17 December 2012 – Australia’s local, state and federal governments are driving up household and office bills by billions of dollars each year and now there is a simple household energy meter that can prove it.

By excluding shade trees and mandating black roads governments increase peak demand electricity use by more than 27 per cent. (1)

This is old news but has yet to reach our governments.

Research published as long ago as 1996, 1997 and 1998 proved that roads and suburbs with black tar and without trees drive up peak electricity demand.  (2), (3)

So for the following decades years to now, by requiring roads and suburbs to be built with black tar and without trees, government agencies across Earth have knowingly driven up peak energy demand in new subdivisions and annual road maintenance.

If those agencies did not know of the research then they’re failing to inform themselves of current research.  In turn, they’ve failed to build cities with best practice road design.

Roads take up over 24 per cent of our city land and in some suburbs are over 33 per cent of the land.  They have the single biggest direct impact on city temperatures and heat them by 6 or more degrees in summer.

In Australia, and most countries, if we build and maintain cool roads we could take a power station off line in each state and territory and cut billions of tonnes of air pollution over the next ten years.

And we could cut billions of dollars of energy bills.

Murray Hogarth from Wattwatchers  has experience in tracking energy use in residential and commercial environments.

Murray told The Bathurst Burr that airconditioning is a huge culprit.

“Aircon use can easily make up about 30-40 per cent of residential electricity consumption and 40-60 per cent in office environments. Of course the actual numbers depend on many factors, including latitude and local climate zones, city or rural location, type and size of aircon system, and other things such as the presence of hot-burning halogen lights,” Hogarth says.

“With the average Australian residential electricity bill for family homes now running at about $2400 a year, and over 8.3 million homes in the country – many with aircon in cities – then the numbers can get very big when you have a rising heat factor like roads combined with an overall warming trend from climate change.

“A back of the envelope calculation suggests that if 27 per cent of peak energy use is due to the extra aircon use roads cause, then this is adding billions of dollars to the total Australian energy bill. In addition, it is the proliferation of home aircon that is driving much of the peak power demand problems that in turn drive up electricity costs, thus affecting grid operations and all consumers.”

I spoke to Murray about this aspect, as I’m trialling a Wattwatchers energy-measuring device in my household.

It’s a meter the consumer owns and controls, instead of the power company.  It allows a householder to see their electricity use accurately and in real time, via the Internet using their computer or smart phone, and to observe immediately impacts such as aircon extra use on a hot day.

Now, with the weekly summary of energy use and cost provided automatically to my email address, I send data on electrical use to my fellow householders including my son, who lives with me. That lad, previously untouched, it seems, by the debate about climate change or, at least, our household’s contribution to it – appears to be doing some warming himself to the idea that what he does may have some connection to the Earth’s climate.

In 1996 I spent $48,000 to put in rain tanks, a recycled sewage system and solar electricity panels to cut my own water and energy use and the pollution the household used to cause.

But the black roads outside the house and lack of tree cover over them drives up temperatures so the air outside on hot days can’t be used to ventilate the house. We must keep the windows closed then.  Fortunately the house design avoids the need for aircon.  My chooks, bees and garden, however, suffer and cannot hide from extreme heat; bees and chooks may die in high heat. But many of my neighbours have aircon to cope with the extra heat caused by the roads and inadequate tree canopy.

So my local council, like most Australian councils, and state and federal governments are building and maintaining roads which undo the value of householders’ investment in making their house and offices sustainable. It’s a worldwide practice.

But that’s just a tiny bit of the damage they’re doing.

Unless city roads are cooled we can’t stop Earth’s climate warming. They’re acting like a fan on the fire heating up our planet. Until we put them out – cool them – they’ll continue to undo our positive actions elsewhere.

Would you like to see how roads are the Achille’s heel of attempts to cut climate pollution?  If, “Yes”, would you sit here on the top of the mountain beside me?

Look down on all  we humans having a go at cutting climate change pollution,the cities lit up by street lights.

But before we scrutinise those good intentions look up.

It’s the existing pollution swirling around our heads that’s causing climate warming.

Look down. See the new climate laws and, here and there, some so-called (I would say, “wishfully termed) sustainable projects?

The new projects and laws don’t get rid of what’s in our nostrils here.

Those rare sustainable projects and all the laws serve only to reduce the amount of new pollution adding to the rate at which Earth warms.

But our view tells us it’s worse than that.

It’s night here. With our special night glasses we see the thermal heat of the roads and cities below us, all over Earth.

All the roads are red hot, and are over 30 to 35 degrees. All the private land is bluish – about four or so degrees cooler. And all the streetlights are shining brighter than they need to, and using energy they need not, because the black roads absorb their light and so, by not reflecting that light, require higher energy-consuming lighting.

We see the truth, what’s troubling our lovely Earth, including the cold air up high here on the mountain.

And that truth is, neither the existing pollution nor the groping towards options for slowing down new pollution can succeed until roads and cities are cooled.

How so?

Well, if you can stand the chill up here, and you wish to see how roads are blowing away our best attempts to remedy climate pollution may I tell you about an experiment carried out by the researcher Akbari  in Sacramento, California, a place with a climate similar to much of the eastern coast of Australia?

(Brrrr. Cold, eh?  Have a sip of this fine Tasmanian whisky, Hellyers, my friend, it’s made without digging up peat, non-renewable resource. If the truth won’t set you free at least this’ll give you some whisky wisdom.)

In the summer of 1992 Akbari’s research team monitored two houses for peak power and cooling savings.  They got data on airconditioning use, indoor and outdoor temperatures, inside and outside wall temperatures, insolation and wind speed and direction.

The data was obtained before and after they added shade trees and foliage.

