In ‘Upfront’ Category

It’s getting hotter

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New research in the Journal of Climate shows that the past 60 years in Australia have been the warmest in the past 1000. Lead researcher Dr Joelle Gergis of the University of Melbourne says: “Our study revealed that recent warming in a 1000 year context is highly unusual and cannot be explained by natural factors alone, suggesting a strong influence of human-caused climate change in the Australasian region.”

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The study’s conclusion comes after examining 27 different natural climate records, such as tree rings, coral and ice cores, and processing them 3000 different ways “to ensure that the results were robust.”

In approximately the past century, temperatures in Australia have increased 0.75°C, with each decade since 1950 becoming warmer than the previous one.

Clean Energy Week

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Clean Energy Week is Australia’s largest event for the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. It incorporates Australia’s largest solar event, ATRAA, a trade exhibition, schools program and events for the general public.

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Clean Energy Week, which will be held in Sydney this year from 25 to 27 July 2012 (so it’s really only three days), is hosted by the Clean Energy Council, Australia’s peak industry body. The focus this year is “achieving 20 per cent by 2020”. The week will feature the latest on policy initiatives and technology developments, and will provide industry members with plenty of networking opportunities. Attendance fees are $1700 plus GST for CEC members or $1900 for non-members.

www.cleanenergyweek.com.au

The Volt finally coming to Oz

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The Chevrolet Volt is quite an impressive electric vehicle. While having a rated range of a modest 80km on electric power only, it is the only EV currently available with built-in range extension via a high efficiency petrol engine, which effectively eliminates the biggest perceived problem for potential electric car buyers—range anxiety, or ‘running out of juice’.

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It’s been available in the USA for some time, but Australia has yet to see the Volt on our roads. That is set to change later this year when the first Volts arrive for sale to the general public.

Sales of the Volt in the USA have been rather lacklustre, seemingly due to the high purchase price—a definite problem in a country known for its low car prices. The same problem may well be prevalent here, with the price expected to be in excess of $60,000.

But it’s early days yet for the EV industry, and the public are yet to understand the advantages of EVs in general, and range-extended EVs like the Volt in particular. Education is the key to moving cars away
from petroleum-only energy sources. If the average comment on the many car forums is anything to go by, EV manufacturers have got their work cut out for them, as it seems the public understand very little about EVs or range-extended vehicles.

www.holden.com.au

Photo: Jeff Chandler

NSW wind draft guidelines released

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The New South Wales Government released its draft wind farm guidelines late last year for public exhibition until mid March. ReNew takes a look at some of the issues around the guidelines.

Despite having what are already some of the most rigorous guidelines in the world, the draft includes tougher rules on sound levels, required community engagement and a new process around neighbour consent.

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Although the wind industry will welcome the increased focus on community consultation and engagement, some parts of the requirements will result in more arduous and expensive developments, and in the worst case, could stagnate the industry in that state.

The government is responding to community concerns, which range from the age-old visual impact, to newer worries about health effects, as described in ReNew 116’s story on last year’s Senate Inquiry into wind farms. There have been cases where wind farm developers have not done enough to engage with local people and this has resulted in stress in some communities. Yet, some wind farm developers are excellent at engaging with the community, and the wind industry as a whole is currently working on lifting their game and developing a best practise guideline for community engagement.

The most controversial change to the Victorian wind farm guidelines in 2011 was the effective granting of veto rights to protect neighbours living within two kilometres of a proposed turbine. The new guidelines in Victoria have arguably damaged the wind industry in that state, resulting in less investment and less jobs.

The NSW guidelines seek to soften that veto and instead propose a ‘gateway’ process for consultation of neighbours within two kilometres of a proposed turbine. The choice of a two kilometre zone to trigger this process is arbitrary. In fact, last year’s Senate Inquiry into Wind Farms found that ‘the application of scientific measurements for sound and for shadow flicker to alleviate problems for wind farm neighbours may be preferable to prescribed setbacks. Prescribed setbacks are arbitrary and may be too great or too small.’

The new planning guidelines specifically require investigation into health, despite the fact that Friends of the Earth used the Freedom of Information act in January this year to reveal that NSW health officials had advised their own government that there are no direct links between wind turbines and health.

