The increasing importance of preserving our natural resources and reducing our collective carbon footprint is changing the way we do things. One of those changes is a shift to sustainable energy sources-- and one of the benefits of that shift is greater energy independence as people learn to rely less on corporations and more on nature and each other.
In both Australia and the U.S., solar energy is on the rise. The demand for cleaner, more sustainable energy sources has never been higher. That demand is reflected in the number of solar power plants being built. Recently, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency announced plans to invest $92 million dollars in the construction of 12 new solar power plants. The plants are expected to triple the country's solar energy capacity to 720 megawatts, which is enough to power 150,000 homes. Furthermore, according to Process Systems, increasing Australia's energy mix to 100% renewables by 2050 would result in 90 billion $ savings compared to the business as usual scenario.
There is also an increasing demand by homeowners for solar power, reflected by the increase in the number of people choosing to install solar panels on their homes. In the U.S., residential solar installations increased by 51% from 2013 to 2014. Investment firm Morgan Stanley reports that 50 percent of Australian households were interested in installing solar panels with battery storage. It has been estimated that by 2018, Australia's energy storage market will grow to 30,000 installations.
One reason cited for that increase is the fact that the price of a complete PV (photovoltaic) system has dropped by 45% since 2010. Another is that there are now a greater number of financing and leasing options available. An installation for a 2,000 to 2,500 square foot home consists of between 20 to 40 panels, depending on whether the home requires air conditioning. Photovoltaic cells contained in the panels convert solar energy from sunlight directly into AC electricity. That electricity powers the home, and any surplus can be sold back to the power company.
There are a few ways you can reduce your use of natural resources while increasing the amount of beauty in your backyard. It’s estimated that watering lawns and gardens accounts for 50-70% of the average home’s water consumption. One way to reduce that percentage is by keeping the grass short and watering early in the morning to prevent evaporation. Another way is to replace that thirsty lawn with some native Australian plants. You’ll not only save water, but reduce noise and air pollution by not having to use a power mower anymore.
The Australian Institute of Horticulture has some great resources that can help you determine the best plants for your location, and the Waterwise Plant Selector is one of the best. It allows you to enter your postal code and personal preferences to get information about what plants thrive best in your particular climate. Options include edible, bird attracting, perfumed, and even greywater tolerant plants. There are many beautiful Native Australian plants to choose from to make your garden greener.
Trees can also add color and beauty, as well as shade for the hot summer months, which will reduce your energy consumption, too. In the U.S., becoming a member of the Arbor Day Foundation entitles you to ten free trees. Australia boasts more than a hundred types of native trees, many of which also provide beautiful blooms, delicious fruit, or both.
Mulching helps keep weeds down without the use of harmful pesticides and composting can reduce waste and provide richer, more fertile soil for your vegetable garden. It can also reduce your grocery bill. Organic vegetables are commanding higher prices than ever. Using fresh vegetables from your own garden is another way to reduce your carbon footprint while providing your family and guests with healthy, flavorful foods. While growing your own vegetables may use more water than other plants, there are some great new methods for cutting water costs, too.
The shift towards alternative energy is not only preserving natural resources and reducing energy costs, but creating jobs and changing the way many companies do business. One example is the number of water-saving devices being manufactured. The average modern household uses approximately 100 gallons of water each day for common daily activities like showers, laundry, cooking, and gardening. Replacing leaky valves and using water-saving appliances can reduce water usage by up to 50%.
Installing a rainwater harvesting system can save a substantial amount of both water and money. It can also result in improved water quality. Ground water is often contaminated by pesticides and other pollutants that aren't present in rain water. Rainwater isn't as hard as water treated with chlorine or fluoride, which means you won't need water softeners and will be able to use less detergent. Because rainwater has fewer minerals, it is also gentler on plumbing fixtures. Harvested rainwater reduces the use of chemicals.
There are now systems that make it possible for people to rely solely on rainfall for all their water needs in areas which receive an average of 24 inches of annual rainfall. To do that, a family of four would require a cistern with a 10,000- gallon capacity. The best roofing material for rainwater catchment is stainless or enameled steel that is certified lead-free. Other roofing materials are more likely to attract mold or bacteria which could contaminate the water supply.
Most people use rain harvesting to supplement, rather than completely replace, their water supply. A simple system using barrels specially designed to block light and prevent the growth of bacteria and algae can be designed for just a few thousand dollars. The barrels have tight-fitting tops to keep out mosquitoes and screens on the end of downspouts to filter out any debris. Depending on nature rather than the water company is a great way to keep your garden green.
Whatever method you choose, reducing your carbon footprint can benefit your health and your social life as much as it does the planet.