In ‘People’ Category

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ATA member profile: Spreading the word on sustainability

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Long-time convenor of the ATA’s Perth branch, Travis Hargreaves tells Anna Cumming about his experiences in the retail solar sector and his real passion—educating people on sustainability and equipping them with the knowledge to continue the conversation.

ORIGINALLY from Melbourne, Travis Hargreaves took off around Australia on his motorbike when he was 20. “I went here, there and everywhere, then I ended up in Perth and met my partner, and the rest is history.” Travis has been in Perth ever since and is a stalwart of the sustainability movement there.

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“I always had an interest in sustainability and the environment,” says Travis.

Ten years ago he decided to get proactive and do some study in renewable energy; the TAFE in Perth didn’t offer a dedicated course, so instead, Travis was one of just two students that year who undertook a Diploma in Electrotechnology, which covered renewable energy as one of its four subject areas.

At the same time, he started up his first solar business: “The market was small at the time. I provided solar system design, sales and installation services for three solar retailers,” he explains. In 2010 he set up a solar retailer that services Perth and southern WA with solar and battery storage system design and installation.

Travis has far more on his plate than simply running his business though. When the ATA’s Perth branch was set up, Travis got involved and was swiftly asked to become the convenor, a role he’s held since 2009.

Through the activities of the ATA branch, Travis has become a sought-after speaker on sustainability and it’s this educational role that inspires him the most.

“Consumers are wanting to get past the talking and have the information to take action,” he says. “I started talking about energy efficiency and the importance of making those changes before investing in solar. Then I developed presentations on the basics of solar panels and battery storage, then about three years ago I started promoting electric vehicles, and now vehicle-to-grid technology.”

“I like my audience to leave inspired but also frustrated and wanting to push for change; I try to give them the knowledge to continue the conversation. Rather than bombarding them with technical information, I provide them with arguments for why we should be heading down this path so they can have conversations with their neighbours and explain the benefits—to living costs, local job creation and, of course, the environment.”



Lobbying for renewables and the jobs that go with it at the Rally for Renewables in Perth in 2014.


Travis has been involved with several other environmental advocacy groups. He was the WA branch president of the Australian Solar Council in 2014 and 2015, and instrumental in the 2014 Rally for Renewables campaign in Perth which brought together a host of organisations to lobby for legislation favouring renewable energy.

He’s also proud of a successful joint campaign to protest and reverse the WA state government’s decision to remove the solar feed-in tariff in 2013.

While Tony Abbott was prime minister, local representatives from both the Australian Solar Council and Clean Energy Council met with Liberal senators in WA to discuss local renewable energy and the potential benefits to the community.

It was useful education for Travis. “I think we were successful to a certain extent, but I also became aware of how the politics around renewable energy worked. They understood, but were toeing the party line.”

Travis is quietly keen to keep on pushing for change. “I got involved with the ATA because of its independent voice and its mission to provide information to the community. That’s what I continue to do today—use my knowledge to educate and influence people and inspire them to take action.”

This member profile is published in Renew 141. Buy your copy here.

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Tassie off-grid home

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Given their distance from the nearest power pole, it made sense financially as well as philosophically for this Sydney couple to go off-grid in their new home in Tasmania. Peter Tuft describes how they went about it.

As we approached retirement my wife Robyn and I knew we did not want to spend the rest of our lives in Sydney. Sydney’s natural environment is glorious but it is also much too busy, too hot and humid in summer, and our house was too cold and hard to heat in winter. We had loved Tasmania since bushwalking there extensively in the 1970s and it has a lovely cool climate, so it was an obvious choice.

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We narrowed the selection to somewhere within one hour‘s drive of Hobart, then on a reconnaissance trip narrowed it further to the Channel region to the south. It has lush forests and scattered pasture with the sheltered d’Entrecasteaux Channel on one side and tall hills behind—just beautiful. And we were extraordinarily lucky to quickly find an 80 hectare lot which had all those elements plus extensive views over the Channel and Bruny Island to the Tasman Peninsula. It was a fraction of the cost of a Sydney suburban lot.

The decision to buy was in 2008 but building did not start until 2014 so we had plenty of time to think about what and how to build. We have always been interested in sustainability, and renewable energy in particular, even before they became so obviously necessary: my engineering undergraduate thesis in 1975 was on a solar heater and Robyn worked for many years on wastewater treatment and stream water quality. There was never any doubt that we would make maximum use of renewable energy and alternative waste disposal methods.

From the beginning we knew the house would be of passive solar thermal design. The house sits high on a hill (for the views!) and faces north-east. The main living room is entirely glass-fronted, about 11m long and up to 4m high with wide eaves. That allows huge solar input to the floor of polished concrete. A slight downside is that there is potential for it to be too warm in summer, but we’ve managed that with shade blinds and ventilation and so far it has not been a problem. All walls, floor and roof are well insulated, even the garage door, and all windows are double-glazed. Supplementary heating is via a wood heater set in a massive stone fireplace chosen partly for thermal mass and partly because it just looks awesome. Warm air from above the wood heater convects via ducts to the bathroom immediately behind the chimney, making it very cosy indeed.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

powerwall

Australia’s first Powerwall home

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Nick Pfitzner and family are the proud owners of the first Tesla Powerwall home in Australia. Nick Pfiztner describes their configuration and the lessons they’ve learnt so far.

Our household had the privilege of the first Tesla Powerwall installation in Australia (maybe the world, they say). It has been a very interesting experience so far, and we’ve learnt a lot about what makes the house tick from an electricity point of view.  I’ve also had the opportunity to discuss the energy generation landscape with several organisations developing similar energy storage technologies.

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As a self-described Elon Musk fanboy, I became seriously interested in energy storage for our house after the Tesla Powerwall launch in 2015. I knew about other home storage systems, but mostly associated them with lead-acid systems and off-grid enthusiasts. We had previously got a quote for an off-grid AGM lead-acid system at one point, but we didn’t have the finance or space to make the BSB (big steel box) happen at that time.

