ReNew 138 editorial: Looking up – what’s on your roof?
WHEN it comes to sustainable building, there’s a lot of material to cover, so we’re making our way around the building process, bit by bit. Having previously looked at ‘what’s in a wall’ (in ReNew 132), this time we’re hitting the roof.READ MORE »
We delve into the various roofing materials and their sustainability, along with the importance of roof pitch, insulation and colour to a house’s thermal performance. We also look at green roofs, with great resources for finding out more on this home/urban cooling option (with a lovely leafy example featuring on our cover).
With 1.5 million roofs in Australia also housing solar panels, it could be argued that our roofs (and communities) are leading the way in a renewable transition for Australia. But that’s not been without its naysayers and challenges, so ATA expert Andrew Reddaway tackles the issues and solutions needed for a successful shift to 100% renewables. It’s a must-read to correct misconceptions about how renewables work with the grid, particularly given the recent blackout in South Australia and discussions around the closure of Hazelwood.
As well as roofs, we also consider windows—or at least ways to shade them. With a warmer than average summer on the cards, it’s a good time to make sure your home will cope as well as possible in the heat. Keeping the sun off your windows is an important first step, but it’s not always as simple as putting up a blind. In our external shading buyers guide, we look at how to get it right: which windows to shade, how much shade, what materials to use and should shades be fixed, adjustable or even removable to avoid excluding the sun when you need it.
Gardens also provide a cooling benefit, and vertical gardens are a way to get greenery in places where that might not otherwise be feasible. Gardening in pots can be tricky though, so we feature two successful examples, with the message from both being to experiment to get the right plants, and that automatic watering is a must. The other message is that the owners love having herbs and greenery right at the back door!
We hope our article on reusing building materials in the garden will inspire you to find ways to source preloved bricks, concrete tiles or other materials to use for both practical and creative purposes in the garden. The author has been working with high school students to build a permaculture garden from mostly reused materials—and we get to benefit from their ingenuity and enthusiasm with some great examples to copy at home.
Of course, there’s much more besides: an EV owner’s insights into charging, including the knotty issue of kerbside charging for those without driveways, DIY wicking beds using a waste product, an introduction to timber finishes, islands leading the way in sustainability, DIY pressed earth bricks, and much more! We wish you a happy and safe holiday season and look forward to hearing from you in the new year.
ATA CEO’s Report
IT HAS been a whirlwind past few months, with major shifts in global politics like the recent election of Donald Trump as US president and the Brexit vote causing great uncertainty in the area of climate policy.
Thankfully there was a firm commitment from the countries attending the Marrakech Climate Change Conference in November to show the world that the implementation of the Paris Agreement is underway, and the constructive spirit of multilateral cooperation on climate change continues.
While the Australian Government announced ratification of the treaty at Marrakech, it is still unclear how at a federal level we will achieve our carbon reduction commitments. Several states and territories including the ACT, Vic, SA, Qld and NSW are taking the lead, setting more ambitious targets and other mechanisms to combat emissions.
So much uncertainty and change once again highlights the role the community needs to take in not only advocating for effective government policy but getting on with the job. And we need to make sure everyone in the community comes along on the journey.
There is no better example of practical sustainability than community renewable energy. There are now more than 80 community energy groups and 50 projects up and running across Australia. In February 2017, these groups will be gathering in Melbourne for the second Community Energy Congress to share information, develop skills, foster new networks, celebrate success and plan for action. The ATA is proudly one of the organisers of the conference and we look forward to seeing you there. For more information, go to c4ce.net.au/congress.
You can purchase ReNew 138 from the ATA webshop.
100% renewables – how feasible is it?
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.
Keep your cool: External shading buyers guide
With summers getting hotter in many parts of Australia, keeping the sun off your windows and out of your home is becoming even more important. Anna Cumming looks at the options for external shading, for both new builds and retrofits.
THERE’S been quite a shift from pre-industrial times when glass was an artisan-crafted luxury item, and homeowners were taxed according to the number of panes they had. These days, our houses are getting bigger and so are our windows—often to the point of comprising entire walls. Windows and glazed doors frame views, admit natural light and breezes, and allow a connection with the outdoors. In a well-designed house, they also admit the sun’s warmth in winter to assist passive thermal performance.READ MORE »
However, from a thermal efficiency point of view, windows are the weak link in a home’s building envelope: Your Home notes that up to 40% of a home’s heating energy can be lost and up to 87% of its heat gained through windows. Efficient double-glazed windows with thermally broken frames (preventing heat conduction through the frame) perform considerably better—advanced glazing solutions can exclude up to 60% of heat compared to plain single glazing—but will still allow more heat to enter in summer and escape in winter than the adjacent wall.
