However energy-conscious we were buying our last car, did anyone ever think about going back to his dealer when the real consumption or emissions turned out to be significantly higher? Or why would we pay 5-10% more for fuel that is cleaner, gives us more power and saves 5-10% in efficiency? And are we still as energy-conscious as when we’re in a hurry, annoyed in the traffic jam or at the 100th red light? I’m sure we all realize that our own behaviour influences our energy consumption in an important way – and not only when driving. We do not always need to drive. What about taking a walk or a bike (healthy and CO2 free!), public transport or carpooling to where we need to be? How do we book our holidays, flights and other transport? Or how far away do we order our gadgets from, because it’s cheaper on the other side of the world? Are we aware of all the implications? For the same distance covered, the energy and CO2-impact of an airplane is 2 times that of a car, 3 times that of a train, and 5 times that of a bus (all without renewable sources).
Buildings, behaviour or technology: what determines our energy needs?
How we use and live in our buildings in particular, makes an enormous difference in the amount of energy spent based on our day to day dealings with appliances, lighting, heating or cooling and (hot and cold) water usage. From leaving the fridge door open longer than necessary to endless showers or the ceaseless use of lights when a movement or time switch is cheap enough? Or all the stand-by appliances, loaders and chargers? These are the small things. When your thermostats are set to a comfortable 22 °C, then changing it by just 2 degrees, to 20 °C in cold weather, or 24 °C in warmer climates, would typically save at least 15% on your heating or cooling consumption! A smart thermostat, which secures these temperatures only when needed, can save another 15%. That means that a third of our heating/cooling costs is up to just a 2 °C difference, aside from our subjective interpretation of what we need and our own level of pro-activity.
It was clearly shown in a research project in Iowa, where Michael Pallak (Pallak:1973) and his research team gave home energy-conservation tips to residents. In order to be successful at shifting long-standing energy patterns, residents were told that they would be published in a newspaper as exemplary fuel-conserving citizens. Energy savings averaged 28% in the following months! When the owners were then informed by a letter that their names would not be publicized due to a misunderstanding, they did not return to their original energy habits. On the contrary, average savings even increased to 41%! I can only conclude that the owners started to realize, that the savings were not only good for their wallet, but especially came to understand their own responsibility in the level of their energy use and cost.
It should be clear that there is a lot we can save, but we still need a certain amount of energy to get by, and this is still (mostly) unsustainable, not by choice but by availability. In most countries in Europe, sustainable energy accounts for 5 to 15% of all energy used (with some bright exceptions in Scandinavia, the Baltics and Austria). Most of our current energy suppliers are stuck in the same percentages of their total capacity and are not taking the lead. They purchase their green supply elsewhere or just greenwash with marketing and advertising rather than actually working on environmental impact. Why? Is our demand is not strong or clear enough? Is it because we do not want to pay more for this change? How can we change it ourselves? That’s for a next blog. Let’s first look at our own consumption.
There have been efforts to convert our existing buildings to zero energy or something close to that. Not initiated by building owners/users, but by co-operations, developers and/or contractors in the first place, often with subsidies and fixed long-term housing cost (including energy). In new buildings this can be more easily and cheaply incorporated in the design, but an entire renovation investment would be prohibitive for most, and the implementation time and disturbance considerable. It is not a big, short-term solution for now.
Saving energy in existing buildings in a viable manner using the latest technologies is often easy enough and can be planned according to savings and investment capacity. Quick, short term paybacks can create financial room for longer term or more disruptive investments within years. Subsidies can play a role to shorten payback time, but are secondary to impact. Starting with closing seams and cracks, to thick pipe insulation* for heating, cooling, air conditioning and hot sanitary water pipes, to roof and wall insulation and double glazing can save another 30% or more on our energy needs. Preferably with sustainable materials, which means just as healthy, re-usable and with a same lifetime we want our building to be.
* Decent insulation of domestic pipe systems typically has a payback of less than one season (±70% loss-reduction). Bigger than the minimum thickness is paid back in 2 or 3 seasons (over 85% reduction). Good insulated hot sanitary waterlines also reduces water spills. The overall impact can be hundreds of euros per year (N.B: Thermaflex insulation outlives any pipe system!)
Taking our responsibility, on all fronts...
At Thermaflex, we have been striving for years to reduce our footprint for energy and water-use in our design and material choices, our processes, our offices, in our logistics and even in our personal transport and activities, worldwide. As we develop and produce sustainable insulation and distribution systems for water, heating and cooling applications, we can also facilitate builders, installers and owners to improve the energy performance of their systems and buildings. We aim for complete system sustainability. That’s why we are in the process of certifying our entire component range according to Cradle to Cradle Certified™ principles; recyclable and safe for people and environment. Saving energy seems to be a matter of awareness, appropriate behaviour and pro-activity just as much as it’s a matter of state-of-the-art technologies and materials. All in all, we can easily cut back over 50% of our energy footprint. But what about the other 50%?
I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog!