We may be able learn a thing or two about energy consumption and sustainability by taking a look at policies and advancements across the globe. Before we do so, let’s take a look at the current situation here in Australia.
On home soil, the Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA) state that aggregate electricity consumption has been decreasing every year since 2009. This is because the industry has been de-industrialised, energy efficiency has increased, and there has been growth in solar installations. The ESAA also report that 1.3 million Australian homes have now installed solar panels; that’s over 14% of the population.
Arguably any progress is good progress, but when we compare Aussie stats with those abroad we’re far from the top of the bunch. For example, in 2014 it’s estimated that over 85% of our electricity came from fossil fuels, whereas global sustainability leaders now rely on them for as little as 2% of total energy requirements.
So who’s leading the sustainability charge?
Worldenergy.org publishes a list of the most sustainable nations each year using what they call the ‘Energy Trilemma Index’. Countries are ranked after a review of three key areas; energy security, energy equality and environmental sustainability. Read on to find out who’s paving the way, how they’re setting new standards for energy consumption and sustainable practice, and how we can use this as inspiration for change in our own homes.
At number 5, Denmark is one of the global leaders in energy sustainability, and it primarily comes down to their use of wind power as an alternative energy source. They have ambitious aims to be operating on 50% wind power by 2020. This feeds into a broader objective – functioning without any dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. With this in mind, Denmark has some big boots to fill, but they’re up to the challenge.
Denmark consolidate to save power in communities
The Danes have made some great leaps in energy efficiency through the use of district heating systems too. It’s exactly as it sounds – district-wide heating systems servicing a broader area as opposed to separate set ups in each building. This approach may not necessarily work everywhere, but it’s a good reminder to look at consolidating our power sources wherever we can.
Energy tip: Upscaling and consolidating power can save energy. In its most basic form this could be consolidating your usage by avoiding having appliances running in multiple rooms in the house at the same time, or switching the lights and heating off in areas that are not being used.
Despite balancing energy security, equity and environmental sustainability well overall, the UK (like Australia) relies heavily on fossil fuels. Without change, it’s likely that the UK will be superseded by others in coming years. That’s not to say innovation is not brewing though. Rumour has it London’s Mayor Boris Johnson has plans to use the excess heat from the city’s subway tunnels and an electric substation to funnel heat directly into British homes. Way to think outside the box!
Norway is known for its renewable energy, which is not surprising considering 95.4% of their electricity comes from hydroelectric sources. Although Norway is Europe’s largest oil producer (according to a piece in Business Spectator) the Norwegians have a realistic view when it comes to dwindling fossil fuel reserves. Rather than investing all the money made from exporting fossil fuels into the industry, they instead allocate it to new renewable energy initiatives in what they refer to as the ‘decoupling process’.
A successful waste-to-energy conversion program contributes significantly to Sweden’s ranking. To put it in context, less than 1% of all household waste in Sweden ends up in landfill. According to Swedish waste management association Avfall Sverige, ‘Just under 50% of household waste is material-recycled; a slightly smaller proportion goes to waste to energy’.
Western Australia has big plans for similar initiatives. Earlier this year a third waste conversion plant was approved for the state.
Energy tip: Recycling comes in many forms. If we as a nation collectively take responsibility and recycle regularly we can make positive impacts on the environment, and for those of you who live in WA, it may even contribute to local energy generation.
Switzerland tops the World Energy sustainability list for 2014, nicely balancing all three corners of the trilemma index. Major contributing factors include a super low energy emission infrastructure that uses fossil fueled power for only 2% of power.
Hydroelectric energy is the leading source of power for the Swiss, generating 52.6% of electricity; however this is closely followed by 41.6% nuclear-generated power.
Energy efficiencies in Switzerland will continue to improve over the next few decades following bold moves to close all operating nuclear power plants by 2034.
Energy tip: Embrace renewable energy systems, even over nuclear power. This may be as simple as switching to solar powered garden lights.
When it comes to the World Energy Trilemma Index Australia ranks 13 out of 129, so we have a way to go if we want to work our way up the list.
While some level of change is out of our hands as energy consumers, we can still have positive impact on energy sustainability by reducing consumption in the home. By adopting even a handful of small changes you could not only be doing your bit for the environment, but also saving some cash in the process.