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ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 135 editorial: Water inside and out

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In Sophie Thomson’s Adelaide Hills garden, indigenous plants that survived under a ‘no watering’ scheme for several years have struggled this year, with some dying. In Victoria, we’re seeing reservoir levels dropping, street trees struggling and many gardeners dismayed over just how dry the soil is. It’s a similar story in many parts of Australia, with the tinder-dry bush causing devastating fires such as those in the Tassie wilderness.


If we don’t want to abandon our gardens, critical as they are in providing shelter, cooling and habitat, as well as food, what do we do? In this issue, we explore some of the approaches that can help gardens thrive with efficient and effective use of water.

Sophie Thomson issues a challenge to rethink our gardens into watering zones, with most of the garden given to ‘no water’ and ‘low water’ plants — think local indigenous planting and choosing plants appropriate to the site and conditions. But that doesn’t mean abandoning the higher water usage plants altogether, such as vegies; instead, we look at more efficient ways to water, including drip irrigation — potentially regulated according to temperature and rainfall — and wicking beds, where the water is delivered to the plant roots and wicks up to where it’s needed. We’ve previously covered rainwater and greywater use in detail (see ReNew 125 and 130) so this time we shift attention to using stormwater via rain gardens, a way to reduce polluted runoff into our rivers and water the vegies at the same time. We also visit Melliodora, the Australian permaculture co-founder’s property in Victoria, and find out how permaculture principles meld with water efficiency.

In the tropics and subtropics, the problem is slightly different — coping with deluges in summer and relatively dry winters. Two northern Australian gardening experts give advice on what to plant and ways to use water effectively in these regions.

It’s not all about gardens. We also look at where households can save water, inside and out, and compare water usage around Australia. Our mini guide is on waterless toilets, definitely worth considering as a water- and pollution-saving measure.

Our main buyers guide is on heating. We often get queries about hydronic heating, so we’ve updated our guide to include both reverse-cycle air conditioners and hydronic.

And amidst all the talk about batteries and going off-grid, we take a look at what’s available in all-in-one battery systems, and where the market is heading. We also examine the sustainability benefits of solar and solar + battery systems. If you’ve ever wondered just how much effect your solar system can have on the grid—can it really affect the output of a coal-fired power station?—this article is for you.

Plus there’s lots more: a DIY on double glazing, a mini hydronic system, reviews of 10 water-saving books, where wind farms are heading and the Pears Report on how different the approaches to energy policy can be.

As we head into a disturbingly hot start to autumn, an election year and post the Paris climate talks, we welcome your feedback and input. We hope this year we can see action on climate change rather than just words.

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor


ATA CEO’s Report

The year 2015 ended with an historic agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to limit global warming below 2°C. As a signatory to the agreement, Australia is now part of the push for a net zero emissions world.

At the ATA we are at the forefront of advocating for, encouraging and advising on sustainable technology and practices in Australian homes and communities to make a big impact on reducing carbon emissions. We are continuously researching and investigating new and emerging technology for a more sustainable future.

As an example of putting knowledge into action, we were very excited to team up with the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) to install an off-grid solar system at the Oriners ranger base in far north Queensland. We have been admirers of CAT’s work installing solar systems in remote Indigenous communities for many years and have profiled some of their work in ReNew previously. After funding cuts to their Bushlight program, the ATA was more than happy to work with CAT to trial a project reducing the costs of installing a system, with ATA members volunteering skills and labour.

A big thankyou to David Tolliday, John Dickie, Olivia Laskowski and CAT’s Andre Grant for their work and dedication on a successful first project. We look forward to collaborating again in our goal for a net zero-emissions world.

Donna Luckman

You can purchase ReNew 135 from the ATA webshop.

heating buyers guide

Heating buyers guide 2016

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Heating can be a large proportion of energy use in the home. Lance Turner looks at what efficient options are available, including hydronic and reverse-cycle air conditioners.