However, by late last year with our finances more in order, we decided to take the plunge with the Powerwall. We chose Natural Solar as the installer. They had advertised themselves as the first certified installer of Powerwall in Australia and helped guide us through the options available.

We opted for 5 kW of Phono solar panels with a SolarEdge inverter and, of course, the Powerwall, for a total cost of $15,990 installed.

And add Reposit grid credits

Natural Solar also informed us about Reposit Power, a software package designed to maximise the benefits of home storage for the consumer. In a nutshell, Reposit is a software-based controller for the entire system. It learns the household usage patterns, gathers weather forecast data and interfaces with the inverter to make decisions about import or export of energy based on two important concepts:

Tariff arbitrage. This is the practice of switching to a time-of-use grid tariff and charging the battery at times advantageous to electricity pricing. This may occur when solar PV generation predictions for the next day are poor or where energy storage has been used up overnight. In either case, off-peak power can be imported for use the next morning.

GridCredits. This is an ARENA-supported project to investigate the use of intelligent storage and distribution of power via consumer-level battery systems, with the aim of reducing network infrastructure costs in future. Consumers are rewarded not through feed-in tariffs based on intermittent solar generation, but rather guaranteed power delivery from the battery. When the wholesale market for electricity is especially high, the electricity retailer discharges electricity from the battery into the grid, paying the consumer $1 per kWh.

These two factors could assist with the financial equation, so we figured it was worth the add-on cost of installing Reposit—an extra $800 at the time.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

Renewable energy courses

Renewable energy courses guide

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We’ve updated our renewable energy courses guide ready for enrolment time. You’ll find the table of courses—from TAFE certificates to postgraduate degrees—here. In the article, Anna Cumming has a look at what’s new in the industry.

IN the two years since we last published a review of the renewable energy courses available in Australia, things haven’t all been rosy for the renewable energy (RE) industry. Months of uncertainty at federal level over the national Renewable Energy Target, funding cuts to climate-related science, and the scaling back of feed-in tariffs for solar generation have all contributed to a reduction in the size of the industry.

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The latest available Clean Energy Council (CEC) figures put the number of people employed in the wider RE industry at 14,020 for the financial year 2014–15, down a big 27% from the peak of 19,120 in 2011–121. However, the CEC puts some of this contraction down to a consolidation of the small-scale solar industry to more stable and sustainable levels. It also notes that RET legislation was passed right at the end of the reporting period, and since then confidence has grown: “The mood across the industry is upbeat in 2016, and it is expected that job figures will begin to grow once project development begins in earnest again under the RET in the coming years.”

David Tolliday, Renewable Energy Training Coordinator at Holmesglen in Victoria, shares this feeling. “The initial RE boom [homeowners taking advantage of rebates and premium feed-in tariffs to install solar PV] has passed, and the solar install industry has settled to around 4200 accredited installers—a good sustainable number,” he says. “The big opportunities now are in bigger-scale stuff like commercial solar, and battery storage on grid-connected systems.”

So, how to get involved? For those wanting to get into the industry or upskill, there is a wide variety of training and courses to choose from, from undergraduate and postgraduate university courses in engineering or focused on broader energy strategy, to hands-on solar design and install certificates offered by TAFEs and private registered training organisations (RTOs), and even free online MOOCs (massive online open courses). See our previous RE courses guide in ReNew 129 for a comprehensive look at the types of courses available, prerequisites and typical training pathways; here, we look at what’s new since 2014.

Download the table of renewable energy courses here (130KB).

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

mooroolbark

Neighbourly sharing: mini-grid in Mooroolbark, community battery in WA

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Neighbours in the Melbourne suburb of Mooroolbark are set to share their energy generation via a mini-grid in an Australian-first trial run by AusNet Services. Eva Matthews finds out what’s involved.

IN AN Australian first, network provider AusNet Services is currently rolling out a solar + storage mini-grid trial in Mooroolbark, in Melbourne’s east.

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Of the 16 homes on the chosen street, 14 will each have between 3 and 4.5 kW of solar panels and a 10 kWh battery storage system installed, with a cloud-based monitoring and management platform to optimise power flows across the mini-grid and to provide demand management support to the network.

The two-year trial was announced in April and was made possible with funding from the Demand Management Innovation Allowance. Participants don’t pay for the equipment and, at the end of the trial, get to keep their panels and inverter (but the control system and battery storage go back to AusNet Services).

As at end August, all houses have solar panels, inverter and battery storage installed, enabling data gathering on energy generation and usage patterns. The control system should be in by end October, which is when testing can begin in earnest. Testing will include deciding when to charge and discharge the batteries, and at what rate, based on current and forecast customer usage and PV generation as well as the network requirements. A single objective (e.g. minimising the overall peak demand on the mini-grid) can be implemented in a number of ways, so they will be developing and testing different approaches. The stabilising device and switching equipment that enable the mini-grid to be islanded (isolated from the rest of the network) will be installed towards the end of this year.

The group of houses will operate as a mini-grid from a control and electrical point of view, but the metering and billing arrangements are unchanged. To enable financial offsetting of one participant’s generation against another’s usage would require different meters to be installed—with a parent meter for the mini-grid and sub-meters for each house—so instead they will be modelling the potential financial effects.

Two households were unable to participate in the trial; however, this will provide fortuitous real-world data for where there is less than 100% opt-in—testing how the mini-grid can serve the energy needs of these houses without having their energy contribution in the mix. AusNet Services’ Distributed Energy and Innovation Manager Justin Harding explains, “Those houses will simply appear as extra loads in the mini-grid. For example, if we are trying to reduce the net demand of the mini-grid to zero at the connection point to the main grid, all houses would need to export a small amount of energy to offset the non-participants’ load.”