The major issue to consider is the effect tougher guidelines may have on electricity prices for consumers. Bloomberg New Energy Finance spokesman Kobad Bhavnagri told the media in February that the Victorian Government’s wind farm planning guidelines could increase Victoria’s electricity bills by up to two billion dollars in the next decade.

Bhavnagri pointed out that wind power is the cheapest and most reliable way to reach emissions reductions targets. If the most economical wind farms are ruled out due to restrictive planning regulations, then more expensive wind farms must be built instead.

Consistent and effective regulatory and planning policy is required to shore up the continuing success of the industry in New South Wales and to ensure the state’s renewable energy target is met at the lowest possible cost.

Photo: Jeff Chandler

earthshipbrighton

Earthship boom pending?

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Earthship creator Michael Reynolds recently visited Australia, spreading the message that low-cost energy efficient housing should be available to all. By Jacinta Cleary.

While we often discuss in these pages the need to move to carbon neutral or low emissions housing this decade, we often forget that low impact housing has been around us for years. The most striking and oft-talked about low emissions abodes are Earthships, first created by ‘Garbage Warrior’ Michael Reynolds in the early 1970s.

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Reynolds recently visited Australia for a series of talks, including the Earthship Biotecture three-day seminar in Melbourne in February. The seminar gave the nuts and bolts of Earthship building to a large audience of would-be owner builders, curious architects and academics. Earthship ‘building blocks’ such as passive solar design, recycled material use, water reuse and renewable energy systems were covered in depth, possibly prompting an Earthship boom across the country.

Reynolds is critical of the bureaucracy and long planning schedules owner builders encounter when wanting to build a family home. “You should be able to wake up one day and build your own house. I go to Africa and they say ‘let’s do it over there’, and we start to build an hour later.” Alternative Technology Association member Daryl Taylor has taken three years to receive a permit for his Kinglake earthship home, replacing his home lost in the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires.

A disgruntled architecture student in the 1970s, Reynolds invented biotecture because architects were not creating environmentally sustainable homes. Biotecture focuses on the Earth’s phenomena such as wind, rain, gravity, condensation, thermal mass and aspects of biology and physics when designing abodes. Greenhouse-style windows enable produce to be grown indoors in harsh desert climates. Thermal mass fridges capture cold evening air for use throughout the day, reducing the load on off-grid solar power systems. And houses uses the Venturi, or stack-effect, to enable natural air flow.

The first Earthships were actually built in response to mass rubbish problems though, with a plague of cans prompting Reynolds to build with them in Taos, New Mexico. The first Earthship bricks looked a lot like a six-pack, with cans bound together with cement mortar. Later, discarded tyres were used as main construction material, along with glass bottles, providing thermal mass while keeping rubbish out of landfill. Today the high energy efficiency of these homes is being substantiated through university research and added temperature sensors and devices.

With most Earthships constructed from at least 45% rubbish, the look and feel is not always to everyone’s taste. Reynolds argues that this needn’t be the case. “They can look like normal homes,” he says. “My houses look all sculpted and hobbit-like only because that’s they way I like it.”

With Reynold’s ethos of making low-cost energy efficient housing accessible to all, he says that best guide to building your own Earthship is still the book, Earthship, Volume 1, How to Build your Own, in print for decades and now available as an ebook. “People off the street can learn to be a can-mason in less than an hour,” he says.

Sky high solar

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A 122kWp photovoltaic system has been installed on the roof of a 50 storey skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan. More than 650 Mage Powertech Plus modules are at a height of 225 metres and are consequently part of one of the highest elevated photovoltaic systems in the world, and one of the largest systems in the area.

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While deemed difficult on high-rises, the project shows that installations are possible on almost all roofs.

ATA branch lecture series

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The Sydney West branch of the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) is resuming its Sustainability Lecture Series this year, good news for those wanting to get more involved with ATA branch activites. These bi-monthly Saturday afternoon talks have included the carbon tax, natural sequence farming, permaculture, waste water and sustainable architecture.

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Sydney West ATA Branch is located at EarthCare (University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury Campus, Cnr Science Rd and Campus Drive, UWS, Richmond), well worth a visit to view the centre’s extensive permaculture and native gardens, photovoltaic (PV) system, water tanks and a solar passive community building constructed from straw bale, rammed earth and mud bricks.

