Monday, February 4, 2013

Ecology & Environment: ENERGY (I)

This time I'd like to write about ecology and environment issues which, if you're following my blog, are a very important topic to me. My vegetarianism does not only mean that I am skipping meat in my meals - my vegetarianism is a way of life, way of thinking and handling and vegetarianism and ecology always went hand in had for me. It's the second day I am writing on this article and I finally made the concept. I would like to split my ecology-ideas into a couple of smaller articles connected to a special issue. This post will be about saving energy, energy waste and the energy labelling system in the European Union.

Lately I read a few articles about ecology and environment issues in Europe, written by foreigners who are or were living here. It was interesting to read what do people from other countries think about our view on this issue and how we Europeans handle with this topic. I thought it might be a good idea to write an article from the view of an insider who not only lives here but is very involved in saving our blue planet. So let's start with the the energy labelling. 

I. ENERGY LABELLING SYSTEM IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

There are some specific rules the European Union decided to enact and they are obligatory to all the 27 member countries. One of them is the idea of not wasting energy and resources. Every single country has a different system of recycling which maybe works better or worse than in the neighbour state but at the end it all comes back to the decrees made by Brussels. And I totally agree that it's useful and needful for us all. Our countries are small and only working together we have the chance not to CHANGE the continent to a big dustbin. One of the most important and I would risk to say, most useful acts was the former European Community directive 92/75/EC, since 2011 replaced by the European Union directive 2010/30/EU. The act from 1992 established a single labelling system of energy use for electronic and electric devices on our single market. This act is binding for the whole Union. Buying a toaster, or even a normal bulb somewhere between Portugal and Finland or Ireland and Cyprus you can be sure to find this label. Every EU-citizen can easily know, understand and check the energy consumption of the device. On Wikipedia you can read the following:

„The directive was implemented by several other directives thus most white goods, light bulb packaging and cars must have an EU Energy Label clearly displayed when offered for sale or rent. The energy efficiency of the appliance is rated in terms of a set of energy efficiency classes from A to G on the label, A being the most energy efficient, G the least efficient. The labels also give other useful information to the customer as they choose between various models. The information should also be given in catalogues and included by internet retailers on their websites.
In an attempt to keep up with advances in energy efficiency, A+, A++ and A+++ grades were later introduced for various products; since 2010, a new type of label exists that makes use of pictograms rather than words, in order to allow manufacturers to use a single label for products sold in different countries.“
 

You can find the whole article about it on WIKIPEDIA.

That's true that appliances with an A+++ grade are the most expensive ones but it's worth not to buy the cheapest ones. At the end the consumer has to pay the costs saved while buying a cheaper appliance via the energy costs. It means it's not only that one does not save money, but also the usage of energy is higher and THAT means we need more power plants, more resources like gas, oil or coal to produce more energy. With every ton coal, litre oil or cubic meter of gas the planet is being more and more polluted. It's a circle. The only way to escape is making a cut and trying to think a little bit before buying something new would really help our planet.

Some people might say that they do not have the money to buy high-end products. But let be honest, it's the same people who own one, two three iPhones, several computers or two cars. Does a single person really has the need to own the latest Apple baby? The old mobile would do the same job and for 400 Euros you can buy here a good A++ appliance. Maybe I am an exception thinking this way.
There's nothing bad about having enough money to be able to effort almost everything we want but do we really NEED it? And yes, money gives us some social and personal security, no question but I see absolutely no reason in investing it buying a new mobile which is just a bit newer than the three we already own. Anyway, back to the main topic – no excuses. Buying next time a home appliance, don't go cheap, think about ecology and if you're still trying to argue with the „no money“ excuse. Think about all that money you waste somewhere else, like buying the 20th pair of jeans you will never wear...

II. HOME APPLIANCES

I mentioned before that saving some money buying a cheaper appliance will finally end with a surprise we call the energy bill. The prices for energy are rising year by year. You still don't believe me? Let's check it out.
About two years ago I was wondering how much money do I really spend on all that bills for energy. I took the old bills and started learning Excel. I also started to check the usage of gas and electricity at the end of the month and wrote it down. On the other hand I checked all my electric appliances wanting to know what their energy usage, EU-energy-class they are and how can I do something for the planet (and my wallet). Because I kept all the old bills over the years I saw that my gas and my electricity usage is nearly the same year by year. So I accepted the challenge and started being active.

