Tag Archives: energy footprint

Steps on a carbon-neutral journey

How will I know that my home is carbon neutral? How will others believe me? The first steps are working out what to measure, and how to measure it. This post explains how that’s done.  It’s a little bit dry, so to keep you interested, here’s a snapshot of the next step which was the waste audit, described by the household 13yo as ‘totally gross’.

Myrle pouring rubbish for waste audit

The National Carbon Off-set Standard (NCOS) tells us to do a life cycle analysis (LCA) of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with home. That means working out a ‘cradle to grave’ assessment of all greenhouse gas emissions involved in running a household. The NCOS points us to the International Standard for Environmental Management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and Framework IS014040 identifies four phases for an LCA. Here’s how it looks for my house.

flow diagram for carbon LCA

There are some general standards, and some choices about the scope of a greenhouse gas inventory. These are well established for businesses and products, and they can also be applied to a home. For instance, the Scope 1 emissions from my diagram are really a must. Those are the direct emissions from gas heating and fires, and anything else burned or decomposing at a site. Strangely, human breathing is not included in inventories, even though animal farts may be.

pre-winter solstice bonfire 2015

Emissions from electricity used in a building are also a must in the inventory. But you don’t have to include the full fuel cycle emissions from electricity, like transmission losses from the poles, wires, and the times when high voltage loads are transformed to lower voltages. I’ve chosen to include the full fuel cycle. The interpretation stage gives me a chance to change my mind about this if it’s not working out. Similarly, I’d love to include the emissions associated with the stuff we buy for my home. I would, but the data gathering and calculations are way too complex.

The reason that we can exclude these ‘scope 3’ emissions is that they are all included in the inventories being done by other people or businesses. For instance, I’ll be counting emissions from air travel, even though airlines are required to record and report all of those emissions under Australia’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme.

Keep your eye out for the next post, on my home waste audit. That’s when we’ll start to see how my emissions stack up, and what I can do to reduce them.

Towards a carbon neutral home

In Paris, 2015, the Council of Parties reached international agreement that urgent action is needed to prevent climate change. Then February 2016 broke all the records for breaking global warming records. More needs to be done and I can do some of it myself, starting at home.

New Commitment for 2016: Make my home carbon-neutral.

I’ll aim for my home-life to be healthy, comfortable and affordable, but not to contribute to global warming. I’ll also record the details in this blog, and encourage other households to join in.

The plan is to systematically:

  • measure my carbon footprint,
  • look for ways to reduce emissions,
  • off-set whatever remains,
  • continue assessing and reporting so I can continue the journey, and maybe even become carbon negative.

The Australian National Carbon Offset Standard shows these steps together like this.

So what does it mean to be carbon neutral?

We humans are emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere faster than they can be absorbed back into the earth. As a result, more heat is trapped within the atmosphere than previously, and global temperatures are rising. This is happening even though some people don’t understand, or disagree with the science.

(If you are one of those climate change denialists, there’s no point me arguing with you, and you won’t be interested in this blog, so kindly head off and put your head in the sand somewhere else).

People who measure and reduce the greenhouse effect have worked out an accounting system to keep track of emissions. The basic idea is to get all of the emissions in the same units. Lots of different gases contribute to global warming. Each gas has a different impact, or global warming potential. A tonne of methane (CH4) for instance, causes about 25 times as much global warming as a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2). And a tonne of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) has about 23,900 times as great an impact. Because CO2 is both the most common greenhouse gas, and also has the smallest impact per unit, we simplify things, by using CO2 as the reference point. All we have to do is to convert all emissions to their carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), and we can sum the totals together.

Carbon Neutral Standard diagram

Being carbon neutral means minimising your emissions, then balancing any that remain with an equal amount sequestered or off-set. Basically, you absorb as much as you emit.

In the next few blogs, I’m going to measure the emissions my household has from:

  • waste,
  • electricity,
  • other energy sources,
  • transport,
  • other sources.

Wish me luck and come along for the ride.