OUR previous heating buyers guide looked at heat pumps (commonly called reverse-cycle air conditioners) due to their high efficiency, low cost and simple installation. Later in this guide we take another look at reverse-cycle air conditioners and their advantages, and list the most efficient units currently available.


However, there is another form of heating that not only lets you choose a heat pump as the heat source, but other energy sources as well if they are more appropriate. That system is hydronics.

Hydronic heating

Hydronic systems consist of a heat source (commonly called the boiler) to heat water, and one or more pipe circuits which have the heated water flowing through them. Each circuit incorporates one or more radiators, which emit warmth into the room.

Most hydronic systems have multiple circuits, so you can heat all or only part of a home, allowing you to leave unused, closed- off rooms unheated to reduce energy use.

Water is circulated through the system using low-pressure pumps, and circuits are turned on/off by electrically operated valves, usually controlled by an electronic controller. The controller enables a system to be programmed to heat certain parts of a home at particular times—for example, heating the living areas during the evening and the bedrooms just before bedtime.

Hydronic systems are recognised to have a number of advantages over other forms of heating. The heat being either underfoot or close to it (through the use of skirting radiators or panel radiators mounted at floor level) means that you get the feeling of warmth with lower ambient room temperatures than with space heating. Also, there is generally very little air movement with hydronic heating, reducing the potential cooling effect of airflows produced by convective heating such as reverse-cycle air conditioners or ducted gas systems.

Read the full article in ReNew 135

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

Tap aerators and flow restrictors

Wise water ways: At home with water efficiency

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Eva Matthews looks at the gadgets, habits and tools that can help you make the most of our precious H2O.

THE water account for 2013–14 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals some useful facts about our water use at home. Household water consumption for the year totalled 1872 GL—equivalent to just under four Sydney Harbours. And the Sydney Harbour analogy is particularly relevant, as NSW was the highest-using of the states and territories by almost double that of the next-highest, partly because of its larger population. Per capita usage was highest in WA (361 kL) and NT (416 kL) per person per day; Victoria was the lowest at 175 kL and NSW, ACT, SA, Tasmania and Queensland were all in the range 200 to 220 kL.


In the same time period, this water use cost households around $5 billion, and prices are rising (up around 25% on the previous year in NSW and Vic). And then there’s the fact that, despite Australia’s average rainfall being well below the global average and likely to remain so, we are the greatest per capita consumers of water, not even including the water embodied in the production of the food and products we consume. These stats make it pretty obvious that we are not, as a nation, living sustainably or smartly enough when it comes to this precious natural resource.

So what can we do to improve this situation? Primarily, use less water and make the most of the water we have! There are also national and state/territory-based rebates and incentive schemes (such as showerhead swaps, rainwater tank and greywater system rebates, appliance upgrades, toilet replacement and leak fixing services) to help people become better water savers. Check out for basic info and useful links.

Read the full article in ReNew 135.


Store and deliver: Energy storage market heats up

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The energy storage sector is heating up. Lance Turner takes a quick look at where the industry is heading.

A decade ago, seeing solar panels on homes was a rare occurrence, yet now you will find them on more than one million Australian homes. Indeed, solar has become completely mainstream, no longer just for greenies and those living remotely.


While solar power works well to reduce dependence on the grid at peak times, the recent or pending removal of decent feed-in tariffs for many solar owners has meant that many are now looking at energy storage. A battery system means that system owners can reduce their low-valued exports to the grid and instead store the energy for later use, offsetting expensive grid imports, and potentially saving money, or at least shifting the balance towards greater self-sufficiency.

Traditionally, solar battery systems have been designed to suit the individual installation, but for grid-connected storage that is no longer a requirement. All you need is a system that can store an appropriate amount of energy and be able to supply that to your house when needed—it doesn’t need to cover all demands of the home at all times.

To this end, we have seen a proliferation of domestic-oriented energy storage systems (ESS) of late. They vary in size, shape and features, but all are designed to allow the homeowner to take better control of their energy generation and use, reducing bills and, in some cases, providing a degree of backup against grid failure.