A new PV system will be installed at the centre this year. If you’d like to know more about the installation then the branch would love to hear from you: contact jdibley2003@yahoo.com.au

The next Sydney West branch meeting is on April 7 at 10am, followed by a sustainability lecture from 1.30pm to 2.30pm.

For more details on all ATA branch activities around the country and upcoming meetings go to www.ata.org.au/branches

UN says sustainable energy for all

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With our readily available access to household renewable energy systems it’s easy to forget that sustainable energy systems are not a given in many developing countries. That’s why it’s a relief to see it’s the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Energy for All in 2012.

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One of the aims is to give greater support to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, with a goal that 100 million households will adopt clean and efficient cooking appliances and fuels by 2020. And the new Energy Access Practitioner Network will develop a more integrated approach to sustainable energy systems in developing countries.

The UN is trying to garner more support for this through the private sector, finance sector and governments, however they’re also calling on the general public to organise awareness raising activities throughout 2012. For more information go to www.sustainableenergyforall.org/activities

The Alternative Technology Association’s International Projects Group has many ongoing renewable energy projects in East Timor, stay up to date at www.ata.org.au/international-projects-group

PV recycling for Europe

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The EU Parliament has declared that used photovoltaic modules must now be collected and recycled, as part of the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive. Once the guidelines are finalised, all EU members will be required to implement the scheme within 18 months.

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While Australia’s solar industry is relatively young and the number of panels in need of recycling is relatively low, the need for such a scheme will become important in years to come. A photovoltaic powerhouse such as Germany will see tonnes of scrap modules returned each year.

Low carbon program support

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With the Carbon Price set to start July 1 exciting times are ahead for those keen to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. With it, slowly but surely, comes more support for energy efficiency, with the government releasing guidelines in February for three programs supporting a low carbon transition.

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The Community Energy Efficiency Program targets upgrades to community infrastructure, the Low Income Energy Efficiency Program supports smarter energy use in low income households and the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program supports businesses and community groups to make smarter energy choices.

Deadline for proposals is March 23. Here’s to greater support for energy efficiency in the years to come. For more info go to www.climatechange.gov.au/government/initiatives

Meanwhile, Alan Pears, in his regular column on page 82, discusses the Federal Government’s Draft Energy White Paper and urges readers to make submissions. He’s hoping the final white paper will be “a big improvement on the draft.”

Speed date sustainably with ATA

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Finding the right architect can be a slow dance sometimes. To facilitate good client-architect relationships, the Alternative Technology Association held its first Speed Date a Sustainable Designer event for the year in February. Householders ‘dated’ architects and building designers for ten minutes at a time, showing photos, plans and drawings of their home, in a relaxed ‘no obligations’ environment.

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The event, supported by bankmecu, was held at Melbourne’s Federation Square as part of the Sustainable Living Festival. Speed Date a Sustainable Designer hits the road next, travelling to Brisbane in May and then Sydney’s Customs House on June 23. Keep an eye on ATA’s Speed Dating website for more details.

www.sdsd.ata.org.au

solarwhiz

Summer cooling competition winner

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There’s no shortage of ideas from ReNew readers when it comes to cooling the home. Last issue we invited readers to tell us, briefly, what they will be doing to prepare their dwelling for the heat in coming months.

The winner of a $495 Solar Whiz from Global Export Solutions is Jim Cherry.

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He says: “We have lived eight years in our 1980s two bedroom brick veneer house. It has a cement tiled and simple gabled roof, is north-west facing with a front veranda.
Starting four years ago we planted three grapevines on a vertical trellis for summer shade and winter sun on the north-west veranda, then added two more grape and passionfruit vines plus a horizontal trellis.
Our summer project is to add horizontal trellises to the north-east and south-west facing walls and to plant another passion and kiwi vine. We’ll also build adjustable wooden louvre ventilation for the ceiling cavity and cover the existing R1.2 batts with R3.6 batts.

It sounds like Jim has some simple but effective plans to bring down the indoor temperature.

The Solar Whiz ventilates roof spaces, helping to keep homes cool. Thanks to Global Export Solutions for supporting the competition. To find out more about the Solar Whiz visit www.solarwhiz.com.au.

