carbon price settles at $50 a tonne. You’ll have to spend $1,250 a year to be able to genuinely say that your investment in your lighting upgrade is saving greenhouse gas. Because if you don’t, under the CPRS, the electricity generator supplying you the power that energises your lights has the right to the carbon you’ve saved.

Another hypothetical. This time you invest in a new gas heating system in your school. You spend $300,000 to put in gas space heaters and eliminate the old central heating system. It saves you approximately $20,000 a year in gas costs, and about 160 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. At $50 a tonne you have to pay the government $8,000 to “retire” the carbon you’ve saved. 40% of the financial savings you’ve realised goes to the government if you want to be able to say that your investment is actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Are, you, like me, someone who believes that personal or “small business” action can do something to avert dangerous climate change? Do you, like me, spend less than TWO MILLION DOLLARS a year on energy? Well the government is clearly telling you and me that if we want to make a difference we have to pay twice. Pay for the investment to cut your emissions. And then pay the government to retire those emissions.

Isn’t there something really really wrong if we have to spend twice to cut our greenhouse gas emissions?

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Which Solar Hot Water Heating System?

May 8th, 2009

(Part One)

One of the most energy intensive (and therefore costly) processes in any house is the heating of water. Heating water accounts to about 37% – 40% of the annual energy consumption in an average Australian household and about 20% of its greenhouse emissions. Therefore it is important to consider all the alternatives, such as using the heat of the sun in solar hot water systems.

The diagram below summarises the GHG emissions of each type of hot water system.

GHG emissions from hot water systems

GHG emissions from hot water systems

There are three main types of roof-mounted solar hot water heating systems used in Australia. These are: the unglazed polymer collectors which are mainly used in the form of black pipes or hoses for heating swimming pools, the glazed panels which are copper pipes insulated within a dark glass panel and the evacuated glass heat tubes which also have copper pipes running through them but are housed in a vacuum-filled environment. The tank maybe located on the roof together with the collectors or could be in a separate location. In passive systems, water flows unassisted between the collectors and the tank. In active systems, water is pumped between the collectors and the tank.

Throughout the day, a sensor monitors the difference in water temperature between the water in the storage tank and the water in the collector (typically mounted on the roof). At a preset temperature difference, the sensor triggers a pump to circulate the water through the collectors where it absorbs solar heat.

Below is a summary of the two types of commonly used domestic solar hot water systems. Both the flat panel and evacuated systems have several versions, where gas or electricity is used to boost the water temperature if it is not sufficiently hot coming out of the water tank. In most cases the sun is simply used to ‘preheat’ the water to higher temperatures (40-70 C) before it goes into a storage tank. A pump may be used to circulate the water from the tank to the collectors until it is used. In addition the flat panel systems may use a heat-exchange mechanism typically where the water may freeze.

Flat panel or evacuated tubes?

In recent years evacuated tubes have become more popular and affordable and together with the flat panels have become widely used in Australia, especially since generous government rebates have been introduced. However, it is still disputed which system is better than the other. Obviously the manufacturers of each type of system claim that theirs is better than the other (sometimes claiming 90% to 160% more efficiency than the other system). The following reasons have been cited: because it captures sunlight better, is better in certain climates, is more cost effective, has better output for dollar spent, has faster payback, is less prone to failure or damage, is cheaper to repair, requires less roof installation area, etc.

It is difficult to find impartial opinions on the subject. It seems that each system should be examined in its own context. The climatic conditions and application will determine the better collector. One of them may be the preferred choice over the other due to a number of variables, such as the environment, availability of sunlight, elevation, orientation, average outdoor temperature, greenhouse gas savings, ease of installation including existing plumbing, payback period, running cost, availability of natural gas to use for boosting water temperature, how well the hot water tanks are insulated and many other factors. So which one is better and how do they compare?

To be continued……..soon……….

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Plasma Lighting update

May 6th, 2009

A couple of months ago Barney wrote a post on this blog about plasma lighting – a form of cold cathode fluorescent lighting. They aren’t yet on the market, but I’ve managed to get hold of a couple. I’ve just installed these lights in my house, next to a window, above each end of a sofa often used for reading at night. So how have the plasma lights performed?

Considering that they only use 8 watts of power – as compared to the 55 to 65 watts used by a 50 watt halogen downlight – they have performed well. They are cheaper than the very high performance LEDs, but produce around the same amount of light. They start up quickly – unlike many CFLs. And if I wanted, I could have put them on a dimming circuit – unlike LEDs which generally aren’t designed for dimming. They are fully sealed, so there is no air movement through the fitting into the ceiling cavity. The light colour is acceptable, although it’s perhaps slightly too blue for my liking (I’ve installed cool white lamps). But the light colour is still much more comfortable than the harsh light of a 5000K daylight compact fluoro.

There is still a significant disadvantage, as compared with a 50 watt halogen though, which is the light output. When the white curtains in the window next to the lights are closed there is just enough light to read comfortably for long periods. But when the curtains are open at night the loss of reflection from the curtains is just enough to make the light not quite bright enough for me personally. I’d like it if they were a bit brighter. The lights are mounted roughly 2.2m above the floor, directly above each end of the sofa.