1. LIGHT BULBS

First of all I bought energy saving light bulbs for my complete flat and banned the halogen bulbs which were nice but used MASSES of energy. I am also not that kind of person who switches off every single lamp while leaving the room (in this case I am not a good example for an ecology activist...). During the winter I need a lot of light and I am burning every single lamp in my flat to feel better. I think that every single person has to find his own balance between things that are important to someone's views and the personal comfort of life.

2. STANDBY CHARGE 

After I saw a report on TV and heard that electrical appliances also use energy even if they're off – I mean in the stand-by mode, I bought a couple of multiple sockets with a switch-off button. I grouped the appliances like TV, Hi-Fi system, the DVD-player, the pay-TV-decoder and the Internet router into one socket and started to switch it off for the night and the most of the time during the day when I am outside the house. It worked fine because I didn't have to switch every appliance separately and by pushing only one button they all left the standby at one time. Later I discovered that there are multiple sockets you can switch-on and off with a remote control. That's the best invention ever! The remote lies on my couch table and I do not have to crick myself trying to reach the socket somewhere under the table or behind the TV. That change means that all those appliances are only on for around 7 hours when I am at home in the evening and the other 17 hours they are off and not wasting energy for the stand-by. It means, in a year, they're off for about 6205 hours – hours they would use energy for the stand-by. Not only that I am saving the planet this way, I am sure it has an influence on my electricity bill. How much, I am not sure I never tried to summarise it. Maybe I would also check this if I had to count every cent twice. Luckily I don't have so I don't want to waste my time on things like that.

Would you believe that according to that TV report about the standby, also other home appliances like an ordinary toaster use energy only because of being connected to the socket? I realised that I use my toaster rarely, maybe once a week. We Europeans are crazy on technical news and gadgets in our home appliances and so was I crazy enough to buy an expensive one with functions I never used, additional lamps and every possible bric-√†-brac. So I just started to take the connector out of the socket outlet. Buying that in-crowd toaster was a waste of money (and I think energy as well) and I would never do it again. A „normal“ one would do exactly the same job.

3. WHITE GOODS

a) DISHWASHER

After my old dish washer gave up I bought an energy class A+ one. After one year the usage I discovered that I use less energy than the years before. But I'll write about it later.

b) DRYERS

If you have a garden, an attic, do you really need an electric dryer? I'm sure you have more than only one pair of trousers and two sweaters you need exactly after they're washed. If you have children or old people you have to take care on, or it's winter it's maybe useful. But in every other case, have you ever thought about drying your laundry in the back-yard, on the attic or just on the balcony during hot summer days? In the winter I'm drying my laundry on the attic on a dryer like those on the picture and some laundry lines. It takes only two days. During the summer I keep it on the balcony – it's done in 3 hours when the afternoon sun shines into my flat. My parents and people I know do the same. In the summer they dry the laundry in the garden and in the winter they leave it over night in the fire-place room or hand it on the attic. The best is: you really do not need ANY energy for that process, the clothes suffer less and finally you can use them for a longer time. I'd like to mention that electric dryers are not very common in German flats. I don't know how it looks like in other European countries but I think it's the same. Think about Italian films and that specific „southern vibe“ with the „dolce vita“ and so on. Do you remember that laundry-lines outside the windows? It's also a part of that flair. I saw that system in other South-European countries. Skipping using electric dryers if we could survive without – helps our planet a much.

c) AIR CONDITIONING

Depending on the place you live it might be also a question if you need an air conditioning system in your house or flat. I saw no reason to install an air conditioner in my flat. I'm living at latitude 50°N... If it does not sounds common to you, so take a look where cities like Regina/Saskatchewan, Calgary, or Winnipeg in Canada are and what climate they have. And then imagine, that it's the heart of Germany and over us we still have the half of our country and higher even Denmark and even higher there is Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland). Only because of the ocean, the Azores High and the Gulf Stream we're out of the continental climate Russia or the mentioned Canadian cities i.e. have. Otherwise we would be living like polar bears here. On the other hand I love the heat and hot summers – so I don't care if there's 30°C in my sunny flat. If you have an air conditioner, maybe you could pay attention that it's being serviced once a year – I can imagine that could lower its energy usage.

d) WASHING MACHINES

The same story like with the dish washer. Take a look on the energy and water usage. Modern front loaders can be EU energy label A+++ and use a small amount of water. Mine uses 10 gallons water for 12 pounds of dry laundry. It may take about 2 hours until the laundry is ready but it's enough of time for the detergents to work – if you do so, you need less chemistry for your laundry. And saving water should also be an important issue to us. But that will be a different post in this ecology series I'd like to start.