Not all systems are designed for grid backup, but this is becoming more common as manufacturers realise that customers want their systems to be as flexible as possible, even potentially allowing them to eventually go off-grid altogether.

Read the full article in ReNew 135.


Drop by drop: Measuring it out

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Robyn Deed talks to Gardening Australia’s Sophie Thomson about her measured approach to watering in Adelaide’s challenging dry climate.

Sophie Thomson is not a fan of hand watering, in general: “No one does it deeply enough—often you’d need to stand there with the hose on each plant for 20 minutes to do it properly.” She sees many trees and shrubs in water stress due to hand watering. “Hand watering can work well for pot plants and vegies, but not for the general garden.”


More water, less often

To get the required level of watering for trees and shrubs, she’s a fan of low-pressure sprinklers (for example, Lo-Flo an Australian invention, WaterMark approved), which produce big drops rather than mist, or drip irrigation systems that can be turned on for the required period. The watering system might need to be on two hours once a fortnight to get the deep good soak the plants need—more water, less often is the mantra.

But how do you know how much water is needed? Sophie advises that the best way is to look at what you’re doing now and adjust from that. “Start by watering as you normally do and then dig down next to the plant to see how deep the water has gone; it will often be just a couple of centimetres, but trees and shrubs need the water at their root zone, 20 to 30 cm down.” Adjust the watering time and volume to do this and so encourage strong deep roots.

Read your plants

“You also need to read your plants,” Sophie says. Watering needs will vary depending on such things as rainfall, heat, humidity, soil type and root competition. You can “read” the leaves, for example, as these are a plant’s ‘air conditioning’ system. With citrus, you can feel the leaf on a hot day and, if it isn’t cool to touch, then the plant is too dry; the leaves should also be vibrant and shiny. With vegies, it’s slightly different—”We need to acknowledge that many soft, tender vegies are being grown outside of their climate zone, so we need to accept a bit of wilt in the heat, so long as they pick up overnight and when watered.”

Read the full article in ReNew 135.


Wicking beds: Irrigation from the ground up

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Seven years ago, when permaculture design consultancy Very Edible Gardens began, they had no idea what a wicking bed was. After repeated queries from clients, they started to research and experiment. Dan Palmer, co-founder of VEG, shares the fruits of their labour.

Prior to our foray into wicking beds, all of our raised vegie beds were either unirrigated or set up with drip irrigation. But then someone whispered these words to us: “Wicking beds… We want wicking beds.” So we started setting up wicking beds in old bathtubs, and using plastic liner in standard raised beds. We set out to learn by doing, our initial intention to prove to ourselves that wicking beds didn’t work. We gave it a pretty good shot, learned a lot in the process and refined how we went about them—a good example of iterative design, where you keep doing what’s working and improve what isn’t, then repeat.


What is a wicking bed?

Invented by Australian Colin Austin, the wicking bed idea involves the prevention of water loss from your garden bed through the use of a waterproof liner or layer. This creates a reservoir of water beneath the soil and means that, instead of watering from above via drip irrigation, a hose or a watering can, the water wicks up into the soil from below.

This keeps the soil nice and moist. You prevent the weight of the soil from squashing all the water out by having the water sit in a layer of small stones, sand or similar, which can accommodate the water while bearing the weight of the soil. You prevent the soil from dropping down into gaps between the stones or sand particles with a layer of something that lets water wick up, but stops soil moving down. The last essential piece of the wicking bed puzzle is that you need a designated overflow point so that the soil layer doesn’t get flooded and kill the soil life and plants by rotting their roots.

Read the full article in ReNew 135.


How green is my solar?

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How long does it take to pay back the energy used in the production of solar + battery systems and how much of an effect do they have on the greenness of the grid? The ATA’s Andrew Reddaway investigates.

By generating clean electricity, solar systems reduce the amount of coal and gas that’s burned in power stations. This reduces pollutants and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, which cause disease and man-made climate change. Fossil fuels also require extractive processes such as fracking and open-cut coal mining, which have led to negative effects on the environment such as land degradation, water contamination and mine fires.


