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ReNew 142 editorial: to boldy solve the split incentive

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THERE are some great landlords out there, providing comfortable, energy-efficient housing for the 31% of Australians who rent. But there are also many cases of poorly maintained and poorly performing rental properties. With New Zealand bringing in minimum standards for energy efficiency measures such as insulation, it’s time for Australia to step up. The states have some schemes in place, but much more is needed, including incentives and regulations.


We look at what’s happening in Australia, what landlords can do (and what some are doing already), and the energy efficiency scorecard currently being trialled in Victoria that may help push the market in the right direction.

Another area where renters often miss out is the savings that come from solar. The same goes for apartments, where it can be difficult to install solar for many reasons, including technical. But both markets can and are being catered for. We look at what’s possible to solve the solar ‘split incentive’ and look at case studies of solar panels making their way on to this under-used rooftop resource: a win for landlords, renters and the environment.

Our buyers guide this issue is on solar panels. Although many ReNew readers may already have systems, there are still many rooftops without solar (including rental ones), and many readers may be looking to add a larger system to their existing one. We also follow one person’s story of their recent solar install: how they did their research and sizing, and the process from accepting the quote through to receiving a feed-in tariff for their homegrown clean energy.

Over the past year, the ATA has been advocating for a transition to a 100% renewable grid for Australia. Andrew Reddaway’s report from last year asked if it was possible (answer: yes, and by 2030). This time he investigates how Australia is progressing. It seems that a clear transition is underway, with many projects in the pipeline, all renewable. But it requires proper planning, which has been lacking to date. Andrew’s work shows just what a plan might look like. It’s inspiring, and maddening at the same time: it’s affordable and possible to do this within 13 years, yet we are sitting around debating whether we should allow Liddell to close or not.

There’s much more in the issue besides. We look at PV recycling, present an induction cooktop mini guide and give an update on the growing (at least elsewhere) EV market. Beyond solar PV, Tim Forcey argues that we all need to become familiar with the term ‘renewable heat’. As he says, in his home, just 20% of his home’s renewable energy comes from solar—the other 80% comes from heat from the air, used by his hot water heat pump and air conditioner.

We hope you enjoy the issue. The ReNew team wishes everyone a relaxing and safe holiday period and we look forward to hearing from you in the new year.

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor

ATA CEO’s Report

In Australia, renewable energy and carbon emission targets are again being used as a political football, in which there are no winners. In fact, it’s hard not to feel that each time we take two steps forward with action on climate change, we also take three steps back.

However, despite community frustration with political leadership in this area, there are positive stories to tell. The momentum for a low-emissions future grows apace with the price of renewable energy continuing to fall—it is now cheaper to develop solar and wind energy than new coal-fired power stations in most countries. And we have industry leaders calling for certainty on energy policy so that they can get on with the job.

The good news is that the knowledge, technology and solutions to enable households and communities to reduce their carbon emissions and save money are available.
With electricity prices continuing to rise, new technologies such as batteries and heat pumps coming on to the market and more Australians wanting to take control of their energy future by producing their own renewable energy, there is a need more than ever for quality, independent information for households. That’s where the ATA and our commitment to providing quality independent advice comes in, most recently with our free online solar & battery sizing tool. Find it at

At the ATA every year we are helping hundreds of thousands of people make a practical difference and we’ll keep doing this through 2018. Thank you to all our members, partners and supporters who are part of our community of change.

Donna Luckman

You can purchase ReNew 142 from the ATA webshop.


Solar panel buyers guide 2018

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We’ve contacted photovoltaics manufacturers for details on warranties, cell types, size and price to help you decide which solar panels are best for you.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have become a common sight in the Australian urban landscape. From powering domestic dwellings to providing power for camping or even hot water, PV panels are everywhere. In Australia there are around 1.7 million rooftop solar installations, totalling over 5.6 GW of installed capacity.


However, there are still many homes without solar. This article aims to provide guidance for those looking at purchasing a solar installation, whether a new system or an upgrade. It includes types of solar panels and factors to consider when buying them. The guide focuses on PV panels only. For information on other components that may be used in a solar installation (e.g. inverters), system sizing and economic returns, see ‘More info’ at the end of the article.

Solar panel types: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film
Solar panels are made from many solar cells connected together, with each solar cell producing DC (direct current) electricity when sunlight hits it. There are three common types of solar cell: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film. There are very few thin-film panels on the residential PV market—most panels are of the crystalline type.

Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells are made from slices, or wafers, cut from blocks of silicon (one of the most common elements on Earth). Monocrystalline cells start life as a single large crystal known as a boule, which is ‘grown’ in a slow and energy-intensive process. Polycrystalline cells are cut from blocks of cast silicon rather than single large crystals.

Thin-film technology uses a different technique that involves the deposit of layers of semiconducting and conducting materials directly onto metal, glass or even plastic. The most common thin-film panels use amorphous (non-crystalline) silicon and are found everywhere from watches and calculators right through to large grid-connected PV arrays. Other types of thin-film materials include CIGS (copper indium gallium di-selenide) and CdTe (cadmium telluride). These tend to have higher efficiencies than amorphous silicon cells, with CIGS cells rivalling crystalline cells for efficiency. However, the materials used in some of these alternatives are more toxic than silicon—cadmium, particularly, is a quite toxic metal.