III. COSTS OF ENERGY IN GERMANY

At last but not least I would like to talk about costs. For sure, every country has different prices but I can for sure say that Germany and the EU is an expensive place to live. Even the prices in the Eastern countries of the Union for energy or water are rising rapidly. So I'd like to give you some examples out of my own experience, so that you're able to compare the prices in the place/city/country you live to Western Germany.

1. ELECTRICITY

Actually I have a yearly usage of around 1000 kWh (3.412.141 BTU) of electric energy. That's not a lot, because it's said that a single household in a flat like mine uses around 1500 kWh (5.118.212 BTU) a year. I realised that since I have the new dishwasher and the energy saving bulbs the energy usage decreased nearly by 30%. That small amount of energy I use results only because I'm heating my flat with gas and I have a gas stove for cooking.
One kilowatt hour (3412 BTU) costs around 0,24 €/0,32 US$ (VAT and ecology tax are included) + monthly basic charge between 5-10 €/7-14US$.

2. GAS

Gas is much cheaper than electricity – you pay around 0,08 €/0,11 US$ for 1 kWh/3412 BTU. I also think that's the most efficient way to use energy. Using gas it's using a primary source (i.e. for central heating). Using electricity for central heating means burning a primary source to produce electricity. Those electricity has to be transported and later the same energy is being used to produce heat. It's like using the double amount of a source for one and the same reason. 

IV. PERSONAL EXPERIENCES/THERMAL INSULATION

Don't ask me about my gas usage because I know it's a horror for the environment. I live in an old house which was build in 1951 with a very bad (or better said WITHOUT ANY) thermal insulation. I moved into my flat short before I started my first year at the university. So the question of thermal insulation was not a question then. My parents decided that under no circumstances I will move into a student dorm and I was happy that they paid my rent. As years passed by, my granny moved to my house and also the neighbours are nothing special but they're okay – and so I stayed here and kept my flat even after I had the possibility to move somewhere else. I think I would miss my flat, the views, the sunsets, the mountains and the nature and everything nearly in the centre of the city.
Later I realised that the house I am living is more than an energy waster. We have a decentral central heating system here. Every flat has its own gas combi-boiler in the bathroom (warm water and central heating). The advantage of this system is that I can manage the central heating exactly the way I want it. Two cold days in the summer? No problem, I push a button and the central heating in my flat is on. I like this comfort. I have a yearly usage of about 10.000 kWh gas which means I need around 250 kWh/m². According to the newest standards in Germany which are binding for everyone who builds a new house the energy usage should be max. between 70-100 kWh/m² - not to mention the idea of the Passivhaus (Wikipedia). It means with my usage of energy for central heating I would be able to heat a flat that is double and a half as big as mine is. The money I safe in my rent which is of course much lower because of the lack on thermal insulation than elsewhere I have to pay for gas. But my heart is bleeding when I imagine what energy waste it is. A couple of days ago I met my landlord outside and he told me that my house will be modernised (new windows, thermal insulation) and it was one of those reasons I decided to write this post. It brought me to the idea to write something about energy waste – things we have influence on (the beginning of my post) and things we can nothing for (energy waste because the house is not properly thermal insulated). 

According to the German federal law the landlords have the right to claim 11% of the modernisation costs from the tenants. The tenants have to be informed about a modernisation in a letter three months before the works begin. In my case it would mean a rent rise around 40 € a month. But on the other side it's natural that my gas usage will decrease – I checked it, I should pay 40 € less a month. At the end I will maybe pay a couple of Euros more for the comfort of a modernised house and the good feeling that I am not wasting energy only because the building is old and fits no modern standards. And I am really willing to pay that money because I know that I'll be doing something for the planet.

V. CONCLUSION

I hope you enjoyed my detailed ecology report. I tried to describe some important issues and the way we handle them in Germany and in the EU. I'd like to add that because of different taxes and the very high energy costs, we are more or less forced to do energy saving. Some people might do it because they want to safe some money, and some (like me) are trying to change something and pay attention to ecology issues. If you read my ABOUT, you will know that I was trained on ecology issues since my early childhood. Next time I'll be writing about cars, mass transport and fuel prices in Germany and the EU.

Additional note: All prices: February 2013.

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