June 23, 2017: In The News This Week

I’d like to draw your attention to two articles that appeared in the press this week.

Southern Highlands Solar Challenge

Some of the Challenge Team working at the Welby Garden Centre

Some of the Challenge Team working at the Welby Garden Centre

The first is specific to our local community, the Southern Highlands of NSW, but readers anywhere are invited to help if you can. As outlined in this article from the Southern Highland News, I am involved with helping a wonderful local organisation called Challenge Southern Highlands raise money to install a 12kW solar power system on their roof. This is intended to be a community funded solar project run through Repower Shoalhaven but we need to raise $10,000 to get it off the ground (literally).

Challenge does fantastic work in our community helping people with disabilities find meaningful work and greater independence. This solar system will save them about $1000 a year for the first ten years and then much more after that. Those numbers are calculated at today’s electricity prices so the more grid prices increase, the more money they will save. We all know where electricity prices are headed so the savings should really stack up and that money will be put to good use helping people who need it most.

So far we have raised about $7000 so we only need about $3000 more. Climate Action Now Wingecarribee has very kindly offered to match all donations up to a total of $5000. In other words, for every $100 you donate, CANWin will match it with $100.

If you are willing and able to contribute to this excellent project helping people in need and reducing carbon emissions you can find details of how to make a donation at the following link. http://canwin.org.au/entry/2017/05/04/give-the-gift-of-solar/

If you want you donation to be tax deductible it needs to be by cheque, otherwise you can simply make a bank transfer. Thanks for giving it your consideration.

The Man Most Likely to Change The World

If you read the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday you might have come across this article from Good Weekend entitled ‘The Man Most Likely to Change the World‘. If not, I encourage you to click on the link and check it out. It’s a positive and encouraging look at a man with a strong moral compass plus the brains, motivation and financial backing to be a force for good in the world.

James is an American lawyer based in London who, with the help of his financial backers, fights and wins big law cases for his client… the Earth.

“Corporations speak in the grammar of money,” writes Thornton in his book. “If you want them to take [environmental] laws seriously, then you make them pay a great deal of money for violating them. Then, suddenly, they’ll wake up to it.” 

Winning cases was a lot of fun, he admits, “but the main ambition was to use [them] as leverage to force the government to start enforcing the law again … If unchecked, governments will always drift towards what companies want, because companies are fantastically more powerful than citizens.”

I’ve highlighted the last part of the quote above because it summarises very succinctly why I have been feeling frustrated for the last thirty years. Why is it that our elected representatives almost always seem to act in the best interests of the companies that contribute to their political campaigns rather than the people who vote for them? Because companies are fantastically more powerful than citizens.

It feels like such a relief to hear someone to state the simple truth of the matter and to know there are smart and determined people like James Thornton prepared to make a stand for what is right.

The article goes on to give some very interesting insights into the changing face of global geo-politics and Australia’s place in the world.

“They (China) are installing more renewable energy than anyone else,” Thornton says, “and they are moving to peak coal [in terms of consumption] – they predict by 2035, but it may be earlier. Some smart analysts think they may have already hit the peak.”

This has big implications for Australia as a resource exporter. “It’s brilliant,” says Thornton happily, “because Australia won’t be able to sell so much coal to China and can move to building a cleaner, first-world economy, instead of remaining a third-world extractive one. Australia has assumed that India and China will go on eating coal forever, but both countries are almost in a race to reduce dependency on fossil fuel.”

Adani’s proposed giant Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, strongly supported by both a Coalition federal government and Labor state government, is a crazy idea, says Thornton: “If it is ever built, it will be the biggest subsidised white elephant in the world.”

So Australia should be looking at other forms of energy? “Let me tell you how much they should be doing that,” says Thornton. “Saudi Arabia has just invested hugely into alternative energy even though they have loads of oil, which is cleaner than coal. They are looking at becoming producers of solar energy. Australia is bigger and has even more sun – it could be doing that, too.”

But what of President Donald Trump’s threat to take the US out of the (Paris) accord? Not such a bad thing, according to Thornton. “If America had kept a seat at the table, they would have kept trying to water down resolutions, making life very difficult for the other 194 signatories. Now China becomes the world leader on climate change and US economic interests will be hurt.”

The Paris accord has been criticised as too little, too late and some analysts have calculated the chance that climate change will cause a “rolling collapse” of civilisation at 50/50. Thornton, though, is an optimist. “Even if they’re right, that’s a 50 per cent chance of survival,” he says, “and we are doing something about it.” He is inspired by a marine biologist who noted the loss of 90 per cent of the world’s sharks: “She said, ‘Great news! Ten per cent are still there and if we stop murdering them, numbers will come back.’ “

It’s a good article that left me feeling energised and hopeful. Here’s the link again if you’d like to read it. http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/james-thornton-saving-the-planet-one-court-case-at-a-time-20170601-gwic7f.html

I’m Glad I Switched

In our Newsletter a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how we had just switched over to a new, ethical energy retailer called Energy Locals. One of the reasons for that was their offer to lock in their pricing for the next year without locking me into a contract. For the next twelve months I’ll be paying 23c/kWh and 85c/day (plus GST) which is less than I was paying PLUS I’ll be getting 10c/kWh for any solar power I export to the grid.

Over the last couple of weeks we (here in Australia) have all been hearing about energy price increases of up to 20% by the big companies like AGL, Origin and Energy Australia. So naturally I’ve been very happy that I made the switch to Energy Locals. I think it’s not too late to take advantage of their price lock before the end of the financial year so, if you’re worried about your electricity bills going up I encourage you to consider switching to Energy Locals.

…. and you could use the money you will save to make a donation to Challenge Southern Highlands’ solar project.

Thanks again. Andy.

June 16, 2017: Grow Your Bricks and Monitor Your Energy

I have written before about the global need to find alternatives to concrete. In this Newsletter from April 2015 I wrote about a wonderful bank building I was involved with in Missoula, Montana that didn’t use any Portland Cement or standard concrete in its construction. Instead we used a 100% recycled mixture of fly-ash (a by-product of coal-fired power plants) and crushed glass. I still have a little piece of that material sitting on the desk in front of me.

A terrible photo of a wonderful material.

