In ‘Climate change’ Category

QLD gas field

Greenhouse gas footprint

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Do you want to know the greenhouse footprint of Australian gas? Tim Forcey says, “how would we know?”—because no one is keeping track.

Energy and environmental planners like to do calculations and compare alternatives. Questions researchers might explore include: Which is cleaner: electricity made from coal or gas or renewables? What is the greenest way to heat your home, have a shower or cook spaghetti?


But there is a problem when it comes to evaluating the greenness of gas. Such comparisons need to be built on data. And, unfortunately, as we found recently in research at the University of Melbourne, although Australia may produce more fossil gas than nearly every other country, when it comes to digging up information around the greenhouse footprint of Australian gas, particularly unconventional gas, data is in short supply.

The greenness of gas depends significantly on how much is released into the earth’s atmosphere. Fossil gas predominantly consists of methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas—with worse climate impacts than carbon dioxide (see box). Our research found that if just 3% of the produced gas is released into the atmosphere, the climate-change impact of this released methane is equivalent to or worse than the climate impact of burning (and thereby converting to carbon dioxide) the other 97%.

It is critical, therefore, that we know how much gas is released during production and other stages.

Unconventional vs conventional gas
We’ve all heard of fracking and coal seam gas, but it can be easy to miss just how much these ‘unconventional’ gas production methods have escalated in recent years in Australia. There is some real (measured) data on emissions from conventional gas extraction, but these measurements can’t simply be applied to unconventional gas.

Read the full article in ReNew 144.

Artists impression The Paddock 2 600px

Living Building Challenge in Castlemaine

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Central to the Living Building Challenge is design that takes account of much more than thermal performance, such as giving back to the local economy. Sasha Shtargot looks at one of the first projects taking this on in Australia.


When architect Geoff Crosby was approached in 2008 by Neil and Heather Barrett about their plans to develop an eco-housing estate, The Paddock, on their 1.4-hectare site in Castlemaine in central Victoria, he was keen to find a rigorous green design framework.

Geoff had been to a talk at Melbourne University about the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and was impressed enough to do some more research and eventually use it in his own work. The framework appealed because it was thorough in its approach to sustainability and it accorded with his own philosophy of tackling issues like water conservation, community and connection to nature firmly through a local lens: “My perspective is that good things come from the local context—you get much richer solutions that way.”

The LBC “ticked all the boxes” for both him and the green-focused site owners. The building standard, set up in the USA in 2006 by the International Living Future Institute, consists of seven performance areas, known as ‘petals’: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. The aim of the LBC is to create excellence in green design; it visualises the ideal building as functioning as cleanly and efficiently as a flower with many petals.

The standard seeks to create healthy, regenerative and efficient spaces that give more than they take out of the environment, making a positive impact on people and nature. Geoff describes it as “the most rigorous and realistic approach to sustainable design he has found so far.” Sustainability academic (and keen supporter of the LBC, and this project) Dominique Hes notes: “There’s a reason it’s called a challenge!”

Read the full article in ReNew 143.

Drawdown editor Paul Hawken

Drawdown: a plan to reverse global warming

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Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project brings together peer-reviewed science on the “top 100 solutions to climate change”, highlighting the benefits and costs of each. ATA member Tom Hunt met with him recently in Melbourne.

IN February, I was privileged to meet Paul Hawken in Melbourne while we were both touring Australia. I was merely on holidays while the US environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author was presenting the Drawdown project to a large and enthusiastic audience at an event organised by Sustainability Victoria at RMIT.


Drawdown, the book, is Paul Hawken’s latest bestseller, but it is far more than a well-illustrated and readable tome. It represents the combined work of 70 scientists and researchers, and tells an inspiring story of the most important things we can do to combat climate change. It calculates just what we can achieve in terms of greenhouse gas emission reduction by applying the technologies and knowledge already at our disposal. The book is supported by the website, which also presents the data in a very accessible way, gives more information on the methodologies and updates the results as research continues.

Deciding what’s important
So what is the most important thing to focus on in the battle to combat climate change? Is it more important to replace coal with wind turbines, to put solar on every rooftop, to switch to electric vehicles or just to stop eating meat?

This is the type of question many people have posed, but few have properly explored. Back in 2001 Paul Hawken started asking the experts: “Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?” But the experts had no overall picture, only the knowledge within their own spheres of expertise.

Greenhouse gases are at an all-time high. In 2013 Paul was so concerned by talk of the unthinkable ‘game over’, he decided to pull together all the experts he could and work out, for us all, just where we stand on global warming with the options we have.

Read the full article in ReNew 143.

Greenhouse emissions data

Phasing out fossil fuels

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Professor Peter Newman contends that our cities are driving a change which is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from both coal and oil.

