Carbon Conservation & Energy Efficiency

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Bruce Rowse & Team

Climate Change and Water Shortage

March 29th, 2010

Easing water restrictions in Victoria may have an undesirable impact on the fight against climate change. According to a recent article in The Age, “the sight of greener gardens and healthier trees that will regain our image as the ‘garden state’ will also turn people’s attention away from the bigger environmental picture – that is global warming”. The soon to be available extra water also means more greenhouse emissions and more climate change.

Some observers expressed that for many Australians climate change wasn’t a real issue until their backyards began to turn brown. Water restrictions for these people were the most visible and tangible manifestation of the drought and that there is something going on with our climate. Lifting water restrictions is sending the wrong message to the public and once again relegates concerns about global warming to the back of their minds. However, the extra water won’t be falling out of the sky either.

Unfortunately the lifting of water restrictions is not entirely due to the restoration of normal rainfall and increased dam levels (which may have appeared so during the deluges of the last few months) but due to the completed construction of the north-south pipeline and the controversial desalination plant near Wonthaggi. (Some cynics say it is also due to the upcoming state elections).

Ironically, to compensate for the reduced rainfall which is most likely a consequence of changed weather patterns, we are building a desalination plant that is extremely energy intensive and polluting. The annual energy use of the plant will be around 900 GWh. The pollution from this will equal to putting 365,000 cars on the road emitting around 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 (in terms of black balloons that’s around 30 billion of them). This is not including the ‘carbon footprint’ of the plant during construction, which equals to about 1.4 million tonnes of CO2. It is still not clear where the extra energy will come from but it was suggested that gas-fired power stations.

There are of course many other side effects of the desal plant that environmentalists highlighted, such as producing 30,000 tonnes of solid waste that include toxic chemicals and 200 million tonnes of brine that will be pumped back into the ocean each year. All of which will impact on marine life without knowing what the ultimate outcome will be.

Many people believe that we should be focusing on better ways to capture and store the remaining rainwater instead of constructing desalination plants that will significantly increase greenhouse emissions which in term contribute to the larger issue of climate change. Despite the reduced levels of rainfall it is still more than enough to cover our water usage if it is harnessed properly. Money would be better spent providing households with water tanks, which would have much less impact on climate change. Otherwise, we will have to deal with more than just shorter showers and not being allowed to water our gardens or wash our cars at home.

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Walmart plans to save more carbon than Australia

March 11th, 2010

American retailer Walmart has announced it will cut its supply chain emissions by 20 million tonnes by 2015.

If Walmart can do this why can’t the Australian government get our country to do the same?

My understanding is that if the government’s proposed CPRS goes ahead Australia’s emissions will be cut by around 20 million tonnes by 2015. The Australian government’s target is a 5% reduction by 2020.

According to the Environmental Leader, Walmart’s target “translates into 150 percent of the giant retailer’s estimated global carbon footprint growth over the next five years.”

On a percentage basis Walmart’s targets eclipse Australia’s by a massive amount.

Australia has over 1.2 million people employed by state governments. I’m not sure how many public servants are employed federally, on top of this number.

Walmart has around 1.9 million employees.

From a staffing perspective the number of people whom Walmart and the Australian government have “operational control” over are not that dissimilar in magnitude. Obviously as a retailer Walmart has a much bigger supply chain over which it has influene than the Australian government. So in this regard a direct comparison between Walmart and the Australian government is not really fair. But on the other hand the Australian government in theory can influence all Australians to reduce their carbon footprint, either through regulation or incentives.

What is striking about the Walmart announcement is the seriousness of their commitment. If all businesses were this serious about reducing their carbon footprint our government’s incapacity to cut Australia’s carbon emissions would be less of a worry.

If Walmart, an organisation famous for keeping costs low and operating leanly, can significant cut its emissions, can’t yours do the same? I need to be clear here, Walmart is a for-profit business. Its margins aren’t huge – in 2006 its profit margin was 3.2%. Yet it can clearly see that the environmental benefit of cutting its emissions is not a bad business decision. 

Most of Walmart’s savings are likely to come from energy efficiency. Energy efficiency provides a positive return on investment. It makes economic and business sense, as well as environmental sense.
If Walmart can commit to significantly cutting their emissions, can’t your organisation do the same? Our government can’t, but you can. Are all Australian’s with worries about climate change going to be shamed by a business from across the Pacific, or are we all going to step up personally and in our workplaces and get serious about reducing greenhouse gas pollution?

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World’s most energy efficient office building?

February 4th, 2010

The Elithis Tower in Dijon, France, consumes just 20 kWh/m2 and was designed to cost no more than a conventional office buildings. The February issue of Ecolibirum, the magazine of AIRAH (Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating) reported on this building.

It is a 10 storey building of around 5,000 m2, with solar panels covering the rooftop. A “light shield” allows light but not radiant energy into the building. Low environmental impact materials have been used in its construction.

This is an extraordinary achievement, and is an example of human ingenuity rising to the climate change challenge. Most office buildings of that size would consume over 200 kWh/m2, and a very efficient building around 60 kWh/m2.

The Elithis Tower is the first building that I am aware of that beats the 30 kWh/m2 we achieved in the CarbonetiX office in 2008. In 2009 our emissions crept up to 33 kWh/m2, probably due to the introduction of additional computer monitors and staff countering the savings from skylights we installed at the end of 2008.

The Elithis Tower sets a great standard which I hope inspires further great engineering and design to make low or no energy use buildings the norm rather than the exception.

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How self-limiting beliefs are wasting money and energy

January 26th, 2010

Last year VECCI – the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry – undertook a survey of business attitudes to climate change.

A surprising – and very disappointing result – was that many businesses believed they had done all they could do to minimise their energy use and carbon footprint.

This self-limiting belief means that these businesses are wasting money and energy, and producing greenhouse gases – needlessly.

One of our customers, who has already cut their energy use by up to 40% across a range of facilities, had us do a quick search for further energy saving opportunities late last year. This organisation is well known as being a leader in energy conservation and saving. Were we able to identify further opportunities to reduce their energy use, within their payback period? The answer to that is a resounding YES.

Henry Ford had a great saying which I love to quote. “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

If you turn all your computers off at the end of the day and don’t leave lights on in empty rooms you might think you are doing all you can to save energy. But that would be wrong. For example, you probably still have opportunity to delamp (remove excess lamps in areas that are too bright), and to save computer power through aggressive power management settings. And that’s without investing any capital! If you have some money to invest you can save any more, and get a return on investment the banks would kill for.

If you want to cut your energy use, you can!

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Interactive Map on Climate Change

January 15th, 2010

The link below goes to an interactive map of the world showing the impact in various places of a average global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celcius. For example some parts of Australia would experience a 6 degree rise, whist the oceans around Australia a 2 or 3 degree rise.

http://www.actoncopenhagen.decc.gov.uk/content/en/embeds/flash/4-degrees-large-map-final. Note the map doesn’t work in Internet Explorer 7 – it did work in Firefox for me.

The map was produced by the Met office in the UK, and is a good tool for identifying the predicted “hot spots” (a bad pun, I know) for forest fires, crops, water availability, sea level rise, marine, drought, permafrost, tropical cyclones and extreme temperature.

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