A terrible photo of a wonderful material.

It might not look like much but this material is revolutionary. As far as I know, this was the first modern commercial building in the world to be built entirely without Portland Cement.

Why does that matter?

Because Portland Cement and concrete production are responsible for somewhere between 5 and 10% (depending on which study you read) of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. About half of those emissions come from the mining, refining and processing of the raw materials (limestone, sand, and gravel). The other half come from the process of calcination of the limestone which releases carbon dioxide.

For this reason, concrete is a major global problem in search of a solution. And today I was sent this article from the US Public Broadcasting Service about a new way to ‘grow’ concrete without emitting carbon dioxide in a process very similar to the way sea shells and coral reefs are formed.

BioMASON’s innovation hinges on a rod-shaped bacteria called Bacillus. The organism creates a microenvironment that enables the formation of this calcium carbonate [limestone] crystal,’ said Michael Dosier, chief technology officer at bioMASON and Ginger’s husband. ‘That’s effectively how it’s evolved in nature over billions of years.’

But rather than take months or years to harden, bioMASON’s bacteria cement finishes the deed in two to three days. The whole process happens at room temperature, without the need for burning fossil fuels or calcination.’

But wait… there’s more….

bioMASON’s microbe not only skips the high heat, it also absorbs CO2 from the air to make the calcium carbonate’

That’s right, not only does it not emit any of the CO2 of normal cement production, it actually absorbs Co2 in the hardening process. So it’s potentially carbon positive!

To make bricks, bioMASON engineers start by pouring a pitcher of primed bacteria into a mixer full of foundation material…The nestled bricks slide out of the hopper like bread rolls and get rolled into a shipping container, where they harden over three to four days.

The inventor of this process, architect Ginger Krieg Dosier, gives a lengthy explanation of its development in the following TED talk which runs for about twelve minutes.

If that’s too long for you, here’s a shorter but infinitely more annoying YouTube video about the technology. (Sorry I couldn’t find anything better except the video that is included in the original article from PBS).

In the future, the company plans to put the entire assembly line — mixer, hopper and all — into shipping containers, so that biocement can be made anywhere.

‘We don’t need a fuel source. We don’t need high energy, so we are looking at being able to detach,’ Ginger said. And by doing so, they may cement a brighter future for our planet.

All puns aside, this is a very promising development and I’d be interested in trying to bring this technology to Australia.

New Energy Monitoring Option

In our Newsletter on Feb 2nd I wrote about how we use three bits of technology to help us get the best performance out of the Passive Solar Greeny Flat. One is our weather monitor which, among lots of other information, tells us what the indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity are at all times. The second is the weather forecast which we check online at least a couple of times a day. And the third is our energy monitor. In that Newsletter I suggested that it would be wonderful if someone made a gadget that displayed all three of these readouts on one screen that we could place in a prominent location in the house and refer to it whenever we wanted to know what’s going on and what’s likely to happen in the next few days. Here’s my ‘artists’ impression of what this might look like.

The gadget that every home needs!

The gadget that every home needs!

I wish I was able to report that my dreams had all come true (yes, I know, it’s pathetic that my dream is to have a combined energy and weather monitor/forecaster device) but sadly no. However I can report that there is a new and interesting energy monitoring option to consider, and this one is made in Australia!

Introducing the Wattcost Energy Monitor

The developers of the Wattcost system.

The developers of the Wattcost system with the device itself.

Currently I use a Wattson Meter as my energy monitor but they’ve gone out of business. I have friends who use the Efergy System and the Smappee Energy Monitor and are reasonably happy with the results and there are numerous other options. Now, into that mix we can add the Wattcost monitor which integrates with your smartphone to offer the following features (according to their website).

Live monitoring

See the real-time result of your solar export savings and grid import costs.

Intelligent alerts

Get alerts when your solar system fails or appliances are accidentally left on.

Community sharing

Learn how to maximise your savings from our active solar community.

Personalised savings

Compare & switch to the solar plan with savings to match your lifestyle.

Budget tracker

Avoid bill shock forever with live budget tracking and intelligent alerts.

Improve your footprint

Offset the rest of your energy emissions with
1-click tree planting.

That all sounds pretty good but one of the most attractive things about it is that you can install it yourself and don’t need to pay an electrician to do it. According to this article from Startup Daily:

The mobile platform behind the device is able to show a consumer which devices are chugging the most power and make recommendations to help them save energy.

The device is also able to notify a user through their mobile if a device has accidentally been left on, curing that paranoia felt in winter when you forget if you turned the heater off before you left for work.

However, one of the most appealing facets of the IoT device, believes Wattcost cofounder David Soutar, is its tiny design and the fact it can be attached to a powerbox without the need of an electrician, energy company, or IoT professional.

“Part of the challenge of the project is that we wanted it to be a full consumer product that they could install themselves. As soon as you get an electrician or someone else to install it, you’ve already lost the consumer selling proposition, from a price and inconvenience factor. That showed up really really early. We knew we needed to develop something for a consumer,” he said.

“So essentially it’s a little camera sensor that you stick on the front of your meter. It works on a meter anywhere in the world, whether it one of the old spinning disk types or one of the new electronic types.”

I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind whether the Wattcost is the right one for you, but I certainly encourage everyone to get some sort of energy monitor installed in their house. Personally I’m going to tough it out with my outdated Wattson meter until someone comes up with the integrated energy and weather monitor that I dream of.

June 9, 2016: A New Ethical Energy Retailer

Energy Locals – Cleaner, Fairer, Cheaper Energy

A few days ago I switched our electricity account over to Energy Locals and, if you live in Australia, I would like to encourage you to consider doing the same.

Energy Locals describe themselves as a Social Enterprise which seeks to ‘use their commercial power to generate improvements in society’ in the following ways:

Cheaper

And if the above is not enough to convince you… they’ll probably save you money too. I thought the Greeny Flat was on a pretty good plan with Click Energy, mainly because they were offering a 10c FIT (Feed-In Tariff is the amount we get paid for the electricity we export to the grid when our solar system is producing more than we’re using). Because the Greeny Flat exports considerably more energy than we import, a high FIT is good for us financially. As it turns out, Energy Locals also offers a 10c FIT PLUS their rate per kWh of electricity is cheaper. And, by joining now, they have agreed to lock-in the price of 23c/kWh for the next year without locking me into a contract.

