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Conserving Our Energy

Monday, 1 August 2011  | Claire Dawson

Regardless of opinions on climate change and carbon pricing, one thing is virtually certain: in a resource-constrained world the price of energy is going to keep rising.[1] Obviously the more that energy costs to buy, the more motivation there is to tackle energy-use as a stewardship issue. This is even more the case in an era when churches and ministries face the challenge of ongoing decline in donation income and the need to be constantly vigilant about minimising expenditure. Most organisations (and some households) have annual financial budgets, but rarely do we monitor our actual use of energy with much attentiveness, particularly if price increases are incremental rather than sharp and sudden.

What has generally been lost in the ongoing media hype is the significant contribution that energy efficiency and energy conservation could make if only the right education, investment and incentives were in place. Barack Obama has apparently referred to energy efficiency as “the cheapest, cleanest, fastest energy source”[2] and along similar lines there is now a saying in the industry that “the cleanest energy is the energy never used.” Yet Australia has a rather woeful track record in terms of energy efficiency, when compared with other OECD countries, and this is at least in part due to our plentiful coal. This scenario needs to change. Energy efficiency usually involves an investment in new technology, and in many instances the payback periods can be attractively short. Conversely, energy conservation generally requires an investment in behavioral change, which can be significantly less expensive in terms of capital outlay, but it can at times be harder to harness great results as it generally involves some level of inconvenience or sacrifice, and the breaking of old habits!

So, where could an organization or household start? One place to look for ideas is your utility bills. They’ll tell you how much energy you use, how much greenhouse gas this equates to, and provide you with a graph comparing your usage with other seasons of the year. Your utility bills should also tell you whether this bill is higher or lower than the bill for the same period in the previous year – an easy way to tell if you’re making inroads in reducing your energy use. For those who love spreadsheets and collecting data, you can even locate your electricity and gas meters and take daily, weekly or monthly reading for a set period of time to assess your ongoing energy usage patterns. The great thing with this approach is that you can easily identify whether your attempts to reduce energy use are actually making a measurable difference.

There are a whole range of websites devoted to assisting businesses, organisations, schools, households and individuals save energy developed by the government,[3] by industry[4] and religious organisations.[5]  While some of these things are really just common sense (particularly for older generations who were raised with a greater sense of thrift than young people today) a reminder is often helpful for all of us. Here are some of the more obvious actions that you could tackle at home, at work or at church:

-       Assess your lighting, replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, and delamp where appropriate (in offices consider a reflector product such as Mirrorlux[6] for delamping fluorescent tubes)

-       Adjust your thermostat settings to ensure that building are not over-heated in winter or over-cooled in summer, and remember to dress appropriate to the weather

-       Ensure appliances are turned off at the switch/wall when not in use rather than being left on or in ‘standby’ mode (and if switches are hard to access, such as under desks, consider purchasing a remote switch)

-       When replacing appliances make sure to check and compare the energy ratings. While energy efficient products can be more expensive, they will often generate significant cost savings over time through reduced energy bills

-       Seal draughts and install additional insulation in ceilings or walls if possible

-       For shared-use rooms (such as meeting rooms and offices) consider

  • Putting up signs to remind people to switch off lights and appliances when they leave the room or building
  • Installing light and movement sensors so that when rooms are adequately lit by sunlight or have no occupants the lights automatically switch off

-       If you have a larger facility with high energy usage consider an energy audit, where engineers assess your building for energy saving opportunities and provide a report with fully-costed recommendations

If your goal is not just to save money but to also reduce emissions, buying 100% government accredited Green Power is one of the most straightforward and effective changes to make. You can do this simply by contacting your utility provider (and you can also read more about it here http://www.arrcc.org.au/images/stories/webpages/Factsheet_GreenPower.pdf) While you can often arrange to have 10% of your electricity supplied as GreenPower with at no extra charge, there is certainly a premium paid for GreenPower. Reducing your energy use is one way to ‘find funds’ for this, and a number of larger organisations (such as local councils) have set targets for gradually increasing the percentage of GreenPower that they purchase so that the cost increases are incremental over time.

If you have any questions or if you have stories to share please get in touch with Claire.

Claire Dawson is EA’s Climate Change Action Officer.


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