Simone and Joel Beatty make up one of the households participating in the trial. When they purchased their home five years ago, Simone says they noticed that a lot of the new houses being built were having solar installed, and it was something they were interested in, but hadn’t been able to afford. So when AusNet Services came knocking on their door with news of the trial, Simone says they were “definitely excited.” As well as looking forward to seeing how it all works, and the impact on their electricity bills, Simone says they have also benefitted from the information provided by AusNet Services—how they can log in to a web portal to monitor their electricity usage and ways in which they can be more energy efficient. She says they have “definitely already altered some behaviours.” And not only has there been an educational side effect of having the technology installed, it has given the neighbourhood something in common to talk about and get excited about. Simone says “everyone seems very positive about it” and adds that friends and family are jealous!

This trial follows a three-year battery storage trial by AusNet Services that tested how residential batteries can reduce customer’s maximum demand for electricity and support the network. Justin Harding says that there will likely be an “evolution of trials” into the future. This Mooroolbark trial has a strong customer learning and technical focus; the next step could be a larger project with more of a commercial focus, looking at how best to structure finances and customer agreements.

Tech used in Mooroolbark mini-grid:

  • 3 kW of panels (JA Solar) per house, except where customers had existing PV systems
  • 10 kWh lithium ion battery storage (LG Chem) per house
  • 5 kW battery inverter (Selectronic
    SP Pro) per house
  • Peak Response Unit (GreenSync) per house—a communications device for optimising power flows, includes 3G modem that talks to the main control system and battery inverter
  • cloud-based control platform (GreenSync’s MicroEM)—runs forecasting/optimisation calculations to enable locally generated/stored energy to be shared between homes, based on the needs of individual houses and the needs of the mini-grid
  • a separate 3-phase inverter and Toshiba battery system from Power Technology to keep the mini-grid stable when in islanded mode
  • switching cabinet with circuit breaker and protection relay to transition the mini-grid to/from the main grid, supplied by EIV.

Aims/benefits of the trial:

  • test how mini-grids can support the network, e.g. to better manage peak demands, reduce risk of system overload, defer capital expenditure
  • optimise value of the assets both for customers and the network, e.g. getting full value from battery storage when customers are grouped and there is one overriding control system versus single households exporting/importing energy to/from the grid
  • better understand household generation and usage patterns to help determine payment structures and tariffs, and test how energy self-sufficient a community can be
  • test potential for an uninterruptible power supply, i.e. where homes can be islanded, either individually or as a microgrid, and stored energy used if the grid goes down
  • investigate the performance of new methods to identify and mitigate electrical faults in a 100% inverter-based supply environment.

Best of both? Community battery trial in WA

A CUTTING-EDGE residential battery trial underway in the new Perth suburb of Alkimos allows residents to generate solar electricity and benefit from access to a ‘virtual storage’ battery system.

Led by local energy provider Synergy, in collaboration with Lendlease and LandCorp, the project involves a utility-scale grid-connected 0.5 MVA/1.1 MWh battery energy storage system located on-site in two shipping containers.

It has a number of aims: to reduce energy bills for participating households and improve network efficiencies by ultimately reducing connection costs. However, the most interesting and important aspect of the trial is Synergy’s ‘time of use’ billing product called the Peak Demand Saver plan.

The plan works by offering a three-part tariff for network energy, with different energy charges for peak daily (4 pm to 8 pm), off-peak day (midnight to 4 pm) and off-peak evening (8 pm to midnight). The time-of-use energy tariffs are designed to encourage households to minimise consumption and maximise returns on their solar PV investment—but without the need to invest in their own battery storage.

This new-style product means Alkimos residents pay a fee each month to have access to the community-scale battery storage. Those who store solar credits during the day draw on them first during the peak daily period, and then for the evening off-peak without incurring any additional costs, in much the same way they would their own battery.  During the day households use their own solar energy.

“It’s everybody’s battery to use. Customers pay $11 per month to use it, and then we calculate their usage over a 60-day billing period,” said Synergy.

“Anything they put into the batteries is theirs to draw on at peak times at no additional charge. And whatever they have left in the battery after the 60-day billing cycle is purchased from them at a 7 cents per kWh [feed-in tariff] rate. Because it is ‘virtual’ storage you can pretend it is your own battery, it’s just your neighbours are pretending it’s their battery too.”

So far, 65 residents have opted to participate in the trial since it began in April 2016 with the aim that 100 households will take part over the four-year trial period. Before residents join the trial, Synergy analyses their historical consumption to ensure the tariff suits their usage patterns.

“However, we’ve already had customers who want to participate even though they are not necessarily going to be better off, because they want to be part of the first shared battery trial in Australia,” said Synergy.

The trial will cost around $6.7 million and is backed with a $3.3 million Australian Renewable Energy Agency grant, and when launching the trial ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said community-scale battery storage held great promise. “A new [housing] development like this might actually need less of a connection, or a smaller connection [to the electricity network]. That means lower costs for those people that are buying new lots and less investment into poles, wires and transformers,” he said.

For more info: www.synergy.net.au/Global/Alkimos-Peak-Demand-Saver-plan

Read more on microgrids in ReNew 137.

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ReNew Photo Challenge winner

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From sustainable transport to power systems to forest regeneration, the entries in our photo challenge were inspiring and gorgeous.

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It was tough picking a winner among so many excellent entries. In the end, we felt the winner epitomised the spirit of the challenge and of ReNew—a thoughtful combination of action and technology supporting sustainability. Elizabeth Wheeler wins a FLIR thermal camera, kindly donated by Reduction Revolution. Thanks again to all the entries and we hope to use more of these photos in upcoming ReNews!

