Incandescent ban

Ban the bulb

Seems like Malcolm Turnbull is considering banning incandescent light bulbs (more at news.com.au).

I think this is a great move that will not only benefit the environment, but will also reduce the cost of the bulbs as sales volume increases. (I also love the fact it’s front page news, and the top news item on Google News today. Brilliant!)

The Sydney Morning Herald has a great image that compares the two types of bulbs. What I love about the picture is that it compares the cost of 6 incandescent bulbs with one CFL – which is a much fairer cost comparison as the life of a CFL is much longer.

At a total cost of more than 6 times, and CO2 emissions of roughly the same proportion, the incandescents simply don’t stack up.

Of course, there’s no need to wait for government intervention – you can get CFLs on the shelf today.

(I also hope that CFL manufacturers ditch the plastic blister packs (which are annoying to open) and replace them with more conventional and easier to handle packaging…)

A couple of further thoughts – I agree with some of the comments I’ve read that it doesn’t take a lot of political will to do what Turnbull is suggesting. And that a lot more is needed. But it’s a great first step.

To put the announcement into perspective. From what I understand, lighting accounts for between 5% and 10% of all household emissions. That means that more than 90% of a households emissions still need to be addressed. Still a 5-7% gain in efficiency in a household is a big step forward and should be supported.

Hot water, which Turnbull is reportedly also targeting for efficiency measures, accounts for around 25-30%, which will have an even bigger impact.

Ultimately, however, the energy industry needs an overhaul to make the big difference required. As I’ve stated before, energy efficiency will play a big part in allowing that to happen.

(Image thanks to Lighter Footstep)

Sustainable energy

This morning The Australian has front page: Climate target to cost $75bn.

AUSTRALIA’S best hope of making affordable but deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to reach global targets is by using clean coal, nuclear and gas technologies rather than renewable energy sources.

It’s interesting to note that first paragraph includes clean coal and nuclear as solutions to reach that target. Neither of these technologies are available today. Clean coal is still just a dream (as the article says further down “Capturing and storing emissions from coal-fired power stations, if viable” – emphasis mine).

Nuclear will take at least 10 years to be introduced, even if the decision was made today to start down that path. That means that it will be 2015 at least before we’ll see the benefits. In fact the report suggests 2020 as the year.

The Australian goes on to report that the infrastructure cost for these technologies “could double the cost of electricity generation”. I’m sure that’s the high-end figure (thus the “could”). I’d like to know how they came to that conclusion – but it’s fairly well understood and accepted, by both the government, business and the public, that the cost of shifting our energy infrastructure is going to cost more.

Higher infrastructure costs present a two pronged problem: 1) it’s more expensive to create clean energy infrastructure than existing coal technologies, so the market is reluctant to invest unless there is clear incentives to do so; and 2) it’s going to cost more at the point of use (i.e. our bills will be higher.

Point 1 can be addressed by the introduction of a carbon tax, which is being considered by the government at the moment (I suspect as a result of the nuclear energy inquiry). This brings the cost of coal into line with competing clean technologies, by taking into consideration the environmental cost of burning coal.

Tim Flannery presents an interesting solution to point 2. He suggests that with though prices increase with the introduction of a carbon tax, the government can reduce PAYG tax by roughly the same amount. The government continues to receive the same revenue through the carbon tax. Tax the bad, not the good is the basic principle. The net result, he suggests, is that we, as consumers, will not notice the difference. Our bills will be higher, but the tax breaks would ease, if not neutralise the pain.

But there’s another measure that can be taken, one that often seems to be ignored: efficiency. If we use less, the overall cost to us is less.

When I started reading the article, the main question I had was who produced the report? The Energy Supply Association of Australia. From their homepage: “The Energy Supply Association of Australia represents Australia’s electricity and downstream gas businesses.” So in other words, the electricity industry. The industry has a vested interest in protecting their existing practices, which I suspect is why clean coal features prominently.

The article goes on to point out this interesting tid-bit: “The report uses lower cost estimates for clean-coal technology than the Switkowski review of nuclear energy in Australia and also assumes that nuclear technology is not available until 2020.”

Perhaps the Switkowski review used an inflated figure (which is plausible); or the electricity industry is citing deflated figures (which is also plausible). So, if clean coal technology does become possible, the actual cost is probably some where in between those two reports.

I think the chief of the ESAA hit the nail on the head with this quote:

ESAA chief executive Brad Page said the report, based on best available estimates of costs and technology changes, demonstrated the need to develop the widest portfolio of technologies possible to minimise the cost of greenhouse emissions cuts.