Internal thermal blinds or curtains can help a lot in preventing heat loss through windows in winter, but to tackle unwanted radiant heat gain in the hotter months, it’s far more efficient to stop the sun hitting the glass in the first place with appropriate external shading.
Location and orientation
There is a huge variety of options for keeping the sun at bay, from carefully chosen deciduous plantings and simple solutions like a piece of shadecloth on a frame, to awnings, shutters, blinds, and even pergolas with sensor-operated louvre roofs. To choose the best solution, firstly it’s important to consider your location and the orientation of your windows.
In most of Australia, shading is needed on windows on the north, and also the east (to prevent summer sun heating the house from early in the morning) and west (to block hot late afternoon sun). North of the Tropic of Capricorn, thought should also be given to shading windows on the south side of your house, as the sun’s steeply angled path in summer means these windows will also receive direct sun. Helpfully, the Geoscience Australia website (www.ga.gov.au) allows you to find your latitude and calculate the sun angle at any time of the day, on any day of the year.
Find the table of suppliers here.
Read the full article in ReNew 138.
A roof over your head
There are many different roofing materials to choose from, but what are the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how sustainable are they? Lance Turner surveys the market.
IN ReNew 132 we looked at options available for walls when building a home or extension. But of course there’s more to a home than just the walls—roofing is equally important as it not only protects the rest of the building, but also has to withstand the most intense levels of solar radiation of any part of the home, as well as considerable forces from wind, rain and hail.READ MORE »
The roof must also be able to support added structures such as solar panels and solar hot water systems, satellite dishes, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as the weight of people walking on it while installing and maintaining such systems. Plus it’s used to collect rainwater for your home and garden.
There are many different roofing materials available, including corrugated iron and Colorbond steel, concrete, ceramic, metal and composite tiles, slate, shingles and even load-bearing panels such as SIPs (structural insulated panels). Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, each has its own particular look, and each comes in a range of options for that particular material.
Which roofing you go for will depend in part on the materials and the general look of the rest of the home, as well as your personal preference, which may be determined by a number of factors including appearance, the eco-credentials of the material, the range of colours and styles available, the building method (some roofing materials need more structural support than others), the level of maintenance you are willing to give to the roof, the fire resistance level required, and, of course, the location and hence surrounding environment of the home, including heritage or aesthetic requirements of your local council.
The article looks at each material in turn and also considers roof pitch, insulation and keeping your roof cool.
Read the full article in ReNew 138.
Island of energy: community-owned and renewable
Denmark’s Samso Island went from complete reliance on imported oil and coal to 100% renewable electricity in just a decade. Jayitri Smiles and Nicky Ison explore the community and government partnerships that made it happen.
DURING the global oil crisis in 1973, Denmark began to think creatively about how to supply cheap energy to their population. As they built their first wind turbine, they were unknowingly establishing themselves as future world leaders in renewable energy.READ MORE »
Today, Denmark aims to have renewable energy powering 100% of their country by 2050 and to eliminate coal usage by 2030. These targets build on a track record of success: since the 1990s Denmark has witnessed the quadrupling of renewable energy consumption.
The creation of the world’s first fully renewable energy powered island, Samso, is an exemplar of Denmark’s leadership. Not only has Samso become a carbon-negative region, but it has accomplished this world-first using community investment.
In 1997, Denmark’s Minister for Environment Svend Auken was inspired at the Kyoto climate talks. He returned home with a passion to harness the collective efforts of local Danish communities in a way that promoted self-sufficiency in renewable energy. Auken held a competition, which encouraged Danish islands to consider how their clean energy potential could be achieved with government funding and matching local investment.
The most compelling application came from Samso, a small island west of Copenhagen with a population of 4100. This island of 22 villages, at the time run purely on imported oil and coal, was suddenly thrust into the global spotlight and, through a combination of local tenacity, investment and government funding, transitioned to 100% renewable power in just a decade.
At the heart of this energy revolution sit Samso’s community-owned wind turbines. Onshore turbines with a generation capacity of 11 MW offset 100% of the island’s electricity consumption. Another 23 MW of generation capacity from ten offshore turbines offsets Samso’s transport emissions. Most (75%) of the houses on the island use straw-burning boilers via district heating systems to heat water and homes, and the remainder use heat pumps and solar hot water systems.
