World temperatures are rising, resulting in increasing mortality from heat stress. Or to put it another way, more people are dropping dead because it’s too damn hot. Unfortunately this is nothing new in Australia. Dropping dead from damn hotness has always been popular in these parts. Here in South Australia about 75 people currently die from it each year. But as our population gets older and we slowly cook the planet, the number of deaths from it being too damn hot has the potential to sky-rocket.
One of the factors in Australia contributing to old people carking it in the heat has been increases in electricity prices. Apparently some old people are
too cheap too price sensitive to turn on the air conditioner even when the temperature approaches the too hot to live limit. But a much bigger problem is that as people age they tend to lose the ability to tell that it’s too damn hot and so can pass into suffering from heat stress without realizing it. And then there are elderly people living in poverty who can’t afford electricity to run the air conditioner. Personally, if I was in that situation, I would sell the air conditioner to raise some money so I could afford to run the air conditioner.
Lately there seem to be plenty of stories in the news about how old people can’t afford electricity to pay for air conditioning. I don’t know why the media seems to assume that old people have air conditioners. They certainly didn’t have any when I was a kid. Old people have it so easy these days. I wish some would turn up at my place so I could tell them to get off my lawn. Or I would if it hadn’t dried up and blown away two months ago. In fact, none of the old people I know have air conditioning. Not my parents, my grandmother, or my girlfriend. (Who is probably now an ex-girlfriend.) I think the newspapers severely overestimate the number of old people with air conditioning. But then, I guess, “Elderly Unable To Afford Electricity For Air Conditioning,” makes for a better headline than, “Elderly Unable To Afford Nothing For Non-Existent Thing.”
Personally, I’d like to see old people given electronic thermometers that sound an alarm once temperature plus humidity reaches a dangerous level so they won’t forget to turn on the air conditioner or come round to my place and sit under my air conditioner. But that’s just me being practical. And it’s not just the elderly this could help, but anyone who is at risk from heat stress, such as renal patients, babies, puppies, gold fish, elephant seals, and so on.
Although I may not know any, there are still plenty of elderly people who have air conditioning, and anything that lowers the price of electricity can encourage them to turn it on. And South Australia is the first Australian state to have a cut in retail electricity prices as a result of renewable energy. The exact amount of the cut depends on a person’s retailer, and ranges from 9.1% to screw you sucker. While renewable energy has been pushing down wholesale electricity prices throughout Australia, South Australia is the first place where savings have actually been passed on to consumers in the form of a price reduction. So renewable energy is clearly one way to help prevent old people dropping dead from the heat, provided of course that the savings are passed on.
Other people building wind turbines or installing solar on their roofs can push down electricity prices for everyone and help prevent old people from dying when it’s too damn hot, but an excellent way to keep down electricity prices for the elderly is to put solar panels on the roofs of any old people whom you’d like to see continue to shuffle around on this mortal coil.
Rooftop solar is especially good for powering air conditioners, as it produces the most electricity on hot, cloudless, summer days. It is particularly good for air conditioning when it faces west, or partially west, as then it can produce plenty of power all through the afternoon. It will produce less electricity when it’s cloudy, but it’s not so hot when it’s cloudy, so that’s not a real problem. And sure, it can still be hot after the sun goes down, but that’s not such a big deal if the house is already cool. No one is likely to die from it being too damn hot if they turn off their air conditioner at sunset.
For most Australians, the feed-in tariff for new solar is now about 8 cents a kilowatt-hour. This means it will cost a person with a couple of kilowatts or more of rooftop solar perhaps 18 cents an hour to run a room air conditioner in a heat wave. Considering that ice-cream cones can cost $7.50 here, that’s a pretty good deal, and only the most price sensitive of Australians would be too cheap to turn on the air conditioner at that cost.
Ronald Brakels lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, "The vast power of earth's yellow sun."