Each cell type has some advantages and disadvantages, but all in all, modern solar panels do pretty much what they are designed to do. There are no moving parts to wear out, just solid state cells that have very long lifespans.

Crystalline cells are a very mature technology and have a long history of reliability, so a good quality crystalline PV panel will very likely perform close to specifications for its rated lifespan, which is 25 years or more for most panels. Crystalline panels are usually cheaper than thin-film types, with the cheapest being polycrystalline panels, although the pricing gap between cell types has diminished in recent years.

Read the full article in ReNew 142

Click here to download the full buyers guide tables in PDF format.

north-facing array

Getting solar: from research to install

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Getting solar may be common, but when you’re doing it for the first time it can be a bit of a mystery. Stephen Zuluaga explains his research to get the best system for his house.

UNTIL recently, I’d thought solar wouldn’t work well on our house. With little north-facing roof to speak of, I just assumed that solar wouldn’t be worth it. But then I began to read about some of the good outcomes possible with an east/west array—our roof has lots of east/west space and shading issues only at the extreme ends of the day.


Although an east/west array will produce less overall than a north-facing one, it can extend generation hours, both earlier in the morning with an east-facing array and later in the day with a west-facing system. Long generation hours are important if you don’t have battery storage and the gravy train of premium feed-in tariffs has left the station. It means you can match more of your generation to usage, particularly before and after work usage, and hence increase your ‘self-consumption’ of solar—this will mean lower grid imports and a shorter payback period.

Modelling the economics
Before committing to a solar purchase, I was interested to more fully understand the financials. I found ATA’s free Sunulator tool ( which helped me model a scenario based on my actual electricity consumption and the combined north/east/west PV configuration I was contemplating. Sunulator is a great tool—if you’re planning solar you should use it. [Ed note: ATA also has a simpler tool available to give you an indication of the financials without the full modelling of Sunulator, see] The energy analysts at the ATA helped with understanding the Sunulator results as one of the ATA member benefits.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Stucco apartments solar system

Solar for renters and apartment dwellers

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Renters and residents of strata complexes have traditionally struggled to access solar. Dr Björn Sturmberg and Anna Cumming report on how these groups can join the solar revolution.

IN AUSTRALIA, we have an ‘energy trifecta’ of famously abundant sunshine, infamously high electricity prices and efficient solar supply chains. It’s no surprise then that Australians have embraced the option of rooftop solar systems at record rates. By September this year we’d collectively installed over 1.7 million solar systems, and in Queensland and South Australia every third house is solar powered. Forecasts all agree that the solar boom is far from over, particularly now that the advent of affordable household battery systems is fuelling the divergent dreams of either becoming a ‘gentailer’ (generator–retailer) of your excess solar power in a peer-to-peer network, or defecting from the grid entirely.


While the growing ubiquity of solar is a wonderful outcome environmentally, socially it is causing tension between the ‘solar haves’ and ‘solar have nots’. To be clear, the solar haves are in fact saving all Australians money on their electricity bills1 through their supply of excess solar power to the wholesale market at times of high demand. Still, the cheapest source of electricity for the Australian home is behind-the-meter solar and those who cannot access this are being left behind to bear the full burden of skyrocketing electricity prices.

One main reason for being locked out of solar is not owning your own roof. Renters and apartment dwellers make up more than one in three Australians and have traditionally struggled to access solar; the grid is also missing out, as all those roofs represent significant untapped solar potential. Happily, the demand is there, and options are emerging even for these tricky market sectors.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Linnet Good MASH customer 600px

Sharing the solar benefits: case studies

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If you don’t own your own roof, how can you get solar? We speak to a variety of tenants and apartment owners to see how they went about it.

Doing a deal with the landlady
Originally hailing from Sydney, Dev Mukherjee found winters in his poorly insulated rented sharehouse in Castlemaine, central Victoria, pretty hard to handle. Although from Melbourne, his partner Linnet Good also felt the cold, and she worked from home. The all-electric house also incurred large electricity bills—up to $800 per quarter in winter for the three tenants, as they only had a single reverse-cycle heater in the living area and used plug-in radiators elsewhere.


After living there for a couple of years, and prompted by a bulk-buy solar scheme offered by local sustainability group Mount Alexander Solar Homes (now More Australian Solar Homes), Dev and Linnet approached their landlady about installing solar on the property in an effort to reduce their energy bills as well as the house’s environmental impact.

“Our landlady was supportive,” says Dev, “though of course she was concerned about the cost. She wanted to ensure she’d recoup the cost while the system was still under warranty. The panels had a ten-year warranty, but the inverter was only warranted for five years.” Eventually a suitable agreement was reached, and in spring 2014 a 3 kW solar system was installed at a cost of around $5000.

The electricity bill remained in the tenants’ names after the solar system was installed, and they retained the feed-in tariff for exported solar generation. They negotiated a $25 per week rental increase with their landlady, calculated to pay back the cost of the solar system over five years. “Our average bill reduction we calculated to be slightly more than $25 per week,” he says, helped by changing their behaviour to make best use of the solar, like running the washing machine in the middle of the day.

