Since I now live 26km out of town (and 450m up, with probably 1000m of climb), cycling isn't an option any more - it's beyond the range of most electric-assist bikes too. When I lived and worked in town, my commute was about 2km, with route chosen as being the flattest, and the coastal walkway as a scenic option. New Plymouth isn't very cycle friendly, as you can't go anywhere much without encountering a mean hill.
So I basically wore office clothes, and (unless I was running late) cycled at "chinese cycling speed" - 2-3 x walking pace, which is reportedly the most energy efficient means of transport known. I did find that a backpack tends to cause a sweat area where it touches. I would succumb to a lift home on days where the rain was at Taranaki intensity. A tucked in sock replaced cycle clips (I still have my old clips somewhere).
Had the distance been longer and hillier, the lack of facilities (changing, bike storage) at the office would have been quite a disincentive.
No, I didn't. Well, not the Redflow bit. Interesting that they don't list redflow as an option for their basepower units yet. I'd seen basepower before. big $$$.
What does your last sentence mean?
I didn't exactly explain myself there. About a year ago we moved to an aging eco-house in a community, conveniently across the road from where we are planning to build. The power lines stop a couple of km away. The week before we moved in, a storm destroyed the existing solar panels (which were well past their use-by date), leaving us with the output of a 1kW micro-hydro generator with significant transmission losses (150m of inadequate cable - I have suggested moving the pelton wheel further downhill). The lighting was 12V halogen lamps - pulling 4A each! For a slight loss of lux, we replaced them with 6W LEDs, and partied the night we were able to turn on four lights at once instead of one. Other than that our priorities are refrigeration (our 6-star fridge running on the inverter) and the coffee grinder, charging phones and laptop*. Hot water is wood-fired, with a gas backup that we don't use, and we have gas and wood options for cooking. The place has good insulation and thermal mass, so despite all the air leaks it is relatively warm. We put the woodburner on maybe 40 nights last winter. We'd already been TV free for a year before moving, but we note that TEAC make an excellent and efficient 12V/240V TV with built in DVD and satellite box for about $700.
Insurance paid for 300W of new solar panels and our rent paid for 450VA worth of new batteries. When these arrived, we tried running our freezer, but generation is about 20% short of what is needed for reliable service. We'll probably look at 2-3 x the size of system when we build, and would definitely have solar as the primary water heating, as it is so cheap.
Our washing machine is also pretty efficient so long as it isn't heating water, but it doesn't like the old inverter (not pure sine wave) that we're stuck with, so we run it on a generator. Still cheaper and less hassle than lugging washing 30km to the laundromat.
* We bought a high-capacity battery for our laptop so we could charge it in town most days, but it has died after 9 months service. The mistake was to buy one which drop-shipped from Hong Kong, with no support (The website did not make that at all clear).
Energy star does make a difference, if you can afford the choice. We chose our new fridge in part based on the fact it had the best star rating (also the vege drawer could hold a whole spring onion!) - but we had the luxury of being able to make that choice. One and two star appliances are cheaper because production costrs are cheaper. Essentially the manufacturer is passing the cost on to the consumer and the country - why do we allow them to do that?
What I'm meaning is that India and China are capable of making highly efficient appliances which are affordable for their own middle classes - which would be really cheap in NZ terms. I wonder if NZ importers are deliberately choosing less efficient models for the bottom end of the market so as to justify the cost of the high end models?
A few years ago we bought a Gram fridge (6 stars) and freezer (5.5 stars) which together 30% used less power than our old Kelvinator despite having 3x the capacity. They cost about $200 more than the equivalent sized F&P models (3 star).
I heard 3rd hand that switching our entire transport fleet to electric cars would barely affect our electricity use as a country - certainly that's something that could be a good use of spare capacity, although apparently not much of it.
I believe there are still storage issues: Apparently a national fleet using lead-acid batteries (aside from the inefficiency of using half the energy to move the storage around) would have a significant side effect in terms of lead pollution levels. Li-Ion seems to have some safety issues (overheating) as well as expense. Other alternatives include compressed air (which can be compressed by electricity), e.g. the work of MDI, who have also designed kitset factories so that vehicles can be manufactured locally.
Is spreading the extra energy around the existing users the best we can do?
It buys us time. Time to make the adjustments in lifestyle (individual and collective) that will reduce our per capita energy use to levels that are long-term sustainable. Time to figure out what happens with industry, hospitals etc. when the gas runs out (Maui is essentially gone, Pohokura will be gone by 2025). Of course in an environment where the energy companies have no incentive to incentivise conservation of the resource, it's difficult for this adjustment to happen.
If campaigns like EnergyStar were really working, It wouldn't be possible to buy appliances with only 1.5 or 2 stars, because the demand for them would have collapsed. And there's no need for appliance efficiency to happen only at the high end of the market, given that some of the best R&D into both energy efficiency and small scale power production is happening in the manufacturing base: India and China - which have very real incentives for conserving power, given that if you overload the system, it falls over.
There's nothing like living $100,000+ away from the grid to give you focus on what is important :-)
Two things make me hopeful.
And even more at the leading edge, I've read (sorry, can't recall where) of research into panels which don't use "solar" radiation at all but the background EM radiation which is pouring through us every second - they will generate power 24/7.
Yes, current PV technology is resource-limited due to the materials used. We cannot, on a global basis, meet a majority of electric power needs from PV technology due to the rarity of some rare earth metals (they aren't all rare, BTW).
As to wind, Off-grid expert Michael Lawley has an interesting figure: Because of "where the wind is and isn't", if you had a 1kW wind turbine on each home in NZ, the total number of big wind farm turbines at prime sites to achieve the same time-averaged power generation is 17 - at about 1/1000th the infrastructure cost. Even where we are (off-grid, 450m above sea level in a relatively high wind zone) it is only windy enough 10-15% of the time. Another factor is maintenance - it is notable that catalogues offering domestic scale wind turbines (e.g. Jaycar) offer a full range of replacement parts. And friends of ours lost two turbines because their (not insubstantial) support masts failed in high wind events.
VAWT (Vertically Aligned Wind Turbine) technology offers some potential - quieter, fewer moving parts, less control technology, more stackable and above all, more tolerant of high wind speeds. But there is a big gap in the market - nothing available in NZ between little 50W 12V units designed for boats of campervans and the $20,000+ units for larger buildings.
Which is why I was amazed when I went to get a WOF while the head-liner was removed from our car for reupholstery and was failed because of the exposed metal. Who knew that that 4mm thick bit of carboard and fabric had such incredible protective powers.
I've been astonished at the roaring silence from the Maori party (and Maori MPs in general with the exception of Hone Harawira) on the TPPA. Surely this looks like being the biggest undermining of te Tririti o Waitangi since, oh, November 5th 1881?
Of course the agency argues they meant New Zealand is 100% pure New Zealand (plus you, O monied tourist). But they and the government are apparently quite happy for the meaning to be mistaken.
But even that is a falsehood. Our fertility is being imported from Morocco (go and read about peak phosphorus) - because we've already wreaked devestation upon Nauru. And the grass grown is increasingly supplemened by palm kernel at the expense of the endemic forests of south asia. We pride ourselves on being good farmers, yet that is laughable. Many "peasant" farmers in Asia have been getting many times greater yield from their land, and have been doing so for up to 4000 years with no external inputs.
Which is the better slogan: NZ - 100% pure greenwash, or 100% pure bullshit?