Saturday, 5 March 2011


This week we completed the last section of the energy module – sustainability. If something is described as being sustainable it means that it meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. At present, our energy supply and consumption patterns are unsustainable but this doesn’t mean that they have to be in the future. The changes that need to happen to make our energy consumption more sustainable are likely to occur via government policies and international agreements. Although policies will help, I personally think that a change in attitudes to energy and how we use it needs to occur before our energy consumption and supply patterns can be classed as being sustainable. I have mentioned this before on Millie’s blog but I am going to mention it again anyway as it is quite relevant to what we have just been doing. An article I read I while ago claimed that, just by changing the attitudes towards energy and how we use it, we could cut the global energy consumption by over 70%.(Efficiency could cut world energy use by over 70%) Changing people’s attitudes towards energy is going to be extremely difficult because, as we live in a world that is dictated by money, until it becomes too expensive to use energy inefficiently and renewables become the most financially viable option, people are not likely to alter their lifestyles to adopt a more sustainable way of life.
From the many discussions we have had in lessons over the week it became apparent that schools/colleges do not actually use energy that efficiently and could implement many simple things that would reduce the amount of energy they consume. For example, computers are left on all day even when they are not being used and for some reason, in college, all the heaters seem to be situated near doors or windows and both of these things result in energy being wasted unnecessarily. We also discussed the possibility of installing solar panels to provide renewable energy but, because of the costs involved, it very unlikely that this will be implemented. However, if the government or energy companies were able to offer grants to help cover the cost this could be a good way of generating some green energy. This is sort of what has happened in the school that my mum works at………
The school entered a competition run by British Gas through the ‘Low Carbon Building Programme’ and this competition involved getting as many people as possible to fill out a survey (a bit like the one on the Act on CO2 website) and then donate the leaves that they were allocated for completing the survey to the school. The school did so well in getting people to complete the survey that they won free solar panels. The solar panels now generate sufficient energy to provide for the school outside of school hours, at weekends and during holidays whilst also contributing a little to the energy supply throughout schooldays. Since being installed last summer they have generated 4.328 MWh of energy and it has been estimated to have saved the school from emitting 2.458 tonnes of CO2. The school also has a monitor on display which shows how much energy is being produced at that exact moment. When my mum checked it, 1.8kW of instantaneous energy was being produced at that moment. If more competitions like this one were run, or the government was able to offer grants to help cover the cost of implementing solar panels, then more and more of the energy that schools/colleges consume could be sourced sustainably. However, this is unlikely to happen in the near future because of the costs involved and so instead, to try and make energy consumption patterns more sustainable, the easiest way forward is going to be to make small changes to our homes to reduce the amount of energy wasted.
If you haven’t done so already I would recommend completing the survey and calculate your carbon footprint as it is quite interesting to see how much CO2 your lifestyles produce and the recommendations for reducing this. I calculated mine the other night (it really doesn’t take that long) and here were the results for my house.

