How much energy use is equitable? This is something that has been drawn to my attention this week. Apparently the Swiss city of Zurich has its own version of the Energiewende. Agreed in a referendum it aims for what is said to be a global fair use of energy. This figure is a constant 2kWh or 2 x 24 x 365 = 17,520kWh a year (per person) or current global energy usage divided by the population. You are probably thinking I don’t use that much every hour. Hopefully you are right, I would be horrified if you did but its more complicated than that. Most people in the UK would use almost that figure for gas and electricity alone, but not constantly. For example when we are asleep our energy consumption should be much lower and of course in the 6 “winter months” our electricity and gas consumption is much higher. Essentially we use much of our energy in bursts.
There is another complicating factor which is outlined fantastically well in Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air by David MacKay and one which we looked at in our book. Our energy use is not limited to gas, electricity and transport but also indirectly by the stuff we buy from food to material goods. This makes our energy use much much higher. David MacKay reckons in 2008 the average EU use was 125kWh/person/day or 45625kWh, way above an equitable level on the measure above. He also gives some examples of the energy use needed to make some ordinary everyday things. So a car takes 76,000 kWh to make and an aluminium can about 500W. At the moment we do not take this energy use into account and indeed its difficult to quantify and count. In our book we came up with a plan to get this down to about 15000kWh/year/person.
There are number of drawbacks to the idea. The first is that the figure is sort of arbitrary, it needs to be lower, not what we use now, which is doing great damage to the planet. Apparently above 1kWh constant energy use (around 8700kWh a year) there is no increase in the quality of life. (Of course many would disagree with that statement.) There is also a problem in how you measure the purchase of food/material goods and their energy use in a given geographical area. Then there is a the really difficult problem of how to lower the current energy usage to the target value. Looking at the background material accessed through the link above it looks like Zurich is pulling all the normal policy levers (better public transport, energy efficient buildings, renewable energy). Worthy as this is it does not address the full magnitude of the problem, a 2kWh lifestyle assumes no car ownership (look at that energy use for making one above), much less flying*. Currently Zurich’s energy use although below the Swiss average (6kWh) has been rising and is currently around 4.2kWh although this lower than when they started. Despite my criticisms I think this is a worthy attempt and raises the issue of what is a sustainable lifestyle beautifully, the problem is getting there…
* One way we get our consumption down in our book was to assume no flying, a perfectly reasonable assumption given the problems in replacing oil as the basis of aviation fuel. MacKay does not recognise peak oil in his book.