Most electricity retailers in Australia are set to raise their rates at the start of the new financial year, some significantly. So I figure we’ll be much better off by this time next year.

If you are interested in taking advantage of this lock-in offer you need to act quickly because they are only making it available for a limited time. I know… I sound like a salesman for the company but I’m not. I get nothing from Energy Locals other than an honest deal on my electricity supply and the chance to feel good about how I spend my energy dollars.

Fairer

Energy Locals‘ slogan, ‘Cleaner, Fairer, Cheaper’, tells me that, like the Greeny Flat, their operation is founded on a Triple-Bottom-Line Philosophy which seeks to improve the Environmental, Social and Financial outcomes or our actions. Everything I’ve seen so far about Energy Locals tells me that their intentions are genuine and the good thing is we’re not locked into a contract. So, if we learn anything about them that we don’t like, we can simply switch to another retailer.

Cleaner

I first heard about Energy Locals through my work with Repower Shoalhaven and Renewable Energy Wingecarribee which are both involved in community solar power projects. We have recently been contacted by Energy Locals to look for ways to partner with them to offer locally-generated renewable energy to customers in our local community. It is early days yet so nothing has been finalised but our hope is that, via Energy Locals, we’ll soon be able to sell affordable power from a solar farm in the Southern Highlands to homes and businesses in our local area.

I’ll keep you posted as things develop. In the meantime I encourage you to consider switching your own home our business over to Energy Locals. At least give them a call. I was pleasantly surprised by their friendly, helpful and easy-to-understand customer service. And, if you are involved in a community group or renewable energy project, contact Energy Locals to find out how they might be able to help you raise money.

In Other News – the Good Stuff

The Solsource Sport – a Portable Solar Cooker for US$149!

170609 Solsource Cooker

There are just five days left to join the Kickstarter campaign for this great-looking little solar BBQ. So far they’ve raised $127,556 from an intial goal of $20,000. As their website says, this ‘super easy to use, compact, portable and 100% solar-powered stove is made for truly pollution free cooking, anywhere’.

I’m thinking about getting one for the Greeny Flat and to take on PHEV-camping trips. Apparently it takes about five minutes to set up and then only seconds to get hot enough to start cooking.

 

Thermawood – Retrofit Double Glazing for Timber Windows

170609 Retrofit Double glazingI’ve written before about the TwinGlaze system for retrofitting double-glazing into existing aluminium framed windows.

This week I learned about a new system for adding double-glazing to existing timber windows called Thermawood.

I don’t know much about either system but, if you have a house with single-glazed windows it might be worth looking into the cost of adding double glazing using one of the above.

 

Rail-less Train

170609 Railless trainLight Rail! It’s all the go in cities around the world. They don’t like to mention that what they’re doing is reinstalling the trams that they previously took out . Sydney’s a classic example. Sydney’s last tram ran out to Maroubra on the 25th of February, 1961. And now we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to build a new light-rail (i.e. tram) track to Randwick.

But what if we didn’t need the rails? What if the ‘trams’ could just run on the roads like extruded buses? We could get all of the benefits of a new ‘light-rail’ system with none of the cost and hassles of building the bloody rails.

It’s something to think about. Check out this NewAtlas article for more info.

India’s Turning Green

170609 Green IndiaA regular reader sent me this article from the New York Times which tells the tale of how ‘India has undergone an astonishing turnaround, driven in great part by a steep fall in the cost of solar powerExperts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade… but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs.

India is also aiming to convert its entire vehicle fleet to electric by 2030 so, chances are, we’ll all be getting around in cheap little Indian autonomous EV’s before too long.

Meanwhile, here in the good old A-U of Stralia, we’ve taking HUGE steps in the opposite direction.

The Bad Stuff

From the ABC, June 6, 2017 – Adani Board Pushes Ahead With Queensland Coal Mine.

And the feedback loops that will take Global Climate Change from bad to worse are becoming evident

170609 Black IceAs described in this article from the Huffington Post, the massive ice sheets in Greenland are being covered with a black layer of soot and ash from coal-fired power stations. The dark colour is absorbing much more heat from the sun and causing much more rapid melting of the ice.

And there’s an enormous chunk of ice about to break off the Antarctic ice shelf as well.

Meanwhile we’re encouraging an Indian company to rip out a massive chunk of Queensland, ship it India using fossil-fuels, and burn it in coal-fired power plants. This is awfully depressing but I can only take it as motivation to keep working for a cleaner, greener and fairer world. Joining Energy Locals is one more small step in the right direction.

June 2, 2017: Dark Days and Bright Spots

The Leader of the Free World

The Leader of the Free World

Well, it’s a dark day here at the Greeny Flat. We learned this morning that Donald Trump has decided to back out of the Paris Climate Accord complaining that it is ‘very unfair to the US‘. I wonder if anyone has pointed out to him that the US, with 5% of the world’s population, produces something like 18% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Hardly seems fair to everyone else, does it?

I also wonder sometimes about Elon Musk’s motives so I was pleased to see he had the decency to quit his role as an advisor to the White House over the Paris debacle. Even the president of Goldman Sachs stepped down in protest saying, ‘Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the US’s leadership position in the world.’

That is undoubtedly true but it’s hard to see how we’re going to stop this insanity. And it’s particularly depressing to reflect that Trump is due to hold the most powerful office in the world for at least another three-and-a-half years.

Meanwhile our own Prime Minister, Malcolm Turncoat, has stated uncategorically that Australia will remain in the Paris deal. Personally, I don’t believe a word he says and, in the meantime, his government wants to allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund coal-fired power projects as long as they include ‘carbon capture’. This is where some of the carbon dioxide is pulled out of the smoke stack and pumped underground for ‘storage’. What a ridiculous concept to think that pressurised carbon-dioxide is going to stay in the ground for more than about five minutes.

‘The technology depends on local geology, and has proven prohibitively expensive. A $2.4 billion carbon capture and storage flagship program announced by the Rudd government in 2009 yielded little and was gradually wound back before being discontinued under the Coalition.’