Here are some other entries to the competition including a poem from David and Rosie Harvest

Low energy summer, here we come
first of all we’ll be cooking with the sun.
Parabolic cooker and a hot box as well
means coffee, tea, cooking will be ‘free’, that’s swell.

Next of course, hot water will be free
heated with the sun as you can see.
No electricity for showers or washing at all
again low energy , we’re having a ball.

Electricity of course will be made with PV
so the fridge and lights are covered you see.
Only thing we’re missing is cooling from the sun
and I think you’ve got the answer to that one.

Alexander MacKenzie’s entry

Our summer heat issues are the mezzanine areas (study and bedroom) and the kitchen getting too hot.

I’d like to help cool the kitchen zone by installing a solar powered extraction fan on the roof ridgeline and additional vents in the fascia board.
For the bedroom I’m planning to supplement the large louvre window by installing a roofline fan and vent that blows cool evening air down into the sleeping area.
For the study I plan to complete lining and insulating the roof space and investigate the possibility of opening the old chimney to let out hot air.

Jenny Russell’s entry

The Solar Whiz is one of the items on our summer project list (TRUE!). Other projects include extending a deciduous vine covered pergola on our western wall, installing solar power and completing a seperate “extreme weather”/guest room (read goat shed renovation) which will have a small, high efficiency reverse cycle air conditioner installed as a solution to my new problem of daycare children needing to be in and out the exterior doors of our two-bedroom home – cooling one room instead of the whole house makes sense to us.

Glenn Lawson’s entry

Our family will be growing more deciduous fruit trees against our northern windows and add retractable outdoor blinds to those 2 windows. We are also going to install a roof ventilation system to reduce the load on our air-conditioning system on those really hot days.

Timor lights and solar

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It will be a busy end to 2011 for ATA’s International Projects Group with a number of solar installations and lighting projects scheduled. Mau Nuno and Suro Crai primary school will be fitted with 80W solar panels so that literacy classes, community meetings and other community gatherings can happen at night and teachers can use laptops for teaching in the morning. This project is in partnership with Ballarat Sebastopol Cycling Club and Friends of Ballarat, BFACC.

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The Small Household Lighting Scheme continues with the Kangaroo Valley and Remexio Partnership fundraising to light up to households in three villages in the Remexio sub-district of Aileu district. Around 300 households will have access to lights, and therefore improved living conditions, by the end of this year. For more information go to www.ata.org.au/ipg

Sustainability checklist

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The list of useful resources for sustainable homes just keeps growing. First there was the Your Home Technical Manual and slowly local municipalities are developing guides for local residents. Pittwater Council in Sydney has developed its own Sustainability Principles and Checklist for anyone looking to do a new build or renovation.

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Part A goes through the A to Z such as natural ventilation, rainwater tanks, best use of building materials and even home security tips. Part B is where the checklist comes in, allowing you to score your building plans, materials use and energy conservation measures amongst other areas. For more information go to bit.ly/o3125O

Wind farm clean bill of health, with some research

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Following on from her article Fielding’s Parting Shot in ReNew 116, Alicia Webb discusses the Senate Wind Farm Inquiry’s final report.

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The Senate Committee’s final report into the Social and Economic Impacts of Wind Farms makes seven recommendations, which cover noise, health and complaints processes.

On the topic of noise, the report recommends that National Acoustics Laboratories conduct studies into the noise and infrasound impacts of wind farms, and noise standards for planning should include calculations of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings.

Regarding complaints processes, they suggest that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and processes should involve an independent arbitrator.

Regarding health, the report recommends that the National Health and Medical Research Council continue to review the research into wind farm health effects. This includes studies into the effects of wind farms on human health and redrafting the National Wind Farm Guidelines to include any adverse health impacts found. Further consideration to the development of policy on distance between residences and wind farms has been recommended.

The wind industry and environment organisations generally received the report positively. The setback issue is of particular interest in Victoria where Planning Minister Matthew Guy has stated an intention to give residents within 2km of any wind farm development a right to veto. On page 20 of the Senate’s report it states: “A difficulty with a prescribed setback distance is that, in term of noise and shadow flicker, the distance may either be too great or too little. If the setback is too great then this could limit the industry and possibly affect the amount of renewable power generation in Australia. If the distance were too little, residents affected adversely would not have any redress.”

