Eco Minimalisation- Sustainability

Eco Minimalisation- Sustainability.

Eco Minimalisation is the authentic sustainability antidote to ‘Eco Bling’. For example passive solar is the ‘eco minimalism’ solution to ‘active solar’. Instead of installing an elaborate ‘active’ solar energy system involving solar power generating equipment sustainability advocates of eco minimalism suggest simply pointing South facing glazing at the Sun in a way that it will heat up something that retains heat, such as a tiled floor or a brick wall.  No pumps, no plumbing and no maintenance, making the concept a double whammy in the sustainability armoury.  Heat loss at night is avoided by shutters and curtains,. It’s the user that’s active in the eco minimalisation process rather than the system. With ‘active systems’ the opposite is the case. Eco minimalisation however is a sustainability concept which for the most part has to be incorporated into the building from scratch. It’s almost impossible to retro-fit eco minimalisation features into existing buildings to any meaningful degree

Eco Minimalisation equipment.

Energy rating is one area the few areas in which the EU’s ‘sustainability’ efforts has been successful. It was the EU directive which finally resulted in the UK phasing out high energy consumption light bulbs. And in almost all instances it’s more cost effective and sustainability friendly to buy low energy appliances. But not all countries have been so successful. In the 1970s the Chinese Government decided to provide all of it’s population with a fridge. However it supplied models which although marginally cheaper than sustainability friendly ones used significantly more electricity. The result was that the government had to build a significant number of power stations to supply the additional electricity demand. This was a remarkably obtuse decision for a Communist Country. The only known advantage of Communism is supposed to be that the state has the power to enforce decisions to the collective benefit which would not be arrived at where individuals are free to make choices which would be individually rational. The Chinese Government had the capacity to determine the type of fridge supplied and was itself responsible for the cost of supplying the additional electricity the fridges required. Yet it chose the most expensive and least sustainability friendly solution. Had it embarked upon a deliberately sustainability unfriendly policy it could not have done better

More insulation the better

More insulation the better

One of the great mysteries of electrical appliance distribution in the UK however is why we haven’t moved to ‘One Watt Standby’. A staggering 10% of the National Electricity Grid and 1% of the entire nation’s energy demand powers standby features. If all new appliances were required to have ‘One Watt Standby’; this additional demand could be virtually eliminated and sustainability in terms of energy consumption would improve by 1% overnight. And it would be easy to achieve. The technology is readily available and has been for years. Given the frequency with which we replace new appliances most of the stock would be converted within only a few years. The industry will not convert however until legislation requires all appliances to conform. It’s the same as it was with sustainability friendly light bulbs. It’s disadvantageous for anyone to take the initiative because at the moment the specification involves additional expense which would be unwelcome to consumers unfamiliar with the electricity saving benefits of the technology. If all appliances were required to conform however, the chances are that there’d be no extra cost at all, and we’d all save on the cost of electricity. In 2005 Australia embarked upon phasing in ‘One Watt Standby’ with a view to saving every household an average of 100 Dollars a year. The savings in offices would be significantly greater as that’s where more of the equipment is located so it will have a commensurate effect on business costs

Until recently, domestic boilers have been too big for efficient use in our modern better insulated houses. So they’ve been working inefficiently. Boilers work most efficiently at full capacity and inefficiently when operating below it. Not only have the boilers been more expensive to buy than they should have been but they are operating less efficiently as well. And that’s nothing to do with technology. It’s simply that they are the wrong size. The boiler industry’s contribution to sustainability recently has been lower output condenser boilers

insulated blinds in tracks

insulated blinds in tracks

Eco Minimalisation and Sustainability

Eco minimalisation advocates promote the view that sustainability has taken a wrong fork in the road when it comes to energy sustainability solutions. It’s understandable that the first thought is to generate your own electricity at home. Well intentioned albeit amateur sustainability enthusiasts tend to focus on the local home based solutions. A house mounted wind turbine is is bound to be far less efficient that a large industrial size turbine mounted on a suitable hill, although it’s not necessarily clear whether either is a viable method of generating sustainable energy when the costs the total carbon footprint and the environmental damage caused by wind turbines in general is taken into account. So a home turbine is bound to have a higher carbon footprint than a suitably placed industrial turbine and may be so inefficient it even has a larger carbon footprint in total than even gas generated grid power. In extreme it may generate virtually no electricity but all the carbon wasted in manufacturing and installing the turbine would nevertheless have been released into the environment. Some sustainability amateurs appear to forget that the carbon footprint of the equipment itself and not just its cost has to be factors into the carbon equation.

 

Insulated blinds

Insulated blinds

The ‘passive house standard’ is an ‘eco minimalism’ sustainability passion. It’s defined as a housing unit that doesn’t require any heating system and doesn’t by more than half a degree over a 12 hour period. This may seem a tall order, but such sustainability friendly houses have been built in Canada, Scandinavia and Central Europe for many years. The wrong route which sustainability campaigners argue we have taken in the UK involves concern ourselves too much with attaching ‘eco bling’ to our properties in the hope of generating low carbon electricity and retro fitting insulating solutions to properties which can have only with minimal effect. Whereas what we should be doing is building properties which require less energy in the first place. In terns of sustainability considerations alone, it may be best to demolish much of the existing stock of buildings and rebuild them from scratch to a more sustainability oriented design. But at the very least eco minimalists argue for much better insulation in existing properties, better draft proofing, double glazing, and more efficient heating systems, before we even think about investing in generating our own electricity at home. But this is something that building designers rarely hear about from clients. Most people who enquire about an energy efficient house seem to focus on installing heat pumps, windmills, solar panels and other supply side solutions rather than considering the cheaper, more sustainability friendly solution of a simple well designed ‘passive house’ devoid of the vulgar ‘eco bling’ which has become fashionable amongst the ‘sustainability eco chavs’