IN 2016 the International Energy Agency announced that the world had changed. For the first time in hundreds of years the world was producing less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the year before without this being caused by an economic crisis1. In 2015 the amount of GHG emitted to the world’s atmosphere decreased by around 0.5% while economic growth continued at more than 3%. A few scientists had predicted this, but mostly the fossil fuel lobby had been in complete denial over its possibility2.


As Figure 1 shows, for the first time the industrial world was producing wealth without this meaning more fossil fuels and more emissions. Despite its huge implications for a world that has faced the global climate issue for decades without much good news, the world’s media were virtually silent.

China is now decoupling their economic growth from GHG very rapidly as shown in Figure 2. This provides great hope that the process will now spread to the whole emerging world. China invested $90 billion in renewables in 2015 (more than 60% of their investment in energy), so much of their continuing growth will be based around solar and wind rather than the fossil fuel-based economic growth of the past 15 years.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.


100% renewables – how feasible is it?

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With ongoing discussion by government and media about the effect of renewables on the grid, the ATA’s Andrew Reddaway and Damien Moyse consider the feasibility of 100% renewables for Australia.

THE ATA (ReNew’s publisher) supports a transition from fossil fuels to renewable generation in Australia’s electricity grid.
As well as being important to meet our international commitments to fight climate change, this brings other benefits such as improved local health outcomes, greater energy security and more jobs.


However, as this transition progresses we must ensure the grid remains reliable and avoid economic hardship. How can this be achieved as we approach 100% renewables? This article considers the challenges of relying on intermittent generation, ways to address those challenges and a plan for moving forward.

Read the full article in this month’s longform.

Read more articles in ReNew 138.

”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.


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.


Renewable Energy Superpower

Book review: Renewable Energy Superpower

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Author: Beyond Zero Emissions
Published by Beyond Zero Emissions
RRP $30.00


Australia has been a laggard when it comes to emissions reductions, but with the rest of the world coming to the understanding that the future lies away from fossil fuels, we are set to see some far-reaching changes in not only the energy industry, but the traditional big exports such as coal and natural gas.

Over the next few decades, most countries will shift their energy generation towards renewables. Renewable Energy Superpower looks at what the post-fossil fuel world will be like, where those opportunities lie and how the changing economics of energy generation will affect us all.

The gist of this entire shift is summed up in the Executive Summary: “Every day that passes with uncoordinated development of the energy system adds cost and undermines Australia’s future renewable energy advantage.” We need to move now or risk being left behind the rest of the world and becoming an economic and energy backwater.

Renewable Energy Superpower lays out a plan for making this transition, including National Energy Market reform, cessation of investment in the gas network, promoting adoption of electric vehicles and increasing the efficiency of the nation’s appliances. If you want to get a grasp on what the world’s energy markets and systems will look like in the next decade or two, this report is a good place to start.

Review by Lance Turner
This book is available for order at

For more book reviews, buy ReNew 134.

verandah design for heatwaves

Design for a changing climate: Heatwaves

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Heatwaves are already becoming more frequent, and are likely to increase exponentially as the climate warms. Dick Clarke and Chris Reardon look at how we need to rethink the way we are designing our homes. 


Climate change is with us and no achievable amount of mitigation is going to reverse its effects sufficiently to prevent our need to adapt. Australian houses today are largely designed or modified based on historic climate data, even though we (or someone else) will be living in them for at least 50 years. Quite simply, this approach is inadequate in a rapidly changing climate. While we will no doubt survive the two to three degrees of warming already locked in, we urgently need to re-think our approach to housing to cope with the extremes.

Hotter for longer

Heatwaves of increasing frequency, intensity and duration are occurring in the southern half of the nation and have already killed many hundreds of people. CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology predict that these will increase exponentially. We will not be able to cool or air-condition our way through these crises.

Heatwaves are regional events. When we all cool our homes at the same time, we cause electricity demand to peak and, on top of increasing electricity costs, grid failure becomes increasingly likely during peak demand periods. Homes without an alternative coping strategy will become uninhabitable at best. While those of limited means will likely be most severely affected due to cooling unaffordability and poor home design, comfort moves beyond the reach of everyone when the grid is down.

Australian cities likely to experience increasingly severe heatwaves include Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Launceston and Hobart as well as most south-eastern regional areas. These climates traditionally require significant amounts of heating in winter. Our standard design response to-date has been to apply passive design principles, relying on significant amounts of thermal mass.

This approach allows dense materials to store daytime warmth from the sun and release it into living spaces at night to offset the coolest temperatures in winter, and night purging during summer to take advantage of cooler outdoor temperatures.