“We’re pleased that the committee did not support a mandatory setback distance around wind farms, calling them arbitrary and saying it’s preferable to decide setback distances using scientific measurements of sound effects,” says Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth.

TV recycling army

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Portland Sustainability Group are a bit like a green army, taking on high impact sustainability tasks. With a raft of discarded televisions in the area, the group sent three truck loads of televisions to Warrnambool to be properly recycled in August, loading 1300 televisions in total. It’s an enormous effort by a small community to stop e-waste entering landfill.

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Following on from ReNew’s Reuse Your Television competition last issue, a national television recycling program will hopefully be in place by the end of the year after the passing of the Product Stewardship Bill in June.

The details are still to be finalised, but the proposed scheme will require importers and manufacturers of televisions, computers and computer peripherals to fund and implement national collection and recycling of these products.

Moving planet

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With the carbon price likely to be the subject of much debate when parliament resumes on September 12, September 24 sees the global Moving Planet day of action by 350.org. The group’s Australian branch is asking that local action focus on promoting the carbon price at a pivotal time when it goes through parliament.

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Community groups can log their event, be it a bike ride, petition or photo drive (a la ATA in 2009) via 350.org’s website www.moving-planet.org. All events help create one global rally to raise awareness of the dangerous pollution caused by fossil fuels.

Solar wundervillage

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We’ve seen reports lately about the German village of Wildpoldsried which is generating $5.7 million in revenue from renewable energy each year. With a population of only 2600, Germany’s feed-in tariffs have created a solar boom in the area, with residents generating 321% more energy than they need. With a feed-in tariff in place all this excess renewable energy can turn a profit.

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The various feed-in tariffs across Australia have been chopped and changed considerably in recent months meaning revenues on this scale are unlikely here. For full details on recent changes, including impacts, see ATA’s Solar Payback Calculator article.

Full disclosure

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Finally there seems to be some movement with Residential Mandatory Disclosure, with the commercial buildings counterpart in place since last year. The purpose of the scheme is to make the energy efficiency of a home publicly available when the property is for sale or lease. Public consultations have been held in most capital cities in August with much debate about the how the program will work.

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ATA Energy Advocate Craig Memery attended one of the public consultations in Darwin. “Four options are being put forward for consideration by each jurisdiction in terms of what they want to adopt. The consultation seeks feedback on these options, particularly on the assumptions that have gone into the modelling on cost and benefit. Option one is a compulsory bells and whistles thermal assessment of the building, option four is a token voluntary self assessment and the others are in between,” says Craig.

The difference between rating the efficiency of homes in tropical areas compared to other parts of the country was also discussed at the Darwin meeting—a very old problem often commented on by northern-state contributors in ReNew.

“The most energy efficient homes in the tropics are well ventilated and use fans to move air for cooling, yet the thermal rating tools used for energy efficiency star ratings favour draught-proofed homes with air conditioning. Shading and/or reflective paint are important and insulation is often pointless,” says Craig Memery.

There’s also some discussion about the likely cost of home assessments, which has been averaged at $750. However, many in the industry say this figure is too high. Formal feedback is still welcome, with submissions by individuals and organisations closing 12 September. Email submissions to residentialdisclosure@climatechange.gov.au

Direct to steam

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Until now, concentrated solar thermal power stations have used fluids such as synthetic oil as an energy transfer medium—the oil is heated by the collectors and then flows to a heat exchanger where it turns water into steam to drive a turbine. Because this is a multi-stage process, there are losses involved.

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An experimental solar power station that opened recently in the municipality of Carboneras, Spain, does away with this intermediate step and instead creates the steam directly. By using water as the working fluid under a working pressure of 12MPa, superheated steam at 500°C is generated directly for use in the turbine and for heat storage.

The system uses two forms of heat storage—it can be stored in a concrete mass and also in a salt-based phase-transition latent heat storage system (seen here in the inset) at around 305°C. The stored heat can then be used to continue generation at night or on cloudy days.

While this plant is only a research facility and will be decommissioned at the end of the year, it will be used to validate the direct solar steam generation process, the storage systems and the flexible pipe connections on the mirror and receiver tube assembly that allow it to track the sun.