Your own pigs don’t stink, or the best way to replace end-of-life power stations with sustainable solutions

By Su Wild-River

Each year the ANU Sustainability Learning Community hosts a Great Green Debate but this year was different. Recognising that there is not debate that climate change is happening, the group instead organised a forum on solutions, bringing together technology and policy experts to discuss sustainable solutions to climate change and energy demands. And what a discussion it was.

The draw-card speaker was Adam Bandt MP, Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, Federal Member for Melbourne and true inspiration. Adam reflected on a recent trip to Germany and the perplexing differences between Australian and German opinions on wind farms. Wind energy of course is one of the most promising green energy sources and by 2013, new power stations running on wind were about 2/3 the price of new coal – even without the carbon tax.

One of the biggest barriers to wind energy in Australia is Wind Turbine Syndrome, a peculiar condition affecting mainly English speakers who have been exposed to frightening information about wind farms. Adam Bandt believes that Germans are not affected because more than half of the country’s renewable energy infrastructure is owned by its citizens. He talked to a German farmer who confirmed he doesn’t complain about wind farm noise because he owns it, and “your own pigs don’t stink”.

After the trip to Germany, Adam says he spends most of his time wondering how we can increase community ownership of Australia’s renewable energy infrastructure. This is timely because about 40% of Australia’s coal-fired power stations are past their end-life and need to be replaced.

A German presenter gets in the way of the graph that Adam Bandt MP intended to photograph. Adam is the small, dark pointer at the front of the slide.

A German presenter gets in the way of the graph that Adam Bandt MP intended to photograph. Adam is the small, dark pointer at the front of the slide.

Windlab is well on the way to providing a solution to Adam’s dilemma. Garth Heron spoke about the Coonooer Bridge wind farm in Victoria, which is the first renewable energy project in the country with an ownership structure that includes the local farming community together with the developer. Garth also showed off Windlab’s wind prospecting technology and energy models showing the feasibility of electricity co-generation from solar and wind. In some places, the wind and sun can reliably generate baseload energy throughout most of every day, with more energy produced than is needed for many hours.

The bright future for renewable energy harvest went pocket-sized in Professor Hoe Tan’s presentation on nanotechnology solutions. He’s harvesting solar energy using photonic devices about the size of atoms and integrating them into bigger applications, hugely increasing the amount of electricity that can be generated.

With enough renewable energy capacity in the bag, the climate solution discussion shifts to battery technology. Professor Christine Charles is developing hydrogen fuel cells that could soon install rocket power into clean, green cars, as well as stationery settings.

Many commercial property developers are actively progressing the green energy agenda. James Bichard, the Development Manager at the Molonglo Group which designed the Nishi Building in New Acton explained how energy efficiency is fundamental to the design of their new, iconic cinema/office/apartment block which won the International Project of the Year at the 2015 Building Awards in London . Green energy doesn’t have to be elite either, with Nishi holding a proportion of it’s apartments at an affordable entry level for new home-owners.

Of course all of this needs financial support and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has the solution. This profitable government body secures financing solutions for the clean energy sector. The CEFC partners with commercial financiers and focuses on projects and technologies at the later stages of development which have a positive expected rate of return and have the capacity to service and repay capital. The CEFC’s 2013-14 Annual Report revealed a total project value of $3.2b, and a positive return of $2.40 profit for every dollar it invests.

Compact or large-scale combined solar and wind power generation, efficient battery storage, green buildings and the CEFC are quite possibly the best way to replace end-of-life power stations with sustainable solutions. These are all proven, cost-effective and available now. In light of these options it seems inexcusable for Australia’s Coalition government to threaten Australia’s Renewable Energy Target and its associated research, development and financial initiatives as they are this week in Australia.

Thanks Alexander Ferguson, Karen Hussey and the Sustainability Learning Community for these amazing stories to support our outrage. 

From the Sun to my Screens

By Su Wild-River

This post was first published at: http://nofunnybusiness.net/2013/12/from-the-sun-to-my-screens/

I recently completed a Massive On-Line Open Course (MOOC) called “Dynamic Earth” through the University of Toronto. And in case you are wondering whether science can be taught through MOOCs, consistent with the pedagogical analysis presented by MOOC providers, I’m giving you a glimpse into MOOC world here.

