Low Voltage Solar Systems In Sydney Take Off

The use of low voltage lighting and low voltage home watering systems has lead to an increase in installation of small scale solar system installation in Sydney. These small scale solar systems typically generate around 300 to 500 watts of electrical power which, with the advent of l.e.d. lighting systems, can easily power an average lighting system in a small home or apartment block.

solar panels image

The cost to install these systems is typically less than $1500 and because they are not grid connected even a handyman can install the system in less than half a day. The solar panels can be installed on a garden shed or, if using tilt frames, can be layed in a small area of the garden of the home. The eastern suburbs of Sydney has been the front runner in the use of this evolving technology and the move to going ‘off grid’ has spurred the use of this simple technology to generate ‘green power’ for the average home owner.

Can This Technology Replace Grid Supplied Power?

No. This technology is not meant to replace power over line supplied electricity but is seen as an ‘adjunct’ to grid supplied electricity. Because the cost to supply 500 watts of solar panels, a low cost inverter and a handyman or electrician to install the simple system, it means that more families with an interest in solar technology can now access it and it gives then an ‘entree’ into the arena of residential solar. This often then leads the way into installation of larger grid connected solar systems.


Web Design Company Goes Green

In inner west Sydney a web design company has set up their  business to operate at 100 percent green power with a zero carbon footprint! The business is web design inner west and has been offering website design services to Sydney’s inner west businesses and organisations since 2007. The founder of the organisation, Martin James has had a strong interest in ‘green power’ and operating low carbon businesses since 1980 when he studied environmental physics at Victoria University of Wellington. Back in the 1980′s the concerns about global warming and carbon reduction was coming into the public domain. There was an emerging industry in wind power electricity supply and photo voltaic’s and this captured Martin’s imagination. Today his inner western Sydney office is run by a 12 panel solar system which supplies the entire energy requirement for the web designers business.

Web Design – Low Carbon Business Model

Martin explains that the web design business uses around 4Kwh of drc systems imageenergy per day. The business runs 3 laptop computers, 2 colour printers, low energy lighting systems and 2 Samsung HD monitors. Up 2 3 web developers are working on various web projects from small business websites to shopping cart development to graphic design at any one time. Even with 3 employees the business has run at zero energy input for over 4 years – a success story in running a creative business with minimal impact on the environment.

Martin can be contacted at:

Mob: 0412 664 712

Web: http://drcsystems.com.au/

Canberra Building Revolution?

Updated 17 September 2015. With the new Turnbull Government now more likely to look favorably on renewable energy targets set over 10 years ago and the government wanting to maintain strong home building approvals what does this mean for environmentally  friendly, sustainable new home design ? We talked with a long time advocate for sustainable housing construction Brian Welsh. Brian is a Canberra builder with Natura Homes. Brian has over 20 years experience in building quality new homes and created Natura Homes to design and build houses with an emphasis on:

  • good design
  • implementation of the latest building materials
  •  employing latest construction practices
  • sustainable design and building
  • healthy living environment
  • advanced acoustic engineering to minimise external noise

Trends In New Home Construction In Canberra

Brian explained that there are many ways to add value to new home construction through ensuring sustainability and energy efficiency play a key role in the design and building process. The A.C.T. Government has played a role in making Canberra one of the most ‘eco-friendly’ cities in Australia by making grants available for small scale renewable energy programs like solar and wind power. Coupled with the latest techniques and insulation, ground sourced heat pumps and technologies like triple glazed windows, homes can be built, Brian says, with thermal efficiency profiles  approaching 90. To put this in perspective, ‘traditional’ homes built in Australia have  a thermal efficiency profile of around 65 to 70 meaning that for every kilowatt of energy used to heat or cool the home, that around 35 percent of that energy (be it from electric or gas heating or air conditioning systems) is lost meaning inefficient heating and cooling for the home owner and expensive utility bills.

New Technology In Canberra Buildings

The latest synthetic wool insulating materials are very effective and resist the transfer of conducted and convective heat through walls ceilings and the sub-floor. Companies like CSR have released new generation materials that have ‘R’ ratings (which, in simple terms measure the thermal ‘stopping power’ of insulating materials) that far exceed ratings available just 5 years ago as outlined in this video:

When working with clients we look at the total energy efficiency of their new home – including design, building material selection and construction techniques (that maximise the outcomes of the products used and design concepts).  We include the following measures in our client checklist:

  1. Thermal Mass – Ensuring ground work and concrete slab design and laying maximises solar thermal performance
  2. Solar Energy Implementation. We encourage clients to examine the benefits of photo-voltaic modules to generate their own ‘off grid’ electrical supply and the use of vacuum exhausted solar hot water heating. this can save 90 percent on traditional electric or gas derived water heating solutions
  3. Ground sourced heat pump technology. very popular in Europe for over 20 years, we have introduced this technology to Canberra home owners. Building into the design of the new home this technology means significantly lower heating and cooling bills for clients. The technology is very simple in its principle of operation. The temperature profile of soil at 3 to 4 metres below ground surface is relatively stable year round. By using the relatively ‘warm’ ground temperatures in winter, and likewise the cool ground temperatures in summer we can pump this air temperature differential into the house to regulates the homes temperature year round – regardless of  weather conditions.

In the next article we will look at the benefits of using a creative architect to design homes that offer great living environments for families and offer cost advantages over standard home designs seem in Canberra and the A.C.T.  Brian welsh can be contacted at:

Email: info@naturahomes.com.au
Phone: 02-6255-0325
Web: http://naturahomes.com.au/

Australian Bureau of Meteorology Climate Change Paper – Must Read!!