My footprint was 10.34 tonnes a year and it is 5.01 tonnes less than the average for houses in a similar situation to mine (household of 4 in a rural area). From my results, it is clear to see that transport takes up a very large proportion. Living in a small town means that you have to travel around quite a bit to assess facilities and shops etc. (trust me, where I live there is nothing apart from charity shops, estate agents and pubs). Although public transport contributed 1.21 tonnes to my footprint, I am personally very reliant on it as it allows me to get to college but because I get on a double decker bus which is always full, it is possibly the most environmentally friendly option. The rest of the carbon dioxide released through transport is emitted from vehicles (5.86). My mum’s car is not too bad but my stepdad’s car has a 2.5 litre diesel engine and only does around 25 miles per gallon. One of the suggestions to reduce my families footprint was to replace this with a smaller, more efficient car but this is very unlikely to happen as, being a farmer, means that he requires a vehicle that has the ability to pull a livestock trailer and cope with rougher terrain. Our appliances are clearly quite efficient and I think that this is because we are not that dependent on them and always ensure that when they are not in use they are turned off at the mains. Within the appliances section, kitchen appliances (0.70) contributed the most to my carbon footprint with my fridge-freezer being the least efficient appliance and therefore replacing this with a more efficient one would reduce my carbon footprint – however I must admit that until it breaks this is very unlikely to happen. Some of the recommendations that are more likely to be implemented include only boiling the amount of water in the kettle that we actually need to and always using saucepan lids when cooking on the stove. A couple of years ago we had cavity wall insulation put in our walls and combined with the other insulation we have, it has meant that our house is quite efficient. Also all of our light bulbs are energy efficient ones and so lighting only contributed 0.07 tonnes. Heating took up the largest percentage within the house section as it accounted for 1.43 tonnes. Like Millie’s boiler, ours is also quite old (this probably explains why it never works!) and so could be replaced but, because we are more reliant on an open fire for a heat source than the radiators, whilst we can easily, and for no cost, source wood for the fire this is probably not going to happen. The figure for heating is rather inaccurate as, like I have just mentioned, we use our open fire more than our radiators and this could not be factored into the survey. The use of our open fire is greener than using the boiler as the wood we use is from the bits left over after hedge laying in our fields and the carbon dioxide that is released when it is burnt is offset by that that the tree takes in during its life.
Overall I don’t think that my carbon footprint is too bad (although it is nowhere near as ‘green’ as Millie’s) and there are many small steps that could, and hopefully most likely, will be implemented in to my families’ daily routine. From completing the survey, it has become more apparent to me that the best way forward, in the near future, is going to be to implement similar steps in everyone’s lifestyles to try and reduce the amount of energy wasted and there reduce the total energy consumption. This is possibly a more realistic approach to making our energy consumption patterns more sustainable as, once implemented on a local scale, the impacts of only slightly altering our lifestyles can be seen. Once this has happened and people can witnesses for themselves the benefits of being green I think that it will be easier to adopt even greener lifestyles that are so very different to those that we lead today. Unfortunately, I believe that getting people motivated and committed to starting to make small steps towards leading sustainable lives it going to be challenging at the very least.
Whilst on the topic of carbon footprints I found this interactive map the other day on the National Geographic website and it gives quite a nice visual representation of the global carbon footprints.
Four ways to look at global carbon footprints
Over the last few weeks I have noticed a pattern in the discussions that we have in lessons as they start off with us debating whatever it is we are talking about and no matter what the start point is they also seem to turn into a discussion about politics and our current government. Many a times the question has been posed, what exactly are the current government doing to boost our environmental credentials? Since being in power, they have made many controversial decisions, like the scrapping of the Severn Barrage but have yet to propose any alternative plans to further the development of renewable energy exploitation in this country. However, according to the government themselves, they claim that “The coalition Government is committed to sustainable development. This means making the necessary decisions now to realise our vision of stimulating economic growth and tackling the deficit, maximising wellbeing and protecting our environment, without negatively impacting on the ability of future generations to do the same. These are difficult times and tough decisions need to be made. This Government believes in going beyond the short term with eyes fixed firmly on a long term horizon shift in relation to our economy, our society and the environment.” After the scrapping of the Severn Barrage, I think it has made it clear that the future for our renewables is uncertain but the government still claim that they are committed to sustainable development and so below is a link to a government website that outlines their vision for sustainable development (which involves the idea of a green economy, an action plan to tackle climate change, protecting and enhancing the natural environment and the building of a Big Society [The Governments approach to sustainablity]) and the approach that they are planning on taking. In terms of an action plan to make our energy supply and consumption patterns more sustainable, I think that everyone is going to have a differing opinion – so what would you do? You can use the online simulation on the DECC’s website to see what you would do to ensure we meet our energy demands but reduce our carbon emissions by 2050 -  I found it quite interesting to see which things would have the greatest impact on reducing our carbon emissions.
How would you meet our energy demands and reduce carbon emissions by 2050?
Lastly, I feel that I ought to clear up a little disagreement that occurred during yesterday’s lesson – so was it fission or fusion? Nuclear power plants generate heat through a controlled fission chain reaction. Nuclear fission involves the splitting of an atoms nucleus and this then releases heat. Uranium is used because, as it has a relatively large nucleus, it splits easily when it collides with neutrons. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, involves the joining of two atomic nuclei to form one large nucleus (this is what happens on the Sun).
I apologize for this post being all over the place and rather disjointed but it consists of little bits of the end of the energy module that I thought I would just bung together instead of writing several different posts – a bit lazy of me I know!

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