The extraordinary result is a carbon-negative island and community. The island now has a carbon footprint of negative 12 tonnes per person per year, a reduction of 140% since the 1990s (compare this to Australia’s footprint of 16.3 tonnes per person in 2013 and Denmark’s overall footprint of 6.8). Not only is the island energy self-sufficient, they now export renewable energy to other regions of Denmark, which provides US $8 million in annual revenue to local investors.
And Samso is not slowing down. Highly motivated, knowledgeable and passionate locals are aiming for the island to be completely fossil-fuel free by 2030. They plan to convert their ferry to biogas and, despite already offsetting their vehicle emissions via renewable energy generation, residents of Samso now own the highest number of electric cars per capita in Denmark.
Read about their transition in ReNew 138.
Straight up: vertical garden design
The last thing you want is to spend a lot of money on a vertical garden system and then have it fail. Jenny and Bevan Bates provide advice and inspiration from their own living walls—five years old and growing strong!
THE inspiration to garden vertically is not new. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, if they are more than legend, may have been an early precursor, built to bring luscious greenery to the ancient city’s terraced buildings. Your grandma’s hanging pots are a more down-to-earth example, as are vines on a trellis.READ MORE »
More recently, the idea of living walls has become a popular trend, in part in response to higher density living and homes with small gardens. For Jenny and Bevan Bates, their move to a new house with a small courtyard— and a stark black brick wall facing their living area windows—was the reason they started experimenting with gardening on a wall.
“You have to be prepared to experiment,” says Jenny. In fact, their first vertical garden was a failure. “We tried a $100 system, but the pots were too small and it dried out too quickly; it was hard to keep anything alive in it,” she says.
However, they persevered and they now have five vertical gardens providing cooling, colour and herbs, which adds interest to their home. The black brick wall in fact sets off one of the vertical gardens nicely—the colour they didn’t like turned out to be complementary to the planting!
That particular garden was their first success, says Jenny. It’s now five years old and thriving. It’s on a south-facing wall overlooked by the north-facing living area windows—a lovely sight.
They created the garden using Woolly Pockets, a product which at the time they needed to get delivered from the USA (though there are now retailers in Australia).
The pockets are composed of long troughs of recycled polyethylene (PET, from milk bottles for example). That recycled aspect was important to them; “You need to think about the full life cycle; for systems made from virgin plastic, there can be a lot to dispose of at end of life,” says Jenny.
Which plants they use has evolved over time; some plants grew bigger than expected, shaded other plants or didn’t like the position.
Read about their vertical garden in ReNew 138.
Reusing building materials in the garden
There are many uses for old building materials in the garden to create quirky but useful structures, with the added advantage that the materials don’t end up in landfill. Permaculture gardener and teacher Drew Barr shares his tips.
BricksREAD MORE »
Bricks are useful objects. Durable and cheap, their regular shape means they can be stacked or laid in patterns. Almost all bricks have the same dimensions, although older handmade bricks may be slightly smaller. The size and shape are designed for easy one-handed handling by an adult.
Bricks are energy-intensive to manufacture and transport, but will last hundreds of years, and can be used over and over again.
When reusing bricks, you’ll need to clean them to remove the mortar. This is dirty and laborious work and seems very slow to begin with, but once you have mastered the knack you will be surprised how fast you can clean bricks. The best tool for this is a scutch hammer, which has replaceable toothed blades called combs. Chip at the mortar where it meets the brick and it will come off in big chunks. Wear gloves and a face shield though as flying mortar chips really hurt.
Broken concrete slabs
Concrete is also a very energy-intensive material to manufacture, and similarly highly durable and strong, and ideal to reuse.
Concrete slabs, sometimes referred to as ‘urbanite’, can be reused to make crazy paving, or stacked without mortar to form low retaining walls. When sourcing slabs make sure you get only non-reinforced slabs such as from council footpaths or old driveways. Reinforcing steel in the concrete is very difficult to cut, and as it rusts it will swell up and split the slab.
Councils often replace footpaths and must dump the slabs of concrete they remove, and they will usually be happy to dump it at your place for free.
Read more on reusing old concrete slabs, clay pavers, roofing tiles, roofing iron, car panels, bathtubs and more in the full article in ReNew 138.
Towards zero-waste: Howe it’s done
Don Batson and Sophie Liu’s dream holiday on Lord Howe Island included a tour of the waste management facility—that’s a ReNew kind of holiday! They describe the amazing work done to reduce waste on this pristine island.