It seems clear that installing a solar system will have a positive effect on the environment. But with several different types of system now available, including systems with batteries, how do they compare in terms of the environment?

Grid-connected without batteries

The vast majority of existing solar systems are connected to the grid and have no batteries. Your solar panels’ electricity is first used by on-site appliances, and any excess is exported to the grid to be consumed by your neighbours. Any shortfalls are supplied from the grid. This setup is relatively cheap and efficient, using a simple inverter that relies on the grid for its stability. However, it’s not very self-sufficient, because if a grid blackout occurs the inverter will switch off. (Although not always; some rare grid-connect inverters can use direct solar generation to supply household appliances in a blackout, even without batteries; for example, the Nedap PowerRouter.)

Since the grid has minimal energy storage, whenever your solar system is operating, a centralised power station will reduce its output to compensate. Each kilowatt-hour of solar generation reduces power station generation accordingly. In fact the benefit is even greater, as the power station must supply not only the end-user demand but also the losses incurred in the power lines, which can be over 20% for remote locations. Some people argue that because coal-fired power stations are inflexible, they’ll keep consuming coal at the same rate regardless of solar generation. Actually they are responsive enough; for example, Loy Yang A in Victoria can halve its output in less than an hour. Spread out over a geographically large area, solar systems’ overall impact is relatively gradual even when a cloud front arrives; this is forecast and managed by the grid operator in five-minute intervals.

With enough panels you can generate more electricity than you consume over a whole year, with your night-time imports more than compensated for by your daytime exports.

Read the full article in ReNew 135.

A light in the bush

A light in the bush

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A pilot project at an Indigenous ranger station in northern Queensland has shown how collaboration can help bring low-cost sustainable power to remote bush locations—and turn off the polluting generators. By David Tolliday.

For many years now, volunteers with the Alternative Technology Association (ATA, ReNew’s publisher) have been working with other organisations to provide solar lighting and improve quality of life in East Timor. Last year, ATA’s volunteers were called on to similarly help power up Oriners Ranger Base in Cape York, northern Queensland.


A seed is sown
In 2014, the Kowanyama Shire Council’s Land Office invited the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) to visit their Oriners Ranger Base (160 km west of Laura, on the Cape York Peninsula) to look into the power and water situation there. In particular, the base was in need of a new, reliable stand-alone solar energy system to replace the old 12 V system that had, sadly, been stolen from the site a couple of years earlier.

The land office hoped CAT’s experience and design knowledge would help them find the best way to set up a system, maximising the use of very limited funds (from their own income sources) to achieve a high-quality, durable remote-area solar power system. Looking at the challenge, CAT considered a collaborative model that would incorporate pro-bono installation by experienced solar industry professionals combined with ‘sweat equity’ from the community. This model would use key elements of their highly successful Bushlight Program (see box), along with the pro-bono partnerships.

A project is born
In early 2015, after discussions with the ATA (whom CAT considered a natural partner for the project), CAT’s pilot proposal was accepted. The ATA had agreed to support the pilot by sourcing two volunteers with the appropriate technical expertise and experience to take care of the installations.

The ATA put out a national call for suitable volunteers and, after a selection process, I was chosen to be the lead installer, with John Dickie assisting. I’m from Melbourne and John’s from Canberra, and we are both electricians and Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited solar installers.

After months of planning, we arrived in Cairns to meet CAT’s Project Manager, Andre Grant. We then spent two days checking and loading equipment, and purchasing last-minute supplies before heading off for the seven-hour 4WD trip to Oriners Ranger Base.

After meeting the Indigenous rangers—’Brolga’ (Philip Yam), Garry Hudson and John Clark—along with land and sea manager Chris Hannocks and local Kowanyama Shire electrician Jared Warren, we surveyed the existing power setup. It consisted of an array of petrol generators, extension leads, portable lights and power boards, mostly laying across the ground. In anticipation of the arrival of the truck and container the next day, we headed to bed early.