But that isn’t stopping Turncoat from trying to divert millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money (that has been set aside to foster renewable energy projects via the CEFC) and use it to promote more fossil-fuel development. I can just hear Tony Abbott whispering in his ear, ‘Coal is the future mate.

The puppet master.

The puppet master.

Enough of that depressing stuff. Here are some of the bright spots for this week.

Computational Wizzardry

Have a look at the video below and consider the computational speed and accuracy required for this little drone to calculate the trajectory of the ball, consider all the possible routes to catch it, choose the best, get there, catch the ball, bring it back and drop it in the guy’s hand. It’s astounding. But bear in mind that most humans can do this without even thinking about it.

Sign of The Times

I read this week on RenewEconomy that there are plans to build a 1,021MW (ten times bigger than Australia’s largest) solar plant in the oilfields of Oman. This will be the world’s biggest solar power installation. Unfortunately it will be used for ‘generating 6,000 tons of steam per day to coax viscous oil from Oman’s Amal oil field’ but I suppose it’s better than burning fossil fuels in order to extract more fossil fuels.

Canberra’s Solar Suburb

A solar suburb in the states.

A solar suburb in the states.

In a move that will hopefully be copied throughout Australia, the new Canberra suburb of Denman Prospect will require all new homes to have at least 3kW of solar on their roof. As reported in this article from SERREE (the South East Region for Renewable Energy Excellence), ‘every house … will have a minimum 3kW solar system that will generate around 4146kWh of electricity annually, reducing yearly carbon emissions from fossil-fuelled generation by about 3.7 tonnes for each house. ActewAGL began installing the first round of solar systems on the first 350 homes in the suburb in December last year… collectively, they will generate electricity equivalent to a 1.05MW solar farm.’

It’s a bit frustrating living so close to Canberra. It’s only two hours drive but it is so far ahead of NSW in terms of its Renewable Energy policies that it might as well be on a different planet. Of course, it’s important to remember that adding solar is the last step in making a house more sustainable. Firstly you should do everything you can to reduce the amount of energy required by applying the principles of Passive Solar Design and then using the highest efficiency appliances and equipment you can find. Once you’ve got your energy use down to a minimum it’s much easier to meet you requirements with a solar power system.

Plastic Bottle House

Plastic bottle house in the Sahara

Plastic bottle house in the Sahara. (Source: UNHCR)

The picture above is from a refugee camp in Algeria where a Sahrawi refugee named Tateh Lehbib Breica is putting a serious waste problem to good use. As described in this article from Huffington Post, most of the plastic bottles that find their way to these refugee camps are not recycled. By filling them with sand and using them as a building material, Breica is not only keeping them out of landfill but also making more durable and comfortable homes than were previously being built in this camp.

Personally, I’d be interested to see what would happen if they used empty bottles. I’m sure the insulation (and therefore the comfort levels) would be better but the light weight might cause durability problems. Anyway, it’s an interesting idea and hopefully brings a little comfort and relief to the poor people who have lived in this camp for over 40 years.

Which is yet another reminder of how incredibly blessed and lucky we are to live in this cozy little house in this beautiful, peaceful and prosperous place.

May 19, 2017: Things That Caught My Eye

Cintia and I had a lovely holiday in Port Macquarie last week and now we’re happily home again in our cozy little Greeny Flat. It’s too wet to do any work on the Energy Retrofit of the old cottage next door so I thought I’d provide you with links to a bunch of interesting things that have caught my attention over the last couple of weeks.

Predicting the End of Petrol Cars and Fossil Fuels

This article from the Financial Post just came in from one of our readers who is also a physics teacher at a local high-school. The article credits Stanford University economist Tony Seba with the following predictions:

Image source: treehugger

Image source: treehugger

No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

‘Certain high-cost countries, companies, and fields will see their oil production entirely wiped out. Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP could see 40 per cent to 50 per cent of their assets become stranded,’ the report said.

These are all large claims, though familiar to those on the cutting edge of energy technology. While the professor’s timing may be off by a few years, there is little doubt about the general direction.

EVs will increase U.S. electricity demand by 18 per cent but that does not imply the need for more capacity. They will draw power at times of peak supply and release it during peak demand. They are themselves a storage reservoir, helping to smooth the effects of intermittent solar and wind, and to absorb excess base-load from power plants.

Experts will argue over Seba’s claims. His broad point is that multiple technological trends are combining in a perfect storm. The simplicity of the EV model is breath-taking. The Tesla S has 18 moving parts, one hundred times fewer than a combustion engine car. “Maintenance is essentially zero. That is why Tesla is offering infinite-mile warranties. You can drive it to the moon and back and they will still warranty it,” Prof Seba said.

Whether you believe it or not, I think it’s worth considering just how dramatic, rapid and world-changing the shift to electric and self-driving vehicles might be. No new petrol cars in eight years time…. that’s certainly food for thought!

Autonomous Electric Garbage Truck

Image source: New Atlas

Image source: New Atlas

Don’t believe the above? What if I told you that Volvo is currently testing a prototype Autonomous Electric Garbage Truck? According to this article from New Atlas this trial is already underway in Sweden.

The truck is similar to a project Volvo has undertaken with autonomous mining vehicles, using very similar technology, but programmed for urban use. The truck is first manually driven through the garbage collection route as it maps and records the path and its various stops. Subsequent visits will then be driven by the truck itself, which continuously senses its surroundings to react to changes in the environment.

Self-driving Cars Smooth Traffic Flow

170519 Traffic JamOn the subject of autonomous vehicles, this New Atlas article reports on a study which showed that just adding one self-driving car for every twenty human-driven ones had a big impact on traffic flow.

Based on test track results, the teams says that having a mix of only five percent automated vehicles can eliminate stop-and-go waves while producing fuel savings of up to 40 percent.

It seems that, by simply driving at a steady speed (compared to humans who can’t resist going as fast as possible until they come up behind the car in front then hitting the brakes) the autonomous vehicle was able to cause all of the human drivers to stick to a steady pace as well. Traffic control heaven won’t have any human drivers in it at all.

Five Minute Car Charging

170519 Flash BatteryAlso from New Atlas comes this article about a new type of ‘Flash Battery’ which has the potential to take on 500km worth of electric car charging in only five minutes.

