The debate about renewable energy/ energy use/ energy independence and all the associated anxieties is clearly growing in importance. Many people are just now becoming aware that there even is a debate, it’s a topic I no longer have to bring up. Anyone I meet, if they see me get out of an electric car or they see my solar panels will immediately express an opinion.
However, just as it is with me, these opinions are highly fluid, it’s a really complex debate, there is no right and wrong, no left or right, no simple, easy solution.
Doing something about our dependence on stuff we extract out of the ground and burn by the trillions of tons and gallons is seen as a good thing across party lines. How exactly we achieve that is obviously a lot more complex.
Yes, solar panels are almost exclusively used by middle class people who, as George Monbiot rightly says, own their own roof.
Wind turbines almost exclusively benefit the upper middle classes who get paid to have them on their extensive lands. The Royal family are a very good example of this. The lovely old Duke of E recently ranted on about how pointless they were, conveniently forgetting that HRH the Queen gets many £100’s of thousands a year in rent from off shore turbines (She owns a lot of sea.)
The easy dismissal of wind turbines is very popular among the certain sections of society, however over 2 weeks around Christmas and New Year, a full 12% of the UK’s electricity was from wind turbines.
Wind turbines are already on a par with burning gas to generate electricity and will soon be a far cheaper alternative. Why?
Because the cost of ‘natural’ gas which we mainly get from Russia has gone through the roof. We’ve already burnt through the stuff we found in the North Sea; in terms of burning fossils, only one thing is certain, it’s going to get more expensive.
All fuel costs have increased and the sources are at best unstable and at worse, highly volatile. This has had a huge effect on what we pay for electricity. But that’s complicated and awkward, wind turbines are much easier to criticise because if you’re posh and you live somewhere nice you don’t want them near you.
If you’re not posh and live next to an oil refinery (like my sister) and you’re not allowed to put glass in your windows (has to be heavy duty Perspex) and there are evacuation procedures you have to display in your house in the event of a massive fire or explosion, well, that’s just normal, we’re used to that.
In a recent ITV program many mentions were made of how the increasing use of renewable energy was going to increase our electricity bills. Not one mention was made of the traditional methods by which we produce the vast bulk of our power.
There is a classic moment in the program, it looks almost staged by a subversive researcher with a secret green agenda. A fairly posh land owner was sitting by his 17th century barn saying he’d had offers to install turbines on his land, he and his wife then went through the standard Daily Telegraph, James Dellingpole nonsense about how they don’t work and are an eyesore.
As they were speaking a massive domestic heating oil truck entered the scene behind them and very slowly worked its way toward the no doubt substantial oil tanks tucked discreetly behind the dovecot. So having heavy oil, extracted in Saudi Arabia, pumped, stored shipped, pumped, stored, refined, shipped and delivered is a sensible way to use our resources? Is it maybe time we questioned such insane behaviour?
In 2004-5 we did a lot of work on our house. I was cursing and sulky because I didn't fit grey water storage, ground source heat pumps, solar PV, solar water heaters and on and on. We had a nice kitchen instead. The one thing we did do that I’m very proud I fought for was install a staggering amount of insulation.
Our house is very warm, we've actually had the central heating on for 3 days so far this year. I do have a wood-burning stove we use at weekends and that's a CO2 nightmare but the logs are local, from coppiced woodland.
I do now also have solar PV that so far (fitted last May) has produced 1678.47 Kwh. The average UK house consumes 1,500 Kwh per year, so they have made a difference.
However the biggest difference of anything we've done is the insulation. Not just cavity walls, also windows and doors, triple glazed and they seal very tight.
It is, without question, just as important to use less energy as it is to generate your own, ask my kids, I'm obsessed with it.
'Turn out that light, and the telly! No one's watching it!'
My record number of lights turned off when I got home (this is very common with dads) is 12. 12 lights on for no reason. No one was affected by this action, I didn't leave my daughter weeping in the dark.
Knowing how much energy you use and trying to reduce it is as important as any other measures you can take, we all use hugely more than we did even when I was a kid. This year, I plan to install more solar PV, a domestic hydrogen fuel cell and a central isolator switch that kills all the standby electronics in the house at night. Imagine how popular I am with teenagers.
Oh, and notice that I didn’t mention climate change once. As the wonderful cartoon said, ‘What if we go to all the effort of making the world a better place and climate change is a hoax!’