Hi all,

5 climate scientists from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, including the BOM Head of Climate Monitoring and Prediction Services, have just released a very important statement about climate.  The five are now saying that climate change is changing all weather events in Australia which explains why we have just experienced heating that is unprecedented in the time since comprehensive records have been kept (since 1910).

See article below.

What is being talked about here is serious changes in experienced climate and not predictions for a distant future.To my mind this marks a new stage for the climate issue and it seems to me that we have to rethink our climate goals and strategies.  Allowing average temperatures to rise another degree is starting to look like a very bad idea.  But stopping further warming and indeed cooling the planet back to a safe level below where we are now will require new action strategies as current strategies cannot deliver.Let’s make 2013 the year when we launch climate activism in a new direction.


The Conversation
What’s causing Australia’s heat wave?
Neil Plummer, Blair Trewin, David Jones, Karl Braganza, Rob Smalley (all from BOM)
18 January 2013, 7.41am AEST

Australia has started 2013 with a record-breaking heat wave that has lasted more than two weeks across many parts of the country. Temperatures have regularly gone above 48°C, with the highest recorded maximum of 49.6°C at Moomba in South Australia. The extreme conditions have been associated with a delayed onset of the Australian monsoon, and slow moving weather systems over the continent.

Australia has always experienced heat waves, and they are a normal part of most summers. However, the current event affecting much of inland Australia has definitely not been typical.

The most significant thing about the recent heat has been its coverage across the continent, and its persistence.

It is very unusual to have such widespread extreme temperatures — and have them persist for so long. On those two metrics alone, spatial extent and duration, the last two weeks surpasses the only previous analogue in the historical record (since 1910) – a two-week country-wide hot spell during the summer of 1972-1973.

A good measure of the spatial extent of the heat is the Australian-averaged maximum daily temperature. This is the average of the highest daily temperature of the air just above the surface of the Australian continent, including Tasmania. The national average is calculated using a three-dimensional interpolation (including topography) of over 700 observing sites each day.

On Monday and Tuesday last week (January 7 and 8) that temperature rose to over 40°C. Monday’s temperature of 40.33°C set a new record, beating the previous highest Australian daily maximum of 40.17°C set in 1972. Tuesday’s temperature came in as the 3rd highest on record at 40.11°C.

The accompanying map of temperatures shows just how much of the country experienced extremely high temperatures, with over 70% of the continent recording temperatures in excess of 42°C.

Highest daily maximum temperature during the first two weeks of January. Australian Bureau of Meteorology
Click to enlarge

And it’s not like these sorts of days occur that often. The records set last week sit between two and three standard deviations above the long-term January mean of 35°C.

Perhaps more unusually, the Australian mean temperature (representing the average of the daytime maximum and night-time minimum) set record high values on both days at 32.22 (January 7) and 32.32°C (January 8), that were well above the previous high of 31.86°C, set in 1972.

However, it is really the duration of this extreme heat wave that makes it so unusual, and so significant in terms of impacts.

While some towns in Australia are famous for their extended runs of hot temperatures, the limited geographical nature of those events distinguish them from this January’s heat wave. Multiple days of extreme heat covering most of the continent are both rare, and isolated.

It is not that common for the Australian-average temperature to exceed 39°C for even two days in a row. A run of three days above 39°C has occurred on only three occasions, and a run of four days just once, in 1972.

The current heat wave has seen a sequence of Australian temperatures above 39°C of seven days, and above 38°C of 11 days straight.

The sequence of Australian mean temperature has been just as impressive. As things currently stand, the first two weeks of January 2013 now hold the records for the hottest Australian day on record, the hottest two-day period on record, the hottest three-day period, the hottest four-day period and, well, every sequential-days record stretching from one to 14 days for daily mean temperatures.

The number of records that have tumbled for individual sites are now too numerous to catalogue here, and the Bureau of Meteorology has prepared a Special Climate Statement with a detailed analysis the temperature records broken. The list of records is limited to just those stations with at least 30 years of records.

So, does all this have something to do with climate change?

To put it in context, we need to look at the influence of background changes in the climate system.
The planet is warming, and so is Australia

Planet Earth is warming up. Climate scientists use a range of different indicators to track global warming. These include ocean heat content, sea surface temperatures, sea level, temperatures in the lower and middle troposphere, and the rate of melting glaciers and ice sheets.

The surface of the earth, as measured by global mean temperature, has warmed by about one degree Celsius during the past hundred years, and the decade from 2001 to 2010 has been the warmest we have recorded.

This warming has been strongly attributed to increasing greenhouse gases from human activities. While there are a number of influences on the climate system, such as changing solar radiation and changing atmospheric aerosols, it is very clear that warming has been dominated by increased carbon dioxide levels.

The globe doesn’t warm uniformly everywhere, due mostly to natural regional variations in climate. In Australia, land temperatures and the temperatures of the surrounding oceans have warmed by approximately 1°C since 1910, fairly close to the global trends.
A warmer planet means a warmer atmosphere for all our weather and climate

As the climate system warms due to increasing greenhouse gases, more energy is retained in the lower atmosphere. That extra energy influences all our weather and climate.

Hot days, hot nights: how much of it is due to global warming? Richard Riley

In essence, every weather system and ocean current operates in a climate system that is now, on average, a degree warmer than a century ago.

In this way, the impact of global warming is clearly observed in a distribution shift of daily weather, as well as shifts in monthly and seasonal climate, to higher temperatures. As is now communicated by many climate scientists, the warming planet is loading the climate dice in favour of warmer conditions.