WHEN you live on a crescent-shaped island 11 km long and only 2 km across at its widest, you need to be mindful about limited resources—and as we found out, that can lead to innovative sustainable solutions for all sorts of things, including how you think about and manage waste.READ MORE »
Recently we were lucky enough to have a holiday on Lord Howe Island, a tiny speck in
the Pacific, 600 km east of Port Macquarie, with a population of 360 plus a maximum
of 400 tourists at one time. It’s an island with UNESCO world heritage status and we
were drawn there to experience this pristine environment with its unique plants and
animals. The last thing we expected to be excited about was the waste management
setup! Yet somehow, on our third day there, we found ourselves having a three-hour tour
with John, the manager of the island’s waste management facility.
From speaking with locals, we got the sense that a life cycle assessment of everything
brought onto the island happened almost unconsciously, by necessity. The high cost of
bringing in a product and shipping out any waste requires a less ‘disposable’ approach to purchasing. For example, to bring a new car onto the island, you must first arrange to have the old car removed.
The island also has a wonderful food cooperative— a great community and social
enterprise. It offers bulk foods for sale in recycled and reusable containers, so there’s less packaging to be disposed of. This was ‘zero-waste’ heaven, with all sorts of nuts, dried fruit, grains, flours, cereals and even spices sold in bulk. They also had dairy items bought in bulk then portioned up for sale, homemade dips and locally made cakes and biscuits. We were in awe of the simple, effective system set up so customers can return empty jars and containers, which are then washed and reused. As visitors, we were actively encouraged to participate.
Our curiosity about the recycling systems began at our accommodation. The kitchen had
three bins: one for non-recyclable rubbish, one for recyclables such as glass, cardboard and plastics, and a small bin for food waste (with pictures noting that meat scraps and fish bones could be added). Intrigued, we asked one of the staff there about the food waste: did they compost all this on site? Melissa explained that it went off for processing at the waste management facility on the island. And, she added, if we were interested we could get in touch with the manager, John, and perhaps arrange to see it.
Read about their tour in ReNew 138.
Islands in the sun (and wind)
The idea of moving to renewable energy generation is proving attractive to many smaller communities, particularly island-based communities. Here are some of them.
Kangaroo Island: Currently powered by a 15 km undersea cable from mainland SA which is nearing the end of its design life, one option, moving the island to renewable energy generation, has been examined by UTS Institute For Sustainable Futures. The outcome of the study was that the cost of replacing the undersea cable would come in at $77 m whereas a local wind/solar/diesel hybrid system was estimated at around $87 m. However, once ongoing costs such as network charges are factored in, costs for the new cable option rise to $169 m, compared to $159 m for local supply. The system would likely include doubling the existing 8 MW diesel generation capacity, installing between four and eight wind turbines, adding five hectares of solar farm and around 800 solar rooftops. The end result would be 86% renewable and 14% diesel generation.
Isle of Eigg, Scotland: In 2008, the island’s electrification project was switched on, providing 24-hour power for the entire island. Previously, electricity had been provided by individual households using their own generators, resulting in excessive noise, pollution and high maintenance burdens on individuals. The project included laying of 11 km of cable and installation of three hydroelectric generators—100 kW at Laig on the west side of the island, with two smaller 5 to 6 kW hydros on the east side. Four small 6 kW wind turbines below An Sgurr and a 50 kW photovoltaic array round out the system. There are also backup generators for periods of low renewable input. To prevent overloading of the grid, each house has a maximum power draw of 5 kW, and 10 kW for businesses. When excess renewable energy is being generated, the electricity is used to heat community buildings.
Bruny Island, Tasmania: As looked at in ReNew 136, the CONSORT Bruny Island Battery Trial is an ARENA-funded project to install up to 40 battery systems on the island, with the view to stabilising the grid and reducing the use of diesel generation during the peak season. Households that participate in the trial will be provided with a large subsidy to install solar power and a smart battery storage system. They will also be able to sell their stored energy into the electricity market via Reposit Power. So far, the first round of participants have been selected. www.brunybatterytrial.org
Rottnest Island: The Rottnest Island Water and Renewable Energy Nexus project involves the construction of a 600 kW solar farm to complement the existing 600 kW wind turbine, which was installed in 2005 and already produces around 30% of the island’s electricity needs, saving more than 300,000 litres of diesel a year. The solar farm is expected to push the renewables portion to 45%, further reducing the need for diesel fuel. Funding for the project will be jointly provided by the Rottnest Island Authority ($2 m) and ARENA, which will provide $4 m. www.bit.ly/RottnestSust
King Island: The King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP) aims to increase the island’s renewable energy generation to around 65%, and up to 100% at times, while reducing the reliance on diesel fuel. By adding energy storage and energy flow control, the system allows greater contribution of power from renewable sources. Integration of smart grid technology provides the ability to control customer demand to match the available renewable energy supplies. The storage system, the largest electrochemical battery ever installed in Australia, is capable of producing 3 MW of power and storing 1.6 MWh of usable energy.
