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Carbon tax: why the government acts as a bull in a china shop?

I wanted my blog to be completely clear of any political rubbish, and I sucessfully managed to keep from riting about how polititians stuff everything until now. But this carbon tax shit has just become personal.

I recently had an electric shock received my electricity bill. It normally happens once every quarter, but normally they were quite in line with each other. This one has an extraordinary total amount. Almost twice the amount of the previous bill. My quarterly bill just gone from modest $450-$500 per quarter to more than $800!

I haven’t dug the swimming pool nor started growing, err, say, some plants in hydroponics since my last bill, so I decided to have a look at what consumes the most power at my place. This is what I ended up with (I can explain the maths behind it if anyone is interested):

My place is a small three-bedroom townhouse. We don’t have any huge energy guzzlers like old-style plasma TV that is always on or built-in coffee machine with cup warmer. We, however, allow ourselves to have a luxury of keeping our place warm in winter. We use reverse cycle inverter aircons to keep it warn and dry and pleasant to be in. These heat pumps are extremely efficeint; on the other hand, our house is double brick, which also helped keeping heating expenses under control even though last winter was quite cold.

The rest of the chart are just essentials that every other household will have as well, with the exception of media server. (This is what we want to run 24/7, as it’s a multi-purpose thing that must be always on. We are willing to pay for that.) I installed energy savings lamps everywhere I could, and these are not even visible on the chart, but some rooms like bathroom and living room still have, and probably will always have halogen downlights. These have distinct bars on the chart above. Our washing machine is very energy efficient, so is the dishwasher. We don’t have natural gas so our cooktop adds up quite a bit. Interestingly enough, electric kettle does not seem to consume that much – its 2.4 kilowatts are on for a very short perod of time needed to boil the water, so its energy consumption is quite low.

Hot water system is not shown on the chart, mainly because it’s off-peak (so it’s cheaper). I’ll just mention that it has been chewing away healthy 1000 kW*h per quarter.

Surprisingly, my own estimations and measurements are not far off from official government data (see here and here).

Now, to the interesting part. There is nowhere to hide. I don’t think there is a way for a family to use less electricity. Of course, if the house is connected to the natural gas, there will be no electric cooker and hot water system will be most likely gas as well, which will offset electricity usage (but at the end of the day gas has to be paid for too). On the other hand, it’s very easy to use a lot more. Not everyone has reverse cycle air conditioning, so in a winter like we just had and a small baby in a family an electric radiant heater will be the way to go. 2.4 kilowatt heater used 5 hours a day will account for whooping 1100 KW*h per quarter, which in my current tariff would const more than $300. And that’s only if you are heating one room. If you need more, do the maths yourself.

There are more bad news for someone who rents an old style apartment. In many cases, hot water system in them is made up of one 30-liter boiler, which is obviously cannot be wired to a dedicated off-peak circuit, so they are very expensive to run. And 30 liters is barely enough to do the dishes; the boiler will almost always run out of hot water before you finish taking the shower. And it will use more than my off-peak boiler simply because it can – it will kick in every time you used a bit of hot water. So mine 1000 kW*h per quarter can easily turn into 1500 or even 2000 kw*h. In my current tariff, that would cost $450 to $600. Quite a price for not even be able to run shower for more than 5 minutes, isn’t it?

And here is how it is connected to the carbon tax. Of course, every household is different, but the trend will always be the same – most of the energy is spent on heating/cooling and hot water. This means that most of CO2 procuded by most households is attributed to heating/cooling and hot water. So the government decided to “encourage” people to use less energy by imposing a carbon tax.

Well, in fact, the idea behind carbon tax is to encourage manufacturers to reduce pollutions. By implementing greener technologies, perhaps. Or, may be, optimise the process by reducing wastage. Or. maybe, do something else that will reduce the environmental impact. At least, that was the intention. And we all whitnessed what happened instead – a number of companies closed down or packed up and moved somewhere else. The majority simply passed the tax on consumers.

It is also worth mentioning that enectrcity generation industry does not have too many options in reducing envirnomental impact. Australia still depends on coal power, alternative energy sources represent an insignificat proportion of all generators and nuclear power, which is carbon neutral, is not considered to be an option at all. So, in fact, carbon tax is nothing else but just another tax working falimies have to pay just because they dare to use electricity and gas.

Than you very much, Julia! What else can be said? Another tax. And in the same time, the stream of coal ships from Newcastle to China only gets bigger. Guess what happens to that coal in China? Surprizingly, it is burned producing huge amount of greenhouse gases regardless of how much an average australian household is encouraged to produce less of them.

Essentially, we are encouraged, or, I may say, forced, to cut down our carbon emissions. An average australian household can easily achive that. By not using heating/cooling and taking cold showers. And eating raw food, perhaps.

So, the government was so determined to act on cutting down carbon emissions, they decided to act. And they did. As a result – we now have another heavy tax, but no visible positive impact on the envirnoment whatsoever. It’s a bitter pill which they did not even try to sweeten it a little bit by promising to direct carbon tax money towards investing into renewable power infrastructure. These money are just pocketed up and then wasted on someting like Sydney Europe-style metro (remember this fabulous project? It died before it even started but took about 60-something millons dollars of taxpayers money with it) . At the end of the day, they first lied to us, then the acted, and failed, and we all left with a huge bill to pay.

I am not saying that we should sit tight doing nothing with our environmental impact. I actually think that we can do a lot more to achive better energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint than we are doing now. And, in this case, the government could have been smarter than usual and implement some simple measurements what would really work and would have an immediate effect and would not cost us all an arm and a leg.

What the government should have done instead of introducing this stupid tax was to force certain industries to abandon technologies that result in enery wastage and encourage energy-efficient technologies. Remember the picture above? A biggest chunk (up to a half!) of an average Australian household emissions come are attributed to heating/cooling and hot water. So the government could have just changed building code, requiring all new houses to be built with certain insulation level. They already kinda did it, but it has to be pushed to the limit. Thermal mass usage should be encouraged. Single glazing must be phased out, all new buildings should be required to have double glazing (these are also good at cutting the outside noise). Electric-only water heaters must be banned, all new building, including apartment blocks, should have solar water heaters.

These simple measures would have an immediate effect. Of course, people from building industry would cry loud, but they should not be listened to. Surely enough, new buildings constructed according to this new standard may be slighlty more expensive, but they will be a lot more comfortable to live in and most likely will be cheaper in a long run. Of course, it would take time for the industry to pick up the speed, and millions of older houses built literally of matchsticks and cardboard and apartment blocks with waffer thin walls and huge panoramic single-glazed windows will remain, but it is important to turn the trend first on new development; existing buildings will have to be addressed later.

So, as you could see, the issue of greenhouse gases emissions could have been addressed in two ways. One of them would have taken some time to cause any visible impact, but it will have positive cumulative effect as we would have gotten more comfortable houses that are cheaper to maintain, it would have created more jobs in building sector and, of course, would have really helped reducing carbon footprint of Australian households. The government, however, decided to go with another option, which only visible outcome is cost of living going through the roof. And that’s cumulative as well and it will cause detremential effect on the economy. The question is – why?

(Русский) И снова о пользе юнит-тестов

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