In addition, they didn’t have another rent increase in the time that they lived in the house. (In the end, despite intending to stay long term, they moved out as the landlady wanted to sell the property vacant; Dev believes the solar system was a drawcard for the purchasers.)

Dev and Linnet encourage other renters to start a conversation with their landlords about installing solar. “It helps if you have a good relationship with the owners, and be mindful that, as they put up the capital, they must be able to see a return on that investment.”

Read more case studies in ReNew 142.

Rental house

Landlords leading the way

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Landlords can take steps to make their investment more comfortable and efficient to live in. But with many measures at the landlord’s discretion, is it time to enforce a minimum standard in rental houses? By Jacinta Cleary

Those looking to rent a home often have no way of assessing the energy efficiency of a place, other than what they can glean from a rapid house inspection with tens of other house hunters in attendance.


The dwelling’s energy efficiency often becomes apparent on the tenant’s first hot or cold day in the house, though, when the sun hits the uninsulated extension tacked on the back of the home, or there’s a cold draught through a gap in the wall. The heating is switched on, or the air con if there’s a system in place, and the winter and summer electricity bills steadily rise.

Switched on tenants who can afford the upfront cost will make their own modifications to improve thermal efficiency, with window coverings for instance to keep the heat inside in winter, but it’s really a landlord’s responsibility to increase the energy efficiency and year-round comfort of their investment property.

Australia’s rental houses are only required to meet the building standards that were in place when they were built, which for some homes could be 100 years ago. With this disparity in mind, Environment Victoria is campaigning as part of the One Million Homes Alliance for a common minimum standard for Victoria’s rental houses. Campaigns in other states include the ACT Comfy Homes campaign, which is calling on the ACT government to establish a similar minimum standard.

As well as the environmental benefits that energy efficiency upgrades bring, the campaigns bring attention to the social issues associated with living in a house that’s uncomfortable and unaffordable to run. Environment Victoria’s Bringing Rental Homes Up To Scratch report highlights that Victorians are renting for longer due to home ownership being increasingly out of reach, with the share of households renting for more than ten years doubling since 1990 and, of the 600,000 rental households in Victoria, the proportion of families with children has risen to 37%. Inefficient housing can have a negative impact on health, especially that of the very young and elderly. ABS data found that renters were the largest group of households unable to heat their home (37%) or pay their bills on time (42%), yet they are around half as likely as owner-occupied homes to have basic energy efficiency measures such as insulation that would help reduce bills.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Energy Efficiency Scorecard assessment

Scoring your home

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Energy efficiency scorecards promise a way to compare homes and kickstart energy efficiency and liveability improvements, for both renters and homeowners.The ATA’s Katy Daily looks at how the Victorian government’s Australian-first scorecard scheme could help her draughty rental home.

SINCE moving from the USA to Melbourne six years ago, my family of four has been renting a tastefully restored 1926 art deco weatherboard. And, in the typical refrain you hear from almost every immigrant from a colder climate, I’ve never felt as cold as I did that first spring in Australia.


Working at the ATA armed me with plenty of ideas for things I could do as a renter (and that we can take with us when we move) to make our draughty home more energy-efficient: we’ve replaced almost all the lights with LEDs, installed a Methven Kiri showerhead, added a Valvecosy to our hot water system and started insulating the hot water piping, and bought an energy-efficient refrigerator and washing machine.

We’ve done a good job of getting our electricity usage down to a respectable 4 kWh/day on average, but the house leaks like a sieve and my partner and I are both loathe to turn the heat on just to heat up the neighbourhood! As a result, our house is very uncomfortable in the winter and can be oppressive on very hot, still days and nights. We’ve been wanting to approach our landlord about draughtproofing, solar and other improvements to help make the home more comfortable while maintaining the low running costs, but didn’t know how to start the conversation.

Enter the Victorian government’s new Residential Efficiency Scorecard which rolled out in 2017. The scorecard is an Australian-first home energy rating program that gives (yet another) star rating, this time for your home, on a scale from 1 to 10, similar to the energy use star rating on a fridge or washing machine. Not to be confused with the NatHERS Star rating which describes the thermal performance of a home, the scorecard rating represents the running cost of the fixed appliances in a home (heating, cooling, lighting, hot water and pools/spas) and is intended to be used as a guide to make home improvements efficiently and cost-effectively.

Read the full story of Katy’s assessment in ReNew 142.

Sheep roam seven hectares on the UQ Gatton solar farm

100% renewable by 2030

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In late 2016, we reported on ATA analysis that showed a 100% renewable grid is feasible and economic in the long-term. Here, Andrew Reddaway follows up to see how we’re progressing towards that goal.

The last year has seen much action in the electricity grid, both announced and commenced. It’s become clear that the electricity grid’s transition is well underway, as coal-fired power stations are being replaced by renewables. However, poor planning and coordination has caused problems such as curtailment of wind generation in SA.


Transition planning needed
As the grid transitions to a high level of renewables, good long-term planning is required. If the grid’s current planning arrangements continue unchanged, decisions and investments will be uncoordinated. They may make sense for the short-term profits of individual companies, but may not lead to a well-designed overall system. The Chief Scientist considered this, and recommended an “integrated grid plan” by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

In the current system, generators compete against each other, may close without notice and have a business incentive to conceal their future intentions.

