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New Internationalist Issue 284


Yes, but what can I do?

There are lots of ways in which YOU can use less energy and use better energy.
They are also likely to save you money.

In the home

  • Temperature: Heating accounts for half the energy consumed in the home. So the best - and simplest - thing you can do is turn it down. Turning the thermostat down by just one degree will knock ten per cent off your fuel bill. A maximum of 18 oC is usually adequate for most people. Elderly people and infants may need 21 oC.
  • Insulation: Drafts account for 15-50 per cent of heat loss. Simple, relatively cheap measures like putting draft excluders around windows and doors and insulating the loft are often more effective than costlier options like double-glazing.
  • Environmental protection:Passive solar heating - designing a building so that it uses the sun's energy to warm it naturally - is obviously the best. But if you are stuck with conventional means, then gas central-heating is probably the least damaging, most efficient and cheapest. Oil is dirtier than gas and incurs transport costs. Coal is the worst primary fuel for global warming and acid rain and open coal fires are appallingly inefficient. Electricity is expensive and is often uncleanly generated. The most environmentally-friendly fuel you can use is wood from a sustainably-managed woodland.
  • Water heating: Solar water heating is the most eco-friendly. Even in a cool climate it can provide 40-60 per cent of hot water required for an average house. Insulating hot water pipes also helps. But probably the biggest saving you can make is to have showers instead of baths: they use just a sixth of the water.
  • Appliances: Gas appliances are almost always more efficient, cleaner and cheaper to run than electrical ones. Microwave ovens use little energy compared to a cooker - but any energy saving is totally lost if you buy frozen convenience food to put in it. Pressure cookers are good and jug kettles better than others. A good toaster is more efficient than a grill.
    If buying a new refrigerator or freezer, check that it has good insulation, is CFC-free, and isn't bigger than you need. Site away from heat sources. Try switching it off in winter months.
    When buying a washing machine, a side-filling type that has a half-load setting and heats its own water is best. Gas tumble-driers are better than electric. Dishwashers are expensive to buy and run, and should be used only when full.
    TVs, radios, hi-fi and computers use very little energy. Most of the energy is used in making them. Rechargeable batteries for small appliances are very much more environmentally sound.
  • Lighting: Energy-saving lightbulbs are really worth having. One energy-saving bulb lasts as long as eight ordinary bulbs and costs less than half the price of eight such bulbs.

Out and about

Most car journeys are for under five miles so try asking yourself if you really have to make that trip to work or to the shops by car. Couldn't you walk or cycle? If not, trains are better than motor vehicles, and public transport is much better than private.

The very worst thing you can do is fly - the energy costs are truly astronomical. A one-way flight from London to Melbourne will use up, per person, as much as the average Northern household uses in space and water-heating in one year. Shorter hops are even more wasteful.

Local Action

This is one area in which your local actions can have global impacts. Your local authorities could follow the Californian example and legislate for zero-emission vehicles. Or public buildings could be run on solar heating or constructed using passive solar architecture. Getting your local political representatives on side can make a big difference. The German city of Freiburg, for example, is on the way to becoming a model 'green city', thanks to progressive city planners. And a scheme for part of the medieval city of Regensburg, using renewable energy and solar architecture, could become a model for other cities in the world - and it's getting European Union funding.
Action on Energy


On-line products catalogue, interactive shopping for renewable energy technologies, discussion forum, technical assistance, consulting services.

The Centre for Alternative Technology's home page.

Climate campaign information plus Interactive Climate Quiz, and a space to write a letter to President Clinton that you can e-mail directly to the White House.

http://www ises.org/
The International Solar Energy Society's home page. Includes information on the society and all its national branches, information on solar energy conferences and recent technological developments, and an on-line version of ISES's magazine, Sun World.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996 [image, unknown] NI Home Page[image, unknown] Issue 284 Contents

New Internationalist issue 284 magazine cover This article is from the October 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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