One of the advantages of having a steeply sloping south-facing roof is that it is just the right place to install some sort of solar powered apparatus. In this house, we have solar-heated hot water, to replace an old, inefficient electric tank.
We had great fun removing that, as over the years it had accumulated a lot of sediment, and weighed far more than anyone could possibly imagine. He who does everything around here (aka the man with the bad back) got the thing out of the door, but we then had to lift it into the trailer. We roped in a neighbour to help, while I sat on the other end of the trailer as a counterbalance. This was not a fair contest, and I was nearly catapulted across the courtyard. DIY is so exciting.
That was late last summer; now we have had the first non-estimated electricity bill, covering the winter, and we have had our monthly payments almost halved.
The electricity bill in France will tell you where your power comes from, and in what percentage. In Brittany last year, 87% of the electricity produced came from renewable sources. There are 95 wind farms already, and 30 new ones are planned. These will increase production from the current 665 megawatts to 950MW.
Brittany only produces 10% of the energy it consumes. The hope is that this will rise to 35%. It’s a windy place – I’m sure it can meet the challenge. Of course there are days when the wind dies away, and nothing can be produced; but on all the other days, there are the giants turning on the hilltops, doing their thing.
But times are tight, and electricity is expensive, so there are all sorts of ideas as to how to cut down its use. One national initiative is that from July, shops and offices have to turn off their signs and their interior lights, between 1am and 6am. This will save enough energy to power 260,000 households – just by turning off some lights.
On a smaller scale, there is a place by the sea where, in the winter months when the Parisians are tucked up in their arondissements, and the streets and seafront are quiet, the locals have opted for a novel approach to lighting: they call up the lamps via their mobile phones as they go along.
Many people have discovered that actually, without streetlights, there is plenty of visibility to be had from the moon and stars, and that their own outside house lights can guide their way to the roadside with their wheelie bins.
I read a story in the local paper this week, about an initiative in Rwanda, which does not, in general, have what you might call a National Grid. In the depths of the country they rely on torches to go out at night, or petrol lights indoors; but batteries are expensive and take up half of any earnings they may make, and petrol lamps are dangerous and fumy. So some bright spark has come up with a pedal-driven generator to charge LED bulbs. A minute’s pedalling gets you 375 minutes of light.
Here in the Breton countryside our village lights go off at 10pm, and reappear at some early hour of the morning when I don’t. There’s no-one about in between, so why waste the power? Well, there is the odd occasion when there has been a Do on at the Salle des Fêtes, and you have to walk home in the dark, but it’s rare.
Green initiatives don’t have to be handed down to us from the Top. We can do our bit. A spot of daylight, and you have hot water. Natural light lasts a lot longer than we think. And a bit of cycling will get you some lamplight and keep you fit at the same time.
It’s Earth Hour tonight at 8.30pm, when we are being encouraged to turn off our lights for one hour, for the sake of the planet. Start small: if everyone does it, it soon becomes something big. A lightbulb is nothing, until you have to pedal to charge it up. A million lightbulbs turned off, and you might just be able to hear the planet sigh its thanks.