So, while the “cause” of an individual weather event, including heat waves, is always proximally linked to antecedent weather conditions — it is possible to determine the influence of climate change on the frequency of occurrence of such an event. This is expressed by the increased likelihood that these extreme events will occur in comparison with the past, or in comparison with climate modelling scenarios of an unchanging climate.

Even further, the antecedent weather conditions in the January heat wave have themselves displayed the influence of a warming world.

The lead-in climate conditions for this event were four months of very warm temperatures across Australia. September to December 2012 was the warmest such period on record (since 1910) for daily maximum temperatures.

During November, a precursor of the January heat wave affected many parts of the country for a prolonged period. It set the highest spring temperature on record for Victoria (and NSW fell just short of its record; it couldn’t beat the extreme heat that occurred in 2009). In this context, the recent heat wave is little more than an extension of a record hot four months for Australia, made worse because it is mid-summer.
We’re seeing more record-breaking heat events than cold events

A relatively small change in the average temperature can easily double the frequency of extreme heat events. Australia has warmed steadily since the 1940s, and the probability of extreme heat has now increased almost five-fold compared with 50 years ago.

Within the past decade, the number of extreme heat records in Australia has outnumbered extreme cold records by almost 3:1 for daytime maximum temperatures and 5:1 for night-time minimum temperature.

More than 70% of Australia has been very hot. AAP Image/Damian Shaw

The duration of heat waves has increased in some parts, especially in the northern half of the continent. Put another way, the frequency of abnormally hot days (above the 90th percentile) has increased by 30% and the frequency of hot nights (above the 90th percentile) has increased by 50%.

It is worth noting the summer just gone in the US was the warmest on record, with extreme heat records broken at a rate never previously seen before. Studies here and overseas are now showing that many of the recent extreme summer heat events around the world — such as the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010, and US heat waves during 2011 and 2012 — would have been very, very unlikely without the influence of global warming.

Global warming is not only warming summer but also broadening the summer-like period of the year, creating the perfect set-up for record extreme heat.

Of great concern in Australia is the substantial increasing trend in severe fire weather — weather conducive to the spread and intensification of bushfires and grass fires — in about half of the monitoring sites studied around the country, with a concentrated increase in the southeast of the continent. The fire season is now longer, reducing the time for preparation such as fuel reduction.

Again this is not surprising, and has been predicted in advance — the combined impact of warming and cool season drying is increasing the fire danger in a region already highly fire prone.
We expect extreme warm weather events will occur more often

Future warming of the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions will very likely lead to further increases in the frequency of unusually hot days and nights and continued declines in unusually cold days and nights.

These changes will result in weather events which are increasingly beyond our prior experiences.

And it’s not just temperature extremes. Climate model projections indicate that the frequency of many different types of extreme weather will change as the planet warms.
Its is also worth viewing this short clip of the A.B.S. Australian weather map time lapse further indicating substantial warming of the continent:

Electricity Production Greenhouse CO2 Emission Comparison: Solar versus Coal Fired. December 2012

Will Labor Commit to a 500mW Solar Farm?

The Australian Federal Labor Governments credentials on the ‘Green’ economy will be tested in April 2012 when the proposed Canberra 500 Million Watt solar farm south of Wallaroo in the A.C.T. is due for approval or not – There has been a fierce debate raging over the A.G.L. based scheme (see http://www.agl.com.au/about/Pages/RenewableEnergy.aspx for details) and its proponents, particuarly The Greens have been using this solar farm, which consists of over 4000 sun tracking solar panels and a unique Australian design solar inverter technology (to convert the solar power to usable a.c. electricity that we receive from the grid), as a test case to essentially put Labor’s ‘renewable energy’ policies to the test.


When the Labor Government released its proposal for their much derided Carbon Tax (see earlier posts), one of their cornerstone factors for CO2 reduction was through solar, wind, hot rock and low CO2 gas emitting modes of electricity production. Given that solar electricity produces around 40 times less CO2 than coal fired electricity production (Source: http://actsolar.com.au/solar-and-the-environment/) and has a cost of production in this instance of around 3 times that of coal based electricity generation, it seems like a reasonable proposition for the Government to back the scheme.


Christine Milne

The Green’s leader has, on many occasions pushed for solar power implementation, not only at a domestic ‘roof top solar’ level, but at the larger commercial ‘solar farm’ level. Companies like A.G.L. and Origin Energy and the likes are looking to partner with major European solar players like Siemens to potentially bring over 2 Gwatts of solar electricity onto the grid by 2014.

The smaller scale Walkaway solar farm located south of Geraldton has proven the viability of Australian Solar Farming and the Canberra based Wallaroo solar plant could feed around 160,000 homes potentially. We watch with interest.


10 megawatt Walkway Solar Farm


Adelaide Solar Power Industry Post 2014?

With the outlook for more feed in tariff cuts likely in Australia we asked John Grainger from the solar panels Adelaide web resource to comment on whether the solar panels industry will hold up after 2014 or go the same way as Queensland,N.S.W. and most likely Victoria, since their solar feed tariff was slashed last month. Here is Johns response:

Solar Industry in Adelaide S.A. set for a shake up?

” Since around 2008 Adelaide has seen a boom in solar power installation – we had weeks when over 70 solar panel systems were being sold per week by the larger S.A. solar groups and even the smaller companies were managing up to 6 or 7 per week. If we translate the recent activity slump in Victoria, the situation could change rapidly after 2012 when the S.A. solar feed tariff drops. The S.A. Government claims that the existing feed tariff for home solar power system owners is subsidized by other ‘grid’ users to the tune of $60 per annum. The same argument was used in Queensland when their 44 cent tariff was slashed by the newly appointed N.L.P. Govt.