There is no guarantee that new power stations will be built—the system expects that investors will foresee a shortfall, identify a profit and construct the needed infrastructure. To assist investors, AEMO annually produces the Electricity Statement Of Opportunities report attempting to identify future shortfalls. This document only looks ahead 10 years, and doesn’t consider scenarios such as 100% renewables. AEMO also produces a transmission report, which looks ahead 20 years but has a relatively narrow focus on transmission lines and related assets.

In hindsight this system has a clear flaw. If investors fail to act in time, generating capacity may be insufficient to meet demand. It takes several years to build a new power station, but an old one can be closed very quickly—Hazelwood’s owners provided only five months notice. Individual asset owners have no responsibility for overall system reliability.

This is why interventions in the market have been required in 2017, including the SA government’s Energy Plan.

The current system also relies heavily on clear, long-term government policy to guide investors. Without such policy, investors face the risk that their newly-built asset might have to contend with unexpected new incentives, rules and regulations.

The best plan so far
In the absence of long-range planning by authorities for a high-renewable grid, the best studies have come from universities. In February 2017, the ANU published a clear vision for our future grid. Its researchers found the most economic combination for a fully renewable grid comprises:

  • wind farms (45,000 MW)
  • solar farms (23,000 MW)
  • rooftop solar (17,000 MW)
  • existing hydroelectric and biomass generators (10,800 MW)
  • pumped hydro energy storage
  • extra transmission lines.

Read the full article in ReNew 142 or you can find the paper on which the article is based at

Solar panels waiting to be recycled

PV recycling

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What do you do when a solar panel comes to the end of its useful life? Moreover, what do you do with billions of them? Eva Matthews investigates.

From its infancy in the 1980s, solar as a source of renewable energy has finally become mainstream. In Australia, installed solar capacity has grown from 0.13 GW in 2010 to 6.2 GW as at mid-2017—a 4500% increase. Globally, in the same timeframe, capacity has grown from 50 GW to 305 GW. Fantastic!


Assuming that today’s panels are typically 270 W to 300 W, this equates to a current global total of at least 1.1 billion panels—and given the early panels were just 60 W, this number is likely to be higher in reality. That’s a mind-boggling figure! And it’s only going to get bigger, with global installed capacity projected to reach 4500 GW by 2050.

At some point (let’s assume 25 years, the standard warranty period), all of these panels will come to the end of their useful lives … and then what? Given a standard panel weight of 18 kg, that’s roughly 20 million tonnes of potential waste to manage.

Panels may also be retired before the 25 years is up. Leaps in technology may lead to systems being upgraded early and a significant number of panels (roughly 10%) fail early due to damage during manufacture, transport or handling.

Trash and treasure
Unless properly managed, all this potential waste becomes a monumental problem. To date, unusable solar panels have often ended up in landfill, along with many thousands of tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) despite programs to divert the waste for recycling.

PV panels contain small amounts of hazardous substances. These will only leach out if the panels are broken up—unfortunately, this is pretty much guaranteed to happen when they are deposited in landfill. In small amounts, the toxicity may be negligible, but when you’re talking millions of tonnes of panels, the danger of contamination is a significant concern. Silver, tin and lead (particularly in older panels) are the hazardous components of mono- and polycrystalline silicon panels (estimated at 50% to 60% of the market); indium, gallium, selenium, cadmium, tellurium and also lead are found in thin-film panels.

Currently 85% to 95% of a panel can be reclaimed and recycled. Some damaged or early-fail panels can be repaired and resold on the secondhand market or to developing countries at reduced prices, allowing access to solar technology to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Glass, copper, lead, aluminium and the hazardous semiconductor materials can be reclaimed through a mix of mechanical and chemical processes that have relatively low environmental impact, and either melted down for recycling or sold on as raw materials to be used in the creation of new solar panels and other electronics, reducing the embodied energy going into their manufacture.

Not only does the reclaiming/recycling approach make environmental sense, it’s worth big money. The most recent reports place the value of the global yield of recovered raw materials from solar panels at US$450 m by 2030, and in excess of US$15 b by 2050.

Thankfully, as a result, a PV recycling industry has emerged.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Heat pumps harvest renewable heat

Beyond solar PV

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There’s more to renewable energy than just electricity. Renewable heat is an important alternative to gas for Australian homes and industry, writes Tim Forcey.

MANY Australians just love renewable energy. The deployment of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels continues to grow. Large wind farms are becoming more common in every state. Even the energy storage potential of the Snowy Mountains is in the news, as is Tesla with their big batteries. With these technologies and resources, we can aim to avoid the worst effects of climate change and quit burning coal and gas to generate electricity.


But there is more to renewable energy than just generating electricity. Australia also has massive opportunities for deploying technologies that harvest or create ‘renewable heat’.

It may be because Australia’s climate is not as cold as elsewhere that the term ‘renewable heat’ is rarely used here. Contrast this to Europe where, because of its key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, entire conferences are devoted to renewable heat. In Japan, research since the 1970s has made that country a global leader in renewable heat harvesting technologies such as heat pumps. For decades in New Zealand and Tasmania, places poorly endowed with fossil fuels, renewable heat has played an important role both in homes and more widely across their island economies.