As the climate warms and winters become shorter, homes in these areas will require less winter heating and more summer cooling. In many of these climates, night purging via cross ventilation and convection (internal hot air rising and exiting that in turn draws in cooler night air at floor level) would become gradually less effective. During heatwaves, temperatures can remain well above comfort levels all night—thus, eliminating any passive cooling opportunities. Under these conditions, the temperature of the thermal mass would increase substantially and take many days to cool down when a heatwave eventually passes.

While many regions in our southern states will have heating-dominated climates for decades to come (where more energy is used for heating than cooling), the following suggested measures will also help keep homes warm and so are prudent investments.

Read more about the importance of glazing, building design and appliances in preparing homes for heatwaves in ReNew 130.

community energy congress 2014 450 px

People power

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In a year of milestones for community energy in Australia, Craig Memery takes us on a tour of how the ATA is helping projects with the strategies and resources they need.

It won’t come as a surprise to ReNew readers to hear that ReNew’s publisher, the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), is excited about community energy in Australia. Having been the collective owners of the Breamlea wind turbine two decades ago, some ATA members are probably more surprised that community energy is yet to take off here!


There are a handful of groundbreaking community energy projects up and running today, and here are a few of the ways we are doing our bit to help more than 50 communities bring future energy projects into being.


ATA is a founding partner and steering group member of the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE), alongside some stalwarts of the community energy sector. C4CE exists to empower and grow the community energy sector. The Coalition is moving from its formative stages to incorporate new members, with membership and governance arrangements being formalised as this goes to print. Find out more at

With welcome support from ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency), C4CE is developing a national strategy for community energy. This work is being led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures and Community Power Agency, with ATA providing specialist input in areas such as energy policy, markets and regulations. Look out for the strategy, which will be released later this year.

In July, C4CE held the inaugural Community Energy Congress in Canberra, bringing together over 300 community energy supporters from across Australia, as well as international delegates. The event was a resounding success, and I think we will look back on the congress in coming years as a milestone for the community energy movement.

Getting a better deal for local generation

Our friends at Total Environment Centre (TEC) have been working hard to improve the incentives for generating energy that is sustainable, locally consumed, improves competition and minimises burden on electricity networks.

ATA is helping TEC’s work on virtual net metering as a member of the project steering group. We are also advising TEC, who, on behalf of a consortium of NSW Northern Rivers organisations, is on a quest to form a community energy retailer. With the spotlight shone on the poor environmental performance of most energy retailers (see GP-TGEG), a community retailer will not only provide a more sustainable business model, but raise the bar for the integrity of the existing retail sector.

Directly engaging with communities

The support of the NSW Office for Environment and Heritage has been vital in allowing ATA to reach NSW communities and help them progress their energy projects.

Most recently we spent some time with the Cowra community (read more about their project here) and in October we’ll be presenting at the North Coast Energy Forum. Straight after that we’ll be travelling to central NSW to meet with local community energy proponents and speak at the AGMs of the Bathurst Community Climate Action Network and Central NSW Renewable Energy Cooperative (CENREC). With the support of Infigen, CENREC grew out of action that took shape three years ago when ATA ran a series of regional community energy workshops around NSW, so seeing how far they have developed is particularly rewarding.

Energy market advocacy and research

As ATA’s energy consumer advocate, my main role is to promote affordable, sustainable energy for all Australian energy consumers, through more demand-side participation, fairer pricing, better regulation and improved competition. ATA punches well above our weight in the energy policy ring, but with tens of billions of dollars behind incumbent businesses in the red corner, we have a long fight ahead of us. Of course, there are many more ways ATA is supporting community energy—from our groundbreaking research into community scale microgrids to Sunulator. Dive into the rest of ReNew 129 for a closer look at the many projects and resources in the works!

Craig Memery is an energy consumer advocate at the ATA and a specialist in community energy.

Read the full article in ReNew 129.

corena - Tulgeen 7kW 450

Community solar: energy from the ground up

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With support resources now readily available, Taryn Lane from Embark explains how individuals, groups and businesses can work together and benefit from setting up community solar projects.

Already a mainstream model internationally in countries such as Denmark, USA, Germany and Scotland, community solar is about to hit Australia in a big way. There are around 50 active projects in Australia and it is a tangible pathway for all communities—whether they be urban, regional or remote—to participate in transforming their energy supply.


Community solar can take on a myriad of identities, depending on a community’s exact needs and opportunities. From community bulk-buy rooftop models, through to small crowd-funded systems, up to more sizable solar parks, they provide real opportunities for installation efficiencies and more inclusive ownership.

Several models of community-owned solar projects feasible within Australia’s current legislative and energy market boundaries will be explored in this article. Although we can learn from international models, we also have unique restrictions in the Australian landscape that we all need to navigate. Our aim at Embark is to both create innovative business models and collate from the broader sector what’s been learnt from the first generation of systems—thereby accelerating the uptake of, and social licence for, renewable energy in communities in Australia.

