Apr 26, 2015: Party Pics and Random Bits.

Our 1st Earth Day Party was a fun and encouraging event.

Our 1st Earth Day Party was a fun and encouraging event.

Thanks to everyone who came along to our 1st Earth Day Party on Wednesday evening to help us celebrate the outstanding success of the first year of the Greeny Flat Experiment. We had about fifty people come through which, considering the amount of rain we had that night, was an excellent turn out and was about all we could handle inside our little house. It made for a very cosy affair which was nice on a cold and wet evening in the Southern Highlands. We were very grateful for all the kind and encouraging comments we received from our guests. We love our little Greeny Flat and it’s nice to hear that other people appreciate it too.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve proved conclusively that it is fairly easy to build a small, simple, affordable, comfortable, energy positive, low-maintenance, elderly friendly, fire resistant and water efficient house we are looking at a number of ways to encourage more people to do the same. I have a number of consulting jobs for people who are either wanting to build their own energy efficient house or to improve the comfort and performance of their existing buildings. I have articles to write for ReNew magazine and I am involved in a strategic planning process through our local council to look at ways for our shire to encourage responsible and sustainable economic development.

This week I also started the process of talking to the big project home builders to see if I can persuade one or more of them to offer a small, simple, energy positive home as an option to their potential customers. It is going to be very interesting to see what sort of response I get from them. As I wrote in our Dec 14 Newsletter, I think that every new building in Australia should be made to be energy positive. We’ve got a long way to go to get there and it’s the project home builders that build the most number of homes each year. They have a lot of customers and they have a very efficient building process figured out. So, if I can get them interested in the concept, they might be the perfect vehicle with which to drive the Greeny Flat idea into the mainstream.

I’ll let you know how it goes…. meanwhile below are links to some interesting things I learned about this week.

More floating solar farms

Two weeks ago I wrote about a couple of floating solar farm projects, one in Brazil and one in Australia. This week I learned about a couple more being built in Japan. The more I think about it the more it makes perfect sense to place a large array of solar panels on water which helps to keep the panels cool (making them more efficient). The shade from the panels also helps to reduce algae growth in the water and evaporation from the surface. Plus, in the case of a man-made lake or pond, the land has already been inundated so why not use the same area to make electricity instead of taking over more land for the solar panels. If you were to build two ponds covered with floating solar panels, one at the top of a hill and one at the bottom, the excess power made by the solar panels during the day could be used to pump water from the lower pond to the upper one. Then when the sun isn’t shining or you need more electricity  you simply let it run back down again through a generator. What a simple and elegant way to both make and store energy! Click on the following link for more on the projects in Japan http://www.gizmag.com/floating-solar-power-plant/37156/?utm_source=Gizmag+Subscribers&utm_campaign=20ef66d781-UA-2235360-4&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_65b67362bd-20ef66d781-91792929

Smart home controller

The Oomi smart home controller.

The Oomi smart home controller.

I suppose it’s the way of the future but I’m pretty sceptical about the benefits of the ‘smart home’. Most of what I’ve seen along these lines seems to add layers of cost and complexity to buildings whereas I’m doing my best to make them simpler and more affordable. In spite of myself, I am quite impressed with what I have read and seen about the Oomi Smart Home Controller that is currently under development and should be available soon. It certainly promises to make the process of automating home controls much simpler (although it won’t be less expensive than controlling your home yourself).

The one thing I would like to be able to control automatically in our Passive Solar Home is the opening and closing of our insulated blinds in the winter time. As it is, if we know we’re going to be away from the house during daylight hours, we have to decide before we leave whether to leave the blinds open or closed. If we leave them open they’ll let the sun in to warm to house but if the sun doesn’t shine we’ll lose more heat through the windows. If we leave them closed it will keep the heat in better but it won’t let the sun in either. It would be nice to have a device that automatically opened the blinds when the sun was shining and closed them when it wasn’t. Not what the Oomi was designed for but I bet it could do it.

Energy Positive Office Building in Seattle


Seattle’s Energy Positive Bullitt Centre

It calls itself ‘The Greenest Office Building in the World’ and I think this might just be true. The Bullitt Center in Seattle has just become the first office building in the world to achieve Living Building Certification ‘the most challenging benchmark of sustainability in the built environment.’ Among a raft of other stringent criteria to meet the Living Building Challenge, the Bullitt Center had to prove that it could make more energy than it used in a year. It recently completed its first year and, like the Greeny Flat, passed with flying colours, producing 60 percent more energy than it used.