Beyond the environmental benefits, there is a new economic reason why Australians should be interested in using renewable heat: the rapidly rising price of gas.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.


Induction cooktop mini guide

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Induction cooktops can make converts, with power and performance as good as or better than gas. We look at the features to consider when buying one.

If you’re planning to go all-electric—to reduce your bills and carbon footprint as suggested by ATA analysis (see—you’re going to need an electric cooktop. Not so long ago, that meant an element-style cooktop with all the downsides that went with that: slow response to turning the heat up or down and the consequent risk of burnt fingers (or melted implements) as the elements stayed hot for a long time after being turned off. Many keen cooks favoured gas cooking for these reasons—but induction cooktops are changing that.


Should I go induction?
In ReNew, we’ve recently covered several stories about readers’ satisfaction with the switch to induction; in fact, many would call themselves induction converts who would never go back to gas.

Fans of induction cooktops cite many advantages—fast performance, excellent temperature control from low to high, increased safety as the cooktop doesn’t get as hot, ease of cleaning of the flat surface and, last but not least, energy efficiency.

There are a couple of disadvantages which can make the switch more costly for some. One is that you may need to replace your saucepans and frypans. Most new cookware is induction-compatible, but some older cookware fails the ‘magnet’ test. See ‘Cookware requirements’ for more on this.

Another potential cost is that you may need an upgrade of your electrical switchboard or the wiring to your kitchen. Induction cooktops have varying power requirements, but all are likely to require 20 amps or higher, up to 42 amps. See ‘Installation and power requirements’ below for more on this.

Cooking with science
The speedy performance of induction cooktops can seem like magic, particularly if you’ve experienced the slow response of electric element cooktops. But it all comes down to science.

They work by producing an oscillating magnetic field. Because the magnetic field is constantly changing, it induces a matching flux into any magnetic cookware on the cooktop. This induces very high currents in the cookware, causing the cookware to get hot due to the metal’s electrical resistance.

Because the pot is heated directly by the magnetic field, the amount of power being fed to the pot, and hence the running temperature of the pot, can be varied almost instantly, giving induction cooktops heat control capabilities as good as or better than gas.

Features and considerations
When you’re buying an induction cooktop, there are a few considerations to make sure that the cooktop you buy will suit your needs and will be easy to use.

Featured image: Samsung

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

2018 Leaf

More EVs for Oz?

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There has been a dearth of electric vehicle options here in Australia, despite dozens of models being available overseas. Bryce Gaton looks at what’s happening in our EV market.

In 2016, Norway and Holland became the first countries to set a year—2025—for ending sales of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. This could be discounted as something that’s easy to do in countries with no auto industry to protect, but 2017 has seen something of a sea change: countries with significant automotive manufacturing industries are now following suit. France and the UK have set 2040 to end ICE sales; China is setting aggressive year-on-year percentage targets for EV sales versus ICE (such as 20% by 2025) and is reported to be moving towards setting an overall ICE sales end date; India has set 2030; and California in the USA is proposing legislation to set 2040 as the end date.


Existing ICE vehicles are not covered by the above-mentioned laws, but this too is about to change. Holland is the first country to set a year—2030—for having all petrol and diesel cars off the road, together with closure of all coal-fired power plants . Meanwhile, at a recent meeting in Paris, the mayors of 10 of the world’s larger cities (including Paris, London, Los Angeles and Mexico City) pledged to remove petrol and diesel cars from large parts of their cities by 2030.

Sadly, here in Australia we can’t even get our politicians to agree on a plan to move our energy supply off fossil fuels, let alone one to shift transport to more renewable sources of energy.

However, some state and local governments are starting the legwork. Byron and Tweed shire councils in northern NSW recently released a report that looks at ways the region can encourage the uptake of EVs to reduce the region’s carbon emissions. The full report, ‘Power Up—the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Strategy’, can be found at:

The Victorian Government has asked for input to a new report which seeks to understand “the benefits and barriers to the wider uptake of electric vehicles in the state of Victoria”; public submission hearings are being held in November 2017.

In the meantime, do consumers in Australia have any new options if they want their personal transport to be less polluting? The answer is: yes, but not many.

Excitingly, two new EVs have just been announced for sale in Australia! In late September Renault Australia announced the Kangoo ZE van and Zoe electric sedan were available for order. Disappointingly, the release is being done in stages, with the first being to commercial and government buyers only. Purchasers must hold an ABN (sole traders are included) and orders can only be made direct from Renault Australia, not through the dealer network. This is in line with the staged introduction they had in Europe, so it’s hoped they will become more readily available in the not-too-distant future. For more info on purchasing, see

Featured image: courtesy of Nissan

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Bryces Leaf

Assessing your Leaf’s battery health

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In the second part of a series about EV batteries, Bryce Gaton looks at the ways you can test and monitor the battery pack in a Nissan Leaf—useful info for both owners and potential purchasers.

When the Nissan Leaf was first on sale in 2011, it came with a 24 kWh battery and a reported range of 175 km, according to the European NEDC test. New owners soon realised that this reported range was highly optimistic and that the actual range varied widely depending on driving style and conditions.