Why community solar?

The move to a low-carbon economy requires a magnitude of capital that charity alone cannot provide: community investment with reasonable returns will provide a necessary part of the solution.

There is still a significant portion of the community who can’t invest in solar technology. This includes renters, apartment owners, those living in homes with shaded roofs or heritage overlays, and those who can’t afford to install a residential system on their own home.

Community solar projects enable neighbourhoods to develop and own their own renewable energy infrastructure. It answers the calls for social equity for solar in Australia, as renters, apartment dwellers and low-income households can have the opportunity to make a direct investment in solar PV.

Shared ownership schemes will soon drive significant growth in the medium-scale solar space. A business installing 100 kW on a factory roof will result in the same abatement as a community that installs 100 kW in the same location, but the latter has the opportunity to engage a hundred (or more) community members on an ongoing basis.

Read the full article in ReNew 129.

more wild building design

Enter the eco-city

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Peter Reefman takes ReNew on a tour of China’s changing landscape, where the next 300 cities will be built as eco-cities.

Over the past 30 years, China has grown from an insular country with a predominantly rural population of 1.1 billion to a country with over 1.3 billion people living mainly in cities. In that same time, the proportion of people living below the international poverty line has dropped from 85% to 15%.


This rapid urbanisation and increase in wealth is unprecedented throughout the world. However, the price China and the world have paid is an equally unparalleled increase in pollution and environmental degradation. China has seen toxic pollutants rise to dangerous levels and an explosion in greenhouse gas emissions that is undoubtedly contributing to climate change.

China’s surge has occurred at a time when the world as a whole is reaching pollution and resource limits, along with the ever-growing realisation that human-caused climate change will disrupt the planet’s climate in ways that civilisation may not be able to cope with. In short, like the whole world, China desperately needs to find a way to greatly reduce toxic pollution and greenhouse gas levels, and create healthy places for people to live and prosper.

Enter the eco-city

The threat of climate change has seen pilot environmental settlements, dubbed ecocities, get built right across the world. Well—in Australia the settlements are more accurately called eco-villages, as they typically house up to just 1000 people. Examples include the Currumbin eco-village in Queensland, the Beyond Today project in South Australia and the Cape Paterson eco-village in Victoria.

In China, however, where the scale of everything is staggering, the many pilot projects are certainly eco-cities, places where large numbers of people (hundreds of thousands in many cases) can spend their lives in clean, sustainable built environments.

There are currently no global or Chinese standards for eco-cities to be accredited under, but there are some common goals. As a starter, they’re intended to be places where people can live, go to school, work, shop, play sport, see arts etc; in short, everything that a normal city enables people to do.

Because there are no accreditations to achieve, eco-cities vary in their sustainability specifications and aspirations. But a good ecocity should address many key criteria. These encompass the use of green energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, biodiversity protection, waste minimisation and reuse, sustainable use of water (potable and natural systems), zero-pollution industries, local organically grown food, healthy lifestyles and social inclusion.

Not all eco-cities include all of the above. In fact, very few do. But as more are planned and constructed, the knowledge gained is leading to ‘higher quality’ eco-cities with more sustainability features. This is particularly the case in China, which has the largest number of these projects.

Read the full article in ReNew 127
127 cool-climate build

Cool-climate build

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Designing a house to be as energy efficient as possible is one thing; actually achieving this can be another task altogether. Meg Warren and Fraser Rowe describe their building challenges and eventual rewards.

OUR quest to build a new sustainable home began about four years ago when we purchased vacant land in cool-climate Beechworth in north-east Victoria. We wanted a sizeable block, big enough for rainwater tanks and a small edible garden, but also walking distance from shops, cafes and work. But our most important criterion was solar access. We found just such a block with the added bonus of a well-grown oak to the west, offering summer shade. The real estate agent seemed not to notice these attributes: to them the block was just a problem to sell due to its odd shape and no services.


Shifting from a rural property of 18 acres to an urban block of less than 1000 m2 brought a number of challenges. Our design was limited by council regulations, fences and boundaries, as well as a high, dense hedge on our neighbour’s property to the east.

Design phase

To help us achieve a truly energy-efficient design we engaged building designer Tracey Toohey whom we’d worked with on our previous owner-built rammed-earth house.

Tracey asked us to rate three areas to indicate our level of commitment to sustainability in the build. The first rated our desire for energy efficiency against overall cost. The second, and more difficult for us, assessed the compromise between sustainable materials and efficiency, and the third, between sustainable materials and cost. This interesting exercise helped us clarify our goals.

