Step one in reducing our harmful footprints on the earth, is knowing how big they are.
So the first dragon to be slayed on our heroic journey towards a greener planet is Ignorance himself. He blocks our path with his soft and cushy body and flirts with us in sweet voices of ‘it’s OK, it’s not so bad’ or ‘just keep going, things will right themselves’ or ‘it’s better than my consumerist neighbour anyway’ or, my personal favourite ‘we’re doing enough for the earth already.’
That’s when I need to pull out my swords of facts and calculations and slice this illusion into little pieces to be recycled into great compost to nourish the earth. So to be transformed into more sustainable ways of living on this planet.
A fun figure game
Before I can work out an action plan to reduce our consumption of non-renewable resources, like water and fossil fuels, I need to see what the cost of my normal lifestyle is to the earth. And have fun doing it, regard it as a game.
The problem is that energy is invisible. Even the water we use is never seen together in one place, so out of sight, out of mind.
My municipal bill is a good place to start. There I can see how many kilowatt hours of electricity (sadly, fossil fuel based) we use to run this house and office and how many kilolitres of water we use per month. Also useful is to look at our average daily consumption. If you’re woken in the middle of the night, you need to be able to say electricity 25.321 kWh , water 1.781 kl (stick with your daily consumption, as the bill doesn’t always cover the same length of time).
Onto the Family Green Board
Then it’s a good idea to share it with your family, on the day that the new bill arrives, perhaps. I wrote ours on a white board – this could then turn into a lovely chart with which we’ll all keep up to date on our progress.
I have found its key to involve the whole family. What’s the point if I go around switching off plugs at the wall, the lights and the geyser, when the next one simply does the opposite? So no good I find my way out of the forest of ignorance, but those around me remain right inside it. Personally I have found this very frustrating, so now a boer has to make a plan!
Enter the family white board of green awareness, or shall we call it the Green Board? Perhaps one should even connect incentives to making new green goals – like a green holiday, or an outing to a cool place like the aquarium or planetarium, depending on the ages of your kids. Or a special green off day for your staff.
Small steps pay off
As you can see, we are in the ‘low consumption’ bracket – probably because of a few things we’ve already implemented:
- We switch the geyser on for only one hour per day
- We heat our food up on the gas stove and bake in a gas oven – if not in the sun oven outside
- After bringing it to boiling point on the stove, we transfer all pots to the hotbox, where the rest of the cooking happens by means of trapped, residual heat.
Now to reduce that to the ‘very low domestic’ bracket, where you pay even less.
I was shocked to see our high water consumption: 1871 litres per day? So out went a very old dishwashing machine which tended to amble on for hours and I’m sure gulped up mega litres of water. I know the very economic dishwashers are supposed to save water, but I don’t believe that about the geriatric versions who don’t know when to stop. I will watch my bill to see whether this makes a difference. Next will be another old lady – an industrial washing machine.
Who’s sucking our power?
If my bill clarified my overall consumption, I still don’t know how much each device in our home draws from this power source.
I was chuffed when David Lipschitz sent us a little device which has the potential to dispel all myths around our personal consumption – the energy wireless electricity monitor.
‘One can’t manage what one doesn’t measure. A meter doesn’t save money by itself, but it helps you be aware of your electricity use. By being aware of your electricity use you can reduce it and save money. Changing our habits and those of our friends is the biggest gift we can make towards global change,’ says David.
My new baby, the know-all meter
We clamped the monitor onto our main source of power, programmed it according to the rate we pay, and now it tells me every minute how much power we are drawing. The fun comes in when you switch electronic devices on and off and see the figures change. Ever wondered whether it’s really true that you save power when you switch plugs off at the wall?
Let me give you some examples: Right now my meter reads 0.97 – this is the Rands per hour. So 97c per hour is what we’re drawing. This includes a couple of computers running. The TV was left on standby, I suspect, last night. When I switch if off at the wall, our consumption drops to 95c per hour. So we save 2c per hour, times 24 hours per day, times 30 days per month = R14.40 per month. Might not sound like a lot, but what if this goes for every plug in the house?
What is my carbon saving here? Roughly 1 kWhour = 1 kg CO2
Our rate is currently R0.9331 per kWhour, which is what I had programmed my meter with. But then my clever friends reminded me that we need to add VAT to our cost and domestic VAT is of course not reclaimable. So add 14%, which brings our cost per kWh up to R1.063. So we need to add 14% to all above calculations.
Stand-by is out
Back to the TV on standby. In truth we are saving about R14.40 plus VAT is R16.41 which would be about 16 kg of CO2 per month we can save by simply not leaving the TV plugged in! So I can say that bending down and switching the thing off at the wall saves the planet 172 kg of CO2 per year!!
The other little device which really shocked me was the kettle, which we tend to switch on without a second thought. The minute I switch it on, it increases our consumption by a whopping R1.79 extra per hour, without VAT.
Adds David: ‘But as it is on for 2 minutes 5 times a day, so that works out to 30 cents a day which still adds up to R110 per year. But here’s the real shocker and a place we can make a change to electricity cost and taxation cost. Our suppliers could supply us with 1KW kettles, which would take longer to boil than 2KW kettles, but the 1KW kettles need smaller power stations, actually half the size! The same goes for our geysers. Why not use a 1KW element instead of a 4KW element, then we’d need 1/4 the size power stations.’
Ignorance’s last breath
The best is yet to come. Now we connected the laptop to the monitor and downloaded our details to the laptop, after installing the Elink programme, which comes with the package. I can now download all my data from the monitor monthly, or daily, if I want and see exactly in graph form on my screen what my hourly, daily or monthly consumption is. It gives your estimated consumption for the year, at your current rate of consumption.
Most importantly, after monitoring your consumption for a while, you can now set your new energy targets. Normally you would set the instantaneous use limit to about 8KW, but you can now set it lower, so that an alarm goes off as soon as you overstep your own target, and switch some stuff off.
This total energy awareness is a new path for our home. I can’t wait to track what we do and have far more control over our footprint on this earth. Join us, have fun and share your stories with us.
If you are involved in energy measuring devices, or help families or businesses track their footprints, we’d like to hear from you.
By Elma Pollard