The S.A. solar industry employs around 8,000 people and is the N.S.W. solar industry post 2010 is anything to go by, this could easily drop to around 1200-1500 people working in that industry once the incentives to install solar in Adelaide decrease.

Update – 14 October. John has called to say that over 40 people will be attending – we strongly suggest calling asap if you want a place at this talk. Further details at John’s website http://solarenergyinformation.com.au/ and the updated feed in tariff for S.A. info is at:



Fossil Fuels and Solar Power Debate – Solar Power Sydney

There has been an interesting debate on some of the environmental discussion groups concerning the outlook for major Australian coal exporters looking to India for growth in the fossil fuel markets. Green groups have been advocating and highlighting the rise of photovoltaic panel manufacture in India and the work and contribution from James Stiller . The solar power potential in India is huge with commercial and domestic solar panels installation increasing at a rate of 20 percent per year since 2011. Given Sydney’s rapid take up of solar power from 2006 to the present, James has advocated that many other developing nations can follow Australia’s renewable energy and green energy model and replace fossil fuels with solar in the decades to come.

Unfortunately this is not true. Solar power is likely to make about 2% contribution to India’s total energy generation by 2030 as per my estimates under business as usual and definitely no more than 5%. India’s power generation is likely to continue to be fueled by fossil fuels in the foreseeable future.

Nor is large-scale expansion of solar desirable. In my view, India should invest more into energy efficiency at the moment which provides 5x-10x emission reductions for the same investment in order to deflate the massive energy demand projections over the next two decades. For example, India loses close to 30% of electricity generation through transmission and distribution or about 6 times China’s T&D loss. By 2022 T&D loss will account for over 20 times electricity generation through solar the same year. We have explained these arguments in greater detail in my posts on Green-India forum
solar power sydney

James Stiller did a study in May 2012 where he compared the financial incentive to install solar energy using the spot price versus the regular tariff – and found, the use of the spot price was almost always gave a much lower return than the regular tariff. This was because on most days the price peaks did not coincide with times of high solar output. They seemed much more indicative of the reaction of the system to other stresses such as temporary outages of generators or distributers.

The price of electricity in Sydney, N.S.W. where he lives is now so high that it is cheaper to generate it yourself using solar panels and – believe it or not – diesel. The cost using diesel works out at about 32c / kWh (regular tariffs are in the high 20s) and is offset by the near zero cost of solar. One might consider a move to ‘Urban cogeneration’ using a plug in hybrid car not just to take power from the house supply, but to act as a local generator and feed it back. In conjunction of course with a decent sized solar array. The calculations don’t include capital costs of the equipment – but the cost of the car could be disregarded as it has been purchased for a different purpose entirely. And the cost of the solar can be amortised over 25 years or so, making it a very attractive proposition.

However, it is untrue the generators are to blame. The cost of electricty at the terminals of the power stations has not changed miuch over the last 6 years; all the increases are in the transmission, distribution and reselling. As you both say, it will be interesting to see what happens when these guys begin to realise they are pricing themselves out of the market, a sensible strategy if there is no alternative. But now there is. The rivers of gold will turn to . . . iron?

Musings on the ‘Greening’ of The Economy

A Must Read – Sustainable Architecture

In the long term democracy is critical to the achievement of environmental sustainability. It is only when the community is free to raise uncomfortable issues and then to see that reflected in Parliament and in the actions of governments that the environment can be protected. So it is very relevant to the pursuit of environmental sustainability to consider the changes to architecture guidelines submitted to the Australian Senate and proposed by the Minister for Sustainability. You might therefore be interested to read the review of the book i just finished below. My heart is broken and uplifted at the same time. Why? Well…. I have just read a book which has made my PhD superfluous and has said it all so much better than I can. If you have ever wanted a book which neatly summarises why we are were we are, why sustainability is now coming to the fore front and where architecture is and can be placed within this movement, this is the book for you. If you are doing any research or planning to do so in sustainable architecture, planning or any other built environment discourse this book will save you a lot of time in framing your research. The book is Terry Williamson’s, Antony Radford’s and Helen Bennetts’s ‘Understanding Sustainable Architecture’ by Spon Press ISBN 0415283515. Thank you guys for writing this, congratulations and I hope other thinkers out there get as much out of it as I have.

My Response To Senator Brandis – Re Democracy and Sustainability May 2012

I was please to have my letter to the editor published in the ‘Australian’ newspaper (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/) last week. It was in response to comments from Senators basically saying that democracy will stifle Sustainable The Australian -Murdoch  NewspaperDevelopment Policy in Western Democracies – my response: “Given that you don’t think that democracies can deliver strong DOs and DON’Ts how do you explain the the fact that the scandinavian countries are the world leaders on the envitonment and are also probably the world leaders in democracy. I’ve been following the Singapore case (I used to live there as a child) and it is a rare example of a dictatorship that has remained fairly well tuned to the needs of the average citizen without turning into into a terror state or having forms of corruption that throw the government off meeting the needs of most citizens farly well. I’m not sure that there institutions are strong enough to stop a fully fledged anti-people dictatorship emerging at some time in the future though. What I don’t know enough about is the extent of within-party democracy in the People Action Party (PAP) – the governing party in Singapore. It may be that much of the democratic to-ing and fro-ing that we have happen in Parliament actually does on in Singapore within the PAP. In which case it may be that there is a democratic process of a sort occurring which keep Singapore from sliding into tyranny (key issues being – can anyone join the PAP and can they have a democratic say on how the party is organised and what it does as a government). If there is solid democracy within the PAP then Singapore is not a pure autocratic model anyway. Singapore I think looks after it’s people as the price the party dictatorship pays to keep in power – so it does the things that are needed to improve the living environment for people – but I don’t think it’s very good at doing nature conservation that would conflict fundamentally with powerful ecoomic interests. So if I had to work hard to emulate another country’s approach I’d rather try the scandinavian model than Singapore.”