We worked intensively with Tracey for months, honing the design. Thought went into the glazing type and size to balance it with the floor area, together with the placement, type and amount of internal thermal mass, creation of airlocks, height of ceilings and all the other dimensions that impact on the energy rating. We also allowed for wider than usual walls to fit in more insulating layers beyond the standard 90 mm bulk insulation. Attention was given to the need for summer shading, rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling.

Read the full article in ReNew 127.

Bushfire zone windows and doors

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A recent community workshop helped demystify window requirements in bushfire prone areas, writes Anna Cumming. Listen to the full workshop at

Its communities hit by Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, the Strathewen & St Andrews Sustainable Rebuilding Project recently held the first in a series of workshops designed to help those rebuilding homes and businesses to do it as energy efficiently as possible.


On the topic of windows and glazed doors, the workshop covered design considerations that can have a big impact on the passive thermal performance and energy efficiency of the house, including size, orientation, frame and glazing type and shading. It also addressed the extra issues that need to be considered when building in a bushfire prone area and looked at some windows, frames and shutters rated for use in the higher Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) zones.

Here’s an overview of the workshop’s main points on glazing in high BAL zones below. Listen to the full, highly informative presentations on the ATA website at

BAL zones
A home site’s Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) is determined by a number of factors including the area’s Fire Danger Index (a measure of the probability of a fire starting), the type of vegetation and its distance from the house, and the slope of the land. The recently introduced new building regulations impose more stringent requirements on design and materials as the site’s BAL increases; for the top two levels, BAL-40 and BAL-FZ (Flame Zone), these are aimed at protecting the house from ember attack, a fairly to very high likelihood of direct flame contact and radiant heat up to 40 kilowatts per square metre (for BAL-40) or even hotter.

Requirements for windows in high BAL zones
The requirements for lower BAL zones specify various combinations of frame material, toughened glass or double glazing, and steel or bronze mesh screens to openable windows to prevent ember attack. In BAL-40 and BAL-FZ zones, however, the requirements are stricter.

Read the full article in ReNew 118

The path to energy efficiency

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In ReNew 117 we profile the new Australian Greenhouse Calculator developed by Alan Pears. His journey promoting energy efficiency has been a long one, and here he shares his experiences, and challenges, along the way.

Alan Pears, supported by a range of other specialists, has developed a series of greenhouse calculators for EPA Victoria and other organisations. Alan developed Australia’s first personal computer-based home energy auditing software in 1983. This was used for over 90,000 home assessments carried out by the Victorian Government’s Home Energy Advisory Service from 1983 to 1993, when it was shut down by the incoming Kennett government.


In the mid-1980s he developed a simplified home audit using a mark-sense sheet (like a bigger version of the Tattslotto tickets you mark with a pencil). People simply chose the options for each activity and fed it through the reading machine. An Apple 2e computer processed their data and prepared a personalised report.

In the early 1990s Alan adapted his earlier approach to run on a computer, before the advent of the graphical user interface. In 1996, with funding from EPA Victoria, he, with leading edge programmer Mike Hogan, developed a new graphics-based calculator that operated on an early version of the Windows platform. This was sold to schools but, unfortunately, did not make Alan his first million dollars.

By the late 1990s Alan was ready to take advantage of the advances of dial-up internet and CDs. And the pain of the previous projects had dulled with time. EPA Victoria again stepped forward to fund it. This time, the package included animations, extensive educational resources and two modes of operation. The simpler mode ran on the EPA’s website for many years. The full version released in 2000 was too big to work with dial-up internet, so it was sold through CSIRO Publishing. The team that produced all these resources was project managed by the Curriculum Corporation (now Education Services Australia). A spin-off of the detailed version of the transport component of the calculator was adapted for RACV, and ran on their website for many years; it still runs on the EPA Victoria website, too.

Alan then focused on developing a number of smaller calculators. He worked with the programmers and web designers who had worked on the latest greenhouse calculator, Nectarine, to produce GreenFleet’s TreeTotaller calculator, which estimated emissions from car and air travel as well as household emissions from energy bills. This still operates. He also adapted the household energy component of the EPA calculator to produce the predecessor to the NABERS Home Energy Explorer for the NSW Government.

He also worked on the infamous ABC Science on-line PlanetSlayer calculator, again with Nectarine, and with ABC personality Bernie Hobbs. The PlanetSlayer website included games (see how easily you can destroy the Earth), animations, and a calculator, developed by Alan using data from the University of Sydney’s Institute for Sustainability Assessment. After answering 12 questions, users would get feedback on how long they could live their lifestyle and not exceed the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions of an average human. This meant many Australians found they had short lives in the calculation. On the other hand, if you cut your emissions below net zero (by storing carbon and investing your money in activities that cut other people’s emissions) you could ‘live forever’ and you became a cute little piglet with wings that flew off to a wonderful future!