Also like the Greeny Flat (but on a much bigger and more difficult scale) the team behind the Bullitt Center wanted to show that it’s possible to build much better buildings. As CEO Dennis Hayes puts it…‘If Living Buildings can be built and operated in Seattle, the cloudiest major city in the contiguous 48 states, they can and should be built everywhere…’ and that should be doubly true for sunny Australia.

It’s a truly impressive achievement and our congratulations go out to all of those involved in making this vision a reality.

Graphene’s at it Again

In last week’s Newsletter I asked the question, ‘Is There Anything Graphene Can’t Do?’ Well, as if turning electricity into light and vice versa weren’t enough, now I read that graphene has been used to make a ‘high-density supercapacitor that ‘stores six times more energy than a conventional supercapacitor, holding more than twice as much charge as a typical thin-film lithium battery in one fifth the thickness of a sheet of paper’.

One implication seems to be that this form of energy storage could be built right into solar panels. ‘Supercapacitors are usually stacked on top of each other and packaged into a single unit, but the researchers have been able to take advantage of the thinness of their device by integrating it inside a solar cell array. In this application, it was found that the supercapacitor could quickly store electrical charge generated by a solar cell during the day, hold the charge until evening, and then power an LED overnight.’ This could really be a game changer…oh yeah, and they can also charge in seconds… oh, and it’s also completely non-toxic. Click here to read more.

I don’t mean to bore you by going on about it but the more I read about graphene the more astounded I am. ‘Graphene has unmatched capabilities in both electronic and material/mechanical capacities. For example, it has the ability to convert almost every photon that it absorbs into direct current, meaning theoretically it could be used to make the holy grail of solar cells – one that is 100% efficient. This unmatched conductivity also means it could greatly improve energy storage and transmission, meaning everything from EVs (batteries and super-capacitors, etc.) to large-scale grid storage to transmission efficiencies of power and optical communications, and other infrastructure components may become so much better as to be disruptive to existing approaches to all these things. Graphene’s ability to be formed into nanowires means it may provide the smallest and most size and speed efficient circuitry for electronics and LEDs to date, by far. Graphene is the strongest material ever measured, ~200x stronger than steel, making it extremely light and resilient, offering the possibility of making many things we use, from vehicle chassis to airframes both lighter and more durable, like carbon fiber did decades before.  At one molecule thick, it is also transparent, meaning it offers possibilities in touch screens and displays and means that windows may become PV modules in time.’

The strongest material ever measured!!!! AND it can convert every photon into electrical current!!! It’s mind boggling to think what this could lead to and it will be fun to watch it develop.

The Economics of Off-grid vs Grid-tied Solar

Here’s another excellent article from Solar Quotes which takes an in-depth look at whether it currently makes economic sense to disconnect from the grid with solar power. It’s a long article and worth the read if you’re interested but the bottom line is that you ‘would save much more money with a much smaller investment by installing on grid solar rather than going off grid…  And this should hold true for all on grid households in Australia.  It is difficult to think of any circumstances where going off grid would currently be the better option.’

The Good, The Bad, and the AGLy.

I have read before that AGL is Australia’s largest single emitter of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) so I was astounded when I read this article from the Sydney Morning Herald which claims that AGL ‘has vowed to close all its existing coal-fired power stations by 2050 and will not build or buy new conventional plants in the meantime’. The company is also Australia’s largest single producer of renewable energy with 17% of it’s generation coming from renewables. CEO, Andrew Vessey, is quoted in the article as saying that ‘companies such as AGL need to take the lead’ in keeping global warming to less than 2degrees of pre-industrial levels.’ I wonder what Mr Abbott thinks of that statement… personally, I thought it was amazing.

But then I read this other article from the Energy Matters website about the ‘Dirty Three’; AGL, Origin Energy and EnergyAustralia who, together, are responsible for 13% of Australia’s carbon emissions.

‘The ‘dirty three’ power companies often present themselves as champions of renewable energy. They operate behind a smokescreen of sustainability that makes it hard for their customers and Australian consumers to understand the real story.”

Perhaps a signal of the ramifications of the axing of Australia’s carbon tax, the report states emissions from EnergyAustralia and Origin’s dirty power stations increased by more than 500% during the last year.

Following its acquisition of Macquarie Generation, AGL is now Australia’s worst polluter in terms of carbon emissions says the report, and emissions from AGL’s dirty power stations are now more than 20 times higher than five years ago.’

The article also claims that ‘AGL, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy have been lobbying against Australia’s Renewable Energy Target’ which doesn’t sound like the actions of a company committed to reducing GHG emissions but does sound a lot more like the old AGL know and love to hate.


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