ReNew 144 editorial: Time to get smarter

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There’s a lot to weigh up when you’re considering the sustainability of smart homes. As the tech evolves, are we just creating a new e-waste stream, with older devices relegated to junk far sooner than they should be? On the other hand, perhaps we should get excited about the potential for smart devices to run our homes to maximise sustainability: turning off heating when no one’s home, opening windows to access cool air at the right time of the day, or letting us turn off an appliance remotely if it’s been left on by mistake.

Many homes already have some smart tech, from smart TVs, washing machines and dishwashers, through to smart energy monitoring and control systems. Given that, we thought it was a good time to do a general survey of the smart tech area and ask when it could help sustainability. And where can the smart version of a device be better?

We consider gimmick versus potential: we look at smart plugs, solar diverters, and, yes, Google Nest and Apple Homekit. There’s also the well-named If This, Then That, a cloud service for those times when your smart devices don’t play well together.

In a second special feature, we look at efficient electric heating. The ATA’s latest research shows that getting off gas can have both environmental and financial benefits, so we consider the options when shifting from gas to electric heating. Whether you’re looking for the most efficient space heating or wondering whether personal heating could work for you (plug-in seat warmers anyone?), we present the choices and consider the pros and cons. As one of our case studies demonstrates, the more you can do to improve the thermal efficiency of your home, the less you’ll need to spend on heating. So don’t just focus on the heater—think insulation, draught proofing and, when designing a new home, how to make passive solar design work for you.

There’s much more besides. Two urban innovators are growing more food than you’d expect on a backyard block, one as a business and one to feed their family: it’s inspiring to see how they’ve gone about it and just what’s possible.

In our story on the emissions from unconventional gas production, it’s shocking to see the extent that ‘fracking’ has grown over the last few years, with tens of thousands more wells planned. We look at what this means for greenhouse gas emissions from the wells themselves; not a good news story.

We also take a ride on the ‘solarcoaster’, with one person’s experience of solar upgrades over 15 years—next issue, we plan to look at upgrades in more detail for those with older systems. Plus, the good news on electric vehicles is changing so fast that we had to delay our market update submission until the last minute to avoid seeming out of date.

Enjoy and let us know your feedback. Our reader survey is staying open a couple more weeks so there’s still time to give us your input: www.renew.org.au/readersurvey.

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor

ATA CEO’s Report

As the southern states head into winter, our attention turns to how to keep our homes warm. Here at the ATA, we always advocate for making our buildings more energy-efficient with well-insulated and sealed homes as the first step.

But when looking at active heating systems, ReNew readers will be pleased to see that we have released our full report on Household Fuel Choice in the National Electricity Market. The updated research found households will be between $9000 to $16,000 better off over 10 years if they establish their new home as all-electric with a five kilowatt solar system, rather than gas-electric with no solar.

There is just no reason economically for new homes to be built with both electricity and gas. This has been the case for many years in Australia’s north, but it’s now also clearly the case in colder climates like Victoria and Tasmania. Heat pump hot water and split system air conditioning systems are far more efficient than gas appliances and solar systems are cheaper than ever.

The benefits are not only for the hip-pocket; this approach also ensures that our homes are healthy and adequately warm during the colder months. This is especially important for the elderly and other people at risk due to their homes not being kept at a comfortable temperature.

At the ATA we are proud to be able to conduct and promote our independent research to ensure that we do not invest in new gas infrastructure, which would lock households into higher energy costs and not assist in our pathway to a 100% renewable electricity grid.
CEO, ATA

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