Monday, 1 March 2010

Electricity but at what cost? (Jan 30th 2009)

I was replying to Peggy in the comments section of my previous post and it was getting so long winded that I thought that I would just post a new blog post and invite all your thoughts.

In Australia we have had access to relatively low cost electricity until recently. It is only now that here in Perth WA, that the costs will increase dramatically over the next twelve months. Now we are able to use solar power and solar hot water here at Wit's End because we qualified for the Govt rebates but for many Australians on low or high middle incomes, solar doesn't come into the equation at all because they either can't afford the systems even with the rebates or, earn just over the income limit which makes them ineligible for the rebate.

I do worry about people who are on low incomes and are struggling already with the cost of electricity. How the hell are they going to manage with a 50% increase in their bills? And it's not just their energy bills, it's the flow on costs from businesses as well.

I am also torn because I know that for the good of the planet we should all use far less electricity and the only thing that will encourage that is the increase in costs.

That is the dilemma isn't it; We pay now or our children pay with their future.

Well as you know we were 'lucky' enough that The Husband earns under the cut off for the rebate scheme so we installed the panels and hws. We also have the solar oven to cook in on sunny days.

But what can the average person do to reduce their energy 'hunger' and needs? We can all post and be superior about not using airconditioning but the Eastern States of Australia are in the grip of a mega heatwave at the moment. Temperatures are hitting the mid 40's (that's 111 degrees f, for those of you using the old scale). 26 people died yesterday from heat related stress.

Peak Oil Hausfrau had some wonderful posts a month or so ago about alternatives to electricity and the cost involved with each alternative. It's not such a clearcut decision in our modern world. Hell, without electricity even our toilets would back fill, how many people realise that?

So, what do we do?


TheCrone said...

naturewitch Says:

January 31st, 2009 at 6:33 am e

Hi Crone

After reading your previous post, I was discussing this very matter with M this afternoon.

If the trend is for temperatures to rise and electricity prices to also soar and for power to become unreliable (just ask those experiencing load shedding in the last few days), we need to find ways to reduce our energy consumption.

I’m wondering about using plantings around the house to buffer the house against temperature variations. And we probably need to do something about additional insulation and possibly window shutters. But these all come at a cost and if people are already struggling financially, then it is probably next to impossible.

One thing I remember from my childhood which I’ve seriously been considering. We had a water tank which was on a stand tall enough for a grown person to walk under. The reason tanks were on stands back then was to gravity feed the water into the house. Since most Queensland houses were on stumps and had high ceilings, you could still collect the rainwater and feed it into the tank. Under that tank stand was the best place to be on a hot summer’s day. We’d sit around in our bathers, playing games and drinking cold drinks. A wonderful way to stay cool.

But we also use massive amounts of electricity in other ways around the home. One of the ways to reduce this is to say no to the myriad electrical appliances available so “cheaply” these days. For example, we do not have a clothes dryer, instead putting out clothes out on the line or on airers inside in inclement weather. I very rarely use my hairdryer these days, only for weddings and very important meetings at work. Even in winter, I usually leave the house with wet hair in the morning.

Although we’d previously discussed the dubiousness of a solar oven in Canberra, the last couple of weeks have made me think about getting one. Even if we could only use it for three months of the year, we’d still save on energy costs and the additional burden on the environment.

Depending on where people live, they could also invest in a wood stove that heats their house and their water and cooks their food. But these have issues of their own, although modern ones can be very efficient.

I was also wondering about the solar panels. If they feed back into the grid and the authorities decide they need to load shed, does that mean you lose power even though you generate enough for your family? If so, would it be better to get off the grid entirely? Probably tricky to do this in an urban setting, but I’m wondering about it nevertheless.

Ultimately, everyone has to take responsibility for their energy consumption, reducing it where they can. If they do that on a regular basis, then maybe they’ll be able to use a little extra for the really hot or cold times. Maybe we need to start budgetting our energy consumption in the same way we do our household finances. Try to trim it where we can but have a little put aside for emergencies.

What do you think? xx

TheCrone said...

nathalie Says:

January 31st, 2009 at 6:36 am e

I agree this is a worry - especially since on Radio national the figure they quoted was actually a 70-80% increase (was the 50% figure to prevent mass hysteria?).

It would certainly be very hard on low income earners. We can’t afford the panels, though i don’t feel we are low income earners. However I think the idea behind this was that if people are forced to pay the ‘real’ cost of electricity (because up until now the govt has actually been subsidising fossil fuel reliant electricity - hence the cheapness) then 2 things would happen, 1. people would start looking at alternatives, and 2, the companies providing the alternatives, and indeed the funding for that technology would become more competitive, driving the prices down and makin git more affordable for everyone.
I think that’s how it works - L you may have to correct me, (your hubby is the economist and no doubt has a better idea of how it all works).

Anyway - so hard times ahead (perhaps the govt could subsidise low income households instead for a time until the price of alternatives comes down) but PROGRESS is foreseeable. yay!

TheCrone said...

3.Peggy Says:

January 31st, 2009 at 9:58 am e

Thanks for the expanatory post, and the comments above make very interesting reading too.Our electricty over here is raising slowly too but at the moment flicking the switch is something we all take for granted but there are rumblings in the air that we will have to start cutting back. I have become more aware about switching off any unneccessary usage ie: leaving anything on standby at night.
Just a thought if your bills are going to increase by 50% surely the government would increase the threshold for the rebates by a similiar amount?

4.Sue Says:

February 3rd, 2009 at 7:56 pm e

It’s tough isn’t it? as well as our rent being very high and increasing annually now we have to cope with higher prices across the board. The pension is NOT enough to live on even cooking from scratch, preserving and gardening and being generally “mean” with our money!

Keep up the good work, Lara…I do enjoy your blog,

TheCrone said...

Cat Says:

February 25th, 2009 at 3:01 pm e

There are lots of things that people can do to reduce their electricity bills. Wise planting, energy efficient bulbs and appliances, etc.

And whilst I know it isnt everyone who is like this, I knew a woman on a disability pension who kept complaining about her bills etc. Turned out her bill was over $300 a month!!! Also turned out that she ran the pool heater almost non stop (in a rental house AND knew about it), had either the air con or the heater on all the time, had a tv as well as the computer ON 24/7 and was also on the sewing machine non stop as she was home all day…
The point being that there are a fair few people who completely waste electricity. And raising the bills would shock them into being more mindful (one would hope).

Hubby and I arent “careful” with electricity. We have young kids, so summer has called for aircons/fans and winter we gas heat. We gas cook more than we use the electric oven … but I use the clothes dryer almost everytime (clothes feel softer and my line is in a really bad spot). Oh, and we use the computer every day. Even still we average about $60-70 a month in electricity use.