Nissan then performed a series of tests in the USA, with results as shown in Table 1. Nissan also stated the Leaf battery would slowly reduce in capacity as it aged and, under normal use, it should have 80% capacity after five years and 70% after ten.

In the real world, owners found that early Leafs rapidly lost capacity if operated in very hot climates, at something like double the rate stated by Nissan. In 2015 Nissan addressed this issue with a slight change to the battery chemistry to enhance its operation under extreme conditions (this newer 24 kWh battery is sometimes referred to as the ‘lizard’ battery). Note that system design and efficiency changes in late 2013 raised the range to 200 km (NEDC) and, in 2016, the Leaf battery size was increased to 30 kWh, giving an NEDC range of almost 250 km.

Secondhand Leafs in Australia
What does this mean for Leaf owners or potential purchasers in Australia? First, all the Leafs in Australia are 2011 or 2012 models, with the original chemistry 24 kWh batteries; none have any of the later efficiency or battery size upgrades. Second, because they are all now five to six years old, they likely have, at best, 80% remaining battery capacity.

So how can you tell if that secondhand Leaf you are planning to buy has the expected, or less, battery capacity, other than driving it fully charged until it stops? (And, given the data in Table 1, this may still not be an accurate reflection of its remaining capacity.)
Well, luckily, there are multiple ways to assess the health and capacity of a Nissan Leaf battery, both Nissan-provided and via aftermarket apps that can directly access vehicle data via its OBDII (on-board diagnostics, version 2) port.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Grid voltage corrected infographic

Renewables improving the grid

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An innovative trial is using smart solar inverters on homes, both on their own and combined with batteries, to improve grid stability. By Lance Turner.

Many Australians are all too aware how unstable the electricity grid can be at times, especially under large loads, such as when everyone gets home and cranks up the air conditioner on a hot day. Other factors that can affect local grid stability can include large numbers of distributed generation sources (such as home PV systems) in a small area, long grid distribution lines, and old, poorly maintained or undersized grid equipment such as transformers and cables.


The result can be a number of problems (see Figure 1), including low or excessive grid voltage, low or high grid frequency or poor power factor (a mismatch of the voltage and current waveforms).

While upgrading grid equipment is one possible solution, it’s not the only answer. Long feeder lines experience both increases and decreases in voltage along the line due to the natural impedance (like resistance) of the cables—homes a long way down the feeder can see an ohm or more of impedance between the substation and the home.

At times of light load (energy consumption) but high PV generation, such as the middle of a sunny weekday, the feeder may see a steadily increasing grid voltage along its length; for each ohm of impedance along the feeder line, every amp flowing into the grid raises the voltage on the grid by 1 volt. For example, each 5 kW solar system can be adding 20 amps into the grid, or an increase of up to 20 volts above the other end of the feeder line. In the evening when solar generation is almost zero but demand is high, this same grid impedance causes the voltage to sag. Thus, the voltages along the feeder, especially towards the far end, can vary widely (see Figure 2).

A good example of how extensive the problem can be is in Figure 3, which shows the high and low grid excursion events (where the grid voltage tends towards the allowable limits) for a selected substation over a two-year period.
Although this can be mitigated by an increase in cable size to lower resistance and installing transformers with a higher capacity, such upgrades are expensive and can never eliminate voltage variation caused by system impedances. So, other, smarter options are now being considered.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Australia's largest solar car park at USQ

Australia’s largest solar car park

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A solar car park just makes sense, particularly at a university campus where it can be used for research and education. A recent ATA branch meeting heard about the largest one in Australia, recently installed at USQ.

It’s inspiring to see renewable energy projects springing up in Queensland even in areas of significant fossil fuel production. One such example is Australia’s largest integrated solar car park, which is now operating at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Toowoomba in the Darling Downs. This is a rich agricultural region that is also home to coal mining, coal seam gas production and two of the country’s youngest coal-fuelled power stations, alongside large solar (2 GW) and wind farm (500 MW) proposals—a region with very diverse business interests.


The solar car park is part of a bigger project at USQ, the Sustainable Energy Solution, which involves installation of significant PV arrays around the university: a 1 MW car park solar array at the Toowoomba campus, 196 kW of rooftop PV at Ipswich, 205 kW of rooftop PV in Springfield and another 506 kW of rooftop PV in Toowoomba. Quite a feast of solar!

The solar project is intended as a feast for research as well. Andreas Helwig, a sustainable energy researcher from the school of mechanical and electrical engineering, is undertaking several research projects using the resulting “100 km virtual aperture” (i.e. modelled like 100 km of solar panels!) to investigate the “secret life” of solar panels. With PV across three locations, the research will investigate how solar cell performance is affected by transient clouds, varying levels of relative humidity and different types of airborne dust (including coal dust). All of these can degrade the PV output, reduce the cooling benefit of inverter heat sinks and exacerbate PV manufacturing faults.

