COP 26 is now over. Ignoring all the hype, it looks like we are still on a trajectory of going to about 2 degrees of global warming. As far as I can ascertain this means that we are heading to around 600 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere in the next 50 years or so.
Putting aside the predictions of catastrophic climate change at 600 ppm, those of you who are familiar with indoor air quality studies will recognize that 600 ppm is the level at which CO2 begins to effect human cognitive performance (scores in cognitive tests have been found to degrade once the CO2 in a room reaches a level of 600 ppm). Similar work shows that humans begin to get drowsy once CO2 levels in a room reach 1000 ppm.
If we do reach a CO2 global atmospheric background level of 600 ppm, ambient CO2 levels in urban areas are likely to be around 650 ppm. Prolonged exposure to levels of over 1000 ppm may well be commonplace. We will no longer be able to just ‘pop outside to get some fresh air’.
In my children’s lifetime I imagine that humans will be facing some real challenges, but with reduced cognitive function and a dulled sense of alertness. We are poisoning both the planet and ourselves.
In late 2016 I bought a CO2 monitor to check the air quality inside our house. On the basis of this monitoring, which revealed poor ventilation, we decided not to seal up our house in order to save energy. We chose rather to live in a fresh-air house keeping our windows open throughout the year. We coupled this with keeping warm by heating ourselves, not the air in our house. Very comfortable; very energy efficient. At that time I produced a Microsoft Sway which described my monitoring and decision making process.
Since that time I’ve heard little mention of indoor CO2 monitoring in the mainstream media but in recent weeks it has suddenly become a topic of great interest. Indoor air quality experts are now talking seriously about using indoor CO2 levels as an indicator for the likelihood of Covid 19 spread. High levels of indoor CO2 = low rates of fresh air exchange in a room = potential high viral load in the air people are breathing.
The moral of the story appears to be simple: monitor the CO2 in your living areas and ventilate well. In my view breathing good air, and minimising the spread of Covid, is more important than saving energy [though I believe in our house we have managed to both improve our air quality and lower our energy use].
For a whole range of reasons, not least my growing frustration with the lack of Government action on climate change, I’ve decided that I need to take more immediate action to progress our energy transition.
Without getting bogged down in details, I recently came to the conclusion that the best way to move quickly toward zero petrol use in our household was to replace our wonderful (not very old) Gen 2 Nissan Leaf with a Tesla Model 3. It appeared to me that I will only get full family support for being a petrol free household if we have an all‑purpose EV: an EV that will be a total ICE replacement car. I was very sad to let go of the Leaf but I’m sure it will find a good home – I believe adding one more great second‑hand EV to the car fleet in Australia can only be a good thing.
We just love the Model 3! It has met, indeed exceeded, my expectations.
In a similar ‘letting go of the past’ vein, I decided now was also the time to retire my much loved ‘home grown’ direct EV solar charging set‑up (I’ve written about this at length in my Annual Reports) and replace it with a ‘proper’ system: the Zappi. This works wonderfully well!
The photo below shows our Model 3 being charged by our Zappi in our garage at home.
I think we’re now much better placed to become a ‘two EV family’. Watch this space.
This short report contains my computation of our our total (direct + indirect) household carbon footprint for 2020.
The size of our total carbon footprint for 2020 was similar to the previous year but its composition was different. Our direct carbon footprint (petrol + grid electricity) was smaller but our indirect footprint was greater. The increase in our indirect carbon footprint was mainly due to us having a holiday in Singapore in 2020 as opposed to only flying to NZ in 2019.
We added a 6kW solar PV system to our house in April 2020 and this enabled us to increase our export of carbon free electricity over the year. Accordingly, we needed to buy a substantially reduced amount of carbon offsets compared to the previous year in order to achieve ‘net zero emissions’ status for 2020.
This is my fifth Annual report. Despite all the external struggles of 2020 we seem to have come through pretty much unscathed. The major event of the year was us maxing out the solar PV on our roof – we added a new 6kW system. The new system is export limited in order to constrain our total output to 15kW. Petrol remains by far the biggest fossil based contributor to our household direct carbon footprint.