Island of Ta’u: The island of Ta’u in American Samoa lies around 6400 km off the west coast of the USA. Until recently it was entirely diesel-powered, with diesel being delivered by ship. Disruptions to deliveries had at times resulted in severe electricity restrictions—not great when you rely on electric pumps for basic water requirements. Ta’u now has a solar power and battery microgrid that can supply nearly 100% of the island’s electricity requirements from renewable energy. The new microgrid has all but eliminated power outages and greatly reduced the cost of providing electricity to Ta’u’s almost 600 residents. The system consists of a healthy 1.4 MW of solar generation capacity from SolarCity, which feeds into 6 MWh of grid-grade storage from Tesla (Tesla recently aquired SolarCity) consisting of 60 Tesla Powerpacks. The project was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Interior. It is expected to offset more than 400,000 litres of diesel per year.
Read more in ReNew 138.
DIY earth bricks
Creating pressed earth bricks isn’t hard when you have a machine and willing helpers. John Hermans describes the process and advantages of this low embodied energy approach to construction.
THIS article aims to inspire owner-builders to minimise the carbon footprint of their new sustainable dwellings by using pressed earth bricks. By explaining the many virtues of this building material, I hope to spark interest in my offer to share the amazing machine that I use to make them.READ MORE »
I started making and using pressed earth bricks in 1988, shortly after commencing excavation for our house site. I had seen a hydraulic brick press working very effectively around this time and, with the intent of making a copy, I took several photographs of it in operation. I then found four aspiring owner-builder friends who were willing to become ‘shareholders’ and finance the brick press fabrication; my input was to build it.
The machine I built back then is still going strong today. To date, this press has made in excess of 70,000 bricks and has been responsible for some very creative, cost-efficient and low embodied energy housing.
A pressed earth brick is simply a brick made by compacting soil that has a high percentage of clay. The machine compacts the soil by 50% using the power of a hydraulic press. The result is an attractive and easy-to-use brick that needs no firing and can often be made from subsoil excavated from the house site— and thus has much lower embodied energy than the average house brick.
My machine makes bricks that are 300 mm long by 220 mm wide by approximately 130 mm high, so quite a bit larger than the average house brick (dimensions 230 x 110 x 76 mm). The height of the brick depends on the amount of clay mix put into the press, but averages around 130 mm. At that size, the brick ends up weighing around 15 kg.
It is important to seal the bricks to prevent surface erosion. There are many earth brick sealing products available now (e.g. Your Home suggests linseed oil and turpentine; or you can use one of the Bondall products).
Quality bricks are achieved by using a clay-based subsoil that will bind well and dry hard. This is often an excavation waste product, with little commercial value. Using a press to make several test bricks is a sensible idea.
An addition of 5% to 10% cement will form a brick that will handle days of total water submergence, although this is a condition rarely encountered! No cement is needed in the mix if the bricks are used indoors. If used in exterior walls that are likely to be impacted by rain, then the use of cement is recommended.
Read the full details in ReNew 138.
ATA member profile: Ripples in the community
Long-time ATA member Ali Campbell has no qualms about buying secondhand instead of new and looks at all purchases through a “green lens.” She talks to Jodie Lea Martire about how community is critical to sustainability.
ALI Campbell couldn’t bear to see her old piano go to waste, so it stands in the chook shed as a piece of art. It’s a good demonstration of her creative commitment to sustainability, which has led from high eco-living standards at home to diverse community involvement. As Ali says, being part of an active community “helps sustain you and recharges you for staying in the sustainability field.”READ MORE »
Bushwalking and camping gave Ali a connection with nature, but her real evolution towards environmental action came with her first child. She and husband Bruce had been “unwise, unwary consumers until that point”, but they realised that every other parent had also needed clothes, cots and change tables so they could use “secondhand everything.” From there, the Campbells took a good look at their “consumption and stuff.” They reduced purchases, packaging and waste, considered where their food and goods came from, and boosted their home chook-and-vegie garden.
