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    Hi, I have been interested in being energy efficient and recently have seen the special on national geographic 6 degrees: heating the planet. In it, they showed an energy adviser that lived in quite a large house that was completely off grid using solar panels and batteries. I was wondering how much something like that costs to set up and what can be done for people living in apartments. I realize I can do small things like unplugging electronics when not in use so they are not just wasting energy but is there anything else people that live in apartments can do?


    You could fit solar PV or water heaters but this depends on your accommodation arrangements. To be honest you are best looking at what you can do in other areas of your life to save energy than to try and fit energy producing technology, unless you have spare cash to invest. The returns from most technology is not good unless like myself you have no other alternative supply. You may be able to divert water from a washing machine to a tank that will flush your loo or collect rainwater to use similarly. There are energy saving products that will lower your bills and reduce CO2 output. If you live in a communal block then your neighbours may be interested in a water heating system or even a micro turbine or PV array. These are slow to pay back the investment in all but the most perfect of installations. Do your maths and see what you could save.

    The best route to being efficient is to cut down on what you use and avoid waste. Sharing your car or getting rid altogether is a good option if you live in an area with alternative transport facilities. Hiring a vehicle is a viable option if you only need it sporadically.

    Keeping tabs on the waste materials from packaging is a positive move and asking your retailers to reduce the packaging or simply handing back any surplus is a good way to reduce waste. Reuse anything you can and recycle everything possible. Buy second hand where possible and use Freecycle or a similar group where it is available, or set up your own group.

    The best thing to do is see how much energy you actually use by simple calculation, then reduce this number by removing anything that is unnecessary.

    Good luck. To quote that great giant of supermarkets Tesco: ‘every little helps’


    Not only are CO2 emissions important to consider, but the increasing scaricity of fresh water must also be considered. About 2/3rds of Chinese cities are short of fresh water!

    Also, you must bear in mind that for most people, there are more CO2 emissions used to get the food to your table (including production, air miles, shipping miles, distribution miles, etc).

    If you buy locally prodcued food as much as possible, minimise food waste, and go on to a vegan diet (not that I would suggest you to do this), these would all help you reduce your CO2 emissions as well as reduce the amount of “embedded water” – the water required to produce food items. See below for an example.

    In the UK, many winter fruit and veg are flown in from the Andalucia region of Spain. This is a semi-desert environment. Part of this area has the largest area on the planet covered with plastic covered polytunnels. Irrigation water for the crops grown in the polytunnels is obtained from ground water sources. The ground water level is dropping, and is not replenished. When you fly tomatoes and other fruit and veg, you are mostly flying water from one part of the world to another, since they contain mostly water. The water taken to grow the crops is also effectively removed from the region!

    I can’t remember the figures, but it takes a lot of kilos of water to grow a kilo of tomatoes (and other crops also).

    The amount of water required to grow a kilo of beef (and other meat) is also enormous. It aslo takes about 7-8 kg of grain to produce a kg of beef. In terms of productivity, poultry is less damaging to the environment than beef prodcution.

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