As with all good plans, things didn’t go quite right—the truck had to turn back because of a leaking radiator; two days later, it arrived. The days were very hot and the humidity high, so work was limited to early morning and late afternoon. (You know it’s hot when not even the Indigenous rangers will work in the midday heat!) At one point we realised we had miscalculated the required quantity of array cable. Some frantic telephone calls later, we had the parts on a plane to the local town—a three-hour round trip away.

We had a time limit of two weeks, which sounds plenty; however, wiring the ranger station made our job more involved, and we also installed the container we shipped up with our solar equipment as a new secure kitchen/storage area, to help prevent thefts when the rangers were away.

Early in the second week, we were finally able to test and commission the stand-alone power system, and so turn off the noisy, polluting generators. Oriners Ranger Base now had a reliable, sustainable 240 V power supply—for light, power and, importantly, refrigeration, for maintaining food for the rangers over the wet season, when access is severely restricted.

We finally broke camp on the Tuesday to head back to Cairns. Taking two days, we checked out the next possible project at a ’nearby’ Indigenous-owned cattle station. Back in Cairns, we had a night out to celebrate a successful project before boarding our planes home the next day.

Highlights (and challenges!)
It was challenging, not only because we were miles from any suppliers, but also because it was hot: very, very hot. It was a great experience, however, and the team worked well together. Having the opportunity to share my solar knowledge with John, Jared and Andre was very rewarding. The Indigenous rangers really appreciated our efforts, and they were also great—sharing their knowledge and stories, and taking us ‘red claw’ (freshwater crayfish) hunting for our dinner. I can highly recommend volunteering.

For John: “As well as a fantastic experience working in a remote location and meeting some sensational people, it was great to be able to contribute, albeit in a small way, to the installation of sustainable, clean, quiet technology that provides more reliable power for essential items such as refrigeration, lighting and communications, and which should have a long lifespan. This, in turn, allows the traditional owners and rangers to more effectively look after and manage their country.”

Technical details
The project was to design and install a reliable and robust stand-alone power system that would provide at least 10 kWh per day of 240 V supply to the ranger’s house and shed, to replace aging generators that were not only noisy and unreliable, but also produced considerable pollution.

The design was based on a DC-coupled PV array stand-alone configuration; however, with changes in industry practices and thinking, we would consider an AC-coupled system for future installations.

One issue that became apparent in designing this system was the change in the requirement of power conversion equipment (inverters and charge controllers) in AS/NZS 5033, which came into effect in July 2015. Many of the tried-and-true charge controllers used in stand-alone power systems for years no longer complied, and the newer, approved models were not readily available.

Finally, reliability and redundancy were major considerations in this design. In line with CAT’s experience, the system was robustly designed to ensure the realities of remoteness and poor access to service and support would not lead to system breakdown or failure.

Key specs:

  • PV modules: 24 x BenQ model PM060P00-255 (total 6.12 kW)
  • PV mounting frame: Clenergy PV-ezRack® SolarTerrace II-A
  • Inverter: Selectronics SP-Pro SPMC481-AU 5 kW
  • Charge controller: 2 x Studer Vario Track VT80 MPPT charge controllers
  • Batteries: 24 x Hoppecke 8 OPzV Solar 1000Ah VRLA (50 kWh)
  • Surge protection: 2 x MidNite MNSPD DC Type 1 devices
  • Capacity: Minimum 10 kWh per day from 50 kWh battery bank

About CAT
Governed by a majority Indigenous Board, the Centre for Appropriate Technology is a not-for-profit technology innovation company that works with remote Indigenous communities to design, build and manage technologies that support self-reliance and economic independence.
CAT is well known for its Bushlight Program, which designed and installed 130 solar systems (stand-alone and hybrid) to provide reliable, affordable 24-hour power to small communities across Australia. Bushlight systems near Kowanyama include Fish Hole, Scrubby Bore and Baas Yard.

