Sunday, December 04, 2011

Redefining Sustainable Energy


R E - D E F I N I N G
Sustainability and Sustainable Energy
in the light of Fuel Poverty

I have got some nudges from a few readers about my recent statement that I have decided to forgo on ordering oil this winter and instead use coal. I have done this as a protest because heating oil in the Republic is some 20%+ higher than a few miles up the road in the North of Ireland.

Many people who have no choice but to use oil are this winter buying their heating oil in cans by the week or by the month. They are doing this because they cannot afford a fill of oil. In so doing, they are being charged an extra 10% at the pumps on top of the 20%+ the Republic of Ireland charges over and above the Northern. Ireland prices. Currently heating oil is at €870 a fill and soon to reach almost €1000.

There are also the many people in Ireland who do not even have the luxury of oil heating, and who depend on open fires, electric heaters or old inefficient solid fuel ranges for their heat.

Fuel Poverty

In August of 2008 the WHO World Health Organisation described Ireland's then level of Fuel Poverty at 17% as "Shocking". I am inclined to guess that the figure now is more like 35% or even higher - and rising by the day. What would the WHO say to 40% fuel poverty in Ireland?

An acceptable definition of fuel poverty is where a household is spending in excess of 10% of its income on energy.

The figure is an international embarrassment to a rich country who's professionals, public service managers, and politicians earn twice as much as what is acceptable say in Germany a way richer country than little old Ireland.. A surgeon with 5 years experience in Germany earns €117,000.

So what are the average energy costs in a household? My own costs, based on current prices and working on usage taken from last year, are roughly: Electricity just under €1,000, Oil €1,100, coal etc. €500. That comes to €2,600 a year and we count ourselves as economical in our usage. That €2,600 will increase to €2,860 with the increase in carbon tax and the 13.5% on top of the carbon tax. 

In Ireland Today Fuel Poverty = Households with an income of less than €28,600

By the accepted definition of fuel poverty, any Irish household living in a fairly average house, that has an income of less than €28,600 a year - €550 a week -  is deemed to be in fuel poverty. Carbon Tax and VAT at 13.5% is a major contributory factor.

Re-defining Sustainability

This Blog is about sustainable energy... . .  But, in the last year or so,  I have desperately felt the need to re-define the meaning of sustainable.

Here are two dictionary definitions of the word SUSTAINABLE:

(1) Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

(2) Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of union, an interdependent relationship and mutual responsible position with all living and non living things on earth. (from Wikipedia)

The capacity to endure!!

Sustainability from Two Perspectives

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland was established during the "Celtic Tiger" years. The focus of that over funded "Authority" was towards promoting projects in sustainable energy by means of grants and education.

The grant and education schemes however tended to focus on GRAND projects which only the better off could afford, such as geo-thermal heating systems.  They forgot things like simple and efficient stoves at €400 each and using wood briquettes with the 13.5% VAT removed and even perhaps subsidised in price. Damn it!!! - that would have been too simple and unsophisticated to warrant considering. Instead they went wood pellet stoves at €6,000 or more. They did not even check the availability of the fuel before embarking on a nation-wide promotion.

In that light I have been thinking about what sustainability means when viewed from both ends of the social scale.

TOP END:On the top end the professional, the legal, the judicial, and the government earners on €100,000 to €300,000 a year. That is €1,923 per week to €5,769 a week.

BOTTOM END:On the bottom of the pile those who are living - is "living" the right word to use here? -  on €188 per week.

What does Sustainable Energy mean?

(A) SUSTAINABLE ENERGY for the well-off among us is represented by thinking about things such as, geo-thermal heating systems at   €15,000+, or solar panels on the roof at €4,000, or a fancy heating control system costing several thousands of Euro, etc. etc. Those with the money got generous grants of up to €7,000 of tax payers money to install these systems.

(B) SUSTAINABLE ENERGY for the less well-off like those living on €188 per week, is represented by thinking about how much heating oil can I afford to put in the tank this month maybe 30 Litres or even 40 Litres, can I buy one bag of coal or maybe two bags, or can I afford to switch on the immersion heater for a bath.

Carbon Tax + VAT of 13.5% on fuel and Sustainability

Carbon tax in not a fair tax. Neither is the 13.5% VAT on essential heating fuel. The latest increases in carbon tax for those on €100,000+ a year hardly makes a difference, and anyway many of those already have geo-thermal, solar, and wood pellet heating systems. Carbon tax will perhaps impinge on the income by at most 0.20%.. -  On the other side of the fence, for those subsisting on €10,00 - €12,000 a year these "TAXES" could affect the household income by as much as 5%. The taxes could also take food from the table, or heat from the home - depriving the family.

I would call that "taxing the poor more than the rich". This is to my limited understanding, inequitable, immoral, and unsustainable.

As the social, fiscal and governmental systems are currently operating in Ireland, they are IMHO not providing for sustainability. Sustainability requires equitable balance, that balance requires unity of purpose governed by sharply defined moral principles and ethics.

The current imbalance is leading to an increasing potential between the haves and the have-nots which is widening daily.

It is like static building in a thunder cloud, and at some stage, that build-up of potential will flash-over and break down, perhaps violently, unless the huge and immoral imbalances are rapidly and seriously redressed.

The storm clouds are gathering and the sky is getting blacker!!


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