WINNER: Valuing everyday acts

This is a photo to represent our acts. The way I see it, we can have whizz-bang technologies and buildings, but only by our actions do they actually make a difference. That beautiful double-glazed, highly sealed window on the south side of our house just frames a pretty view; it’s only when I open it that it becomes a passive cooling device and makes a difference to the amount of energy our household consumes. In this image, I wanted to value everyday acts that make a difference. Our shoes are for walking, our GoGet and myki passes are our secondary transport choices, our vegies are from our gardens, our eggs are produced by chooks who subsist mostly on scraps that would otherwise turn into methane, our FairFood invoice represents local food production, and our ATA membership card stands for information and activism. I couldn’t find my FoE membership card, but that should be there too! Of course, they are sitting on a lovely slab of low-embodied energy concrete, which provides the thermal mass to keep our house warmer in winter and cooler in summer! — Elizabeth Wheeler

Read more photo challenge entries in ReNew 137.

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From engineer to activist: a renewables industry is born

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ATA member Trevor Berrill has been involved in the renewables industry in Australia since it began, as an engineer, academic, trainer and ‘alternative technologist’. He gives a personal take on the slow emergence of an industry.

My own interest in alternative technology sprang from disillusionment with the engineering education I’d received at QUT in the early 1970s. It was a time for challenging the establishment, but engineering seemed all about fostering the status quo. I worked as assistant to the maintenance engineer in a coal-fired power station near Ipswich, and also down Mt Isa Mines. I saw and smelled the pollution, and I wasn’t impressed.

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I entered an essay competition on energy futures run by Engineers Australia. My essay outlined a decentralised power system run from renewable energy. I came second in the competition. The winning essay promoted the status quo, more fossil fuels.

There had to be a cleaner, greener way. With Friends of the Earth, I was involved in activism, campaigning hard against nuclear power. But I thought we shouldn’t just be against something; we had to present an alternative energy future.

Then I was given a copy of Radical Technology, edited by Godfrey Boyle and Peter Harper. Therein lay the foundation of a future I could believe in—renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, organic food production and sharing resources in self-sufficient, ecologically sustainable communities.

Defining alt tech
It was one of those editors, UK scientist Peter Harper, who coined the term alternative technology, to refer to “technologies that are more environmentally friendly than the functionally equivalent technologies dominant in current practice.” Peter went on to be a leading researcher and educator at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, a centre that’s been showcasing sustainability since 1973.

Birth of an alternative technologist—and an industry
I went on to become a technical officer at the University of Queensland in the mid-1970s, and there I worked for leading academics in renewables research, Dr Steve Szokolay, a solar architect, and Neville Jones, a wind energy researcher. We tested solar collectors and built low-speed wind tunnels, an artificial solar sky and controlled environment rooms. In my spare time, I became an ‘alternative technologist’ at home, building solar water heaters, pedal-powered contraptions and small wind generators—perhaps in common with many ATA (ReNew’s publisher) members!
Then I got invited by Adrian Hogg, owner of Alternatives to work part-time designing and installing small PV systems throughout south-east Queensland. Adrian was a founding member of ATRAA, (the Appropriate Technnology Retailer’s Association of Australia) along with Stephen Ingrouille and Tony Stevenson (Going Solar in Melbourne), Brian England (Self-sufficiency Supplies, Kempsey) and Sandy Pulsford (Solaris Technology, Adelaide).

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

green_roof

ATA member profile: We heart Tankulator

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From studying environmental science, to working in the urban stormwater sector, to installing an intensive green roof on top of her home, ATA member Claire Hanley talks to Sarah Coles about community engagement with water.

Claire Hanley is an environmental scientist working with Marrickville Council in the urban stormwater sector. She works with the Waterevolution team and manages small infrastructure projects and the urban water education program, which includes workshops on water-sensitive urban design and rainwater harvesting. The three-part water-sensitive design series has a hands-on component: “In part three we go to someone’s house and build a stormwater treatment device. It’s usually a rain garden, but we’ve done wetlands and greywater systems as well.”

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A few years ago Marrickville Council ran water workshops in five languages (Arabic, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Mandarin and Greek) at the library with the Ethnic Communities Council. Claire makes an interesting point: “Often people from non-English-speaking backgrounds come from countries where water hasn’t been readily available and has been considered a real resource. They’re really aware of water issues because they lived with not having water on tap.”

Marrickville Council are soon to launch a program aimed at helping residents to stencil the slogan ‘We are all Cooks River People— water in drain flows to the Cooks River’ on top of the drains, to alert people to where their stormwater goes.

The council is known for its rain gardens, and one suspects Claire has a lot to do with this. The Scouller Street rain garden was completed with the Cooks River Alliance in 2015, and it has transformed the dangerous, hot and polluted intersection. The council worked with the community to design rain gardens on either side of the road with a sharper turning angle to slow down traffic.

They had a community planting day last year: “We had over 50 locals turn up on a Saturday morning to plant out the gardens.” A University of Western Sydney microbiologist has been doing research into pollution reduction at the site and the test results are encouraging.

Claire and her husband have also completed an eco renovation of their 1920s semi-detached house. “The rear of the house had a tin roof,” says Claire, “and was boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.  So we demolished the back of the house and rebuilt with a green roof on top.” The green roof keeps the house cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Additional benefits include reductions in both impervious surfaces and the urban heat island effect.

They needed extensive engineering assistance to design/install the green roof, as it weighs so much; council regulations required engineering diagrams. It has a deep soil profile of about 350 mm and includes a drainage system. The roof was lined with a waterproof liner and the soil pumped from a truck onto the roof.

The result is a 45 m2 intensive green roof, planted with natives which have proved effective in providing habitat. A student at Macquarie University conducted a biodiversity study using Claire’s green roof, favourably comparing the amount of invertebrate activity on green versus conventional roofs. Claire adds, “Our neighbours like it because their verandahs overlook our roof. We’re making their day better!”