The Bushlight approach ensures that system design is based on community planning processes that benchmark current and future energy needs, and provides community-based training in monitoring and managing the systems to maintain optimal loads and performance. This project provided the opportunity to develop a new model for delivering solar power with limited funding, while incorporating the sustainability and reliability delivered by the Bushlight approach. It hopefully benchmarks a process that will be of benefit to other remote ranger bases and homelands.

David Tolliday is a senior instructor in renewable energy training at Holmesglen Institute in Melbourne. He holds CEC accreditation in grid-connected PV and stand-alone (off-grid), small wind and hybrid power systems.

Read more articles in ReNew 135.


The Pears Report: Global energy markets

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Following his participation in two international summits recently, Alan Pears reflects on approaches to a transitioning energy market, both internationally and in Australia.

My opportunities to present at an Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) energy ministers’ conference and also an Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) energy summit late in 2015 gave me some fascinating insights into the energy picture beyond Australia. There was no debate about climate change—the science is accepted, the evidence is clear, and the impacts are real and terrifying. The two forums, however, showcased quite different approaches to addressing the issue.


Among APEC ministers, there was intense discussion about how best to help the rural poor gain access to renewable energy off-grid or on microgrids. APEC energy leaders were, on the whole, quite progressive, and my presentation on the future role of clean energy generated a very positive response.

Energy efficiency was seen as a key priority, as was equitable access to energy and, of course, renewable energy. The Philippines has identified renewable energy resources 13 times larger than present capacity. Several speakers outlined goals to reduce energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP); for example, China aims to achieve a 45% reduction by 2030 relative to 2005.

The need to attract private capital was also a major theme. Most focus was on large projects, although some emphasised the role of micro-enterprises. Of course, investment in energy efficiency and distributed renewables is a very effective way of using private capital!

Coal was mentioned, but without great enthusiasm. Coal is a problem for most APEC countries—coal imports add to their balance of payment problems, as well as pollution. APEC is supporting efforts to develop clean coal technologies as one of a number of themes, but my impression was that this is more because those supporting this approach are prepared to fund the work.

And APEC is not interested in upsetting powerful groups. Its focus is more about fostering dialogue and sharing experiences. Indeed, several people expressed their relief that newly appointed Australian energy minister Josh Frydenberg attended and participated constructively; Australia, one of the key drivers of the creation of APEC, had vanished from the scene since the election of the Abbott government, much to the bemusement of many.

The first day of the ASEAN summit in China was a very different matter, and reflected much more the Australian situation. It was dominated by presentations on large-scale generation projects—mainly renewable and nuclear—and grand visions of huge inter-country power grids that would enable the diverse renewable energy resources of the region to be shared, while also building regional cooperation. All this was based on an assumption that regional electricity demand would triple or quadruple—trending towards the US level of per capita consumption.

I was the only one of about 20 (all-male) speakers from the energy sector who questioned the assumption of massive energy growth, the logic behind large projects and the belief that inter-country grids would improve relationships. I was relieved when, at the end of the first day, quite a few people thanked me for my ‘intervention’. Clearly not everyone at the summit was excited by the scenarios presented. For me, this highlighted the enormous and powerful cultural forces within the energy establishment driving large-scale, capital-intensive solutions. I come from a very different perspective!

The second day was an incredible contrast. I presented at the Smart Cities forum—one of four streams; the others being nuclear, power grids and PV. Presentations discussed smart use of ‘big data’ to optimise building performance, applications of smart grids and case studies of low-carbon urban development. By the end of this day, my optimism had returned.

One of the interesting aspects of these experiences was the significance of the informal discussions and networking, which is difficult to achieve via the internet or correspondence. On the second day, I sat next to one of the key speakers from the previous day, and we discussed the concept of energy services and how people didn’t actually want energy. His summation at the end of that day included some of the points I had raised with him! On the following day we had a site visit to Yingli Solar, the fourth-largest PV manufacturer in China. A Chinese energy policy maker sat next to me on the bus, and we discussed the issues I had raised on the previous days. Our bus driver got lost, so our conversation continued for nearly an hour!

