April 22, 2020: Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day and we would usually be having our annual Greeny Flat Earth Day Party tonight.

No social distancing here.

A pre-social distancing Earth Day Party at the Green Flat.

But, of course, we can’t do that this year and I have to say, it’s a bit of a relief. I don’t wish to downplay the tragedy and hardship that Covid-19 and its associated economic and social restrictions are causing around the world. I know that for many, many people this is an absolute disaster. On the other hand, for those of us lucky enough to live in Australia and to have not been devastated by the death of a loved one or a total loss of livelihood, this is proving to be an opportunity to slow down and reconsider our priorities. There are so many things that we simply can’t do at the moment so we’re not rushing around being too busy. As much as it would have been a pleasure to see all our dear friends tonight… I’m glad Cintia and I don’t have to worry about cooking pizza for fifty.

The point I’d like to make about all this is that most of that rushing around we do in our ‘normal’ lives is unnecessary. We choose to do it. We tell ourselves that it’s all important stuff but, as this lockdown is proving, if we don’t do it things just slow down and it’s not the end of the world.

Relief For The Earth Too

Speaking of the world… our lovely planet seems to be breathing a sigh of relief too. I think she really is having a Happy Earth Day. Perhaps the greatest surprise of this whole Coronavirus situation has been the effect it has had on air quality around the world. To the point where people in India have reported seeing the Himalayas for the first time in their lives. And that is just the most visible environmental benefit. I suspect that all of the Earth’s natural ecosystems are cleaner and functioning better than they have for decades… and that is just from a few months of reduced economic activity!

My great hope is that the so-called ‘Global Economy’ does not return to ‘normal’ when this is over but shifts to something resembling sanity. I’ve written lots about the madness of a world intent on infinite ‘growth’ on a planet with finite resources. Wouldn’t it be nice if the current global slowdown led to a rethinking of our aims and priorities and to a shift away from the goal of ‘Growth’ and towards the goal of ‘Balance’?

Our Environmental Balance Sheet

On the subject of balance, today also marks the end of six years of monitoring the energy performance, water use and comfort levels of the Greeny Flat, and six months that Cintia and I have been in the house next door.

We built the Greeny Flat back in 2014 with the broad goals of trying to make an affordable house that was comfortable, energy positive and used at least as much harvested rainwater as town water. I’m delighted to report that, six years on, we have exported 21.0MWh of electricity to the grid and only imported 8.3MWh. That means we have put two-and-a-half times more energy into the grid than we have taken out! And I would like to stress that, because the house is all-electric, this represents our entire energy use, there was no additional burning of gas or wood. We have also managed to harvest and use more than twice as much tank water as town water. So we have far exceeded our original goals.

As impressive as the above result is, it was achieved with a purpose-built granny flat, designed and built from scratch with the goal of meeting those environmental objectives. In general it is much more difficult to convert an old house, especially on old fibro cottage with a tile roof and no insulation, into a comfortable and energy efficient home. Long-time readers will know that this is exactly what we have been working on with the house next to the Greeny Flat for the last few years. And for the last six months Cintia and I have been living in it while we put the finishing touches on it.

So now we have access to all the energy data and the early results are looking very promising. So far we have managed to export 2.6MWh to the grid and we have only imported 1.0MWh. So, just like the Greeny Flat, we have exported about two-and-a-half times more energy that we have imported. But that was through the summer months where our solar system was making lots of of energy and we were not having to heat the house. I expect that number to drop a bit over the winter but my guess is, over a year, we’ll export about twice as much as we import. For an energy retrofit on an old house that would be a fantastic result.

We haven’t installed the rainwater harvesting system on this house yet so we’re using only town water. But once we have the tanks and the pump all in place we’ll be able to start reducing our footprint even further.

Happy Earth.

And Happy Earth Day everyone.

1 comment to April 22, 2020: Happy Earth Day

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