The FlashBattery makes use of something called nanodots to deliver fast charging. Nanodots are chemically synthesized peptide molecules. They form the basis for a multi-function electrode, allowing super capacitor-style rapid charging with a slow discharge similar to a lithium-ion battery. The chemical compound isn’t flammable and has a higher combustion temperature than graphite, which cuts the resistance of the battery.

From a production standpoint, the nanodots are made from a range of environmentally friendly bio-organic raw materials that are naturally abundant and, according to StoreDot, cheap to manufacture.

It’s these sorts of developments that might make Tony Seba’s predictions into realities.

Wave Swell Energy

Image source: ABC

Image source: ABC

I’ve written in the past about a West Australian company called Carnegie Wave Energy and their CETO electricity generator. Lately I’ve been hearing about a Sydney startup called Wave Swell Energy (WSE) which has a very different type of wave energy generator. The CETO system, and most of the other ocean generators I’ve seen before, bob up and down in the water and use that motion to generate electricity. The WSE system however stays stationary and uses the force of waves entering a fixed chamber to compress air which powers a turbine to generate electricity.

What I like about this concept is that it seems much less susceptible to damage from either corrosion or extreme weather conditions. Having owned an ocean-going yacht I’m painfully aware of how difficult it can be to maintain anything in the corrosive and rough conditions the ocean produces. So a system that is protected from the worst of these seems like a very good idea.

According to an article in The Australian, WSE is currently raising funds to build its first wave power plant on King Island in Bass Strait.

The expected cost of energy production using WSE technology is 10c per kilowatt hour, which makes it comparable with new hi-tech forms of coal power. ‘That is a very competitive rate for the first iteration of renewable technology,’ said WSE founder Tom Denniss. ‘And we would expect in five years’ time to be delivering energy at half that cost.’

This looks like the most promising wave energy technology I’ve seen to date and you can see an ABC video story about it by clicking here.

Other Items

This Press Release talks about a new ‘Energy-on Demand’ system that sounds extremely promising. Certainly one to keep an eye on. ‘While the technology draws from my invention – the CLAS (Chemical Looping Air Separation) process which is patented by the University of Newcastle – it also features a number of unique characteristics which make it distinct,’ said Professor Moghtaderi. ‘It’s a poly-generation process capable of simultaneous production of heat, power, oxygen, hot water and chilled water for air-conditioning.  As a result, the overall efficiency of the process is in excess of 90 percent.’

This Energy Matters article quotes a report by the Climate Council stating ‘that gas isn’t any less polluting than coal as an energy source and will ultimately further push  electricity prices up … and… that renewable energy ‘can provide a secure, affordable alternative to new fossil fuels’. Personally I think we’re about to see dramatic increases in the cost of both grid electricity and natural gas. This will make renewable energy even more competitive, especially because it should also cause an increase in Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) which is the amount your energy retailer pays you for any excess solar power you put back into the grid.

The last point is emphasised by this article from Solar Quotes which predicts that electricity prices will rise by about 20% over the next 2-3 years and that solar FITs will double as a result. So, if you haven’t already installed a solar power system… now is definitely the time to do it. You’ll save more from the grid power you don’t use and you’ll make more from the solar power you put into the grid.

Image Source: News.com.au

Image Source: News.com.au

Lastly for this week we’ll briefly revisit the plastic waste issue. Many of you have probably seen the first show in the ABC’s three-part series entitled War on Waste. If you haven’t seen it yet you can watch it on iview here. It’s an entertaining and thought-provoking look at how much waste we produce and what we might do about it. This is timely in light of the recent discovery of a deserted island in the Pacific that is completely covered in plastic rubbish that has washed up out of the ocean. And it is helping to push support for the petition I mentioned a few weeks ago called Ban The Bag which now has over 134,000 signatures.

It finally feels like something has shifted in the movement towards reducing carbon emissions and pollution and improving energy efficiency and sustainability. Higher prices for ‘traditional’ energy sources will make many of these new technologies and existing renewable energy sources more cost-competitive and hasten the shift to cleaner and greener ways of doing things.

Bring it on!

May 12, 2017: The Sublime and the Ridiculous

This week Cintia and I are on holiday in Port Macquarie which we’re discovering is a delightful place. Apart from getting to surf everyday we’ve been on wonderful walks along the coast, had delicious meals in fancy restaurants and today we went to visit the koala hospital. They really are the most adorable creatures and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital does very important work helping to ensure that the species survives in the face of multiple threats from loss of habitat, disease, feral animals and vehicles.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

‘David’ – a permanent resident at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

Holiday Reading

Another joy of being on holiday is having some time to read. So far I’ve finished two books which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

The two books I've read this week.

The two books I’ve read this week.

The Sublime

Regular readers will know that I often rant about the absurd global obsession with ‘GROWTH’. Countries all over the world measure growth in terms of Gross Domestic Product or GDP. This is an awful measure of the success of a nation. Focusing on increasing GDP creates the illusion that consumption is good and should be encouraged. This leads to increased waste, debt, environmental problems, health problems, over-population, etc, etc, etc.

Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world that has chosen to focus on something other than GROWTH. I have a few friends who’ve spent time in Bhutan (located in the Himalayan mountains between India and Tibet) and it sounds like a truly remarkable country. One of these friends is lending us their apartment for the week and I found this amazing book ‘Bhutan – A Mosaic of the Dragon’ sitting on the coffee table. I couldn’t find any information about the author or publisher so I’m guessing it was produced by the Bhutanese government.

I was particularly impressed with the chapter entitled ‘NORTH STAR FOR THE NATION – Gross National Happiness, a Beacon of Hope for a Better World’ by Thakur S. Powdyel who was Bhutan’s first democratically elected Minister for Education and winner of the Global Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education.

For anyone who’s interested in reading the whole chapter (which I highly recommend) you can click on this link to download a pdf of the full text. The essence of it is that Bhutan, which has been insulated from the development obsession that has gripped most of the rest of the world, has had the opportunity (and the wisdom) to learn from everyone else’s mistakes and to develop a different plan.