The garden led to conversations about sustainability with others, and builder Duncan Hall put Ali and Bruce on to the ATA. Soon, the family was experimenting with solar stoves, and now “everything we do has that green lens.”
They have worked to reduce their home’s environmental impact, including greywater systems, water tanks, double-glazed windows, reorienting for better lighting and using Australian-made materials. Ali used ATA-sourced information to explain her decisions to both their builder and plumber during renovations, and emphasises that it’s crucial to hire workers who ‘get it’ and aren’t just greenwashing their work.
Ali says, “The community thing is critical. It goes without saying, but it needs to be said.” She spent six or so years volunteering as an organiser with Melbourne’s Sustainable Living Festival (SLF), and gardened with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens in Altona Meadows for a time. She is also active on the Inner West Buy Swap Sell and Freecycle Facebook groups.
Ali participates in Transition Hobsons Bay (THB), and she and Virginia Millard run the Give Take Stand: an unstaffed booth where people share quality, unwanted items (like a free op shop). Ali says the autonomous setup has strengthened community involvement without forcing obligation or onus on anyone. It has been hosted in venues around Hobsons Bay and the council is providing funds to boost the work and establish the stand as a waterproof outdoor shed.
Another project Ali organises through SLF and the transitions group is Bunches of Lunches. Now in its third year, Ali and Transitions Hobsons Bay member Tarius McArthur run three-hour sessions which teach participants to cook five healthy, freezable dishes suitable for school lunches—and promote local food, low packaging and low energy use.
Ali and Bruce have also combined their home and community efforts by signing up their new seven-seater VW Caddy to Car Next Door, allowing locals to rent their vehicle. This let the Campbells balance their need for a second car every now and then, while knowing they’re “not just sitting on this asset.”
Reading ReNew gives Ali great ideas, a sense that she’s not alone in her activism, and—most importantly—hope. The magazine’s coverage of policy developments, news analysis and innovations provides “positivity and support, and that’s what keeps her doing this.”
To end with Ali’s own assessment of her environmental contribution: “I can feel frustrated because I’m not creating seismic change, but I hear frequently, most weeks, ‘You’d love this, Ali!’, so I know I’m having a ripple effect around me and I just hope that keeps rippling on and on.”
This member profile is published in ReNew 138. Buy your copy here.
The Pears Report: Reflections on reflections
Two decades on and 75+ ReNew columns later, Alan Pears is still positive about our clean energy future. How does he do it? Alan reflects on the clean energy facts we all need to know.
It was a real thrill to launch the eBook of my first 75 ReNew columns at the recent All-Energy conference in Melbourne. The ATA team did a great job in production and organising the launch. And I really appreciated former Greens leader Christine Milne’s contribution through writing the foreword.READ MORE »
One thought-provoking question from the audience at the launch was: “Don’t you get bored because we just keep going round in circles on energy policy?” Indeed, this question set me thinking: how do I remain so enthusiastic and positive about energy transformation, when progress is so much slower than it should be?
I’m lucky. I work across a wide range of issues and with a lot of different people. So there is always something positive happening—somewhere. Even when things look stuck or are going backwards on the surface, it is usually possible to find some underlying positive innovation or a subtle shift in the fine print. I also have a tendency to look for the fundamentals, whether it is the underlying physics that shows how inefficient we are, or why and how people react the ways they do. I am always learning.
I also feel pleased that, over almost 20 years, I have provided ReNew readers with an insider’s perspective—from an independent, sometimes practical, sometimes naively idealistic person—on events, trends and possibilities on energy and climate issues.
I also recognise that those of us who drive change have to make a strong case and present it well. People need good reasons to change. And they need to feel confident that change won’t have adverse consequences for them, their families and friends. Of course, powerful vested interests manipulate the situation to highlight the risks of change and overstate the benefits of sticking with the status quo. The blockers have slowed (and sometimes reversed) change, cost Australia many billions of dollars and amplified the cost and pain from climate change, but their effectiveness does force change agents like me to do our homework—over and over again! And to become more creative and effective in communicating and influencing.
At the same time, I have felt my share of despair and anger as sensible policy has been blocked, reversed and abused. I have been frustrated as I have seen exciting technological and social developments squashed, and abuse of power run rampant. A few issues have caused me serious distress.