Claire became an ATA member because of a love of Tankulator, the ATA’s online rain harvesting calculator. She says, “We always recommend Tankulator to people in our council rainwater workshops. “And it is great getting ReNew magazine,” she adds.

This member profile is published in ReNew 135. Buy your copy here.

”The future is bright fellow women of renewable energy.” Miwa Tominaga delivering a rousing speech at the
2015 All Energy Conference. Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Council.

The double-glazed ceiling: Women in renewables

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When asked why it is important to have a gender balanced cabinet, Canada’s Prime Minister replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Sarah Coles looks around in 2015, wonders why Australian women are under-represented in the renewables sector and speaks with leaders in the field about ways to address the imbalance.

LAST month the Clean Energy Council (CEC), the peak body for renewables in Australia, held a Women in Renewables lunch as part of the All-Energy Conference in Melbourne. The lunch was organised by Alicia Webb, Policy Manager at the CEC. Roughly 20,000 people work in the renewables sector in Australia. Men outnumber women in all fields: solar, wind engineering, energy efficiency, hydro, bioenergy, energy storage, geothermal and marine. At the 2015 Australian Clean Energy Summit hosted by the CEC there were 93 speakers, 11 of whom were women.

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Women are generally under-represented across science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, of the 2.7 million people with higher level STEM qualifications in 2010–11, men accounted for around 81%.

There are myriad reasons for the low numbers of women in renewables. Gender disparity starts early with cultural stereotypes and lack of encouragement from teachers. Around 25% of girls are not doing any maths subjects in their last years at high school. When I was in year ten and acing science, my biology teacher said to my mother, “Sarah is good now but her grades will suffer when she starts noticing boys.” Returning home my mother (holder of a science degree) delivered a succinct verdict, ”Mr P. can get stuffed.” But discrimination like this is still common.

Some people think a change in governance is needed; that if there are more women in leadership roles this will have a trickle-down effect. As of 2014, women made up 21% of the Rio Tinto board and 22% of Qantas. Stats like these are often bandied about as examples of progress but to my mind if you take a big piece of pie and cut it in half you end up with two equal portions, not one piddley 22% sized piece and one 78% chunk. I decided to speak with some women at the top of their game to find out what should be done to even up the portions.

Miwa Tominaga

Miwa Tominaga knows what it is like to face gender discrimination at work. Miwa’s first full-time job was as the only female electronics technician at a radio transmitter site. She moved to Victoria to pursue a career in the sector, first working as a CAD drafter for electrical building services and then landing a job in renewables doing technical support at a company that manufactures electronic solar charge controllers. While she was working she studied renewable energy through an online course. When she provided phone support, hearing a woman, people would often ask to be put through to someone technical.

Later, installing solar panels at Going Solar, a woman said to Miwa, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you do know what you are doing, don’t you?” The answer is a resounding yes. Miwa won 2014 CEC’s awards for ‘best install under 15kW’ and ‘best stand-alone system’. She currently works at a solar inverter manufacturer doing sales and tech support: “because it’s a worldwide company there are lots of opportunities.”

When I ask Miwa about discrimination she says, “A lot of women have experienced renewables being a male-dominated industry.” Miwa gave a speech about it at the CEC lunch. “I think it makes a huge difference if you’re working with men that see you as an equal not as an assistant. There have definitely been times when I have been judged for being a woman, especially by customers.” But she says that most of the time people are very supportive or indifferent towards her gender. “They say, ‘Oh wow, you’re gonna get on the roof by yourself!’”

Miwa thinks a top-down approach is a game changer. Danish legislation requires companies to work actively towards gender equality. It is one of the countries that has legislated for quotas around female board representation. Norway passed a law in 2005 requiring companies to appoint boards that include at least 40% women. Malaysia passed a law requiring female board representation of at least 30% by 2016. Miwa thinks Australia needs quotas too. “Start from the top at the board level. I do some volunteering for Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and I know that they make sure the board is about 50% women, 50% men. It makes a difference when they start at the top. It sets an example and really gives women opportunity.”

Emma Lucia

Emma Lucia felt empowered by encouraging teachers at school, and went on to study Mechanical Engineering and Arts at Monash University. Emma says she became interested in renewables when she was at university and studied abroad. “When I was finishing university everyone went into either automotive, mining, or oil and gas. My first job was actually supposed to be as a mining consulting engineer! I remember sitting in an environmental engineering class, which I did as an elective in my final year of university and thinking, ‘Is this [mining] what I really want to do with my life?’ I wanted to have a positive influence on the environment not a negative one.” The mining consultant role fell through and Emma worked as a building services engineer doing environmentally sustainable designs. “Through that I knew energy is where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in renewable energy. I could see that that would be a game changer.”

Early on in her career she felt constrained by the attitudes in the male-dominated engineering field. “In one company the more interesting work was often offered to my male colleague ahead of me,” says Emma. She found support, though, from other colleagues, who refused to see her sidelined. But it was difficult having to fight such battles, and in the end she decided a sideways transition was needed. “I now work in a more people- oriented role, but still using my skills, and in a renewable energy company. It’s been a good move,” says Emma.

She believes that having support mechanisms within organisations is a crucial step in overcoming discrimination. Emma says that “sometimes women may be a little bit more self doubting” so support from the organisation can help. “Also you need to trust yourself and trust in your abilities and really back yourself.” She adds, “Find a mentor or trusted advisor or someone you can bounce ideas off of who can help you cut through when you have problems in your career.” Emma thinks a key to gender diversity is to network with like-minded women and to get more women on boards, “I’m on the board of the Australian Institute of Energy and I actively look to increase the diversity of our committee members and speakers. I feel very strongly that change doesn’t happen in isolation.”

