In the New York Times Bestseller Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming edited by Paul Hawken, I learned that heating water for showers, laundry and washing up accounts for a staggering quarter of residential energy use worldwide. This prompted me to resume our efforts to replace our existing gas hot water system with one powered by the sun.
Solar water heating is “one of the most effective technologies to convert solar energy into thermal energy” Drawdown, p.36. In Post-WWII cheap energy squeezed out the solar hot water industry in USA, but it was embraced by Japan, Australia, Israel and parts of South Africa. Today, 90% of homes in Israel and Cyprus have solar water heaters, thanks in part to them being mandatory since the 1980s. China too now has widespread use of solar water heaters, boasting more than 70% of the world’s capacity.
We originally planned to install a split system with the 270 Litre tank placed exactly where the old gas tank sat, but it’s illegal to have the tank too close to the original gas line. We were out by millimetres. Not to be deterred, we decided on a single panel and tank (200L) combo on the roof. The total cost was $4,665, but thankfully we get $945 solar credits (a rebate from the government under the Renewable Energy Scheme). This leaves us with an upfront cost of $3,720, and we can look forward to returns on this investment in the near future.
The solar panel will need to be pitch framed to achieve the right angle to optimise the energy from the sun. Not aesthetically desirable, but at least it will sit toward the back of the townhouse. Lucky for us, changes were made to the Building Act 1975 in 2010 which remove restrictions by body corporate Covenants prohibiting the use of particular energy saving features on the grounds of visual appeal of a residential estate. Our body corporate is clearly ignorant of this change because when we first requested permission to install a solar hot water system last year, they said NO. Our research into the building codes of Queensland paid off. “No” is no longer an acceptable answer.
We are Origin Energy customers who have recently signed up for a 100% green energy plan. Getting rid of the gas hot water system was stage 2 of getting out of fossil fuels – natural gas, like coal and crude oil, is formed from the buried remains of animals and plants that lived millions of years ago. Our recent Origin gas bill for hot water and a gas stovetop cooker combined was $684 pa, almost 50% of our total annual energy expense. A major portion of the gas bill is an overhead expense for having the gas line connected.
Gas is a non-renewable resource, and an over-use of it in the past has led to the new technology of Fracking. Hydraulic fracturing of deep shale deposits by a process of horizontal drilling requires large quantities of high pressure water, sand and chemicals. Groundwater will be depleted. Fracking chemicals will leak into the groundwater and pollute the atmosphere. Methane from the gas, a major contributor to climate change, can also leak into the atmosphere. If Origin Energy proceeds with their plans to frack gas in the Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory we will have to look around for another energy provider.
Gas, fracked or otherwise sourced, needs to be phased out along with other fossil fuels if our climate change odyssey is to change direction anytime soon.
For an interesting information sheet on natural gas visit https://www.eia.gov/kids/energy-sources/natural-gas/