The Marshall Plan – Revisited – May 2012

I don’t know how it worked, really, but there is plenty of information available on the net. http://www.marshallfoundation.org/ is a start. I’ve just scanned through it. Part of it is that while large sums of money were given as grants, the fact that the European countries then had US$$$ in the kitty allowed Americans to invest in Europe and know they could bring their profits home. So in the end, the dollars would have done the usual circuit — contributed by taxpayers, and ended up in the rich end of town’s pocket! (And let’s not forget the US companies which received war reparations for damage to their investments in Germany and elsewhere that their own country bombed! Where did he get the idea for “Catch 22″?) The Marshall Plan assisted the capital side. It should never be forgotten that in Germany at least, the Brits assisted the labour side by helping the Germans to set up very, very effective, enterprise/industry-based unions. The Brits themselves could not get organised in the same way in Britain because of the organisation they already had in place, and they suffered for it later (and still are suffering for it, perhaps), but the Germans were effectively starting from scratch, so an ideal framework could be put in place. I would argue that at the time, the enterprise/industry based model was the way to go but today, the situation has turned around — because of the mobility of the workforce and the flexibility of job and skill definitions and boundaries with changing technology, unions based on quite different ideas from the ones current in Australia and Germany would be better. I have a notion that the Americans did the same for the Japanese — helping to put in place a structure thatwould have been considered subversive if not downright treasonous, if implemented in the USA! Apart from the precise structure of the capital and labour initiatives in Europe, I do know one important factor that helped the Europeans who had been under German control, and the Japanese, to recover — in general, industry had been rendered more or less non-existent (see the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan). Thus they rebuilt from scratch with all new equipment and ideas, which leapfrogged them ahead of e.g. Britain, and to as lesser extent, the USA (and, of course, Australia) which was full of factories with worn out, old fashioned machine tools and capital and labour ideas which were worn out and old fashioned as well. Germany and Japan got a big jump on Britain as industrial nations at that stage because they moved straight away to the latest and greatest so they were more efficient, more precise, etc. The steel industry in recent decades is another good example. More or less greenfield sites like Korea were able to leapfrog from iron and steel as literally a backyard operation to the latest techniques while Australia, the USA, etc. struggled along with their old techniques and equipment — because they had the investment and structures in place, couldn’t afford to write them off or wouldn’t change them, and start from new. Then Australia got an advantage by leapfrogging — now that has worn out. And so it goes. In addition, Japan, Korea, etc. fiercely protected their domestic markets so they could build an industry like steel and associated industries, cars, ships, etc. I would suggest that the indications are that to get the best and latest introduced, you go for the developing nations so that they leapfrog straight into the lead. That forces the old nations to catch up. BUT, of course, now we have the World Bank and the IMF acting on behalf of the current top countries, counselling/coercing developing countries to start up by taking over the “dirty” industries from the most developed countries who still want the goods but don’t want the mess. That’s just one more cunning way of keeping the developing countries down. Note that in marketing terms, the products of the dirty industries are commodities, so overwhelmingly, they are not very profitable. NOBODY, developing or developed, is going to get rich on commodities. In pricing terms, look at how Australia is screwed by Japan all the time on coal. Look at how, under current arrangements of mobile capital and fixed labour (i.e. money can move freely around the globe, but people cannot), the big marketing organisations (e.g. Nike) can jump from place to place in search of the cheapest product. If developing countries really want to be competitive industrially, they should launch with the latest and most efficient and they need to defy the World Bank, the IMF and the developed nations. Okay — it seems to me that the same applies to sustainability. In the developing countries, you don’t necessarily need a change of mindset — or at least, you need a smaller change. Many ways that people in developing countries work already are closer to nature and through that fact alone, lend themselves to sustainable development. Barbara Kingsolver, in “The Poisonwood Bible”, identifies some of the problems Europeans brought to the Congo. One was that you must have food production concentrated, industrialised and separated from the consumption centre. This was a catastrophic development in a wet tropical area. The same framework has been applied all over the tropics with disastrous results. (If you haven’t read “The Poisonwood Bible”, by the way, I recommend most strongly that you buy it today and be prepared to weep for the whole awful, ugly tragedy of it. It is a novel but you, of course, will learn from the carefully researched factual background, which is exactly what Kingsolver wrote the book for you do to.) In short, if we are going to work on a change of mindset in developing nations to move them to an industrial/trading level that allows them to advance their standard of living, let’s get busy and rather than have them follow the path which developed nations have followed or become slaves of developed nations’ capital, work towards them leapfrogging the developed nations in the world of ideas. We in Australia and other developed nations are struggling with the idea that we need to move towards sustainability — can we help developing nations go straight there by: (a) Providing them with the strong support they need to keep the rapacious element of the developed nations at bay so they can follow their own path instead of being dragged off on a path which suits the developed nations. (b) Providing them with the models and tools which they can fit into their systems