3 Oct 2017

Easy ways to reduce energy use and GHG emissions

I'm helping you save energy!
I installed a NEST Thermostat in May 2015, just a few months after we moved into our flat.

The NEST has two use modes. The first is to set minimum temperatures for the times that you want the flat to be warm (or cool down, i.e., by lowering temperatures automatically everynight at 11pm). The second uses "smart" settings based on your presence in the room (it's watching!) and the manual adjustments that you make when you're in the room.

The NEST and installation cost about €335 ($400) all in, and I should have thought of that "investment" in terms of the returns it would bring me, but there's more than that.

I'm going to kill you
First, I can "set it and forget it," which is much better for us than waking up in the middle of the night with the (other) room steaming because I forgot to turn the dumb thermostat down.

Second, I can see use and set temperatures via the app. This is more of a gimmick than necessity for us, but it's sometimes fun to warm the house when we are riding bikes home in the cold and rain.

Third, the thermostat is MUCH better at warming the house in response to temperatures (rather than a dumb schedule). The correlation between average temperature for the month and cubic meters of gas consumption is 0.76, which seems to indicate that we're not wasting heat.

Although I do not have great data on how much we would have spent on natural gas without the NEST, the prior tenants were using roughly double our volume of natural gas, and my energy provider says that our use (at 380 m3 per year) is "a fraction of similar households."

So that's all fine and good, but my real point here is that a carbon tax wouldn't have a major financial impact on households (while saving the planet, obviously!) because we could so easily reduce our energy use. In this post, I estimate that adding a $30/ton "social cost of carbon" would increase the cost of electricity by $0.01/kwh. Using the same logic and a figure of 2.2kg CO2e emissions per m3 of gas, I estimate that a carbon tax would increase our natural gas price by €0.07 on top of the current cost of €0.55/m3. You may think these increases unbearable (and the energy company might agree, if conservation leads to lower revenues), but I think that "price" to be entirely reasonable, because the Nest (and other technologies) make it so much easier to use less energy.**

Bottom Line: We have the technology now to make it easy to "save the earth" by lowering our energy consumption. Sadly, lobbyists have convinced people that such changes would end "life as we know it" (à la Hal 9000) when they would merely end wasteful energy use from inattention.

*Our electricity use is also very low, so maybe we're just a small, efficient household.

** Don't forget that carbon taxes, since they are not covering direct costs, could be used in helpful ways. I prefer to rebate all carbon (or GHG) tax revenue to households (regardless of energy use) as a type of basic income. The Dutch already do a version of tax and rebate on energy, by the way.

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