I reckon that the plasma downlight is better than an LED downlight for general lighting. Certainly we haven’t had the reliability problems or failures with the few that we have tested in the office and now at my home that we have had with LEDs. We’ve spent a small fortune buying expensive LED downlights only to see them fail shortly after install. For rooms such as toilets and bathrooms, where you want full brightness within a few seconds, the plasma lights are probably a better option to a compact fluoro, and may better handle frequent switching. I look forward to plasma lights coming onto the market, as they can make a valuable contribution to reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gaas emissions.

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Action gets results

April 26th, 2009

Its been a while since our last blog post. Which of course means we have been busy helping our customers save lots of carbon!

Its always tremendously satisfying to see customers act on our advice and thus cut their energy costs and carbon emissions. We recently helped one of our oldest customers identify savings in a building they have recently occupied, before I knew it our advice had been acted on and the next bill that comes in will be lower. As a consultant its pretty hard to beat the sense of fulfilment that comes from results such as this.

Over the last couple of years its been interesting to observe that the propensity for action is increasing. More of our customers are more willing to invest to achieve carbon savings. I think that there are a couple of  reasons for this.

Firstly, the obvious reason is that there is now much more popular support for efforts to reduce carbon emissions than there were three years ago. This has also transformed the mandate of many of the managers we deal with, to move from planning to action. Which is fantastic.

However another reason is also the experience of many of our customers. They have become “true believers” in energy efficiency because they have seen the results for themselves in the past. Two or three years ago they might have felt they were going out on a bit of a limb to put money into energy efficiency. Could our advice be trusted? But they did. And, surprise surprise, their energy consumption dropped. They saved money and carbon. Now they are much more willing to invest.

If you still haven’t seen the results of investing in energy efficiency yourself, do a small trial. Firstly, establish your baseline energy consumption. Pick a small building – for example your home – and go through the bills to establish your annual cost and carbon emissions ( has a calculator which will help you do this). Then do some things to reduce your electricity use. Change any incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent. If you have a beer fridge, used only occassionally, turn it off, and only turn on when needed. Rearrange your power boards so its easy to turn off stand by loads. Actively start thinking about light switches and turning off lights in empty rooms. If you can see that bad switch off habits in the household aren’t changing as quickly as you would like, try to do some things that “lock in” energy savings. For example, if your electric hot water unit is set to 70 degrees, lower this to 60 degrees, and start using timers to turn things off automatically.

You’ll learn a lot, and will see savings in your bills (remember to compare with the same time last year, as usage is seasonal). You can then apply these lessons at work to get much larger savings.

Become a “true believer” in energy efficiency and be a person of action. Simple, but something that can have a big impact when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

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Save water save money

March 23rd, 2009

This blog aims to show how improving water and resource efficiency within a business not only improves the environment but also a business’s bottom line.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world yet we have the highest consumption per person in the developed world, we also have extremely poor recycling practices with less than 3% recycling of waste water in Australia. Much of the reason for this excessive usage and indiscriminate wastage is due to the commonly accepted belief that we could never run out of water nor over pollute water bodies. Our water resources have been exploited since European settlement to promote economic and demographic growth and employment generation with no thoughts toward long term sustainability.   

Improving the way we use water in daily business operations has an immediate impact on the environment by reducing the depletion of our rivers and catchments and at the same time reducing the disposal of this water into the marine environment where it causes widespread environmental damage. Environmental improvement is essential for a sustainable future in Australia, but what part should business play in bringing this about?

 Improving the environment goes hand in hand with improving business performance. In fact you can’t have one without the other. Both are about using resources effectively. Businesses use various resources e.g. the workplace, labour, utilities and consumables. Importantly the use of all of these resources has associated costs that directly affect the profitability of business.  So it makes sense to use all of these resources as effectively as possible.

Businesses that improve their business performance by reducing their use of resources not only are better able to compete in the market place but are indirectly reducing the depletion or pollution of our environment. 

To demonstrate this take this example for water- A business pays to purchase water and pays to have the same water disposed into the ocean. There are costs associated at both ends. If you can reuse the wastewater you produce (e.g. for plant watering), you can reduce costs associated with its disposal. If however, you can reduce the amount of water you use in the first place you reduce both the costs for its purchase and disposal. This is the same with all resources, whether it is energy, consumables/waste or water. When you consider that unseen leaks are a major area of water consumption in businesses, you can see that business can unnecessarily be wasting money and resources at the expense of the business itself and the environment. Reducing consumption at the source is the key!        

Reducing resource usage is therefore an excellent opportunity for businesses to be competitive and save the environment. But there is another benefit that can be gained from a business improving its resource use, namely selling these environmental improvements to the customers to increase market share. Customers increasingly want environmental accountability from business and there is no better way than doing it than reducing resource use.

Business operators typically understand the benefits in being “seen to be green”, but often miss the opportunity available by not reaping the financial savings that can be gained with environmental improvement.

Ultimately, it is up to individual businesses to pursue resource efficiency and derive the full benefits from improvements to their resource use. As a whole however businesses will become more resourceful and greener in the future. The reason for this is that businesses that don’t simply won’t be able to survive in a highly competitive and frugal market place.   

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