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"Small is beautiful" ... "but big is efficient" in heating systems

About the author

Tony Curzon Price was Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy from 2007 to 2012, where he is now contributing editor and technical director. He blogs at tony.curzon.com

May 10th 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapter 21. Efficient Heating

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The average winter-time temperature in English homes in 1970 was 13C. Today, 50% more than that is usually thought of as just about tolerable.

There are three strategies for reducing the carbon footprint of keeping warm: reduce the temperature difference between the inside and outside; reduce heat losses from inside to outside and increase the efficiency with which energy is transformed into heat.

The first two seem obvious and cheap solutions. We hear a lot about "nudging" as a policy, and this seems an ideal area for clever devices to make people aware that they could be heating less and leaking less heat. David does not mention my own favourite long term solution here---a widespread move to small exoskeletons as a substitute to housing: we should be able to walk around with our temperature control close to our bodies and our living spaces open to the elements.

David makes a powerful argument for heat pumps rather than Combined-Heat-and-Power plants, and slips in a big fault-line in eco-politics versus eco-engineering: energy transformation efficiency tends to rise as scale rises, whereas green politics loves to decentralise and make solutions small and local.

This chapter is full of low-ish tech, labor-intensive investments that make energy-efficiency sense today. This is just what government policy should be stimulating our economies with today.