Andreas notes, “A big question—and an expensive one—is when is it necessary to clean and maintain the surfaces of the arrays and the inverter heat sinks?” Research projects are also using infrared photometry to identify PV faults, whether from manufacturing or degradation over time.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Eco party box pompoms

Product profile: Party without plastic

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At this time of the year, it seems everyone is having a party of some sort. Unfortunately, many people use disposable crockery and cutlery to avoid washing up and for safer kids’ parties. But those disposable items are usually plastic, and most just end up in landfill.


Frustrated by just this problem, one busy mum decided to start a business solving this dilemma, which is now Eco Party Box, an Australian business devoted solely to providing eco-friendly party supplies.

The range includes sugarcane, bamboo, palm leaf and pine veneer bowls, plates, cups, trays and other food containers; wood and PLA (biodegradable bioplastic) cutlery and skewers; paper straws and recycled paper napkins; even paper and other biodegradable party decorations such as tissue paper pompoms and paper lanterns instead of balloons, reusable chalkboard tags instead of disposables, and a range of party bag fillers made from natural and biodegradable materials.

Also available are party boxes, for kids or adults, which contain all the plates, bowls, cups and cutlery required for up to 25 people.

RRP: from $16.95 for the kids party box (10 people) to $39.95 for any of the adult party boxes (25 people). For more information and to buy, contact Eco Party Box, ph: (08) 8120 0498,,

Read more product profiles in ReNew 142.

Q&A: Pumped hydro

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The government is touting pumped hydro as the answer to all our electricity problems. What they do not talk about is the inefficiency of pumped hydro nor for that matter the inefficiency of battery storage.
Pumped hydro has losses due to motor/generator inefficiencies, pump inefficiencies, pipe friction and turbine turbulence. My rough engineering estimate is that for every $1 of pumped storage power out at least $2, if not more, of power is needed fed in.


As for batteries I have no idea but the manufacturers or electric car users should have a good idea. Is there anyone who can advise as to the losses from using either? It could be like John Howard’s carbon capture where it used more power to recover the carbon and pump it than was generated.
—Tony Parnell


All energy storage involves some efficiency loss. Lithium batteries have round-trip efficiency a bit lower than 90%—this is published in the specifications for products such as the Tesla Powerpack used in the ‘big battery’ currently being installed in South Australia. Pumped hydro is less efficient, around 80% for the ANU’s hilltop proposal or 72% for the proposed Cultana seawater pumped hydro project.

In a high-renewable grid most electricity consumption would be supplied directly from generators, avoiding efficiency losses in energy storage. The batteries would only be used where necessary to buffer variability in supply and demand. As costs drop to build wind and solar farms, they become economically competitive with fossil fuels even after allowing for the extra generation capacity required to cover energy storage losses. Our report ‘100% renewable grid by 2030’ examines these economics; read a summary on p. 40 or find the full report at

SA wind farms are at times already being curtailed, as they’re generating more energy than the grid can absorb. So energy storage in that state has some free energy to make use of (see p. 41 for more on this).
—Andrew Reddaway, ATA Energy Analyst


The Pears Report: Houses are public assets, too

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Why can’t we support long-term investments in energy-efficient buildings for the benefit of all in the community, the way we’re prepared to invest in infrastructure like roads, asks Alan Pears?

I have had a long-standing involvement in building energy rating, regulation and building energy assessment. There are encouraging signs that the next round of building energy regulation for non-residential buildings will drive significant improvement— if it is enforced.


But progress in the residential sector is painfully slow. New homes should be assets that help deliver a healthy, zero (or beyond zero) emission future. This will require a dramatic increase in thermal performance (both summer and winter) of new homes and strong enforcement of standards. I am very concerned about the long-term costs and impacts of failure to act faster.

Incentives, finance, accountability
The situation seems pretty clear to me. We need long-term low-interest finance combined with incentives and mandatory measures for new buildings and existing ones, especially where the decision-maker doesn’t pay the ongoing energy bills. We need accountability through checking actual performance. High-profile rating and benchmarking of performance (with promotion and education so people use it) must be built into information given to home buyers and potential tenants.

Over 30% of households are rentals. Many more have limited financial resources. Houses last 75 years or so on average: they are a form of public infrastructure that private decision-makers create and operate. We finance power stations, roads and buildings over 25 years or more, so why not the cost of upgrading building performance to be future assets in a zero-carbon world?

The energy efficiency of homes is a major influence on health, comfort, energy costs and how much energy supply infrastructure we need. Renewable energy, like efficient heating and cooling equipment, is important. But efficient buildings need a lot less energy supply infrastructure. They are less vulnerable to supply interruptions and appliance failure. They are nicer to live in.

The widely used CBA/HIA housing affordability index ignores the ongoing costs of running a house. It focuses attention on the ‘sticker’ price—yet very few people pay cash for a house. The rest of us are more interested in the net cashflow: can we afford to pay the loan off while paying the running costs and health care bills? Yet few talk about that as an affordability indicator.

The present National Construction Code largely ignores the costs of peak energy demand, health and amenity costs, as well as carbon emission costs and the adequacy of performance in a changing climate.

A package of high building efficiency, high equipment and appliance efficiency, on-site renewable energy and storage can now be cashflow-positive if financed through a mortgage. Reduced health care costs, improved amenity and reduced energy infrastructure costs add value. And we need to ensure the value of long-term benefits is not discounted away by economic analysts. Of course, including a realistic carbon price would make this look even better.