The course’s ‘peer reviewed assignment’ was a 300 word essay anonymously assessed by three other randomly selected students who have also received a marking rubric and examples of papers of varying quality that have already been graded by professors.

The topic for this assessment was to trace the likely path from the device on which we view MOOC study material, back to the original astronomical source of energy – ie some form of solar energy. Is this science? Is it science communication?

Here is my response to the assignment topic – from the Sun to my Screens

“Fossil fuels are an input to all of the devices that feed MOOC materials into my brain. Those devices include a computer at The Australian National University (ANU), a home computer, and iPad.

My computer at The Australian National University (ANU) and my home electricity system are connected to the Eastern Australian electricity grid (EAEG), which sources mostly coal-fired electricity. The coal is burned to release heat which boils water to turn turbines and generate electricity, which is then transported through the grid to my computer. The coal issourced from plants that grew 200-300 million years ago and used solar energy for photosynthesis, converting carbon dioxide to cellulose. They then compressed into coal due to overlying sedimentation in a process fuelled by solar driven wind and water systems. Burning coal for electricity is inefficient and releases terrestrial carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, unbalancing the earth’s dynamic atmospheric system and causing dangerous global warming.

My devices are also powered by a small amount of hydroelectricity and wind energy with fewer damaging impacts. The wind occurs because the sun warms the Earth’s surface, particularly at the equator. The Earth’s rotation and Coriolis Effect drive a pattern of wind across the world. Rain captured in the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme falls there because low pressure systems are blown across Australia by Southern Hemisphere Westerlies. Water evaporates from the Southern and Pacific oceans and is uplifted in the low pressure systems, cooling and causing precipitation as the lows spiral clockwise across the Snowy Mountain Range. The rain is stored in dams high in the landscape, and then released under gravitational pressure to turn turbines that generate hydroelectricity. The Westerly winds also power turbines within the EAEG, generating electricity from wind.

At home I use a desktop computer, and charge my iPad to access this MOOC. Most of that energy comes from a solar array on my roof. Solar electricity is a more sustainable alternative to coal-fired power because it uses solar radiation directly from the sun, and there is no additional atmospheric pollution once the systems are installed.

I also use by brain to access this MOOC. The final energy pathway is the food I eat to power my brain and body. I grow about a quarter of my own food, mostly using the glycogen and glucose produced in my body by my digestion of that same food as the power source. The other half of my food is shop-bought, and I try to keep the food miles and other fossil fuel energy inputs down by buying fresh and local, with minimal packaging. The plants that I eat use photosynthesis to transform sunlight, nutrients and water into delicious cellulose. My brain is digesting the course material, and instructing me to work at home, using my solar energy systems.”

I received 26 out of 27 from my peer reviewers – so I was pretty happy with that. I also received the comment “You’re not a student, are you? That is the best and most extraordinary answer I have read so far. Thank you and God bless!” which I found rather enchanting.

I was however, somewhat disturbed when it came to my training in how to mark others’ assignments. I was given three assignments to mark as a test run – to calibrate my marks with those of the professors. The first one received 8/9 from me, but only 3/9 from the professors. The MOOC program instructed me to review the rubric. The second was better. I gave it 3, and they gave it 2 but I was still asked to review the rubric. I thought the third example was logically flawed and gave it 2, while the professors gave it 9. The next screen congratulated me on completing my training and started directing me to mark others’ work.

I enjoyed the marking process although I was nervous about the quality of my marking. I marked one from a remote area of Russia, and was fascinated to read about the landscape, isolation and its impacts on energy opportunities, with nuclear and coal seeming the only realistic options. It reinforced the message that those of us with green-energy leanings in Australia parrot out all the time – there’s so much energy here that we have no real excuse to burn all of this coal.

What energy are you using to access this blog, and what are the alternative pathways from the sun to your screen?energy-transformations1-300x174