to take them on a direct path to sustainability, insofar as they aren’t there already. (c) Working with people on the ground so that we are looking at a people driven movement rather than a top down imposition — but working with the top too so that anti-sustainability forces within developing nations are blunted and controlled, and frameworks are put in place to provide the conditions for people to develop sustainable solutions. (d) Providing the means for people in developing countries to provide to the developed world models and frameworks which help the developed world move towards sustainability. (e) Working within our own communities to maximise movement towards sustainability both at the people level and in terms of providing appropriate frameworks and structures to support it. Think in terms of traditional agriculture in, say, China versus Australia. In the early 1900s, the guy who had the contract to run the dunny truck service in Shanghai was not paid for the job, HE PAID a very handsome price for the privilege of emptying the community shit cans … because he was selling the shit on for fertiliser to the market gardeners who ringed the city. Go back to those roots, introduce an essential composting step to kill the pathogens, and you have … a big step towards sustainability. Check Jenkins Publishing  for some interesting discussion about this stuff. You can download the book in a rather crummy PDF (the pages were just scanned; it is not a proper PDF of the book as typeset) — even better, buy it by phoning the Rotaloo/worm farm people (Environment Equipment P/L, (03) 9587 2447). I can remember from my childhood in Mentone, then the Cranbourne of the south, i.e. the immediate post-war growth area, WE (the community) PAID the dunny man to collect the cans and he demanded and received a premium wage because it was such a shitty job. The fate of the collection? Don’t know, I presume it was stuffed into the sewer at some point and washed away to Werribee, or perhaps it was dumped into one of the ubiquitous sand pits around the place. I remember the sewer coming through Mentone. At the time, Melbourne was ringed by market gardens — half my school mates at Cheltenham State School were the progeny of market gardeners — now most market gardening is 50-100 kms distant. While the developing world might usefully move upscale somewhat, we need to move downscale to achieve sustainability. Local composting sewage works, protected areas for local food production, and so on. A concern — the proposal by the Victorian Government to make use of water and whatever (I think just water) from Melbourne’s Werribee sewage treatment plant, to power a vegetable and flower growing industry in the area is ultimately anti-sustainable. It is NOT local enough. It will set up a structure that demands high water flows to carry sewage to the area so that the water can be harvested for the horticultural industry area. It provides a justification for continuing to develop the current, highly wasteful sewer system. It puts in place a small group of industrial farmers who, having profited mightily from the supply of water, will demand continuing supply, even when the limitations on its sustainability finally reaches the “obvious as dogs’ balls” stage … or sue for loss of livelihood! An Australian firm, Hassell has been designing a new subdivision in China which is of interest. Unfortunately, it is not up on their website yet. (Somewhere, deep in the 4000+ messages which is currently clagging up my in tray in Eudora, is a media release about it — I will be cleaning out the in try today and if I locate it, I will post it.) Some needs I see: (a) Carrot (locally grown, of course) and stick (local plantation, naturally) to be applied in a variety of ways to e.g. food chains. Transport is the big thing, to my mind. Absolutely full cost of transport must be paid, including all the externalities of pollution, from cradle to grave. So for truck transport, we would be looking at covering everything about trucks, fuel, roads, etc., including clean-up at the end of the process, loss of water absorbed into the land through urban road networks, and so on. This would encourage local production and where distant production was a must, efficient transport — of necessity, rail. At the same time, protection of land for local growing with community composting, etc, to provide venues, with limits on land ownership (to ensure competition and to keep stuff at human scale) plus floors on production levels and certain regulations regarding use of the land (i.e. very light tread machinery, mandatory worm counts, and so on). We should be looking at urban developments, for example, which not only have local environment protection built in, but also have local food production built in too. (b) Learn from tropical and old time farmers — go for variety and diversity. We in the industrialised countries might have two or three species selected from a few dozen in total, on our plates at dinner time; in a New Guinea village, dinner time might involve a dozen species or more, selected from a menu of two or three hundred species. (See, for example, “Yes, we have no bananas” below. This is one of the very important lessons people from developing countries can teach those in the industrialised countries.) Yes, we can build market demand for variety. Carrots and sticks again. (c) Control of capital movement to be more in accord with the availability of people movement. There are some realistic limits to people movement very much tied to sustainabilty. Some control of capital movement would result if we worked harder on the “fair trading” notion. Would unions in Australia, for example, be amenable to providing support in the marketplace for goods which are produced by workers in other countries who are guaranteed a decent wage? Just by capping demand for the cheapest, we could stop a lot of movement of capital and encourage more “near source/market” production On the capital side, we need dedicated green capital funds and limits on distant funding. Papua New Guinea became independent with a very nice investment limitation built into its constitution — it would accept investment only for things that PNG could not do itself and which provided new industry for the country. This kept out exploitative foreign investment like Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, which simply creams profits and takes them away. PNG said: “No thanks, we can cook a chicken”. In addition, any investment had some very