After running very successfully on the ABC Science website for some years, it was discovered by a conservative parliamentarian, who accused the ABC of encouraging young children to commit suicide. The publicity led to an enormous increase in the numbers visiting the calculator. By then, the calculator was somewhat dated, and with the tight budgets of the Howard government era, funding for an update could not be found. So the PlanetSlayer was slain.

In 2007, Alan was approached to develop an updated version of the Greenhouse Calculator, to run on-line and take onboard the many developments in household activities. He was convinced it was time to create ‘the mother of all calculators’! Little did he realise the agony this naive goal would lead to for him, and just about everyone who worked on the project: they all contributed far more than they were paid. EPA Victoria again led with funding, which was topped up by Sustainability Victoria and Education Services Australia, who also project managed the team. And here it is! A bit late but, through the serendipity of life, launched just at the right time to help people respond constructively to the introduction of a carbon price!

Click here to download the full version of this article, which includes details on how the Australian Greenhouse Calculator works.

A shortened version of this article originally appeared in ReNew 117.


Going solar big time and fast

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The shift to 100% renewable energy by 2020 could be a reality according to a new report, writes Fiona Armstrong.

If the politicians are to be believed, switching to clean and renewable energy in Australia is something that will take decades. We currently don’t have any major incentives for industries to make a transition away from fossil fuels, and only minor policies are so far in place to encourage fuel switching.


But is it all as hard as the coal and oil lobbyists and parliamentarians would have us believe? What about our abundant solar and wind resources in Australia? How fast can they be developed?

Pretty quickly, according to a new report from Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and Melbourne University’s Energy Institute. In fact, it is possible for Australia to make a transition to 100% renewable energy in Australia in just ten years.

Launched in August the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Plan (ZCA2020) has attracted some serious attention. Endorsements range from the International Energy Agency to former Chief Scientist Robin Batterham and Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty.

Beyond Zero Emissions Director Matthew Wright says the endorsements reveal the unique nature of the report and the failure of governments to undertake vital planning on Australia’s inevitable transition to a renewable energy supply system.

“The overwhelming support for this plan from industry and experts is due to its science-based approach and the fact that it is not about half measures. It is about directly addressing the problem which is that a rapid transition to a zero carbon economy is needed if we are to avoid further and even more dangerous climate change,” said Mr Wright.

Read the full article in ReNew 113

A smart grid is coming

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With a smart grid demonstration project planned for Newcastle, Miguel Brandao explains how smart grids work and what they mean for consumers.

Smart grid is a term that is becoming more and more en vogue in the power industry circle. Not only are utilities attracted to this new concept but governments see smart grids as a way to increase both energy efficiency and energy security, as well as reduce carbon emissions.