We did a fair bit of work this year on ideas for reducing our indirect carbon footprint.
For some years now, I’ve wanted to try out a mobile FIR heater.
You’ll have gathered from my many comments on domestic heating on this site that I am a great fan of FIR heating. However, conventional FIR heaters are generally fixed panels and this can often mean that the beautiful low intensity radiant heat is not delivered in the optimum way to a receiver sitting in a chair. For example, there may be no room on a wall or the ceiling to fix the FIR panel close to the receiver; or maybe furniture gets in the way and blocks some of the radiant heat.
On the other hand a mobile FIR heater ideally allows a user to position the heater in a place which optimises the radiant heating experience.
After several years of trying in vain to buy a mobile FIR heater I finally decided to make one! I bought a conventional FIR panel (with the lowest power rating I could find – 400W) and instead of fixing it on a wall I attached it to a mobile structure which I have constructed. This can be seen in the two photos. [In designing and building this I was very conscious of the need for it to be safe – in particular I wanted it to be very stable and also to be able to be easily moved without a person’s body coming into contact with the hot surface.]
It is early days, and we have missed winter, but my wife seems to really like it. She has happily been using it on most evenings as we make our way through an unusually cool Canberra spring.
I’ve been a long‑time advocate of heated clothing – for me it is the best way to keep warm inside your home over winter. However, through my own personal testing, and feedback from others, I’ve found that a heated garment may not work too well if it is worn incorrectly.
In particular, if a heated garment is worn as the outer layer over thick jumpers etc it will very likely add no perceptible warmth for the user. The heat is unlikely to penetrate through the other clothes to reach the person’s body and much of the heat energy will simply be lost to the atmosphere.
My rules for wearing heated clothing are: i) wear the heated garment as close as possible to your skin but not in direct contact (eg put on over thermal underwear); ii) get a garment of the right size – it needs to fit nice and snugly so that effective heat conduction can take place; and iii) place one or two layers over the heated garment (eg jumper, dressing gown) so that its heat is trapped in the clothing.
Over the past two winters I’ve been wearing a heated vest which very nicely meets my criteria: i) it has a clever method for size adjustment and so it can be made to fit close to the body; and ii) it is very supple and thin so it doesn’t inhibit the wearing of other layers of clothing.
As I’ve indicated earlier, this year I’m trying to reduce both our direct and indirect carbon footprints. One of my first projects for 2020 has been to reduce our indirect carbon footprint through reducing our family use of toilet paper. While the initial inspiration has been the somewhat puzzling hoarding of toilet paper throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I see this as a simple but worthwhile small project. Globally the use of toilet paper is a major environmental problem that can be simply addressed by replacing ‘wiping’ with ‘washing’.
I plan on publishing more detailed reports in due course, but after trialing different types of bidets we have ended up with a simple, but highly effective, bidet on both of the toilets in our house.
It is too early at this stage to quantify our carbon gains but I am confident our gains will not be insignificant. Putting aside our carbon footprint, and without going into details, I can say that using a bidet is a delight – you feel so much cleaner.
Today I have released my 2019 Carbon Footprint Report which forms a part of our ‘Fossil Fuel Free Family’ project. In this report I show how we reached ‘net zero emissions’ in 2019 by managing our carbon emissions (both our direct and indirect footprints) through the use of carbon credits. I have claimed credits for solar PV electricity exported and carbon offsets which I purchased specifically to reach our ‘net zero emissions’ goal for the year. I intend that from here we will be ‘net zero’ each year.
This is my fourth Annual Report for our energy transition project. 2019 was essentially a year of consolidation. A lot of time and effort was taken up in changing our house over from single to three-phase electricity so that we can add more solar PV to our roof in 2020. The highlight of the year for me was us getting a second generation EV – the new (40kWh) Nissan Leaf. After 6 months this is looking like a great move and should enable us to make some significant energy/carbon savings.