Now I’m back in Australia, slogging away writing my submission to the Victorian Essential Services Commission Inquiry into the ‘true value’ of distributed generation and trying to generate some interest in Australia’s National Energy Productivity Plan. Reality bites!

How to drive energy efficiency and productivity
Australia’s National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP) was launched last December. Its aim is to deliver more economic output per unit of energy consumed. It includes quite a few worthwhile actions, but its weakness is lack of focus on the institutional and funding arrangements needed to drive outcomes.

To date, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) have proven effective at driving renewable energy research, innovation and commercialisation. Energy efficiency investments already represent about 30% of CEFC’s funding. But ARENA’s agenda is focused more narrowly.

One practical step forward would be to rename ARENA as AEPA (Australian Energy Productivity Agency) and broaden its terms of reference to include energy efficiency—and provide it with more funding. This would not solve the broader institutional blockages to energy efficiency, but it would start building Australia’s capacity to drive decarbonisation in an integrated way.

Low fossil fuel prices—what do they mean?
Over the past year we have seen global oil, coal and liquefied natural gas prices crash. Not many predicted this. It seems to be the result of over-production and lower-than-expected demand. For me, this is a very interesting phenomenon.

Usually, low prices would drive up demand until production was matched by demand. But not this time. Many economists argue that the problem is that low economic growth is limiting demand growth. But there seem to be some other factors at work.

First, global economic development, especially in China, is shifting from physical production to services, which are much less energy intensive (that is, they use much less energy per unit of economic activity). Second, services are displacing resource production and manufacturing, reducing average energy intensity of the existing economy. Third, distributed clean energy is swamping traditional energy supply, as it is now cheaper and much less risky. Fourth, modular, mass-produced energy solutions (both supply side and demand side) are accelerating, driven by remarkable innovation and cost reduction.

While traditional economists keep hoping that demand will recover to take advantage of the low prices, we are seeing some very different responses. For example, the Indonesian government has taken the opportunity provided by falling oil prices to remove subsidies on diesel and other petroleum fuels. This positions Indonesia to shift to a low-carbon future and improves government revenue significantly while also reducing oil import costs.

So the global economy seems to be moving on, beyond fossil fuels. As an OPEC sheik said in the 1970s, “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone”.

Some organisations, such as banks and big fossil fuel producers, will try to fool investors by continuing to deny the need for change while they quietly shift their own investments, selling to those silly enough to believe that fossil fuel projects are good investments, then admit afterwards that change was necessary, and claim that they have managed the transition competently. I’m glad my investments are in other sectors!

Alan’s slides and speaking notes from the APEC conference can be viewed here.
His article about the NEPP can be viewed here.

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 135.

DIY double glazing

Double glazing on a budget

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Double glazing can be very expensive, but with a bit of care and patience you can add double glazing to existing windows without breaking the bank. Alan Cotterill shows us how.

Built in 2002, my four-bedroom brick veneer house has stock standard powder-coated aluminium windows and doors. With my previous efforts to retrofit for energy savings and thermal comfort (see ‘Efficiency on a budget’ in ReNew 130), I had already fitted effective shading for my windows in the warmer weather. As I understand it, this is a prerequisite if double glazing is not going to be counterproductive in summer. But for winter, double-glazed windows insulate and thus hold in the heat much better than a single-glazed pane. Thus, I embarked on a project to retrofit my windows with a second (acrylic) pane.


For the additional panes, I used 3 mm cast acrylic sheet accurately cut to size commercially by The Plastics Factory. They cut 34 panels within a tolerance of 1 mm to my requested dimensions. Accurate measuring by myself was of paramount importance for this! Buying direct from a wholesaler meant a good saving; in fact, the cost was around half that of uncut sheets from local retail outlets.

I adhered the acrylic sheet to the aluminium surrounds of each panel of glass using highly flexible silicone sealant. The reasons for this choice were two-fold.