stringent training requirements attached to do, plus progressive local investment. Needless to say, these thoughtful provisions came under huge attack from investors, and eventually were smashed. Clearly, every nation, every state within a nation, and every municipality or village, needs to think about these things. The best investment is the caring investment and no investor will care more about undesirable outcomes of their investment than the investor who has to live in the swamp too. (d) Control of market size and market power. This is the notion in the USA’s now fatally flawed anti-trust law. We should go for monopoly, government owned and controlled, on such things as transport and communications infrastructure, energy and water (yes, I know the horse has bolted up to a point, but I’m a big fan of the man from Snowy River — if you have the guts and the horse with a touch of Timor pony, you can catch the runaway and stuff it back into the stable), and limit market power in other things. Monopoly is a simple necessity for e.g. communications, so that you can develop the most efficient systems towards meeting 100% of demand. The fact is, in the end, no private enterprise model can supply 99.9% service — which is what we require in these kinds of fields. They MUST stop at about 95-97% to make a profit since the costs of supplying that last few percent towards 100% are astronomical, and in addition, private enterprise at the big end works best by NOT INNOVATING BECAUSE IT COSTS MONEY. In the 1980s, I was at a conference where a Telstra (still wholly government owned) planner discussed the future, and told how they had thrown out their “10% better every year” target which they were meeting and exceeding. Instead, Telstra had looked forward to the future and based their planning on that. Their aim was that by 2000, every dwelling, office and factory in Australia would be routinely cabled for communication as it was built, refurbished or altered, just as it is plumbed for gas, water and waste, and wired for electricity. Then they laid out a plan for developing the appropriate technologies, staffing, systems, operations and legal structure to make that happen. Along came idiots like Hawke, Keating, and Howard and that was all thrown out of the window in pursuit of the totally stupid notion of competition in a natural monopoly market. Instead of service improvement and technological innovation and service development to the max for the whole community, the so-called competition policy has seen services go backwards (in reality, compared to what they could have been), and investment funds have been squandered on duplicated cable roll-outs and insane marketing. Our local communications industries have collapsed while the money we should be investing in that and in our future we spend money on mindless telephone selling of illusory price cuts. The other side of the problem, control of market power is illustrated by Coles-Myer in Australia. A few years ago, it was taking 25 cents of every dollar spent in retail — my belief is that this has grown even further with its move into office supplies (OfficeWorks), petrol and liquor retailing. I was told the other day that OfficeWorks, as a unit, is yet to make a profit. In other words, it can run at a loss for years while it drives smaller retailers out of the market — then when it has developed dominance, it can drive the market where it likes to the total detriment of all consumers AND suppliers. It simply has too much power in the market place. No single corporation (looked at in its entirety) should be allowed to own more than, say, 10% of any market and that should mean “any broad market”, i.e. “all of retail” rather than just “grocery”. Vertical integration must be limited similarly. Takeovers or ventures into any country’s market by foreign investors should take into account the foreign might of that investor. Rules like those originally developed by PNG should apply, so that foreign investments end up with majority local ownership. Also rules are needed about aggregation of investment so that everyone can participate — not all to the same degree necessarily, but all to some degree. Structures like cooperatives should be encouraged. (e) Appropriate regulation and overt encouragement of individual and community participation to help towards the adoption of the “small is better” notion. The need for this is so obvious that it is almost unarguable. As an example, a government-owned monopoly electricity supplier could encourage privatisation of supply through cogeneration arrangements, e.g. domestic power generation through solar panels on roofs, industry generation through using “waste” heat. In some European countries, hot water from industry’s “waste heat” is piped through other commercial and domestic premises for heating, and so on. Property developers would have to meet strict transport requirements and meet requirements for on-site absorption and use of rain water and sullage, and so forth. An interesting aside — in recent days on the publishers’ forum (small publishers, mainly USA-based), we have had discussion of a USA book, “How to Shit in the Woods”. I kid you not. It literally instructs you how to shit without leaving mushy stuff for the next walker to squeeze between the toes. At the same time, we have had a spirited discussion about taking responsibility for what we are really doing — one person reported driving half an hour and queueing for 45 minutes for a box of Krusty Kreme doughnuts (interesting that this franchise emanates from the south and has the initials “KK” — hmmm). I suggested that she was krazy in the kokonut and should think about the fact that thousands of Iraqis have just been killed so she can have the petrol to drive 30 minutes for a doughnut on a whim. But things like the shit in the woods book, and the extensive actual need for bottled water or some form of clean water not drawn from the local area (versus the “want” in “me too” consumer cultures like that of Melbourne) are straws in the wind about how much pressure we are putting on the environment. There are more and more Americans on fewer and fewer trails. The story of the doughnut is telling us about the kind of thing we need to get real about and change. Sorry, people, I got a little carried away here. I originally wrote a few paragraphs to Phi Brent at the S.M.H.l, he suggested I post it, so I felt I should expand a ittle and make it all a little more ordered. There goes Saturday morning! Now for the local shopping …

