This is a guest post by Kiashu.

Recently Victorians got a taste of what the future holds for us with the dangerous combination of peak fossil fuels and climate change.

My natural gas company SimplyEnergy added a "Gas Congestion Charge" of $3.51 (a tenth of my normal bill, more or less) to my natural gas bill today. They say:

Gas usage is typically higher throughout winter due to the use of heating and hot water systems, however winter 2007 saw a combination of particularly cold days and the effects of the drought on power generation which led to extraordinary peak demand.

Ondoing drought conditions have reduced the availability of water for hydro power generation which resulted in a greater reliance on gas-fired power production. During particularly cold winter days when the demand for gas increased, the gas market was further constrained by gas-fired power generators creating periods of demand that exceeded the available supply.

When this demand occurred, VENCorp [the co-ordinating company for Victoria's electricity and natural gas supplies] arranged for additional gas to be injected into the gas pipelines at a premium in order to maintain safe gas operational pressure levels and meet Victoria's gas requirements. [...] Congestion charges were applied to pay for these unexpected injections of gas which were required at short notice from gas reserves.

[...] this instance of gas congestion was unprecedented and resulted from a combination of several contributing factors. It has never occurred in the past and we hope it will not occur again.

In other words, what we're seeing is a combination of climate change and peak fossil fuels making power and gas supply less reliable. The drought hit the hydro stations, and (what the company doesn't mention) hit the coal-fired stations, too, since they use a lot of water for their turbines. By digging into natural gas reserves they were able to make up for a lack of supply from the coal-fired and hydro stations (both more limited by water availability than natural gas stations), but of course like someone who spends more than their weekly wage by dipping into their savings, we can't do that forever. What happens if we get more years of drought while natural gas supply declines? The company doesn't consider this, at least not within the hearing of its customers. "We hope it will not occur again."

While SimplyEnergy resorts to SimplyHoping that it won't happen again, there's every reason to expect it will. Australia's experience of climate change is expected to be more droughts, and fossil fuels worldwide are going to run short in supply.

We'll get brownouts, and sputtering flames on our stovetops. It's time, I think, for us to adjust our spending to our income, rather than just spending and SimplyHoping that our income will increase, or we can dip into savings. We ought to use less fossil fuels while we still have some left to use, and covert to other sources of energy.

To keep south eastern Australia's gas network going as long as possible I think we may need LNG shipped in from the Northwest Shelf and perhaps top-ups from locally produced biomethane, woodgas and solar hydrogen. Of course equipment designed for NG may not work well with larger percentages of tar, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

The problem with NW gas is not only that Asian customers want all of it but we need the revenue to develop deepwater fields. The Feds might have to legislate to reserve some for domestic use. I think in the long run electricity will be the exclusive long distance energy transfer medium with maybe some local heating done with charcoal.

What we need is to use it more sensibly, and over the next generation stop using it at all. One day it'll run short and after that it'll run out, so then we'll have to stop using it - may as well get started on that now.

Really we don't need to use as much as we do. I don't need the whole house to be cooled or warmed, just me.

My spouse and I got through last winter without a single megajoule of gas heating or a single kWh of electric heater. We had electric blanket for the night (used about 0.2kWh daily), and hot water bottles (used about 0.1kWhr) for when we were sitting down, and jumpers and warm drinks for when we were moving about.

Now in summer we don't have 2,600W airconditioning, we have a 50W fan. We have cool drinks.

The hot water from the tap does not need to be boiling hot. It only needs to be as hot as you can bear to have on your skin, so that when you turn on the shower you can have just hot water with no cold added. Why does it need to be hotter than that, are you making cups of coffee and cooking pasta straight from the tap?

You don't need appliances to be on when you're not using them. Turn them off at the wall. Those little standby lights and clocks all add up. How many clocks do you need? Is it really that much hassle to turn the tv on as you pass it to sit on the couch and watch it?

And so on and so forth. From these measures, we use 25MJ natural gas (we have gas hot water and cooking) and 5.5kWh electricity a day - both 1/4 to 1/3 the average. It's not really that complicated. The average Aussie can easily halve their household electric and natural gas use. If we can do it, surely agriculture, commerce and industry can do it. One night when you're out have a look and see how many empty offices are brightly lit. I've worked in factries and know they have similar wasteful practices. I know farmers waste a heap of water especially dairy farmers, I'm sure they waste as much electricity. If pushed, they'll find efficiencies, too.

Australia could, by simple efficiencies and at zero cost - in fact, saving money - halve its electrical and natural gas use, and thus its greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of having to add new capacity or replace old fossil fuel burning plants with new ones, we could just replace the old fossil fuel plants with renewable ones. Yes, they're currently more expensive, but even ignoring that coal and gas and oil are cheap due to public subsidy, if we're using less power than we can afford to pay a higher rate for it.

I'm annoyed by the Gas Congestion charge. I didn't use more gas and electricity in the winter. I thought things were supposed to be "user pays", that's what the economic rationalists told us when they sold everything off. I didn't use more and congest the pipes, why do I have to pay for other people's stupidity? If it were a few bucks a household for renewable energy we didn't ask for I wouldn't complain - they'd at least be looking to the future. But it's a few bucks just to pay for more stuff to burn more quickly. "Thinking and planning ahead? What's that?"

While I applaud your efforts at conservation, hot water in a conventional electric cylinder needs to be kept above a certain temperature to stop bacterial growth. You really, really don't want legionnaires disease.

The bonus is that you can actually make cups of tea (herbal or black) straight from the tap and not need to boil it then wait 10 minutes for it to cool off!

With privatisation of utilities, the idea is that they spend as little as possible on maintenance and upgrades, and just raise prices and milk it as long as possible. With the vast amounts of new property coming onstream, and the high barriers to entry, they are a defacto monopoly...

I've heard that many times. I offer my usual challenge: please point to one case mentioned in a medical journal in which someone whose water was turned down acquired legionella.

Just one case. One medical journal.

Then we'll learn how deadly nasty that turning your water down is.

Just one?

It's been 3 days. No medical journal cases of legionella from warm showers yet?

I didn't think so.