170512 Happy Bhutanese

Bhutan’s over-arching development philosophy of Gross National Happiness is founded on the belief that:

  • The ultimate desire of all human beings, regardless of time and space, is to be happy. It is, therefore, the responsibility of governments to create the necessary conditions to support the experience of happiness.
  • The profound needs of human beings are not necessarily material or physical, but that there are other deeper dimensions of life – natural, social, cultural, spiritual, psychological, aesthetic, moral – that make life worthwhile and meaningful, and that they need to be
  • There is no necessary relationship between the level of material well-being and the level of happiness – they could in fact be antithetical to each other.
  • The goal of life cannot be limited to an endless cycle of production and consumption, more production and more consumption…
  • The conventional, linear, uni-dimensional measure of progress, otherwise called GDP, is too limited and reductionist, as it leaves out other significant, non-economic factors. Gross National Happiness is therefore, a more holistic, integrated, and balanced approach to

In honour, therefore, of the integrity of life and of society, Bhutan has made a conscious decision to harmonize the needs of the body with the yearnings of the soul. To this end, we have identified four principal domains otherwise called pillars to support the architecture of the Gross National Happiness programme.

  1. Balanced and equitable socio-economic development,
  2. Conservation of the natural environment,
  3. Preservation and practice of culture, and
  4. Promotion of good governance.

We believe that if we care enough and share enough all of us in the world will have enough…

Isn’t that a beautiful philosophy? Personally I would have chosen a different word than ‘Happiness’. To me it is just as absurd to expect people to be happy all the time as it is to expect economies to grow all the time. I disagree with the idea that ‘the ultimate desire of all human beings… is to be happy’, to me this seems much too shallow and one-dimensional, but I do think that people generally want to feel good about themselves and most seek some sort of contentment in their lives. So if I substitute ‘Contentment’ for ‘Happiness’ in the statements above I think it makes a great deal of sense.

To me the four ‘pillars’ seem remarkably similar to the Triple-Bottom-Line philosophy, which considers the Environmental and the Social as well as the Financial results of our decisions, and was a guiding principle in the design and development of the Greeny Flat. And the addition of ‘Good Governance’ is particularly welcome in the light of the appalling leadership we are witnessing in both Australia and the USA.

The chapter continues with equally moving paragraphs on the importance of protecting the natural environment, educating the population to become the realisors of the national dream, preserving cultural identity and holding the countries leaders to the highest standards of integrity and service. If more countries around the world adopted a similar national plan for BALANCE rather than GROWTH we could find ourselves living in an entirely different future than the one we seem to be headed towards.

So, just in case I’ve inspired you to read the whole chapter… here is the link again to the full text.

The Ridiculous

The other book, ‘The Architecture of the Absurd – How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art’ by John Silber, is about how ‘super-star’ architects like Frank Gehry have abused their position of trust and influence in order to persuade naive clients to build ridiculous buildings that cost absurd amounts of money and do not meet the needs of the people who use them.

Frank Gehry explains his philosophy of architecture

Frank Gehry explains his philosophy of architecture

To me this is the logical result of the way architecture is taught and practiced around the world. My own personal experience of studying architecture at Sydney University was deeply disturbing. The entire focus of the program was on ‘originality’. It was all about making grand ‘aesthetic’ statements and nothing about creating functional buildings that are affordable to build, heat, cool and maintain, keep out the weather, serve their purpose and delight their occupants. From the buildings I see getting built, it appears that this method of teaching architecture prevails in schools around the world.

Gehry to me is the epitome of the grand-standing modern architect who adds ‘weirdness’ to his buildings simply to be original. The bizarre curves and ‘organic’ shapes that critics seem to think are so wonderful simply add enormous cost to his buildings without adding anything in the way of improved function, reduced maintenance, better energy performance or greater protection from the elements. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. His buildings are horrendously expensive, awkward, difficult to upkeep, expensive to run, leak like sieves, don’t meet the needs of their occupants and, in my opinion, generally ugly as sin.

Gehry's Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

Gehry’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

Thankfully, it’s not just my opinion, in his book Silber (who was President of Boston University for 25 years and commissioned countless buildings) states

I am not critical of Gehry’s twisted metal shapes because they are different but because too often they make no sense, are out of scale, wastefully expensive, and on the underside offer not the honest exposure of Louis Kahn but what seems more akin to indecent exposure…

His misconception… that architecture has no distinct purpose or consequent limitations that distinguish it fundamentally from painting or sculpture has led him to impose on clients works that are profligate in cost and grotesquely unaccommodating to their purpose. Perhaps there will always be clients who are happy to fulfill Gehry’s artistic ambitions, despite the waste and inutility inevitable when architecture is practiced as a fine rather than a practical art.

I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks Gehry’s buildings are over-priced rubbish

And he’s just the figure-head for a global movement in architecture that ignores the needs, budgets, and practical requirements of building owners and occupants.

But hey, Gehry won’t be around forever and hopefully this trend in architecture won’t last either. Perhaps tougher economic times might cause the people who commission and pay for buildings to be more careful with their money and more concerned about the ongoing running and maintenance costs they’ll be forced to pay.

 

May 4, 2017: Episode 12 – Replacing the Sewer Lines

This week we have a new video to share about the ongoing Energy Retrofit of the old fibro cottage next to the Greeny Flat. If you’re new to our site you can catch up on all eleven of our previous short little videos about the project by CLICKING HERE.

Our latest episode (below) shows us replacing the underground sewer lines on the west side of the house in preparation for the new deck and awning roof we plan to build. Replacing sewer lines might not seem like it has much to do with an energy retrofit but everything affects everything else.

In this case, we have had trouble with roots getting into the old, earthenware sewer pipes in the past. That’s not the end of the world when the pipes are buried under the grass in the back yard but it could become a much bigger problem if the pipes are inaccessible underneath the new deck.

So what does that have to do with improving the performance of the house? Well the deck will be covered by an awning roof running down most of the west side of the house. This is where the hot afternoon sun comes from in summer so the roof will help to shade the west wall, keeping the house cooler and more comfortable and reducing the need for air-conditioning.

Cintia and I are going away for a bit of a holiday and when we get back we’ll start building the new deck and roof. I’m planning to use a prefabricated steel frame for the new structure. This will be a new experience for me and I’m curious to see how it goes. So watch for more little videos as the project progresses.