Renewable Energy Targets and Australian Energy Intensity – May 2012

Australian Alternative Technology Association (ATA)

“Two Percent renewables target – fact or fabrication” – Alan Pears raises some doubts about the Australian Federal Government’s renewable commitment. It’s almost 18 months since Prime Minister Howard announced what has become widely known as the “Two per cent renewable energy target“. Community consultations were held last May. A working group was set up to sort out the details: it released an interim report last August. A series of workshops were held last November to resolve more issues. Now the rumour is that there will be an options paper released in May, before a decision is made later this year. So the renewable energy industry has to live through almost two years of uncertainty on what seemed like a straightforward commitment. Even though the government has consistently described this measure as the “Two per cent renewables target”, one option expected to be floated in the options paper is inclusion of coal seam methane (a fossil fuel released as a by-product of black coal mining). It is even rumoured that there will be a proposal to make the scheme voluntary. What’s going on here? The Prime Minister’s statement was: “Targets will be set for the inclusion of renewable energy in electricity generation by the year 2010. Electricity retailers and other large electricity buyers will be legally required to source an additional two per cent of their electricity from renewable or specified waste product energy sources by 2010…”

Kyoto Obligations

The Prime Minister clearly said the electricity industry would be legally required to comply. So any move to make the scheme voluntary is a breach of a commitment made in an international arena. A backdown invites the international community to question Australia’s commitment to its Kyoto obligations. Advocates of inclusion of coal seam methane argue that it complies under the “specified waste product” criterion. They add that collection and use of coal seam methane is a worthy greenhouse measure, which can provide useful energy and avoid leakage of the very active greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. Renewable energy, solar power and wind power for example, advocates certainly have no problem with a government program that encourages capture and use of coal seam methane: but it should be separate from the two per cent renewables commitment. If coal seam methane is included, it could take up a substantial share of a market niche that was intended for renewables. More importantly, the government has made a great deal of its commitment to the two per cent renewables target in many publications, such as the 1998 National Greenhouse Strategy and numerous promotional articles. The government has failed to make it clear in this publicity that it believed part of this target could be satisfied by a fossil fuel. It can also be argued that the wording of the PM’s statement clearly specifies a renewable requirement first, then specifies waste fuels: in this context, the objective reader could interpret “waste” as meaning renewable fuels such as organic wastes, as there is no reference to “wastes from fossil fuel production”.


Two Percent Renewable Becoming 20 Percent

It seems that the government is trying to manipulate the two per cent renewables target to benefit the coal industry. Regardless of what we in Australia think of this, the big question is how will the rest of the world react when they find out that the Australian government is trying to pull a swifty. Our government already has a serious international credibility problem after its performance at Kyoto. Do they want to make sure our name is mud, and undermine our capacity to credibly negotiate on major issues such as emissions trading, joint implementation and the clean development mechanism? Or maybe their PR advisors are so keen to please the coal industry that they haven’t realised what impact this could have on our future negotiating position.

Dust off your computer keyboard and start lobbying now: you can be sure the fossil fuel industry is working very hard on this one! And if you know anyone involved in international global warming negotiations, you might just explain what’s going on, and suggest that they inform the Australian government of their folly. Energy efficiency: the invisible industry

Most people have little difficulty identifying the renewable energy industry. They’re the people who make and install solar water heaters, wind generators and wood heaters. The energy efficiency industry is much more difficult to relate to, and that’s a real problem, it’s hard to generate lots of community support for an invisible industry. In addition most economists and government policy makers are very sceptical about the role it plays. Even participants in the energy efficiency industry itself often can’t see that they’re part of it!

How important is the solar energy  industry?

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (who can hardly be described as advocates for energy efficiency, if their economic modelling of greenhouse response is any indication), solar energy efficiency improvement saves Australia billions of dollars every year. An ABARE study of the solar energy efficiency trends within the Australian economy found that ”technical efficiency” improvement reduced Australia’s energy intensity by 6.7 per cent between 1974 and 1995. That means Australia uses at least $2 billion less energy each year than it would have if this improvement had not occurred. This improvement has also meant we have avoided the need to invest several billion dollars in energy supply infrastructure such as power stations and transmission lines. Just think how much we could have saved if we’d actually tried to achieve efficiency improvements, and governments had promoted energy efficiency instead of energy waste!


Solar Panels Efficiency Set for 40 Percent

The S.A. Government renewable energy office reports that “P.V. panels should be producing solar electricity for 25 years (they are generally warranted to supply 80% of their rated power after 20 years), so having backup in years to come is important. Long term, solar panels are becoming more efficient – currently the best solar panels, in terms of efficiency, are up to 19% efficient. In years to come this cold be up to 30 or 40%”.

But there are no signs that governments around Australia are serious about reinvesting those savings to gain even greater savings. Even New South Wales government’s SEDA has a budget of only $15 million. When SEDA gets an annual budget of $150 million we’ll know the NSW government is serious. And NSW stands out as the one government with a commitment to energy efficiency!

Too bad for the rest of us.

For example, the South Australian government, after shutting down the State Electricity Commission’s very cost-effective demand management program in 1994 and halving Energy Efficiency S.A’s budget, then set up energy markets that encouraged increased electricity sales. Their response to the gas supply crisis has carefully avoided any mention of improving the efficiency of gas use: all the “solutions” involve increased gas supply. Surely this could have nothing to do with the fact that the government was in the act of selling its gas industry – any indication that it might support action to reduce future gas sales would have reduced the sale price! So they will continue to waste natural gas and emit unnecessary greenhouse gases. Indeed, all the new gas supply capacity may well provoke competition to get Victorians to waste even more gas – after all, the owners of these new pipelines and processing plants will have to get a return on their investments.

It’s difficult to create a shared commitment within the energy efficiency industry when it is so diverse – including insulation companies, energy advisors, equipment manufacturers, and so on. Worse still, many of the manufacturers of energy efficient appliances and equipment also make clunkers: they just see themselves as satisfying the various market niches… Oh, for the simplicity of the renewable energy industry! A serious problem seems to be that most people just can’t imagine that it’s possible to do more with less. Despite the many examples all around them, and exciting visions painted by people like Amory Lovins over the past 20 years, the reality is that most people respond to an energy problem by wheeling in more “grunt”. If the house is cold, it’s much more obvious to install a bigger central heater than it is to cut the heating requirements by insulating, draughtproofing and double glazing.

References and Resources

I wish we could work out how to change this. Any suggestions? Alan Pears recently compiled an issues paper on the potential for addressing the gas crisis through energy efficiency improvement. For copies contact Environment Victoria, Ph (03) 93776 9044.

For South Australia - http://www.sa.gov.au/subject/Water,+energy+and+environment/Energy/Renewable+energy

Federal Government Renewable Energy: http://www.climatechange.gov.au/what-you-need-to-know/renewable-energy.aspx

Victorian Government Sustainability : http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/www/html/1620-sustainability-in-action.asp