The Federal Government recently announced Newcastle as home to the Smart Grid, Smart City demonstration project, with a consortium led by Energy Australia securing the tender. Up to $100 million has been committed to the project which will deploy a live, integrated, smart grid of commercial size and scope in the Newcastle area, with parts of the trial also conducted in Newington, Sydney’s CBD, Ku-ring-gai and Scone.
According to the Federal Government, spreading the demonstration project across urban, suburban and rural areas helps represent the wider grid so that the results can inform future smart grids in Australia.
Smart grids explained
So, what exactly is a smart grid? Definitions and interpretations abound, but it basically means linking telecommunications and IT to the energy world to automate the network in a way that better balances the demand and supply of energy. One can be tempted to compare the coming of Smart Grids to advances in the telecommunications sector in the last 25 years.
A Smart Grid collects real-time data from existing power infrastructure components as well as sensors and meters to better understand what is happening in the electricity grid. From this information energy demand and supply can be adjusted according to criteria such as efficiency, carbon reduction and power quality maximisation.
Real-time processing of this data allows the grid to make faster and better informed decisions. Further, smart grids allow new services such as sending real time consumption information to users and demand response, and enable the seamless integration of renewable energy, electric vehicles and other novel energy resources.
Power co advantages
For electricity utilities, smart grids allow better monitoring and control of all parts of the grid such as increased automation, faster decision-making and actions for restoration of energy supply during an outage, as well as faster isolation of faults and dispatch of repair crews. This in turn will help lower down time for customers.
Another conceptual advantage of smart grids is their ability to match electricity demand to supply and improve the efficiency of energy production, which is important with more renewable energy contributed to the electricity grid, which can sometimes be subject to variable supply. Thus, a smart grid may allow for matching demand to supply using load shifting devices such as energy storage systems and consumer behaviour strategies such as demand response programs and time of use tariffs.
For consumers, more and more is said about consumer empowerment and active participation in the power system. Basic empowerment is giving real time energy usage feedback such as which appliance is using how much and allowing the consumer to make changes in the way energy is used at home. Further, the consumer can respond to grid needs or market conditions. Householders can respond to different hourly power tariffs or demand response programs, where consumers are encouraged by their utility to shift or curtail their loads during high demand times such as hot summer days, and benefit financially for that.
Additionally, the consumer can also become a power producer, such as when they install grid-connected solar panels at home.
Potential problems
There are immediate advantages associated with smart grids, however, the mass adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles will definitely put pressure on power systems. The electricity grid is still a centralised structure, where large central generators dispatch power to captive and immobile consumers along the distribution grids. Further, transmission and distribution grid devices were not designed for dual power flows, resulting from customer power supply. Therefore, mass adoption of these technologies may have consequences for the grid in terms of power stability and protection, and these risks will need to be managed.
Electric vehicles will also put a lot of pressure on utility systems. If a large number of EVs are allowed to charge at any time, then there’s likely to be higher peak demands and the need to reinforce the grid with more (and expensive) peaking generators and upgrade the transmission/distribution devices for greater peak power flows. However, if recharging is ‘smartened’ then EVs may charge at the time most suitable to the grid. Furthermore, if EVs are touted as an enabler of the decarbonisation of the transportation sector, then their mass adoption will be followed by the mass adoption of renewable energy. If solar and wind are major contributors, then their variable supply requires the grid to react quickly to match supply and demand and maintain grid reliability and stability.
‘Smartening’ the grid can happen in the areas of generation, transmission, distribution and on the consumer side. Utilities already have energy management systems in place to manage generation and transmission, so the distribution and consumer side will be given the most attention in order to reach a fully ‘smart’ power system.
Large investment in the deployment of new sensors, new communications and IT platforms to facilitate the flow of information, and new control and management platforms to process the gathered data and take necessary management decisions will be needed to smarten the grid. These renovations will enable further interaction between utilities and their customers, including the deployment of new services such as demand response. However, this investment will need to be significant.
There are other complicating factors. Vertically integrated utilities can make the investments and collect the benefits. But in very fractioned markets (where retailers, transmission and distribution companies, generating companies work individually), accruing the costs and benefits of smart grid investments across stakeholders will be challenging.
Further, some benefits such as carbon reduction are difficult to capture without adequate regulatory measures. Current regulatory regimes in general are not designed to get the most energy efficiency, despite market competition (where it exists) or include an increasing number of consumers/producers. Yet, in a resource constrained world, and where carbon is important and consumers are looking for lower power costs and more energy security, regulators and utilities will have to work together, with consumers, to design innovative power regulations that enable these goals.
As well as the smart grid trial in Newcastle, the United States has committed $3.4 billion for Smart Grid trials, and Europe, China, Korea and Japan are also have similar projects. Thus, smart grids are becoming a reality. Let’s trial smart grids so that the technology is tested, consumers participate and the cost benefits of different business models are assessed.

Miguel Brandao is Smart Grid Technical Solution Leader for SE Asia at GE Energy, Singapore. Miguel also worked with ATA in 2007 on a rooftop solar PV systems survey.
This is a bonus article not found in the printed version of ReNew magazine.
This Danish wind farm is half-owned by a co-operative

How to start a wind farm

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There’s a lot to consider when planning a community wind farm. Dominic Eales guides us through a few of the vital stages.

More co-operatives around Australia are looking towards community wind farms for a local and sustainable solution for their energy needs. Taking this path certainly has rewarding benefits including reinforcing community unity, although it can be a maze of challenges, both technical and regulatory. In this article we’ll investigate some of these challenges and those who have sailed through them.


Best wind farm location
When looking for the right site for your community wind farm a number of different criteria need to be taken into account. For starters, you don’t need a perfectly placed X on the map, but rather an area to be investigated. Although the site should be relatively windy, this is not the only thing to look out for so let’s have a look at a few other factors.
Being a community project, the visual impact and proximity to homes in relation to noise and shadow flicker should be seriously considered. It is best for everyone if the location of the wind farm has the minimum negative impact possible for the people of the community, thereby maximising the benefits of your positive, community-building project.
Another important aspect is how much it will cost to connect the wind farm to the grid. Although it may seem that setting up the wind farm on the windiest hill is the best idea, if that hill is far away from the 3-phase, high-voltage power line then the cost of getting your renewable energy to an appropriate grid connection point may significantly increase the costs of the wind farm. Even if there is a power line nearby that has the right voltage and phase, it should also be checked for connection capacity before deciding it is up for the job.
Also, how easy is it to get to the site? Is there a road nearby? Large trucks carrying the wind turbine blades, tower sections and the crane will need to get to the site easily and most often an access road will need to be built. Basically, that very windy hilltop you’ve got in mind may just be too difficult to get to, so it might be better to have a site with lower wind speeds but easier access.

