Energy Diet

The Problems With Measuring

No lights on Islay

I had tried to write this blog last night but I was not able to do so as there was a storm, the wind blew, the rain came down and the electricity went off,  hence the pictures of Armelie playing checkers by lamp light with me whilst James was desperately waiting to get back on to the computer to work on his photographs.

The unreliability of our electricity supply  is one of the problems I have with simply measuring the electricity I use in order to calculate the energy we consume as a family. I can write this blog today because the Islands’ generators are working overtime to replace the lack of  power from the mainland.

This is not the first time this year. Earlier in the year, the power cable that links us to the mainland was cut, and for several months we were running off the generator.

The generator is powered by oil, thus making calculating our carbon footprint that much harder, as sometimes the energy we use is far less green than at other times. In order to calculate if we can reduce our electricity I have asked our provider for a breakdown month by month and will use that to compare June this year against June last year, and fingers crossed the electric will stay on.

The view of Bowmore Distillery and Loch Indaal from my classroom

The other place where I use significant amounts of power is in school. My classroom has one of the best views in the world, but I know that I am guilty of leaving the lights, the interactive white board and my computer on when I am not in the room. Starting tomorrow, I have two volunteer students who will do spot checks at break and lunch to see if the lights are on and no one is at home, they will be keeping a record and setting me targets!

A rare cold winter leads to a loss of water

One of the things that you become conscious of living on an island is that some resources are finite. Our household water is from fresh water lochs that depend on there being plenty of rainfall to keep them topped up, and any prolonged period of drought (not very likely at the moment) or other problem would lead to immediate shortages.

This winter we had one such problem. We woke up on Boxing day to empty taps: The water in the loch had frozen, the water in the pipes had frozen and we were dependent on bottled water. Luckily it only took a day for the water to come back on, but in the meantime, the six 2-litre bottles of water we had were barely enough to cover drinking and cooking, we resorted to frozen water from the garden for toilet flushing.

Because we live in a home on Islay Estate, we do not pay for our water and do not have it metered. Therefore as a family, we have decided to keep a log of the water we use and try and reduce it over the next eight weeks, in particular the amount of water that gets wasted because of taps left running, coffees not drunk and long baths instead of quick showers.

Finally we come to the vexing question of food, one which will be covered in more detail in a few weeks. Our intake of meat is fairly high at least twice a week for beef, chicken or pork the rest of the week.  Occasionally we eat fish, a fact which I am ashamed of considering the fantastic fish and shell fish that can be found off the coast of Islay. My aim is to source fish from local suppliers and to have this at least once a week along with a mid week vegetarian meal, with the hope that starting now will make good habits for the future.

I was asked to come up with some statistics for this blog and I have failed completely, and that’s one of the main problems I have when measuring energy and water use. The only one I am sure about is petrol: about 65 litres (17 gallons) per month. The one other impact I can measure is the plastic bag pile and the rate at which I will diminish it over the next eight weeks!





  1. Christina Nunez
    May 31, 2011, 10:17 pm

    Wow. No complaints about my own office, but wishing I had your view at work! I hope you’ve gotten power back. I’m curious — how many times per year would you say you cope with power outages on the island? How long do they last?

  2. Vanessa Fuery
    Isle of Islay
    June 2, 2011, 3:36 pm

    Hi Christina, I love the view and for a geographer its great as the weather is ever changing. Most of the time electricity is out here for very short periods a couple of hours at the most. It depends on where you live on the Island, the settlements at the very end of the Island can lose is for one or two nights. Cables are mostly below ground so outages are not as common as they used to be, all told there have been 10 instances this year when its been off – but the situation is precarious as we are linked to the mainland by a single under sea cable that comes over from Jura.