Adani Disaster

In our Newsletter on April 14th I showed images of the coal spill from the Adani port facility at Abbott Point into a sensitive wetland adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. Yesterday I got an email from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) with more detail about just how bad the situation is.

‘Tonight, it was revealed that Adani breached their licence, spilling highly polluting coal slurry next to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Adani got a special licence from the Queensland Government to release discharge into the Caley Valley Wetlands and the ocean from their Abbot Point coal terminal.

Even with this special licence to pollute, Adani exceeded their permitted limit to the ocean by more than 800 per cent. The ABC is reporting that Adani faces a possible multi-million-dollar fine.

It’s outrageous they got this license and even worse that they massively breached it. It’s outrageous that they turned the wetland black. Weeks later, locals and scientists are still picking up coal.

Adani cannot safely operate a coal port on a cyclone-prone coast. There’s no way we can let them dig Australia’s biggest megamine – which threatens to drain and pollute groundwater, wreck our climate and destroy our Great Barrier Reef.’

If this bothers you as much as it bothers me I suggest you visit the ACF website and consider joining and/or donating to their fight to stop the Adani Megamine.

New Local Solar Installers

I am often asked by people in our local community (i.e. the Southern Highlands of NSW) who I can recommend for installing solar systems in our area. There are a number of local installers. Some, like my good friend Manuel Cilia (owner of  Cilectric Pty Ltd), have been installing solar in this area for donkey’s years. But Manuel prefers to focus on larger projects and off-grid installations.

So what about smaller, grid-tied systems for homes and businesses? Lately I’ve been hearing about a new company in our area called Simmark so I thought I’d better find out more about them. It turns out they’ve been installing solar in the Nowra area for over twenty years and have only recently expanded their business into the highlands.

Earlier today I met with the owners of the company, Mark Horsfall and Matthew Simms, to hear more about the company and what they have to offer. I was impressed with both gentlemen and particularly with their philosophy of understanding their customer’s energy requirements and encouraging them to find ways to conserve energy before installing solar on their roof. Regular readers will know that I preach the same sermon.

I also learned that Simmark does not restrict themselves to solar installations. They also do heating and air-conditioning systems, electrical, plumbing, security systems and maintenance work on all of the above. The following video is a short introduction to their business.

To be clear, I have not worked with Simmark on any projects and I do not receive any kind of payment from them. I can’t vouch for the quality of their work or their customer service but, from what I have learned today, I suspect that both are excellent. So I suggest that, if you need any of the above work done, you consider contacting Simmark for a quote. And please let me know how it goes… I will be very interested to hear about your experience with them (or any other local installer for that matter).

Solar Payback Period

Finally, the following link is to a piece that the above-mentioned Mark Horsfall wrote on Linked-In about the Payback Period and Return on Investment for a solar power system. I agree with Mark’s assessment that…

‘…6-7 years implies a 10.3 – 12.0% compounded annual return.

This opportunity needs to be put in relative terms. What other asset class is going to provide that kind of after-tax return in a world where $12 trillion of sovereign debt (or about 1/3 of all government borrowings worldwide) are now attracting negative yields? This is particularly the case when viewed on a risk –adjusted basis (i.e. the return on one’s solar investment is a virtual certainty as far as I am concerned, and easily competes with the aforementioned sovereign risk).’

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/solar-power-payback-period-mark-horsfall

April 28, 2017: Doing the Dirty Work

Replacing the sewer lines down the west side of the house next to the Greeny Flat.

Replacing the sewer lines down the west side of the house next to the Greeny Flat.

It’s been a busy week here at the Greeny Flat. We’ve been replacing the sewer lines as part of the energy retrofit of the old fibro cottage on the property. For new readers, you can catch up on the progress of this project via a series of short YouTube videos we’ve made over the last seven months. CLICK HERE for links to all the videos.

I’ll try to find time to make a new video next week with an update. We’ve now got our Solar Air Heater up and running, we’ve added paving down the south side of the house to help deal with moisture issues, and we’re getting ready to build a deck and awning on the west side to help keep the house cool in summer. This is what led to the sewer line replacement, because the deck will be built over the top of where the 70-year-old earthenware sewer pipes were buried. This would make it quite difficult to fix them later in the future so we thought it would be wise to upgrade them now while we can get them relatively easily.

As you can see from the photo above, it was a dirty day’s work but it all went well and we’ve now got the yard back into reasonable shape and ready to start work on the new deck. More on that soon. The good thing was I got to drive the excavator for the day. I haven’t done that for a while and it’s always fun. And I only bumped into the house once.

Ban The Bag Update

Following on from last week’s Newsletter in which we encouraged our readers to sign a no-brainer of a petition to ban single-use plastic bags, I just received the following update from the campaign. So far 120,000 people have signed, including our local legend, Jimmy Barnes which you can read about (and sign the petition if you haven’t already) by Clicking Here.

Wind and Water Power

The Waterlily portable Wind and Water Turbine

The Waterlily portable Wind and Water Turbine (Image source: NewAtlas.com)

I don’t know why it never occurred to me before and it seems pretty obvious when you think about it…. a turbine that can generate power from wind could also be capable of making power from flowing water. And that’s just what this new gadget called the Waterlily is designed to do according to this NewAtlas article. It is designed for camping and can deliver 25W of power from either a 7.2km/h flow of water or a 72km/h wind.

Personally I’d rather go camping in a place where the sun is shining and you can make 25W from a small solar panel than somewhere it’s blowing 72km/h. But for those rugged types who like to do it tough (while still being able to power their devices) this could be just the thing you’re looking for.

Australia Needs an Energy Policy

My lovely Cintia forwarded me the link to this story from The Guardian which claims that Australians could save $100bn if we had a clear and comprehensive national energy policy.

The report’s estimated $100bn in cost savings is a function of governments rolling out nationally consistent policies that would encourage the two parts of the system to work harmoniously together – the current poles and wires of the national market, and the virtual grids in homes and businesses. Allowing efficient co-optimisation would prevent overinvestment in poles and wires.

Photo by Andy Leman

A Corella inspecting the poles and wires near our house. Photo by Andy Lemann

The same policy could facilitate the transition to a clean energy future.

