Jun 21, 2015: Happy Winter Solstice!

Today is a cheerful day for anyone in the Southern Hemisphere who pays attention to the movement of the sun. It marks the point in the year when the sun is lowest in the sky. When you live in a Passive Solar House you tend to notice these things. It’s a happy day because it’s also the shortest day of the year. From now until Christmas the days will get longer and longer. Unfortunately they won’t start to get warmer and warmer for quite a while yet but at least we’ve got more sunshine to look forward to.

Sustainable Ozzie Prefab ‘Ecoshelta’


The ‘West End Beach House’. Just one of many possible variations to the ‘Ecoshelta’ prefabricated sustainable home concept.

This week I came across an interesting Australian prefabricated home concept called ‘Ecoshelta’. Developed by architect Stephen Sainsbury, Ecoshelta homes are designed and built in modular pods that can be combined in an infinite number of ways to create buildings that minimise waste, are designed to fit into standard containers for transportation, and are very quick to erect on site. They utilise an advanced aluminium alloy frame with interchangeable infill panels which allows for customisation to particular site conditions. Below are some excerpts from their website

‘Ecoshelta e.Pods and Bigpods are high quality, high tech, sustainable, architect designed, prefabricated, modular buildings.

They are extendable, demountable, relocatable, robust and long lived….state of the art, practical and environmentally responsible buildings.

The system with suitable options can be used across the continent from the alpine south to the cyclones of the tropical north.

The practice aim is to achieve the highest possible aesthetic return for the lowest achievable ecological impact.’

Costs are estimated on their website as being anywhere from $55,000 for a single ‘pod’ fully fitted-out up to $340,000 for a full, six-pod house.

My first concern from looking at the photos on their website was the amount of potential air-leakage through the large number of sliding doors and windows. In the colder parts of the country you would have to be careful not to end up with too much air leakage but I guess you could choose to use more insulated panels and fixed windows and fewer sliding panels for better air-sealing. I was also worried that there could be excessive heat loss through the aluminium frame so I emailed Mr Sainsbury to ask him about this and received the following response…

‘We are an Australian based company and most of our buildings go to warmer climate areas.  We have an alpine package of extras with extra insulation seals and double and triple glazing options available.  The package also has a thermal break internal skin insert elements for the alloy exposed areas if really required.  Our Marine grade structural high density high strength aluminium custom formed profiles are all hollow sections. Certainly an issue in places like Canberra and the western slopes and alpine Tasmania.
Roof we can do up to R7, and high infra red reflectivity zincalume and aluminium with twin skinning natural Venturi effect ventilation for hot climates.
Walls native R3.5 composite panel and extra layers for the alpine kit.  13mm HD plasterboard for internal thermal mass at low cost and phase change salt pod virtual thermal mass panel inserts for high cost alternatives.
Floor insulation native R3.5 composite panels with bamboo flooring over.’
So it sounds like they’re generally more suited to warmer parts of the country but that they can be adapted to cope with colder climates. There are a lot of potential benefits to a prefabricated building system and there are quite a few companies making prefab homes in Australia. Most of them, including the Ecoshelta, seemed to be aimed at the higher end of the market which is interesting because, in America, it’s the other way around and prefab homes are generally the cheapest and nastiest option available. Hopefully here it will work like Tesla’s marketing plan which started out making electric cars for the high end and is working towards making a lower cost option available to a much broader market. It would be nice to think that, some day, everyone will be able to afford a quality home with excellent environmental credentials that can be erected on site in just a few days, adapted very easily, and eventually taken away and used somewhere else.

The Pope Acknowledges Climate Change but Ignores Population

In an action that will no doubt see him excommunicated from Tony Abbott’s Christmas Card List, Pope Francis has come out strongly in support of action to curb climate change. As noted in this report from ABC News, the Pope’s call for ‘decisive action’ has been hailed by supporters as ‘a potential game-changer in the debate over what causes global warming and how to reverse it.’

Unfortunately, like the rest of the world’s leaders, the Pope has shied away from any discussion of how population growth might be contributing to environmental destruction. Instead he lays the blame at the feet of inequality and over-consumption. Certainly if we are to seriously tackle climate change we have to deal with those glaring issues but surely we also have to acknowledge what this article from The Guardian calls the ‘two whopping Elephants in the Basilica‘ those being the status of women in the world and the growth of population. As long as we are being led by economists and religious leaders who believe that the survival of their institutions depends on growth in population we are all in trouble. When was the last time you heard a politician or a preacher say that we need to have fewer people on the planet? I’m guessing never.

Until we get serious action on the population issue we will only be dealing with part of the environmental problem. And unless we get much smarter, more courageous leadership and voluntarily make the necessary changes, my guess is that the changes will be made for us in ways that we won’t like one little bit. Populations will be reduced… economic growth will be curbed… as Swami Beyondananda so wisely said, ‘There will be peace on earth, I’m just not sure that humans will be here to see it’.

The Swami also said, ‘the best way to illuminate the darkness is to make light of it‘…. good reminder.

Abbott Under Pressure

In what I see as good news, Tony Abbott is apparently coming under increasing pressure to pull his head out of the sand and do something about climate change. As reported in this article from The Conversation, ‘Australia as been singled out as a climate free-rider by an international panel led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan‘. …

But that’s more than enough about politics and religion…. here’s something much more interesting and positive.

This little vehicle is powered by evaporation

This little vehicle is powered by evaporation

Turning Evaporation into Motion

According to this Gizmag article, scientists at Columbia University have developed a way of using bacterial spores to harness the power of evaporation and turn it into motion. Basically, spores expand in humid air and contract in dry air so, if you stick the spores onto some tape and then repeatedly expose the tape to wet, then dry air you can create a sort of ‘evaporation-driven piston’. By harnessing the repeated expansion and contraction of the tape you can turn evaporation into motion. The motion can then be used to power a generator or propel a vehicle. It’s a fascinating concept which so far has only been applied on a very small scale. It will be interesting to see if it can be scaled up into some sort of useful renewable energy source.

I wonder if we’ll ever find ourselves debating the status of spores in the world. Are spores living creatures? Do they have feelings? Is it wrong to stick them to a piece of tape and harness their swelling and shrinking for our own energy-craving benefit? Stand up for spore’s rights now before it’s too late!

The Moto Pogo one wheeled electric transport device

The Moto Pogo one-wheeled electric transport device

Another One!

In last week’s Newsletter I featured the amazing Ryno uni-cycle/Segway type thingy… I don’t know what to call it… you can’t call it an electric bike because ‘bicycle’ implies that it has two wheels… anyway it looks like a really fun way to get around. And now I find out there’s another one. This one is called the ‘Moto Pogo’ and is under development in Canada. Apparently a Kickstarter pledge of CAD$2,200 will get you one which will go 25km/h for about 30km. Not as far or as fast as the Ryno but about half the price. I wonder how long before we start seeing these in Australia. They will certainly turn heads when we do. You can see it on YouTube at the following link…



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