Cut Energy Use

Entry by: Finnbar

17th October 2022
Normally, I would enter this contest with a poem, a short story or a fragment or outtake. Today I'm writing a short manifesto, a minifesto if you will. I'll try to be honest and objective, and to cite a few sources.

Why am I doing this? Well, I'm an Energy Auditor, Consultant and Engineer, and my job is reducing non-renewable energy usage for businesses, communities and regions.

First, why do we care? There's a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, the humanitarian: in 2021, according to Forbes, the EU spent $296m per day on Russian fossil fuels. []
That's more gas from Russia than from anyone else (about 40%), more solid fuels from Russia than from anyone else (nearly half),
more crude oil from Russia than from anyone else (about a quarter).
When you account for domestic production, that means we (Europe) import about a quarter of all of our energy usage from Russia. []
The inclusion or exclusion of the UK (post-brexit) doesn't materially alter those figures.

The "rents" (essentially profit) from exporting oil and gas amount to nearly 40% of the total Russian federal budget, or 14% of the entire GDP. []
Where did Russia get all the money for tanks and cruise missiles and precision strikes on Ukrainian cities?
Well a lot of it came from us, propping up the faltering Russian economy for decades by buying their fossil fuels.

And cutting back supply didn't really help actually. Supply-and-demand is a pretty basic response mechanism.
Supply dropped, demand went up, and in early 2022, Russia doubled its monthly revenues exporting fossils. []

The only way to really hurt oil and gas economies is to stop using oil and gas. That's the long and the short of it.
Accounting tricks don't work, and sanctions will be a bit toothless while we still need, in abundance, what they are selling us.

Let's remember here, that these revenues represent hundreds of millions of metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. Hundreds of millions. []
Anyone who isn't convinced by the reality of the climate crisis, I encourage you to read the IPCC special report, or Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, or look out your window at the storms and fires. It's not in the future. It's now.

This is the second reason to cut our usage, because the climate crisis is not like a dictator who we may one day defeat.
It's not a question of whether we can win, but how much of our collective home we can save from the ravages of fires, floods, hurricanes, plastic, chemical pollution, and the chain-reaction impact of biodiversity collapse.
We lose 200 species a day.
Let's rephrase that: as early as 2010, the UN Environment Programme estimated that we humans are extincting 200 species of animals every day, or a thousand times the background rate. The biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis are horrifically closely linked, with each driving the other (and us driving both).

There's a lot of facets to the climate crisis, but the biggest one is energy (followed by agriculture). []

So what do we mean when we say energy? Most people think of electricity, but that's actually only a small part of the puzzle.
The system is insanely complex [] so we'll have to simplify a bit.

A rule of thumb for most European countries is that we use about 20% of energy for electricity production, 40% for transport and 40% for heating.
It varies a lot country-to-country, but electricity is not really the problem, as its the smaller share and the only bit we're sort of doing okay decarbonising.
Transport is much harder, and heating is harder again for a lot of countries.

The third reason to cut our usage is the cost to us as individuals and businesses. They. Have. Soared.
You may be paying four times as much per unit for energy as you did a year ago. That's enough to put some businesses under entirely.
I won't smugly note that if we had a renewable electricity system and electrified heating and transport we wouldn't give a fuck about gas or oil prices,
and our operating costs would be a tiny fraction of what they are.
Okay that was a little smug, but it doesn't really help us.
I put the cost issue last because everyone puts it first.

When can we act? Honestly, it's a bit late for this winter. There's things we can do, but when a client calls me asking if we can prepare their facility for the winter of high prices my answer is "sure, just call me six months ago".
I'm being flippant, but for buildings the time for assessment, system design, the necessary planning permissions, regulations and grid supply changes, procurement, testing, commissioning etc. of equipment is quite lengthy, not to mention any attempts to obtain grant aid for projects.

For transport, you can make changes much more immediately at an individual level- by taking public transport or jumping on your bike.
Many people can't or won't though, and solutions like electric cars are facing huge supply issues, largely I believe due to semiconductor supplies.

What we can do it to stop fucking around and get started. It will help us a little for this winter, but it won't save us.
What it will do is help us a lot for next winter, when the gas reserves that we've been storing up all year this year are gone, and we're really staring down the barrel.

So, what to do straightaway? It's a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, because every individual is different and every facility, community and region is different.

Some things we should all do:
-Plan and measure (upload meter readings, keep records, make little graphs).
-Work on the obvious (if I could make people do one thing it would be to close the doors in buildings. This is so laughably obvious I honestly despair at businesses who leave their doors open as though this will magically bring customers and wilfully run oil-fired heating systems to heat up the mainstreet).
-Make it a priority. It's now necessary for our pockets as well as the survival of the human race, so we can finally act.
-Engage with professionals where possible. Every euro/pound/dollar/generic-currency-unit spent in the planning phase saves many multiples down the line, it's like early childhood education.
-Focus on the routine. Fixing something you do every day is much more effective than something occasional. Need to make a one-off trip across the country to visit a relative? Of course, go for it. Have the option of working from home 4 days a week and not-commuting? That's where you can make a big impact.
-Lower the Temperature. We've gotten used to 21C+ inside buildings. Wear a jumper. People shouldn't be able to wear t-shirts in December, even indoors. It makes a huge difference.
-Look out for inefficiencies. There's no reason to have a single bulb that's non-LED in your building in 2022 (be a bit more careful with outdoor fittings, because of insect life). Only boil the water you need. Don't waste stuff.
-Make dedicated plans for removing fossil-fuel using equipment. Not everyone can get rid of their petrol car or oil boiler this year or even next year, but plan now for how you will get rid of them, what the replacement will be and how you will finance it. Green tech is cheaper in the long run but has an investment cost. Look for grants. Put aside savings.
-Don't expect miracles. A solar PV system on your roof is not going to take you off the grid. It takes time, planning and hard work to make significant change.
-Don't virtue signal. Don't greenwash. We don't need this. Nobody needs this.
-Educate yourself and others. We don't need to re-invent the wheel here.

Energy runs our lives. It gets us from A-B. It heats our homes, makes our goods, helps grow our food, pumps our water and waste.
Energy is, in a very real sense, the lifeblood of society.

Reducing it is hard. Nobody is saying it's not hard.

But staying with fossil fuels leads to only one path- a burning world in which dictators use force to via for the remaining limited resources available as the biosphere crumbles around us and people at every level of society suffer very rapid decline of quality of life, followed by mass displacement, terror and chaos as the scrabble to survive kicks in.

For me, it's worth the effort.