Firstly, the linear expansion rate from a change in temperature is significantly different between the acrylic sheet and the aluminium frame, with the acrylic expanding at three times the rate of the aluminium. With a 1200 mm edge and a temperature change from 0 to 40 °C, the acrylic would expand nearly 4 mm more than the aluminium frame. Flexibility of the sealant would cater for this to some extent.

Secondly, if a glass panel needs replacing down the track or a return to single glazing is desired, the silicone sealant could be scraped off (although still a tedious, fiddly job!)

Read the full article in ReNew 135.


ATA member profile: We heart Tankulator

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fairer phone

Product profile: A fairer phone

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The original Fairphone was released to address the ethical issues in the supply chain of electronic products like mobile phones. Materials used in many phones can come from questionable sources (known as conflict minerals as mining them finances conflicts in the Congo), but the Fairphone 2 is made from FairTrade-certified materials, making it the most ethical phone out there.


Of course, with so much competition, it also needs to perform, and the new Fairphone 2’s specifications allow it to compete in the mid-range phone arena quite well. Running on Android 5.1 Lollipop, the Fairphone 2 is powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage, plus a microSD slot. The 5-inch LCD has 1920 x 1080 resolution (441 ppi), 4G, wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and dual SIM card slots.

Another interesting and ethical aspect of the Fairphone 2 is that it is designed to be modular. The individual components are easily replaced by the user, allowing it to be repaired or upgraded instead of being discarded.

While not the fastest phone out there, it is certainly the most environmentally sound and ethical smartphone we’ve seen. Note that the Fairphone 2 is currently only available in European countries, although it is expected to be available outside Europe this year.

RRP: €525. For more information and to buy, go to

Read more product profiles in ReNew 135.

Q&A: Single-slice toaster

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I read your article on household appliances ‘It’s in the Stars’, but what about the humble toaster? Every morning in households across Australia and worldwide, power is wasted because, if you only want to toast one slice of bread, both elements fire up if you are using a two-slice toaster. If you are using a four-slice toaster and want to cook one or three slices, again an unneeded side of the element will switch on.


It shouldn’t be too hard for toaster manufacturers to design a more energy-efficient unit with independent elements. Small individual savings like this can add up to significant savings in energy use. There must be lots of ways savings can be achieved. It just needs someone to develop the ideas.

We can’t rely on our governments to make all the right decisions on the important subject of climate change and carbon footprints. I believe that it is up to the individual as well to make an effort to keep their energy use down to a minimum if we are going to make a difference and survive this crisis.
—Jo Prendergast


Very few toasters are designed for just one slice. There are single-slot toasters designed for two slices side by side, but, of course, when toasting one slice, the elements are effectively larger than needed and so there is still wasted energy.

There was a toaster designed in Japan that just does one slice, but it is only available for 100V supplies and it doesn’t get good reviews. However, Dualit’s two-slice classic toaster ( has the ability to turn off one slot for toasting just one piece, so that would be the best option. They are also designed to be repairable, another plus.

The downside is price; they are around $400, although they can be found cheaper if you look around. The energy saving would never pay for the difference between these and a cheap toaster, but given the Dualit is designed to last a lifetime (although there are reviews to the effect that they have early failures as well), then it might be worth the investment. There may be other, lower cost toasters with a single-piece capability but I couldn’t find them after about 10 minutes of searching and checking reviews.

Overall, the energy wasted by a toaster is pretty small as it only runs for a few minutes at a time. While it does add up to a lot across the whole country (or planet), other inefficient appliances can waste a great deal more. For example, if a toaster is running an unnecessary 500 watts of element for three minutes, that equates to 25 watt-hours, or the same amount of energy wasted by a small plugpack drawing just one watt or so continuously—not much in the scheme of things. Indeed, a 3 kW solar power system would produce this much energy in just 30 seconds.

So, while all energy savings are important, there needs to be enough to provide an incentive to actually manufacture a more energy-efficient device, and I suspect that in this case, there just isn’t enough incentive to do so for most manufacturers.
—Lance Turner

Read more Q&A in ReNew 135.