Katrina Swalwell

Dr Katrina Swalwell is a senior wind engineer and former Secretary of the Australasian Wind Engineering Society. After school, Katrina was all set to go into science at university but happened to do work experience at CSIRO with an engineer who said, “Why don’t you go and become an engineer and get paid more for doing the same job?” She completed a Science and Mechanical Engineering degree followed by six months study in Denmark looking at wind turbines. At university, about 20% of the undergraduates in engineering were women. “The vast majority of my fellow students were really supportive, nice guys. I had one case where a guy complained openly that I got better marks than him because I was a female. My friends and I just laughed because I did preparations for the pracs and he never did, so we thought that might have a bit more to do with it.”

Katrina says that, while she has always been supported in her career, most of her female friends who went through in engineering are no longer working in technical roles: ”The opportunities aren’t necessarily there. There are more opportunities in management or other things. They’ve gone into a whole variety of roles, a lot of them technically related, like one is a patent lawyer and one does electricity market modelling; she would call herself a modeller rather than an engineer now.” It isn’t all doom and gloom: “I think renewables is a great industry in that it is relatively new so there isn’t that entrenched resistance to females in the roles.”

Katrina says flexibility is key to attracting more women to male-dominated roles. For example, in Denmark there is state-supplied childcare. “The company that I work for is German. They’ve got laws now where there is six months paternity leave just for the father, so it has really prompted guys to take some time out.” Taking time off becomes more accepted for everybody as a result.

Katrina says girls need to be informed about their options, “If I hadn’t had that mentor when I was in year 12, I probably wouldn’t have been an engineer.” Like Miwa and Emma, Katrina sees boards as an important catalyst for change. “I’ve been involved in the women on boards group. They encourage women to consider taking board roles. They provide a service for companies that are looking to increase their gender diversity.”

Mentoring, support for diversity, workplace policies that support flexible working hours, baseline measurements and representation targets are some of the ideas for tackling the under-representation of women in renewables. At last year’s All-Energy Conference there were only three women speakers out of a total of 30. We still have a long way to go but change is afoot. The Clean Energy Council has introduced a policy of no all-male panels at the 2016 conference.

The renewables industry in Australia is working hard to accelerate the advancement of women but it needs to get gender equality targets enshrined in law. We need to address gender pay gaps, prioritise the issue and create accountability. We often hear politicians speaking about renewables targets but the time is ripe for them to address the issue of gender targets across this booming sector because, as Emma puts it, “Renewables are going to play a significant role in Australia’s growth so encouraging diversity in renewables will ensure better outcomes for the future of our country.”

Lego v Barbie

Miwa: “I was definitely a Lego kid. I ended up playing with a lot of my brother’s cars and stuff. I think my Mum stopped buying me Barbies because I didn’t play with them!”

Emma: “I did have a Lego kit and another one of my favourite toys was my Barbie Ferrari car.”

Katrina: “I had a Lego technical kit, the one with motors, so I could play with that. I was encouraged to explore whatever I wanted to do but I think my mother was still very surprised when I chose to do engineering

Image: ”The future is bright fellow women of renewable energy.” Miwa Tominaga delivering a rousing speech at the
2015 All Energy Conference. Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Council.

 

Collecting Rubbish in West Java

Peak plastic: The proliferation of plastic

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Dorothy Broom tells a personal story of the history and sociology of consumer plastics. She is 70 years old; her lifespan encompasses the development and proliferation of petroleum-based consumer plastics.

MY training is in social science, not natural science or chemistry, so I won’t try to tell you anything about marine biology, biodegradation versus photo-degradation, how big the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become, or why we have minute plastic beads in toothpaste and face wash.

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When I was a child, we had practically no modern plastics—certainly no single-use plastics. I remember food packed in plant-based cellophane, waxed (not plastic-coated) paper, alfoil, glass and cardboard. Grocery bags were paper. Food and beverage containers were returned and refilled, including the metal pie plates from the local bakery. Drinking straws were glass, metal or cardboard. Take-away drinks were sold in glass bottles or metal cans or cardboard cups with no lid. I remember getting my first few plastic bags in the 1960s which were scarce and robust so we washed and dried them so they could be reused. Cling wrap was around, but it was an expensive luxury. If anybody was concerned about pollution or harm from plastics, I didn’t know about it.

By the late 1960s there was an awareness of air and water contamination. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I knew about air pollution from personal experience. Rivers in industrial areas were catching fire. After university, I read books such as The Population Bomb (1968) and Limits to Growth (1972) and began to worry about what we humans were doing to the planet. I joined small, grassroots community organisations which lobbied for environmental protection, retaining deposits on beverage containers and municipal recycling. One group took a field trip to the local tip. It was deeply disturbing to see the astonishing quantity of potentially useful material being discarded by a university town of only 30,000.

My activism on environmental issues continued after migrating to Australia in 1971. I was part of a team that prepared a research paper on beverage containers for a parliamentary inquiry. I sewed calico bags for friends and was naïve enough to think that threats to the environment were the result of ignorance. I thought that when the potential hazards were documented and better known the problems would disappear. The task was to raise consciousness. For me, plastics remained an occasional convenience but were not yet on my radar as a particular concern.

Around the 1990s I noticed that plastic was everywhere, including in a lot of places it didn’t belong such as waterways, around the necks of sea turtles and in the gullets of pelicans. Always a lover of the ocean and its inhabitants, I found the images of dead and suffering marine life enormously distressing. Efforts to ban plastic six-pack rings (seen to be a significant culprit) provoked push back from the plastics and packaging industries.

Read the full article in ReNew 133.

132_comm_solar

Local, clean, green: The new generation

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ATA intern Ashleigh McMillan fills us in on the latest community energy projects driving change in Australia’s renewable energy mix.

Several communities around Australia have taken up the challenge of going 100% renewable, and many more are crowdfunding solar on schools, community centres, pubs and more. Community energy is infectious it seems!

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One of the driving forces behind that growth is the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE). Formed in June last year, with the Alternative Technology Association (ATA, ReNew’s publisher) as one of its founding members, C4CE is a coalition of organisations all aiming to assist or develop local community renewable energy projects.

