By Brent Heber
So Jacqui Lambie trotted out that old cliche this week that just keeps entering the right wing rhetoric, that “the Greens want us all to live in caves”. They seem to think that opposition to coal powered electricity means we will all go back to the Pliocene period when hominids first evolved (FYI before the “garden of eden” story was kicked around). The obvious rejoinder to this is that what are we going to replace that electricity generation with? NEW technology! In fact, as the secretary for the St George Greens I guess I’m pretty typical of your average cave-loving Greenie and my house is probably a good example of what living “Beyond 2000” can look like for everyone if we all have the will to embrace it.
My wife, son and I live in a 3 bedroom 1930s semi in Kingsgrove. It’s not built to European insulation standards or with any special magic bricks or cladding, just your average St George semi. The interesting part of our experiment is how close to carbon neutral we can get this old house.
On the roof is our “power station”, a 2.1Kw solar PV system that sells electricity to the grid at 20c per kwh. It was a gift from the mother in law for our wedding. That probably says something about how supportive our friends and family are. In summer we generate about 8kwh a day. This sort of consumer electricity generation would have been well out of reach of a low income house like ours without the rebates offered by the previous NSW and federal govts and rapid technology adoption both overseas and locally. Our roof is perfectly positioned facing due north and has no shade on it so we are the best case scenario for solar generation, very lucky.
During the settlement of our mortgage, the previous owners took Peter Garrett up on his offer and we have significant roof insulation through the front of the house, which is double brick however the back is just a clad extension. Consequently that’s where the previous owners installed not one but two air conditioners. We got gas connected a few winters ago but have since disconnected it as prices have skyrocketed and just use the aircon in reverse cycle to warm the house in winter – seems the right thing to do since we are generating electricity to offset it.
Over the 6 years we’ve lived here various appliances have died – my old 400L fridge that has moved with me since uni days, got replaced with a new samsung factory second, which we chose based on its energy star rating, the best we could afford with our sub thousand budget.
Similarly with the hot water system. The old electric off peak rig was dying so we took the plunge and bought a solar hot water system. We used to use around 11kwh a day on off peak hot water. It was cheap, late night coal electricity and it made up a third to half of our carbon footprint. We now have free hot water for 6-9 months of the year and right now in the depths of winter, we use 3kwh a day to heat our large water tank to make sure we have no cold showers. We’ve never run out of hot water btw, with up to 5 adults in the house at times.
We started adopting low energy CF bulbs years ago and many lights in the house are now LED.
The washing machine died and I found a high energy star unit in our price range that had both hot and cold water intake, so we can heat up the water in the washing machine from our solar hot water and not use more energy.
We own a dryer – it’s an old beast that we try to avoid most of the year, but it definitely gets used. Owen is 2.5 and we did cloth nappies for a large part of his childhood and many times they had to go through the dryer due to weather and required turnaround times.
We also have a dishwasher that gets used every night. Not an amazing high end unit, just an average newish dishwasher that we bought from a friend.
Down the track we are eyeing off the home battery market very closely. If we could fill up a battery from a combo of off peak electricity and our local solar to get costs down it would likely pay for itself within 7 years or so and again lower our carbon footprint a bit, which is why we are doing all this. Less pollution for the world our son is inheriting. In our mind it’s our job as parents to do the best we can for him and given that Australia’s extreme carbon output per person we are doing our bit to lower Australia’s pollution which unfairly impacts developing countries. Our own neighbours in the south pacific are losing their homes as sea levels rise due to global warming and that is in part due to our excesses.
The outcome? A few years ago, before Owen, before thinking too much about these things we were using up to 45Kwhs a day. This past summer we averaged 12Kwhs a day and produced 8 via solar PV so our net energy footprint was 4Kwhs a day. That’s a 90% reduction in our carbon footprint just by making judicious budget-conscious purchasing decisions based on energy stars and replacing aging appliances like hot water and fridges as budget permits.
Living in a cave? This cave is pretty darn comfy Jacqui thanks to all the modern technology we have embraced.