The report suggests by 2030, around 40% of generation could come from renewable technologies in Victoria and Western Australia, with an increasing share in New South Wales and Queensland as coal generators are retired.

But the report points out that the massive technological transformation is rolling out in a policy vacuum.

“There is currently no enduring, clear long-term climate policy. There is also a lack of integration between electricity sector planning processes and climate policy,” the ENA report says.

And even more remarkably, the article reports a major swing, across a wide spectrum of industries, back to the idea of some sort of market mechanism to reduce carbon emissions.

A string of peak bodies have used the review to call for the adoption of a market mechanism, including the National Farmers’ Federation, the Investor Group on Climate Change and the Business Council of Australia, which explicitly called for an emissions intensity scheme.

The current industry consensus around carbon pricing is a major turnaround in a very short period of time.

Three years ago some of the same groups urged the parliament to get out of the way so that Tony Abbott could repeal the Gillard government’s “carbon tax”.

Another Blow to the Adani Mine

The final piece of good news for today is that Westpac has finally ruled out the possibility of providing funding to India’s Adani Coal Company to build Australia’s largest coal mine in the Galilee basin in Queensland.

In our Newsletter two weeks ago I wrote about Malcolm Turncoat’s offer to provide a billion dollars of taxpayer money to help Adani build a railway line from the mine directly to the Barrier Reef where the current coal stockpile recently contaminated a sensitive wetland during cyclone Debbie.

The other three big banks had previously ruled out funding the mine but Westpac were dragging their feet. So it’s good to know that ‘the world’s most sustainable company‘ (that’s Westpac by the way, no joke) is now unwilling to back this massive fossil-fuel project. Hopefully no-one else will either.

April 21, 2017: Ban the Bag

Tomorrow is Earth Day and, as detailed in our April 7 Newsletter, we’ll be hosting our 3rd Earth Day party at the Greeny Flat (16A Queen St, Mittagong) from 4-7pm. Everyone’s welcome. We’ll be cooking pizzas and we’re asking people to bring something to drink and a bit of finger food to share. Hope to see you here tomorrow!

Petition to Ban Single-use Plastic Bags

I know… I’m getting a bit political again… but this one’s a no-brainer. There are only three states in Australia that don’t have an existing (or pending) ban on single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags. They are NSW, Victoria and WA. This new petition on Change.org seeks to remedy that by calling on the premiers of all three of these laggard states to catch up.

Imaged sourced from 'The Truth About Plastic Bags'

Imaged sourced from ‘The Truth About Plastic Bags

In case you still need convincing that this is a good idea here are a couple of quotes from the petition web-page:

‘Australians use an estimated four to six billion plastic bags each year. That’s 10 million bags every day. Every minute, we send 7,150 plastic bags to landfill. But 80 million plastic bags never make it to landfill, and instead end up in our litter stream, killing 100,000 birds and marine life every year.’

‘On average, it’s estimated we use a single-use plastic bag (like you’d find at Coles and Woolies) for just 12 minutes. And that same bag could take up to 1,000 years to break down.’

It only takes a couple of minutes to sign the online petition which, in just the first two days, has already been joined by over 91,000 people. So please CLICK HERE to sign up and help spread the word.

 

April 14, 2017: One Down, One Billion to Go.

Earth Day Party

First up this week I’d like to remind everyone that we’re having our 3rd Earth Day Party at the Greeny Flat on Saturday, April 22nd, 4-7pm. You can read all about it in last week’s Newsletter here.

One Down – Hazelwood is Dead

R.I.P.

R.I.P.

The good news for this week is that one of the world’s most polluting coal-fired power plants, the Hazelwood power station in Victoria, is now closed. You can read more about it in this ‘Energy Matters’ article which states that the plant was responsible for about 3% of Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Output along with an annual dose of:

  • about 15 million tonnes of CO2
  • 25,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides
  • 14,000 tonnes of sulfur dioxide
  • 7,700 tonnes of hydrochloric acid
  • 74 kg of arsenic
  • 140 kg of lead
  • 4,800 tonnes of fine particulate matter
  • 6,900 tonnes of carbon monoxide
  • 440 kg of mercury

This is great news for the environment. I just hope that the poor governmental planning surrounding the closure (we’ve known this was coming for years) doesn’t destabilise our electricity grid to the point where we do crazy things like the following.

One Billion to Go – Turncoat Offering Taxpayer Money to Help an Indian Company Destroy the Great Barrier Reef.

How do you begin to describe the insanity surrounding Adani’s proposed Carmichael Coal Mine. We know we have to stop burning fossil fuels. We know the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most beautiful and beloved ecosystems on the planet, is in a state of collapse. We know our government is withdrawing funding from social services and yet our esteemed Prime Minister Malcolm Turncoat is over in India offering to use $1 Billion dollars of taxpayer’s money to help build the biggest coal mine in Australia, stockpile the coal near sensitive wetlands and ship it through the Great Barrier Reef.

170414 Carmichael map

The Abbott Point Coal Port is right next to the Great Barrier Reef

Just this month we had a timely and tragic reminder of the madness of this scheme when Cyclone Debbie caused a massive release of coal-laden water into sensitive wetlands next to Adani’s coal stockpile at the Abbott Point Port.

Abbott Point

Satellite photos of the Caley Valley wetland next to the coal stockpile at Abbott Point before Cyclone Debbie (left) and after Adani released a huge amount of coal-laden water (right).

 

As reported in this article on The Guardian;

‘A vast swathe of the Caley Valley wetlands has been blackened by coal-laden water released from nearby Abbot Point port after Debbie’s torrential rains inundated its coal storage facilities last month.’

Join the Fight

Here at the Greeny Flat we try to avoid politics as much as possible. The only trust I have in politicians is that they will serve their own interests every time by doing the bidding of whoever gives them the biggest political donations. I don’t belong to, follow or believe in any political party, in fact I think party politics goes against the whole idea of democracy. But I can’t sit by and watch this outrageous injustice be committed against the future inhabitants of this beautiful planet and do nothing.

So I have joined the Australian Conservation Foundation’s fight against the Adani mine. I urge you to look into the facts, decide for yourself and take action to help stop this if you agree with my view that it is an abomination.

Here endeth the rant.