Read the full article in ReNew 113

The tanks are just one component of the solar hot water systems.

Eureka! From coal to solar

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One clever Latrobe Valley enterprise is helping workers switch to low carbon employment, writes Sasha Shtargot.

Drive east out of smog-bound Melbourne along the Princes Highway and before long you are in the haze that perpetually sits in the Latrobe Valley.
Pitted with brown coal mines, the valley has long been in the firing line as the dirty heart of Victoria’s power generation system. It is home to Hazelwood, the most polluting power station in Australia, pumping out over 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.


Yet the area that has long depended on jobs from brown coal has started heading in the opposite direction—towards a manufacturing base in clean technology. More precisely, the making of solar hot water units.
Eureka’s Future, a co-operatively run factory, is set to start operating next year with 50 workers in Morwell. With the support of Dandenong manufacturer Everlast and Douglas Solar, it will produce stainless steel tanks with Solar Mio flatplate collectors, Grundfos pumps and Bosch boosters. By the end of 2011, it is expected to be making 500 solar hot water units a month. With rebates and including installation, a Eureka’s Future gas-boosted tank will cost country homeowners $2655 and city dwellers $2755. And it will come with a 10-year guarantee.

Read the full article in ReNew 113

Climate Change White Paper Positions Victoria as a Strong Leader On Climate Change

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Monday, July 26


The Alternative Technology Association (ATA) applauded the Victorian Government’s release of  its Climate Change White Paper today.

“This White Paper sets a new climate change policy and action benchmark for Governments in this country,” said the ATA’s Chief Executive Officer Ian Porter.

“The combination of a broad coverage of all emitting sectors, the depth of the regulatory and fiscal tools used, and the strength of the emissions target, make this announcement stand out amongst climate change policies in Australia.”

The ATA was particularly pleased to see a firm and legislated target for emissions.

“Given that we’ve had trouble getting a commitment to a 5% target federally, the Victorian Government’s commitment to a 20% reduction by 2020 is a very pleasing step.”

“Coupled to measures in the White Paper such as the strong energy efficiency target through the doubled Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) program and the 5% solar target beyond the national Renewable Energy Target (RET), we’ve got some very serious emissions reductions being locked in.”

“The White Paper sets a target which would be 34 Megatonnes below business as usual by 2020, supported by a strong Climate Change Bill,” Mr Porter added.

Policies on renewable energy and energy efficiency were also particularly pleasing.

“Energy efficiency remains a crucial policy direction often underutilised by governments, but the Victorian Government is exploring some very strong commitments here such as the retrofitting of existing homes to an average five star standard.

If done effectively this will deliver substantial social outcomes, such as reduced electricity bills and better standard of housing, as well as reducing emissions. And this need not be expensive, as ATA members have demonstrated for thirty years.”

Taking a national perspective, the ATA sees the Victorian Government’s approach as one which should be followed and hopefully exceeded by other states and territories.

“We would love to see other Governments emulating this approach – strong emissions reduction targets, a feed-in tariff for large scale solar, mandated energy efficiency targets and an aggressive program of building retrofits,” said ATA’s CEO Ian Porter.

“With a lack of action from the Australian Parliament it is time again for the states and territories to lead.”

“Above all, we need Governments to work with communities to help people make change.There is consensus around the need for climate action, and people need to see a strong direction, firm targets and serious commitment from Governments – as we’ve seen today from the Victorian Government.”

“In the long run we will need to make even deeper cuts, but this is a huge step towards that future.”


A plan for a green future

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The Alternative Technology Association has produced a comprehensive list of recommendations on how to address climate change. Here’s to a low carbon future.

Most ReNew readers would probably welcome more government assistance to do their bit for the environment. Rebates are always a good incentive, as are feed-in tariffs for grid-connected solar households. From working with its active member base, the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) has made a list of  what can be done to address climate change at a government level, with a strong focus on empowering households.


The recommendations were initially prepared for the Victorian Government Climate Change Green Paper, however, a copy has been sent to all state and territory leaders.

The Green Paper outlines the state’s role in complementing a national Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, describes how Victoria can take advantage of a low carbon economy and also proposes ways to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The next step will be the Climate Change White Paper, a result of all the information and ideas put forward during the public consultation process. This charts the way forward for the next decade and beyond.

The ATA’s submission made 16 recommendations based on research, consultation with other NGOs and, most importantly, the experience of members and supporters in working towards sustainability.

The main message is that individuals and communities need help to achieve sustainability and respond to the climate emergency. This conclusion rests on the following three themes, which are explored in separate sections of the submission.

Read the full article in ReNew 110.