The appalling story of Australia’s energy market reform process is almost beyond belief, even for me at my most cynical. The naivety, arrogance and ruthlessness of key players and the failure of our leaders to pull them into line stand out. The unnecessary cost and pain of this process is beyond calculation.
The fact that, over 40 years after we realised that people want services, not energy, we still have an industry focused on providing more energy and trying to perpetuate the myth that we need more energy to build a better economy is truly devastating. The failure to integrate climate and energy policy, when fossil fuels produce three-quarters of Australia’s climate impact, will go down as one of the most tragic leadership failures of our time. Maybe that is belatedly beginning to change.
I am also struggling to understand how, 25 years after I helped introduce Australia’s first building energy regulations, some powerful building industry groups oppose sensible energy regulation even more aggressively and more righteously than they did then. Something is really wrong.
As we debate how to manage the closure of old coal-fired power stations, and the problems faced recently by South Australia with volatile energy prices and blackouts, I am completely bemused by the ensuing debate—and the level of ignorance, vitriol and blatant lying shown among the debaters. I am also (yet again) puzzled that the debate makes little or no reference to the major roles energy efficiency improvement and smart demand management could play in delivering solutions.
The election of Donald Trump as US president reinforces the need to focus on what we can do. I’m reminded of the old saying that smart people learn from the mistakes of others, while the not-so-smart have to make their own mistakes. Unfortunately, the education of Mr Trump on climate and basic energy trends will be very costly. But I hope it inspires many to do more, just as Tony Abbott’s war against climate and clean energy policy has had some surprisingly positive outcomes in Australia.
Some clean energy facts
So we don’t have to waste even more time debating our energy future, I thought it might be useful if I listed a few things we really know about energy.
1. Leave it in the ground
Two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions and three-quarters of Australia’s emissions result from fossil fuel extraction and burning. Most of the world’s existing ‘profitable’ fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. Spending money on exploration and building extra fossil fuel supply capacity is money down the drain.
2. We know it creates more jobs
An energy-efficient renewable energy future creates more jobs than conventional energy, because most of the new jobs are in light manufacturing and services sectors, which are much more employment-intensive and much less capital-intensive than traditional energy supply industries. We have known this for decades.
3. And it’s cheaper
An energy-efficient, renewable energy future will be cheaper than a ‘conventional’ energy future, even if we don’t introduce a carbon price. Much of our existing energy supply infrastructure will have to be replaced over the next few decades anyway, so comparison of the cost of a clean energy future with existing energy costs is invalid—the real choice is between different investments, and should include a science-based carbon price. A lot of energy efficiency potential is profitable (the ‘lunch you are paid to eat’ as pointed out by Amory Lovins decades ago). While renewable energy has been expensive in the past, costs are declining rapidly (and performance is improving), and it already seems to be cheaper or similar in cost to building new traditional energy plants. Interestingly, a clean energy future will also be mostly privatised—in a democratic way.
4. Plus more reliable and resilient
A well-designed, efficient renewable energy system should be more reliable and resilient than a centralised system, as local energy storage, smart management and generation reduce reliance on networks (where most disruptions occur) and transmission lines. Debate about supply of base load power can only be described as outdated and misinformed.
5. Developing countries benefit too
An efficient, clean energy future offers many developing countries multiple benefits including lower energy import costs, better services to the rural poor and lower pollution.
6. Transport is not just about EVs
Transport is a very challenging energy problem, not because it can’t be fixed, but because very few countries and cities even understand the fundamental problems. A car-based society is not practical, equitable or economic. Electric cars are only a small part of the solution. Virtual service delivery and workplaces, coordinated planning, comprehensive public transport, low-speed electric vehicles (with suitable infrastructure, speed limits and rules to ensure safety for all, including pedestrians), and better-organised walkable cities are needed.
7. Fly lower and less
Air travel is a much bigger climate problem than most people realise. The overall warming effect of air travel is two to five times the value calculated using Kyoto carbon accounting. And most of this impact is due to the release of emissions at high altitude, not CO2—so switching to renewable aircraft fuel doesn’t fix the problem. Flying lower and less, and transitioning to electric aircraft, will be necessary.
8. New buildings remain a problem
We are constructing buildings and urban infrastructure that will be future liabilities, not assets. And we are not providing the necessary infrastructure to support a successful economy and equitable, enjoyable lifestyles. The failures are deep and systemic. I really don’t know how we fix this one.