A key stepping stone towards that has just been released by C4CE: the National Community Energy Strategy. This document provides a snapshot of what’s happening now in Australia’s vibrant community energy sector, alongside an examination of future potential. It includes recommendations on community energy models, funding and regulatory reform. An important aim of the national strategy is to create an environment that encourages innovation and new funding models for community energy—something the ATA is deeply supportive of!

For those looking into launching their own community energy project, the strategy includes a detailed appendix (Appendix E) on behind-the-meter solar models—those where the solar energy generation is used on-site rather than being exported to the grid. The appendix provides case studies of successful projects and, more broadly, an analysis of the challenges and costs faced by community energy projects, and how they can be addressed. It also includes an interactive decision guide to assist with working out the model most appropriate for your project (see sample at right).

The Coalition for Community Energy’s Nicky Ison says she hopes the national strategy “will help create a framework for and culture of collaboration between all organisations interested in growing a community energy sector in Australia.”

Read the full article in ReNew 132.

jp

A passion for information

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Jenny Paradiso is an ATA business member. Green at heart, her solar installation business began after helping out family and friends with buying their solar systems, writes Beth Askham.

Suntrix is a South Australian solar installation business started by Jenny Paradiso and her husband Dave Hille in 2009. It’s been growing rapidly ever since and so far they’ve supplied and installed over 10,000 kW of solar.

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Their interest in renewable energy came long before the business. Jenny says a reason they initially started Suntrix was because they were greenies at heart and wanted to make a difference. “It was about making solar accessible, helping people understand how solar works and how every person can make a difference.”

Suntrix began when they decided to install solar themselves and couldn’t find the information they needed. It motivated them to do their own research to find a system they were confident investing in. It didn’t take long until friends and family asked them to install their systems and Suntrix was born. Initially, both Jenny and Dave kept their day jobs as a librarian and network engineer while they worked on the business from the kitchen table in the evenings.

Jenny and Dave became subscribers to both ReNew and Sanctuary magazines when they were thinking of building their house. These plans were put on hold, however, when they mortgaged the land to start the business. Luckily the risk paid off and Suntrix has grown from its small beginnings to a company with a turnover of $11 million in the last financial year.

The company now employs 25 staff with both in-house installers and long-term subcontractor teams. Most staff are trained in solar installation as Jenny believes everyone who works for them should understand their business. This means they have a high proportion of electricians on the staff, including the Chief Business Officer. Even the team’s solar designer has a CEC accreditation for installing solar for both off grid and on grid.

When discussing the barriers people face when installing solar, Jenny thinks that a confusing marketplace is a major one: “There are so many companies and so many products, not all of which are equal,” she says. It certainly makes it hard when you need to make sure the products you use are good quality. “When you buy solar you are spending a minimum of $2000 to $3000 and you want to make sure that investment will last.”

There are also great differences in the deals offered by energy providers so solar customers need to shop around. Jenny advises people to install solar first as changing retailers can delay your solar installation while you wait for your meter to be read. One interesting element of Suntrix is that they design products themselves, including an energy monitoring system called myWatt. Jenny says that monitoring your system’s production and your energy use is important to make sure you are getting the most out of your panels. “We come across people every week who have invested in solar and have no idea if their system is working to its full potential,” she says, giving an example of a system where a cockatoo had chewed through a cable, disabling half the system.

Jenny points out that Suntrix encourages people to keep track of their energy use and aim for energy efficiency instead of suggesting they buy a bigger solar system. “We focus a lot on educating people about energy use in the house. We wouldn’t go in and suggest that they get a massive system as we don’t believe it will help them in the long run. Also, if you have a good understanding of your energy use patterns then you’re going to be more likely to make behaviour changes.”

It’s not just residential properties that are installing solar; Suntrix has installed solar for many churches around Adelaide and in the last six months they have seen a surge in commercial solar installations. So far their commercial installations include wineries, a large mushroom farm and a yoghurt company. “It’s a no brainer for businesses to install solar,” says Jenny.

timor

Light up Timor Leste tours

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It’s not just about providing solar lighting—the Light Up tours provide training for local technicians and could help start up a solar industry in Timor-Leste. Dave Carlos from Timor Adventures describes the company’s latest tour.

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Over the years, many of us have taken to gifting a goat, a fuel-efficient stove or even a mozzie net to someone who needs it. While these gifts bring much-needed resources, sometimes I get to thinking about the details: Where does the recipient of the goat live? How will the goat get to them? What did the recipient do with the goat?

The Light Up Timor-Leste tours are a hands-on approach to answering such questions. You travel to Timor-Leste, pick up a solar lighting system, go to a village, take the system to someone’s home, meet them, put the system in, flick on the lights and the questions are answered. This is what I call ‘extreme gifting’.

Timor Adventures is a small Timorese tour company. Our professional background is in community development, and we created Timor Adventures as a means to improve economic development in the outlying areas of the country.

Many people who came on our tours expressed a desire to do something practical and sustainable to support this new nation. In response, we approached the Alternative Technology Association (ATA, ReNew’s publisher) with the idea of doing what have become known as the ‘Light Up’ tours.

The model is simple: we provide all the on-ground logistics and liaison with the villages, the people who come on the tours donate the funds to purchase the equipment, and the ATA along with its local training partner CNEFP Tibar provide the hardware and technical skills.

In 2013, we installed solar systems in two schools, one on the far side of Atauro Island and the other in the mountains outside of Baguia. This year, we installed systems with a solar panel and three lights in 20 homes in the villages of Buibela and Lena, in the Baguia area.

From concept to installation 

Moving from the concept to installing the solar systems involves a few steps.

Finding the right villages

Many villages in Timor-Leste are now, or soon will be, on the recently completed power grid. We decided to find villages that are not connected and are never likely to be.

