Heatwave Conditions Do Not Compute

As we sit here in a rare Sydney heatwave, I decided to blog. Its all I have the energy for.

Temperatures today are predicted to reach 46oC today. That is 115oF for those of you with funny thermometers. Sydney is supposed to hit a record February day, in fact.

As the temperatures rise, the standard position for most people is to turn on their air conditioner and shut all the windows. And that is great; electricity can often be the most efficient way to cool space.

The problem is the load it puts on the grid, and the possibility of blackouts in many areas, as people ramp up power usage in heatwave conditions.

The kicker: Australia has more than enough generation capacity to cover its needs. This overcapacity is only useful when the market operates correctly though, as this video shows.

In a week where the Federal Government decided to use coal as a political football*, particularly on their support of coal over newer technologies, videos like this show how broken the system is.

* That is a really good article by Lenore Taylor above. Stop and read it. Give her a follow.

The good news is: consumers can help save it.

Combating the Heatwave

Normally you’d expect me to go on a rant here about Reposit Power and how microgrids are going to save the world.

The problem is that we’re continuing to consume high amounts of electricity to keep comfortable. If the heatwave conditions continue due to climate change, consuming even more won’t help – it will just make us hotter!

We’re stuck with fossil fuels for now, even while renewable technologies like solar, wind, and storage ramp up. In Australia at least, they’re going to be the majority of power sources until at 2025. Maybe longer.

As we’ve seen from The Guardian video above, the market can be “gamed” by generators, to help drive prices up. Even if you got a million Reposit Power boxes controlling 10MWh of storage, you’re not going to redress a balance of GIGA watts.

Part of the solution has to be a way to use less power. Therefore, instead of microgrids saving the world, I’m going to talk about something far simpler. Many countries in the world already practice it, but for many and varied reasons, Australia doesn’t.

Energy Efficiency

Its a topic that is not nearly as sexy as GridCredits, but in Australia, its probably more important than ever. Let’s start with a quick diagram:

Heatwave

While that is a gross simplification, the basic truth is there:

  1. Inefficient houses are built a lot here (and at high density)
  2. They need more power to keep themselves cool or warm
  3. This needs more power from (majority) fossil fuels
  4. That makes more profit for electricity companies*

* It should also be noted that it means more (moar) profits for home builders, because the materials for less-efficient houses are correspondingly cheaper.

Its a vicious cycle, and its particularly ridiculous in places like Sydney where land is expensive to buy but houses are cheap to build. And once they’re built, they grow in value (but not efficiency) almost overnight.

I understand this because I bought a house three years ago and watched it increase in price 25% in that time. And it isn’t any more efficient today than it was the day I got it.

Except the pool pump I replaced, but that is another (angry) story.

Consumers Will Consume

Nobody wants to spend any more money than they have to on building their home. I dig that.

I lived in a house with two reverse-cycle split A/C systems for years, and always wish I had ducted.

When I got my new house, it had ducted. And the electricity bills were much bigger. But I didn’t put all of that down to the A/C – it was part of the issue, sure, but I had a bigger house with a few more TVs. Yeah, that must be it.

Now that I have the data on what it costs to run, I’m appalled, and looking for alternatives.

The first part was solar PV and a battery system. That has helped slice my electricity bill into tiny little pieces (blog coming soon on that).

To take it to the next step, I’m going to look at making my house more efficient. As I wrote back in March 2016, there are weak points in my house that need looking at.

Those windows on the west side of the house are next on the list, and I’m getting quotes for double-glazing and glass film technologies as we speak.

Advice For The Home Builder

If you’re building a home at the moment – or even renovating – I’ve got some advice for you, on how you can help with this heatwave situation. This covers both your personal comfort levels, and your contribution to the environment.

Look into designing your house right. Make sure you’ve got decent eaves. Windows that aren’t monstrously oversized. Understand the quality of the wall and ceiling insulation and MAKE SURE it covers the garage; many builders don’t insulate the garage, so its a massive heat collector, and can radiate through internal walls.

DOUBLE-GLAZING. Adds to the initial cost of construction, but will reduce your energy costs by 25-50% depending on aspect.

Get the Air Conditioner you NEED. Don’t just get the biggest one or look at the cheapest price. With the weather warming in Australia, you need to be sure that your A/C is smart. Make sure it is an inverter, and don’t worry about the slightly higher initial cost. It will pay for itself in efficiency measures, while electricity prices continue to rise.

If you find its not enough, then installing a small split system in a particularly bad area of the house can be done later. If you buy the big unit, you’re stuck with it for good.

 

 

Also, don’t be that guy who sets it to 21C appropriate. Your house should never really need to go below about 25C to stay comfortable if the thermostat is set up correctly, in the right location. This will save you thousands in electricity costs over the lifetime of the system.

Use ceiling fans and portable fans tactically, to keep air moving around your house. This is also part of using the 25C rule. If the air is moving, it often feels cooler, and the cost to run one is minimal.

Politically Speaking

The last measure you can do is speak to your local member about raising building efficiency standards in Australia.

I was fortunate enough to hear Dr Brian Motherway talk about efficiency at a conference last year. Efficiency is one of the key targets of the International Energy Agency.

Countries like China are ramping up policy and action in this area, as well as decreasing their reliance on fossil fuels in favour of renewables.

Those nations that don’t look at the entire energy spectrum are going to be left behind. And what is the point of pursuing a green grid if we’re still wasting it?

With that thought foremost in my mind, I’m going to jump in the pool with a beer.

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