Tenants and financially stressed households, especially those in existing poor-performing homes, suffer most. When we as a society recognise the broader social benefit of helping people to look after themselves, we act. Owning a home, no matter how inefficient and uncomfortable, has long been seen as a socially beneficial outcome, so governments have encouraged banks to loan money. The financial sector is happy to loan money to businesses that claim they will deliver a social benefit by growing the economy—although the reality often falls short. So why don’t we provide appropriate finance for low-carbon housing?

We need to recognise that the emerging reality in energy and climate is a shift from governments and big business making big long-term investments to individuals and small businesses investing in on-site energy efficiency (appliances and buildings), renewables, storage and smarts. So we need structures that support such action—for tenants, vulnerable households, financially stressed households, small businesses and communities.

Supporting great causes is one way to manage guilt and frustration about climate change. The ATA’s project to install solar-powered lighting units in remote East Timorese villages involves and educates the whole community. Give the Gift of Light: Photo: Susanna Rossi.

Managing guilt and distress on climate change
It’s coming up to Christmas and summer. It’s a time of reflection and celebration, and guilt and frustration for many who are working towards a better world. It’s also the beginning of what could be a nasty bushfire season, driven by ongoing climate change.

How much responsibility should I take for action to cut climate impacts?

This question exercises my mind quite a bit. I’m lucky, in that I can (at least occasionally) point to policies, programs or actions I’ve helped to implement that have shifted national, state or local governments. More often, I can see action I’ve taken that has simply helped to reduce the back-sliding as anti-climate action groups, powerful interests and captive policy makers push their agendas.

In my personal life I, like many others, do what I can to cut my impacts and support positive local action. But it’s difficult for many people to feel they have done enough. One lesson from life cycle analysis is that we depend on many complex systems to deliver the services and products we rely on. While the final buyer could, in theory, select low-carbon, ethical options, there are serious practical barriers.

Information is scarce, and the indirect influence of financiers, governments and decision-makers within the supply chain has effects on environmental and social impacts that can’t be easily unravelled. In particular, most people depend upon governments to provide infrastructure to allow them to travel to work with minimum impact, design cities to deliver equitable outcomes, and set and enforce rules for industry and business to behave responsibly and report on their impacts.

Australian governments have, on the whole, failed to support people who want to deliver a low-carbon, equitable and successful society and economy. What can I do if the only realistic way I can get to work involves driving a car a long distance on a congested road?

Governments have a serious governance problem: even if an individual government does good work, there is no guarantee that this will not be unravelled by a future government. And they seem to be prepared to facilitate projects that add to our problems, providing finance, regulating to support and turning a ‘blind eye’ to failures. Just look at the chronic failures in energy markets, housing, transport and climate policy!

So where does this leave those of us who want to make a difference on climate issues?

We can do lots within our own lives, using less fossil fuel, buying less ‘stuff’ and buying less of the ‘stuff’ that we are confident has a high impact. Some things matter a lot more than others: the steel and cement in building construction is emissions-intensive. While beef and lamb are emissions-intensive, so are highly processed foods and visits to energy inefficient restaurants. Driving to shops and inefficient old fridges can also be significant contributors to a household’s emissions. We need much better consumer guidance. But we also need to look beyond this: a modern, sustainable society should not involve wearing hair shirts and freezing in the dark!

Those of us who have some capital could help others to afford clean energy solutions by investing in funds that finance rooftop solar and energy efficiency measures for vulnerable households (e.g. Corena and ClearSky Solar, or look for local community groups investing in solar projects). These investments can deliver a good, reliable return while helping others to be part of the solution instead of victims. Owners of rental properties can install low-emission equipment and upgrade performance while, in many cases, capturing tax deductions and depreciation allowances.

One of my favourite Christmas and birthday strategies is to buy friends and relatives carbon offsets instead of presents. The UN website ( allows you to choose projects that deliver useful economic and social outcomes as well as cutting emissions. While some people criticise the UN offset scheme (with some justification) because it lacks rigour, by choosing your projects, you can guarantee some benefit. And the pragmatic reality is that, if you and I don’t buy and surrender these offsets without emitting, big businesses and slow-moving governments (like ours) can buy and surrender them because they are ‘legal currency’ in the global abatement scheme. And we should buy them while they’re cheap!

Government priorities and actions matter. So harassing your representatives of local, state and national governments is important. Community action, both for advocacy and practical projects, is vitally important. The reality is that governments are mostly followers, not leaders, so community leadership is powerful.

Lastly, we should applaud people, communities, businesses and organisations, and even politicians, who take significant action on climate. They need all the support we can give them. And maybe we can celebrate a bit with the odd glass of Australian red wine from a cask—much lower carbon impact than white wine from a bottle!

The Energy Efficiency Council awards include a gong for Energy Efficiency Champion for “an individual who has advanced the energy efficiency sector through outstanding advocacy, research, education or projects.” That’s a neat summary of the efforts of regular ReNew contributor Alan Pears, who took out the award in November 2017, to a standing ovation.

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. He writes a column in each issue of ReNew: you can buy an e-book of Alan’s columns from 1997 to 2016 at

This article was first published in ReNew 142.