Making sure it is truly sustainable

To ensure the systems are maintained and the batteries can be replaced when needed, it is important that there is a small, regular contribution of funds from the recipients of the systems. Equally importantly, these funds need to be held and managed by a respected person in the community.

Finding people who want to participate in the tour

The idea doesn’t work unless there are people who want to participate and are willing to donate the necessary funds. The 10 people who came on our most recent tour were a wonderful and adventurous bunch. Of them, Roz and Paul came on the first Light Up Baguia tour, Helen toured with us a couple of years ago and has also ridden around the whole country on a motorcycle and, at 15 years old, Violetta was our youngest Timor Adventurer yet.

Choosing a system and getting the equipment

The systems include a 20W panel, three LED lights, a regulator (designed and developed by an ATA member) with three light switches and two batteries. Other required equipment is a box for the batteries, plywood to mount the regulator on, wire to fix the solar panel to the roof, and cables and connectors to wire everything up. The major challenge in Timor-Leste is time; some parts needed to be shipped from Australia, taking three to four months, depending on the shipping schedule.

Learning about the system and meeting the technicians

We commenced the most recent tour with a visit to the CNEFP Tibar training college (a bit like a TAFE), just outside Dili. There, we met the three local technicians who would be leading the installation. This was a significant moment, the first time local technicians, trained by the ATA, would lead the installations on a Light Up tour. We were treated to a tour of the training facility, lunch and then a briefing about the installation process.

Getting there is half the fun

When I hear the term ‘remote village’, I have a mental picture of the destination, but not the journey. The village we were travelling to was indeed remote and we had a lot of people and equipment to get there: 16 people, three 4WDs and four motorcycles.

We first travelled to Baguia and stayed the night. Getting to our final destination, the village of Buibela, was supposed to take another two hours, but, due to weather and the challenges of the terrain, it took over four hours.

When we finally arrived at Buibela, we were greeted by the local villagers with a traditional welcome and dancing. Their hospitality could not have been greater.

Preparing for the installation

We aimed to install a solar system in 20 houses across the two villages of Buibela and nearby Lena. The villages are spread out in small clusters of houses, ranging from a 20-minute to a two-hour walk from where we were staying. Because of the additional time we had spent getting to the village, we only had one day to complete all the installations. We started stripping wires, cutting plywood and dividing up the equipment. People split into three groups, each headed by a local technician, and set about completing a number of installations.

Installing

It was a long but fulfilling day. It went something like this: we would go to a house where the owner was expecting us, conduct the installation and be offered coffee and something to eat. At the end of the process, the lights would be tested and the technician would give the handover instructions.

My most enduring memory is of a woman who lived by herself in a small three-room house with a dirt floor. When the technician was showing her the system he showed her one of the lights and its switch. She asked him if she could turn it on again. He explained that you can turn it on and off whenever you want. He then showed her the other switches and each light in turn. He then said you can turn them all on at once and proceeded to show her. “All on at once!” she said.

The story does not end there 

I think all of us on the tour grasped both the significance of what we had achieved together and the planning and effort that was required to do it. It was great that there were now solar lights in 20 homes, but our attention quickly moved to sustainability—how to keep the lights on.

There are three kinds of activities to support this: a technician will visit in the next six months to see how the equipment is performing, local people will be trained to do basic troubleshooting, and a system has been put in place to contact the technicians to repair or replace the equipment when needed. I, like everyone in the group, am looking forward to hearing how these steps progress.

If you want to find out more about the work the ATA has been doing in Timor-Leste, see www.ata.org.au/IPG. If you think you might be interested in a Light Up Timor-Leste tour, please see our website: www.timoradventures.com.au.

ReNew proof reader Stephen Whately

An eye for detail

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Stephen Whately is ReNew’s dedicated proofreader and long term member of the organisation. He talks to Beth Askham about his favourite places and zero carbon house.

Every word in ReNew (and there are a lot of them) has been read and re-read before it reaches your eyes. With a coffee in one hand and a pen in the other, one person in particular has pored over every page, searching carefully through text and tables for errors. There are very few spelling or grammatical mistakes that escape Stephen’s eagle eye.

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Stephen comes into ReNew HQ, the ATA office, with dependable, regular timing, two to three weeks before each issue goes to print. He bravely volunteers his time to make sure the ReNew that reaches you is not studded with errors. He has been proofreading ReNew’s pages for around eight years and has become a valuable and indispensable member of the ReNew team, contributing not just proofreading expertise but also technical knowledge, a dry sense of humour and article ideas.

Stephen’s knowledge of sustainable technology extends to his home where he has a 1 kW grid-connected solar system that exports more than the low 1.6 kWh he uses (on average) each day. He also has a separate 400 W stand-alone system, incorporating an old 12 V Telstra battery bank he picked up from a scrapyard in Bairnsdale. Many of his appliances, including his TV and radio, employ 12 V plugpacks, so the appliances can connect to the battery bank.

Being a lover of detail, he writes his energy consumption down in a spreadsheet from daily readings from his inverter. Gas use and petrol consumption are also written down in the spreadsheet and he then totals them all up for the month, converting everything to kilowatt-hour equivalents. At the end of each month he comes out mostly in the negative thanks to his solar panels. It’s really a very thorough, exact system. In his own words: “I take things too seriously; it’s dreadful.”

The north-facing back of his house has a passive solar extension that he built himself and in the backyard he has fruit trees, a veggie patch and not a single scrap of lawn.

When not proofreading ReNew or sampling the classical musical offerings around Melbourne, Stephen might be removing the weed sea spurge from Wilsons Prom or the southwest of Tassie, where he recently took part in a program that has largely eliminated sea spurge from 600 km of coast.

If you come into the office you might see him, and if you do, bring him a coffee or perhaps some vegan sorbet, because he deserves it.

This article was published in ReNew 127. Buy your copy here.