They found the electricity used to cool the two houses was cut by 30 per cent when shade trees were added. Peak demand savings for the houses were 27 per cent and 24 per cent.

In 1998 Rosenfeld’s researchers reported on their calculation of the benefits of increasing the shade from planting more trees in the Los Angeles basin in the US.

The research assumed 11 million trees were planted thus:

  • 3 trees for every airconditioned house = 5.4 million trees
  • planting 1 tree to shade houses without airconditioning and to be planted on streets, parks and open public spaces = 4.6 million trees;
  • 1 tree for every 250 sqare metre of non-residential roof area = 1 million trees.

The benefits quantified were cost savings from the cooling impact of trees, reduction in peak power use and the amount of air pollution from ozone that was reduced.

The trees would:

  • save  $273 m in energy bills a year
  • save .9 Gigawatt of peak power
  • have a present value of $211 m

Other benefits from trees and vegetation include the reduction in carbon pollution from Earth’s air.
Trees directly extract a quarter of the energy otherwise used to cool our environment by their direct cooling effect.

Lighter roads also allow councils to use lower energy streetlights; the lighter colour of the road reflects the light and makes the road safer with less energy.

The principle is simple; a light surface reflects light. It applies to any surface; it can be used in car parks, tunnels and other places where lights are on 24/7.

For example, data from the Markusberg Tunnel in Luxembourg, a tunnel that uses pale road and ceiling surfaces, allowed the operators to achieve a lighting system that  cut power use by 40 per cent.  That saves about 400,000 kWh a year, and saves about 39,000 Euros a year in energy and 16,000 Euros a year in lighting maintenance..  The tunnel saves 132 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and is safer to drive in.

All the sustainability rules by private vendors and by governments focus on the private sector and ignore roads – the one quarter to one third of the land taken up by our cities.

This is more than a blind spot.

Ignoring what’s driving up energy use and heating our cities is as silly as the Easter Island folk who cut down trees to make statues to worship.

It’s faith-based rule-making, not fact-based, and is helping to heat up Earth which cannot discriminate between government caused pollution or private caused pollution – it’s just pollution to Her.

And we now have data that the heat caused by the roads is causing over 9000 premature deaths a year in Australia each year, mainly among the young and the old.

Has the time come for citizens and building owners to join together in a class action to ask a court to award them damages from government agencies which drive up energy bills, dramatically increase climate pollution, and cause premature human deaths?


But for me, sitting up here on the mountain, I’d like to make a little wish before I walk back down through the night air toward the reddening lights of morning.

That all of us would today, with or without government approval, do a simple act of citizenship.

It’s this.

Would you go out the front of your place, and plant a tree or a bush that you can harvest to eat or which will provide flowers for birds and insects?  Will cool down the little critters – bees, chooks, ants – and keep them alive?


Be the citizen who leads.  Be the author of a tree that takes out carbon from Earth’s air.

Be a lover of Earth.


(1) Akbari 1997:   “Mitigation of urban heat islands can potentially reduce national energy use in airconditioning by 20 per cent and save over $10B per year in energy use and improvement in urban air quality. The albedo of a city may be increased at minimal cost if high-albedo surfaces are chosen to replace darker materials during routine maintenance of roofs and roads. Incentive programs, product labeling, and standards could promote the use of high-albedo materials for buildings and roads. Similar incentive-based programs need to be developed for urban trees”

Cool surfaces and shade trees to reduce energy use and improve air quality in urban areas, H Akari, M Pomerantz and H Taha Lawrence TAHA Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Heat Island Group, Berkeley, CA, USA

(2) Rosenfeld 1998:  “In many urban areas, pavements and roofs constitute over 60 per cent of urban surfaces (roof 20- 25 per cent, pavements about 40 per cent). The roof and the pavement albedo can be increased by about 0.25 and 0.10, respectively, resulting in a net albedo increase for urban areas of about 0.1.
Many studies have demonstrated building cooling-energy savings in excess of 20 per cent upon raising roof reflectivity from an existing 10- 20 per cent to about 60 per cent. We estimate U.S. potential savings in excess of $1 billion (B) per year in net annual energy bills. Increasing albedo of urban surfaces can reduce the summertime urban temperature and improve the urban air quality.

Increasing the urban albedo has the added benefit of reflecting more of the incoming global solar radiation and countering the effect of global warming. We estimate that increasing albedo of urban areas by 0.1 results in an increase of 3×10-4 in Earth albedo. Using a simple global model, the change in air temperature in lowest 1.8 km of the atmosphere is estimated at 0.01K.
Modelers predict a warming of about 3K in the next 60 years (0.05K/year). Change of 0.1 in urban albedo will result in 0.01K global cooling, a delay of ~0.2 years in global warming. This 0.2 years delay in global warming is equivalent to 10 Gt reduction in CO2 emissions.”

2nd PALENC & 28th AIVC Conference, Crete, Sep 27-28, 2007
Global Cooling: Effect of Urban Albedo on Global Temperature
Hashem Akbari
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA
Surabi Menon Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA
Arthur Rosenfeld California Energy Commission, USA

Rosenfeld A. H., Romm J. J., Akbari H. and Pomerantz M. (1998) Cool communities: strategies for heat islands mitigation and smog reduction. Energy and Buildings 28, 51–62.
Rosenfeld A., Akbari H., Taha H. and Bretz S. (1992) Implementation of light-colored surfaces: profits for utilities and labels for paints. In Proceedings of the ACEEE 1992 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Vol. 9, p. 141.

(3) Taha 1996:  Taha H. (1996) Modeling the impacts of increased urban vegetation on the ozone air quality in the South Coast Air Basin. Atmospheric Environment 30(20), 3423–3430.