He also said that “Over the next 25 years, if you are seeking to achieve fairly deep cuts in emissions, then polices that favour a particular renewable technology are probably poor choices,” which I also agree with.

This is where a carbon tax can be effective – let the market decide the best solution. The government is pushing nuclear, but it shouldn’t push any one technology. However, where there is a significant public interest in not pursuing a particular technology (like dirty coal, or I would argue nuclear) the government should intervene, in my view.

WWF CEO Greg Bourne was quoted saying much the same thing: “WWF chief executive Greg Bourne remained opposed to nuclear energy and called for market mechanisms to accelerate the development of lower-emissions technologies.”

At least the Oz got WWF’s and Greg’s position on nuclear right this time 😉

As an aside, I wonder if a report was released showing that renewable energy could meet that need, would it be front page? Or do only controversial findings make the cut?

Reason I ask is that the Clean Energy Future reports, released a few years back by WWF, show how our energy requirements can be met with renewable energy and gas-fired power (for base load – not renewable, but with much lower CO2 emissions than coal-fired power). Is that not newsworthy?

Polls show that the public wants renewable energy, and believes that they are the way forward. Yet it seems practical solutions that exist today are ignored. Sigh…

Disclosure: I am an employee of WWF-Australia. The views expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of my employer.

Latte Lexuses?

David over at Oikos posts an excellent overview of car efficiency standards in the US, and how they might apply in Australia. Café standards for cars: Espresso Excels and latte Lexuses.

Al Gore mentions efficiency standards in An Inconvenient Truth, and they are also referenced, from memory, in Who Killed the Electric Car. David’s piece gives a good overview (including the costs to manufacturers) and also suggests that such standards wouldn’t be as effective in Oz.

Update 26-Jan-2006: Martin Eberhard responds to the energy portion of Bush’s State of the Union speech with specific discussion of CAFE standards.

How many bloggers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Seth Godin on the issues of marketing compact fluros.

CF lightbulbs have a story problem, plain and simple. They need to stop looking so weird, being so expensive and being so hard to open. Either that, or we could just grow up, suck it up and deal with it.

I assume the “being hard to open” is because the ones you can buy in the supermarket are often blister-packed – which are a PITA to open.

P.S. you can get CFLs online at Neco, or in bulk here and here.

(As a side note – can anyone tell me why neco.com.au doesn’t default to the shop rather than the silly splash screen?)

Local Cooling

Evan points to a Windows-based power management app, Local Cooling. Apart from providing some useful settings, it shows the theoretical energy savings and also “phones home” to show the aggregate saving of all Local Cooling users.

Great idea! Nice work – plus I learnt these little factoids (I’m yet to verify):

More than 30 billion kilowatt-hours of energy is wasted because many of us simply forget to shut down our computers when we’re not using them. If we could just improve the efficiency of how we use our PCs, the savings in energy costs would be over $3 billion dollars! The CO2 emissions from just 15 computers are equivalent in energy terms to the gas consumption used by one car.

Earth Hour

On Friday, WWF, Fairfax and the City of Sydney announced an event called Earth Hour. The basic premise is that on March 31, all Sydney-ites are encouraged to turn their lights off for one hour between 7.30 and 8.30pm as a statement of action relating to climate change.

I’ve been reading some of the reaction in blogland and three themes seem to emerge: 1. that the time of year is wrong; 2. that big events like this don’t achieve much; or 3. that those damn greenies just want us to go back to the stone-ages (i.e. live in darkness).

On point 1 – it is true that there is a fine window on March 31 for the night to come in after 7.30pm – but there were many, many factors at play in deciding the date, and March 31 was the best fit given all those things (mother nature, of course, does play the most important role in choice of time – the impact will be greatly reduced if it’s not actually dark).

On point 2 – the point of the event is to help people understand the link between energy use and global warming, and that their actions, collectively, can make a big difference. Commentators are right to point out that 1 hour is not going to see a huge difference in energy consumption. But the event is not the end in itself – it is a means to an end, and it is in that sense that the team at WWF (myself included) hope for success. Will the event achieve that? Who knows. But we’re certainly working towards it.

On point 3 – if they actually listened to what we have to say, they wouldn’t be saying this 😉 It’s not about going without – it’s about being smarter in how we use energy, and not wasting it. Regular readers of this blog will know what I think about it. But I doubt the naysayers are regular readers of this blog 😉

Please consider signing up for the initiative if you haven’t already to show your support for an alternative, sustainable, future.

I’d be delighted to hear your feedback (good or bad) – any questions I’ll try to answer as best I can…