Starting in Sri Lanka

Colombo seems to be a good place for making resolutions. Twenty years ago I was here and decided to become a vegetarian after reading Gandhi. Now I’m inspired by Anuradha’s idea for a new way to campaign on climate change at OneWorld: seeing it as a commitment to the coming generations. That led us to discuss how we can personally take the issue more seriously and how we can try and align our own life at Hedgerley Wood to these values.

So we’re starting with three aims: to reduce our use of fossil fuels, to save money and make our life more sustainable in retirement, and to record the process in case it’s helpful for other people. So I’m starting with this blog and pictures and will maybe extend to a video diary in due course.

Of course we could be much more radical: move to Sri Lanka, stop commuting to work, live off our own produce, build earth toilets… But in the first place I don’t want to do this and, secondly, it seems unlikely that the majority of people in the UK or the US would want to either. The relevant challenge – at least until things get a lot worse – is to see how far we can go in reducing the negative impact of our current house, jobs and lifestyle.

It seems like the place to start is with a baseline survey of our current energy use and where that energy comes from. That’s both directly in the house and indirectly through our other activities. For that I’ll have to learn a bit about units of measurement of energy.

On the direct side the rough energy inventory I suppose we start with is:
• Oil – for heating, hot water and the pool
• Electricity – for light, some heating and a lot of gadgets
• Gas – for cooking, but very little
• Petrol – for the car, scooter and lawnmower
• Logs for the living room fire.

Indirectly we have to look at the travel we do for work and for leisure.

On the other side of the equation is the positive impact of the woodland round the house. I don’t know how fair it is to count this since we have done little more than buy the five acres and not cut down the trees. However, it will be interesting to know what the contribute in terms of taking up carbon dioxide each year.

Then to begin to research the subject I guess a good starting point would be the Centre for Alternative Technology. I first look at is a bit disappointing, although there is a good list of books on alternative energy. Probably best to go down there, look at working systems and talk to the experts about what really works. A lot of the solar and wind machines they list are at the level of toys and we need to find where the heavy duty stuff is.

It feels as though when it comes to solutions we should start with the issue of storage. However we generate the renewable energy it will have to be either stored or sent to the grid when it’s not being used. So this is a first thing to sort out. I’ve read something about an option of storing in the form of hydrogen, which sounds interesting if a bit daunting. Certainly what I have seen of solar in India suggests that conventional batteries are not really the answer. Even with their amount of sun and pretty large collectors on the roofs, they still need what seems like small rooms full of car batteries even to power a computer and a few lights for 3 or 4 hours. Anyway we need to do the calculations.

Then, still without knowing much at this stage, it seems that after the first phase of survey and research, we could begin on just a few parallel tracks by deciding:
• What form of storage to go for
• What first form of renewal energy to try (maybe solar for hot water)
• What changes in lifestyle could make an immediate difference (not using the pool).

I don’t think we are going to expect to balance the books in the early years. It seems many of the alternative technologies take many years to pay off. But this could suit us well, since we are in a position to invest now in order to have a more economic way of life when living on a pension in ten years’ time.

Now it feels very good to have created the first blog entry, because I hope this will be a great way to link with other people working on similar projects.

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