Sunday, 10 July 2011

Living sustainably in east London

The sight of Aileen and Michael Brownlee's house in St Marys Avenue, Wanstead is striking, not due to its architectural elegance but the presence of solar panels and photovoltaic tiles on the roof.The Brownlees had the system fitted 18 months ago as part of an ongoing effort to live in a more sustainable less carbon heavy way. As a result of having the system fitted, last year the Brownlees were able to live totally off the energy generated from the roof for six months of the year. Hot water from the boiler was supplied by the solar panels while electricity from the photovoltaic tiles powered the house during the day. The excess electricity generated goes back into the grid at an advantageous rate of return. This has meant that there has already been a substantial payback as a microgenerator of energy. Michael had the system fitted because it is the right thing to do but for those counting the pennies this type of system also makes sense. Energy costs are already rocketing upward so the system will pay back more rapidly as time goes by. "Supermarkets should be having these tiles on their roofs, then they could power the shop totally, not to make money out of the tariffs being paid by government but in order to stop destroying the planet," said Michael, who believes that no new construction should be being built now without some sort of sustainable energy system as part of it. "There has been lots of interest from people walking down the road, knocking on the door and asking about the system. Some have gone on and got it themselves," said Michael, who believe such renewable energy systems are a crucial way of getting away from reliance on the ever decreasing oil supplies in the world.Michael recalled that the first thing the family did was to grow their own vegetables in the back garden. "This started in basic fashion but has now advanced to seven raised beds and a small pollytunnel," said Michael, who recalls that last summer they did not have a meal that did not include something that had been grown in the garden. The most recent addition to the growing complex is an imposing greenhouse that will ensure that plants can be brought on ahead of time, without having to rely on the ever fluctuating climate outside. Composting waste material for garden use has also taken off in St Marys Avenue, resulting in the Brownlees now putting out just one black sack of waste rubbish a week compared to the previous three or four they regularly used to do. "I've also taken a decision not to use air travel," said Michael, who runs his ship broking business in partnership with his two sons Dominic and Ben. "I won't deny I have done a lot of air travel in the past but it is unsustainable. We have reached the point where oil productiion has peaked and it will be all downhill as far as oil supply is concerned from here on in. Peak oil has happened, I talk to the guys in the industry, they all acknowledge it now. In a very short period of time we are going to be back to village economics again. People need to realise this and learn to live with the consequences, too many remain in denial," said Michael, who is also trying to drive less and walk more. "My intention is not to buy another petrol car but get an electric one, when there is a bit more choice and the price becomes more sensible," said Michael, who will then be able to supply the car by way of a charger with elecricity generated from the photovoltaic tiles on the roof. The next project for the Brownlees is to plant some English apple trees at the bottom of the garden. "You can buy a tree that will give you apples from September. These things are available. They may not produce pristine perfectly round fruits of the type that the supermarkets crave but there is great flavour. It is important to keep these heritage things going," said Michael, who always makes the effort to buy British products, ideally sourced locally.He would also like to have chickens, though this may depend on the fox population in the area.. "A neighbour keeps bees, so we get honey from him," said Michael, who believes a barter type system is one thing that the local Wanstead Transition Initiative could encourage. So people who grow vegetables, either at home or on their allotments, could exchange with others. Somone might swap potatoes for carrots or apples. "If you explain to people, they will come round," said Michael. The Brownlees support the idea of the transition communities, believing that the concept of the more resilient less oil dependent community will be essential to develop for the future. "We all have to get things going ourselves, it is no good waiting for governments or corporations to act. Some people are no doubt in complete denial about what is happening to the world but you cannot opt out we all need to pull together in community," said Michael. * For more information on theWanstead Transition Initiative see:

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