9. Add monitoring to appliances
Our appliances and equipment are ‘dumb’, as well as inefficient. They must all have built-in real-time monitoring, benchmarking and feedback systems so faults are detected, operation is optimised and inefficient products are exposed.
10. Skills currently in short supply
We have very limited numbers of designers, tradespeople, professionals and customers who are competent to deliver energy-efficient low-carbon solutions. We have poor supply chains to deliver what is needed. Training capacity is limited and certification weak. We have few incentives and many disincentives regarding sensible decision-making and action.
Overall, it’s a miracle we have progressed as far as we have! Based on our track record, it will also be a miracle if humanity gets out of the hole we’ve dug without a lot of pain, misery and conflict. But we have the tools and some smart people. The problems are our leadership, short-sightedness, the misguided fear we will be worse off in a clean energy future, and lack of vision and practical focus.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant.
This article was first published in ReNew 138.
A hotter, drier Australia
In late October, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) and CSIRO launched their biannual report, State of the Climate 2016. It revealed that Australia’s average surface air temperature and surrounding sea temperature have both increased by around 1 °C since 1910. Extreme heat events and fires have increased, while rainfall has decreased in the south and increased in the north. Our oceans have warmed and become more acidic. These trends are all set to continue, bringing increased drought and very hot days, and fewer very cool days.READ MORE »
Another report just published by Australian researchers in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has also predicted that the extreme global temperatures of 2015 will become normal by 2030. And as for Australia, that record-breaking summer in 2013 will just be the average come 2035.
Australia’s independent Climate Council emphasised that climate change was the key driver behind many of the trends in the BoM/CSIRO report, and Climate Councillor Professor Lesley Hughes said, “Australia’s emissions reduction target of 26% to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030 is not sufficient to protect Australians from worsening heatwaves, bushfires and other extreme weather events.”
Q&A: The end of gross metering
I am a long-term member of the ATA and I wonder if you could advise me. Did ATA promote an electricity supplier last year as an alternative to the main ones which are so coal-dependent, and if so which one?READ MORE »
I am with Energy Australia and 10 years ago I put in solar cells and they paid me what I paid them. A few years back when the feed-in-tariff (FiT) was introduced I was given a time-of-day meter for free and have been on a 60c/kWh FiT and gross metering ever since.
Now from 1 January 2017 they offer two plans: buy a smart meter and get 6c FiT and pay $120 per annum or buy a smart meter and get 12c FiT and pay $240 per annum plus a panel wash once a year! I also understand that the smart meter they propose cannot be read remotely from my living room. Would you have more information? I am actively looking for alternatives (I live in Artarmon, NSW).
In 2015, we worked with Total Environment Centre to produce the following online green retailer’s guide available at www.greenelectricityguide.org.au.
However, the end of the NSW gross FiT and the need for net metering to be established has changed the ball game somewhat. While the greenest and dirtiest retailers won’t have changed much, who is offering the best deal to transition you to a net metering arrangement with the most competitive feed-in and consumption tariffs can only really be ascertained by shopping around. We have prepared general advice on what to look for; find the report at www.ata.org.au/ata-research/life-after-feed-in-tariffs-report. Retail offers are changing regularly so the Australian Energy Regulator’s tariff comparator site may be the best place to compare them, as it’s location/network specific: www.energymadeeasy.gov.au
—Damien Moyse, ATA
Product profile: Recycled plastic furniture
REPLAS has been making recycled plastic products for many years, but most of their products are more oriented towards commercial applications.READ MORE »
The Brunswick outdoor chair and table set is just as suited to domestic uses, and is available with bar stools, bar seats, plus a table which can be freestanding or fixed. The furniture is available in five colours for both slats and frame—black, brown, grey, blue and green—so you can specify them to your preferred colours. The slats are a solid 40 x 65 mm profile, making the furniture very robust. The setting is easy to clean and virtually maintenance-free and should basically last forever.
The stool/seat height is 740 mm while the table stands 1040 mm high. Weight is 20, 25 and 45 kg for the stool, seat and table respectively.
Another neat piece is the Laguna outdoor lounge, which features a galvanised and black powder-coated steel or stainless steel frame and recycled plastic slats (40 x 65 mm) in brown, grey, blue or green.
The Laguna is 1800 mm long and weighs a hefty 80 kg, so it isn’t going to blow away easily and can simply be left in place.
RRP: POA. For more information go to www.replas.com.au
Read more product profiles in ReNew 138.