July 29, 2016: ‘Free’ Power with Repower

Repower Shoalhaven is a community group that gathers ethical investments from local community members and uses the money to fund solar power systems for businesses and community organisations. Technically speaking, these systems are not ‘free’ to the recipient because they pay for them over time by purchasing the power produced. However, effectively the result is better than free power because the recipient can actually save money over the life of the contract. If you think this all sounds too good to be true… read on and be amazed!

Repower was started in 2013 in the Shoalhaven area by Chris Cooper, one of Australia’s most innovative and progressive community renewable energy advocates. Since then Repower has grown to cover the whole SE region of NSW and Chris has moved on to another fantastic community solar project called SunCrowd which is at the forefront of the household renewable energy revolution. I will cover SunCrowd in more detail in a future Newsletter but for now I want to focus on Repower (although I will just say that anyone who is currently considering installing a solar power system or a battery storage system or switching electricity retailers would be well advised to look at what SunCrowd has to offer before making a decision). Now back to Repower

Imagine that you own a small business with a significant day-time electricity load. You sign up with Repower with ZERO upfront cost to you. They install a solar power system on your roof and agree to sell you the power for ten years for a fixed price that is lower than what you currently pay for electricity. AND at the end of the ten year period you own the system after which time you save even more money. Meanwhile, if anything goes wrong with the system during the contract period it’s not your problem… you only pay for the power it produces. PLUS Repower pays a competitive rate of return to the local, ethical investors who are funding your project (which can include you as the business owner) AND everyone benefits from reduced carbon emissions. What is there not to like about this arrangement? As Linda puts it in the video below, ‘It’s a Win, Win, Win, Win!”

To date Repower has held three investment rounds and funded a total of 219kW of solar systems for a wide range of businesses and organisations in the Shoalhaven area including clubs, churches, bakeries and dairy farms (see the video on the Repower home page for a WIN TV News story about a local dairy that went solar with Repower). These ethical investment opportunities, which are low-risk and offer returns in the range of 6-7%p.a., are available to Repower members only and the good news is that anyone can join (as I have just done) with just a $20 donation. Simply click on the ‘Join Now’ button on the Repower home page if you want to join. The current, two-step sign-up process is a bit clunky but they are apparently working on fixing that.

Repower is now in the process of expanding out of the Shoalhaven area to cover the entire SE region of NSW, i.e. Illawarra, SouthernHighlands, Shoalhaven and South Coast. In fact, I am so convinced about the benefits that Repower offers I have started the process of becoming one of their ‘Solar Mentors’ for the Southern Highlands region. So if you, dear reader, own or operate a small to medium-sized business or organisation in the Southern Highlands (or know someone who does) and would like more information about Repower feel free to contact me via our Contact Page. If you’re in the Illawarra, Shoalhaven or South Coast areas you can contact Repower directly via the following email address contact@repower.net.au and they will put you in touch with a Solar Mentor in your area.

Bad Technology?

In our Newsletter two-weeks ago I wrote about the need for Science With a Conscience and lately I have been questioning whether modern technology is actually improving our lives. So I was fascinated this week to come across this article from Yahoo Finance about world-famous, nobel-prize-winning economist Robert Shiller who thinks that technology is largely to blame for all of the instability in the world.

‘People are worried about technology,’ said Shiller. ‘It’s all of these amazing devices that are out there helping us—they’re great—but the benefits of them seem to go substantially toward a minority of wealthy people.’ As a result, Shiller says advances in technology have led to ‘rising inequality’….’

A report published by the World Economic Forum in January warned that by 2020, more than 5 million jobs in the world’s wealthiest nations could be lost as a result of disruptive labor market changes. A 2013 study by researchers at Oxford University speculated up to 47% of all jobs in the US are at risk of ‘computerization.’

And it’s a ‘problem’ that will continue to persist. Let’s face it; technology isn’t going anywhere. ‘This is the problem, we’re not going back to the 1950s,’ Shiller warns. ‘Technology keeps relentlessly moving forward.’

Bad grammar aside, I think Shiller has a point. Lately I’ve been wondering what the future will look like if computers and robots take over most of the jobs. Perhaps those who own the robots will make a fortune but who is going to pay them? Probably not the 47% of Americans who might lose their jobs. Or there’s this Australian Business Insider article that estimates ‘Technology Will Kill 40% of Australian Jobs by 2030’.

Robot ‘Brickie’ Four Times Faster

One-armed bricklayer coming for a job near you!

One-armed bricklayer coming for a job near you!

Case in point, here’s an article from Australian Business Insider about a robotic bricklaying machine that is four times faster than a human ‘brickie’. The next version of the machine is expected to be 16 times faster. Let’s ignore for the now the argument that brick houses are an inappropriate response to Australian climates and we shouldn’t be building them and focus on the fact that, pretty soon, the good old ‘brickie’ might just be another dinosaur headed for extinction at the hands of robots and computers.

It looks to me like this economic growth train we’re on is headed for a cliff and no-one is putting on the brakes. In fact, politicians and central bankers the world over seem intent on stoking the fire.

Good Technology?

Having written the above it feels hypocritical to now be talking about recent advances in transportation technology but, as Shiller puts it, ‘technology keeps relentlessly moving forward’. This is the dilemma, do we abandon the technology and go back to living on the land? Or do we carry on in the hope that ‘Good Technology’ will come along to save us from ourselves.

For example: there’s this Energy Matters article about a new system for flash-charging electric buses while they are picking up and setting down passengers at the bus stop; or these Gizmag articles about a new Mercedes electric delivery truck that not only reduces pollution in urban areas but is virtually silent; the PV powered aeroplane called Solar Impulse II that has just flown into the record books by completing the first round-the-world flight powered entirely by renewable energy; the US government plans to build a nationwide electric vehicle charging network; or my personal favourite, the souped-up little 1970’s EV that recently broke the world record for fastest street-legal electric vehicle over a quarter mile.

This cute little Enfield 800 became 'The Flux-Capacitor' and took out a world speed record.

This cute little Enfield 8000 became ‘The Flux-Capacitor’ and took out a world speed record.

Okay, I admit that it’s hard to see how the last one benefits humanity as a whole but the others seem promising. And that’s the problem. Each new technology by itself seems to offer short-term benefits. But when you put it all together and take a long-term view of the effects, I’m not sure that we’re actually advancing at all.

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