March 2008

Appliances &Global Warming &Uncategorized25 Mar 2008 12:32 pm

A warm, green towel, served medium-well

A friend of mine stopped by yesterday on his way home from shopping for a heated towel rail. He had been fretting for years at his wife’s extravagant use of the tumble dryer simply to warm and dry a single towel before bathing. He worries that tumble dryers use vast amounts of electricity. I used to have a similar affliction, until my tumble dryer broke down last year. I simply didn’t bother to repair it, and I have been a happy man ever since.

The towel rail my friend wants to buy, he told me, uses about as much electricity as a single light bulb, or 100 watts. Though my friend is a former maths teacher, I wasn’t convinced that he had done his calculations.

Heated towel rails are designed to run constantly; they generally don’t come with timers or thermostats, other than a safety shut-off to prevent overheating. If he runs this towel rail constantly for a year it will consume 876 kilowatt hours of electricity and add nearly a ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In my house, that would mean a 10 percent jump in total consumption most months. And at the rates just proposed by the Johannesburg municipality for the coming year, the towel rail would increase his annual electricity bill more than R350. If rates triple over the next several years, as predicted by some experts, the annual cost would approach R1000.

Tumble dryers use roughly 2000 to 3000 watts. That’s terrible. But presuming that his wife doesn’t leave the tumble dryer running all day to keep her towel warm and dry, it might use less electricity than the towel rail. Run a 2500 watt tumble drier for a 30 minutes a day and it will use less than half the electricity—and contribute half the carbon dioxide—of  a round-the-clock towel rail.

That’s still not good for the environment, however. The almost-environmentally-friendly solution is to have an electrician install the towel rail with a switch and a timer and then use it a few hours a day in the winter and turn it off entirely in the summer. The hundreds of rand you will save each year will easily pay for the timer. The problem with this solution is that it contributes to load-shedding because it will add to your electricity consumption at the exact morning and evening peak hours when Eskom has no spare capacity.

If you really can’t see a way to keep your spouse happy without warm towels—and I am very conscious that sometimes we must compromise to avoid marital misery—I suggest trying the microwave oven. WARNING: YOU CAN BURN YOUR SKIN OR EVEN START A FIRE IF YOU HEAT A TOWEL IN THE MICROWAVE FOR TOO LONG. I would not even attempt this in a microwave without a digital timer, and children should not be allowed to try this unsupervised. For my 750-watt microwave oven, 30 seconds warms a small towel nicely and 45 seconds heats a large bath-sheet towel to perfection. Thirty seconds at 750 watts is a mere 2 percent of the electricity used by a 100-watt towel rail in 3 hours. If you don’t have a doting lover on hand to run the warm towel from the kitchen, warm two towels for 30 seconds each and wrap one inside the other to keep warm while you bath or shower. Just because I’m opposed to global warming doesn’t mean that I don’t support wet-body warming.

Uncategorized07 Mar 2008 05:11 pm

GreenerHouse has made the short list for the 2008 South African Blog Awards in the category of Green Blogs. If you think this is the best environmental blog in South Africa, and believe that more South Africans should be exposed to the ideas and information found on Greenerhouse, click on the button to the right. A nomination will bring this site to the attention of many people who might not otherwise hear about it. There’s no money in it for me, but the posts I write for Greenerhouse are only worth the time I spend on them if lots of South Africans get to read them.

The voting process is simpler than the rather tricky nominating process, I promise. Voting concludes on the 19th of March.

Global Warming &Uncategorized06 Mar 2008 09:00 pm


One is greener than the other

This week I took delivery of a 48 kg cylinder of liquid propane gas. This may seem odd, because I only use gas for heating in the winter. (I wrote about this here.)

But it was all part of a plan. Because burning LPG purchased in the summer may be about the only way to use a fossil fuel at virtually no cost to the environment. That’s right, no net carbon dioxide emissions, sulfur dioxide or any other nasties will be released into the atmosphere as I stay warm burning this gas in the coming winter.

The logic is this: LPG is a byproduct of the refining process. Wherever petrol is made from oil, gas or coal in South Africa, some LPG is produced. As a friend a Sasol first told me, in the summer, when LPG demand is down, these plants run out of storage capacity for LPG and frequently flare it. So if I work on the assumption that my new bottle of gas would have been flared into the atmosphere anyway, I can burn it with a clean conscience.

I planned ahead for this moment back in August, when one gas bottle was depleted. I always have one spare 48 kg cylinder on hand, and replace an empty as soon as I switch over. But two weeks into August I did some quick calculations and figured there was no way my new bottle would run out before warm weather arrived.

Of course, if South Africa had a rational, competitive market, LPG prices would come down in the summer, everyone would have a financial incentive to plan ahead and buy gas in the summer, and flaring of LPG would come to an end. But anyone who buys bread or has a bank account in this country knows that we do not have a rational, competitive market.

So should I buy more LPG bottles to get me through the winter? I don’t know. I worry that South Africa could run into a gas-cylinder shortage this winter. So many people are switching to gas for cooking because they no longer trust Eskom. I will try to investigate the gas-bottle supply situation before winter arrives. If it looks good, I will buy an extra bottle and let you know.