Spring Energy

The coming of spring brings the very welcome warmth of the sun, and the accompanying signs of growth sprouting all around us. Such is often a time of getting outside more often, of shaking off the cobwebs of our winter solstice when we hid away from that cold, wet season. The increasing peaks and strength of the sun beckon us, and our energy-levels increase.

It’s at this time of the year that people ask me about tapping into the energy of the sun in order to heat their homes. While it’s true that all of the energy we currently enjoy ultimately comes from the sun, certain solar panels have limitations.

Solar photo-voltaic panels, the ones that turn sunlight directly into electricity, are both very expensive and inefficient. And in the winter they produce so little energy as to be useless at the job of heating. But, solar hot water panels, which turn the sun’s rays directly into hot water, are cost-effective and able to heat much of our hot water for eight or so months of the year. Multi-family units and manufacturing plants are especially able to take advantage of this free source of energy.

The sun benefits us in other ways, of course. From growing the form of energy our bodies use (food) to benefitting from the solar gain through windows, the sun gives us life – both physically and emotionally.

While we have a lot of knowledge about how to live sustainably, we in the ‘civilised’ world have largely failed to turn that knowledge into action. Because most of us follow the lead of others rather than make the difficult lifestyle choices that are needed, politicians do little.

Gratefully, becoming more sustainable in our own lives has far-reaching benefits. Taking the bus or car-pooling means we get to read the paper or meet neighbours and others. Using one’s bicycle is not more dangerous than is being in a car, and one feels a lot better for the exercise and fresh air. Even renters can make relatively inexpensive additions or changes to their homes that will save them money – not to mention the planet.

The two largest areas of needed improvement are in the areas of transportation and food. Travel accounts for over half of the greenhouse gases in our region. Unfortunately, those smart people who make extra trips in their vehicle just to pick up food from local growers end up nullifying some of the benefit to the planet in the process! Thankfully local growers are realising the need to organise delivery systems to reach people’s homes.

Living closer to where we work or study, using modes of transportation apart from the family car, tapping into the sun more (a clothesline anyone?), supporting local (organic) farmers, and making energy upgrades to our homes and businesses are all excellent ways of making our planet and our lives more sustainable.

What it costs is time, money, and lifestyle changes. What it saves is increasingly expensive energy, our lives and our planet home. What we gain is better health, more energy, a greater sense of community, and peace of mind. Welcome to spring!

Ian Gartshore is an energy coach.