ReNew 133 Editorial – Waste not, want not: a reuse/recycling revolution?
Statistics on waste in Australia are disquieting. With construction waste accounting for 30% to 40% of landfill and just 20% of our plastic waste being recycled, it can seem like an intractable problem.READ MORE »
But there are initiatives and groups working to stop the flow at the source. Product stewardship agreements, such as those applied to manufacturers of TVs and computers, are having a measurable effect on the amount of waste ending up in landfill, as Kirsten Tsan reports in our article on e-waste. Construction waste is being minimised through a combination of targets and landfill fees, alongside passionate companies working to find ways to recycle or reuse—and we dig a little into this topic.
We often get asked about solar panel recycling. It’s been slow to get started here—a good-news story about panel longevity—but the need is growing. Lance Turner looks at this, along with battery and light recycling.
Alongside a lament for a pre-plastic world, we look at some of the statistics and issues around single-use plastics. Much more plastic is recyclable than currently is recycled, and so much more is produced than we really need—disposable forks, we’re looking at you. We spent time looking for the ‘gotcha’ image of plastic in the ocean garbage patches, only to find that those patches are actually more like plastic soups, with many tiny particles of photodegraded plastics. It’s an ecological disaster and we need to find a solution.
On a more positive note, we look at how salvaged materials can become a building. We feature two shipping container homes and we witness the launch of the first permitted earthship in Australia, a home built from reused tyres, earth and bottles. It’s a beauty, so why not plan a visit when it opens as a B&B in 2016. And usefulness and reuse intersect in an amazing greenhouse built from PET bottles by primary school students.
As you’re probably aware, the ATA (ReNew’s publisher) has been involved in investigating whether it can be cheaper and more sustainable to go all-electric at home. One of our members takes that a step further with a practical experiment, comparing gas and electricity for heating. He looks at economics, efficiency and comfort—it’s a must-read!
We also get to hear from an owner-builder who applied common-sense principles and went all-electric to build a low-cost net zero energy home. Plus we feature an owner-designed Passive House, one of six now certified in Australia—quite a feat. Our buyers guide is on LED lights, providing guidance on types, efficiency and what to look for. Plus we’ve got DIYs, the Pears Report and all our regulars! Finally, a big thank you to all those who did our recent survey, see p. 89 for more. If you missed out, we are always pleased to get feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATA CEO’s Report
Since Tesla launched its Powerwall this year, the interest in adding batteries to grid-connected solar has increased dramatically. At the ATA we have been receiving queries daily from people looking to add batteries to their solar systems or wanting to know if they should be purchasing battery storage with their new solar system.
That analysis is now easier with the launch of the ATA’s battery storage addition to our popular Sunulator tool. Sunulator (www.ata.org.au/ata-research/sunulator) is a freely available detailed feasibility tool that allows analysis of solar–battery system performance. Unlike other solar calculators, it uses half-hourly consumption and generation data over a whole year and calculates project feasibility over a 30-year time frame.
While grid-connected solar battery storage is still somewhat expensive, this is set to change following the lower prices and simpler configuration announced by Tesla. This will no doubt catalyse their competitors to further drive down costs and improve performance. In addition, many solar households are about to lose premium feed-in tariffs, and batteries offer the opportunity to better utilise solar energy that would otherwise be exported to the grid. Battery storage can also provide a source of power during blackouts. For more information on options to add batteries to grid-connected solar, see the article ‘Going Hybrid’ by the ATA’s Andrew Reddaway in ReNew 132.
Although Sunulator may be a bit complex for many homeowners or community groups (but maybe not ReNew readers), you can always use our paid advice service to have an ATA expert run Sunulator for you. In the next couple of months we will also be adding more state profiles to the data-sets it uses.
A big thank you to the City of Sydney for supporting the development of the storage functionality in Sunulator.
A recycling round-up
Lance Turner considers the evolving recycling options for some of the common technologies in households: solar panels, lights and batteries.
Solar panel recycling
Up until recently there have been no official schemes for recycling solar panels in Australia. However, as the number of broken and otherwise failed panels begins to grow, so has the need for recycling.
But how much solar panel waste is there at present, and what are we looking at down the track when the current explosion of solar panel installations come to the end of their working life?
Although figures are hard to come by, one typical example is that of Japan, which has seen considerable growth in PV installations in recent years. According to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, by 2040 770,000 tonnes of solar panels will need to be recycled. The ministry has stated that, in conjunction with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and industry organisations, it will begin to implement measures for “removal, transportation and processing of solar power generation equipment” before the end of this fiscal year, in March 2016 (from www.bit.ly/1PwRFfC).
In Europe, requirements have already been added to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, bringing in a take-back and recycling scheme to deal with solar panel waste. The program, PV Cycle (www.pvcycle.org), provides fixed collection points, collection services for large quantities, and collection via distributors.
The WEEE directive means that solar panel manufacturers not only have to ensure collection and recycling of their products when they have reached their end of life, they will also be required to ensure the financial future of PV waste management.
Looking at Australia, there is currently (as of March 2015) 4.1 GW of installed capacity of solar PV. Assuming around 250 watts per panel (a common size), that’s around 16 million solar panels. With an approximate weight of 18 kg per panel, you are looking at 288,000 tonnes of solar panels, or around 11,500 tonnes per year (assuming a lifespan of 25 years) needing to be recycled. Of course, many PV panels will have a greater lifespan, while other, lesser quality panels will die sooner, so these figures are really just ballpark.
Regardless, that’s a great deal of materials needing to be recycled, most of which is glass, silicon cells (a glass-like material) and aluminium.
Aluminium framing is easily recycled in existing aluminium smelters. However, without a system of collection, transportation and dismantling of solar panels, these materials are currently going to waste, usually ending up in landfill.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
Storage, study, sleeping: Container convert
Tammi Jonas is definitely a convert to container homes. Motivated by reuse and sustainability, their light-filled container conversion has also proved a joy to live in. Here she describes the conversion process.
In May 2011, we had a moving/storage/accommodation challenge. We needed to move all our material trappings from Melbourne up to our new farm near Daylesford, but store them for four months while we traipsed across America, and then accommodate our growing (vertically, not numerically) family in a small three-bedroom house on the farm. The obvious solution was a shipping container for all three jobs.READ MORE »
That’s how we came to buy a used high-top 40-foot (12 m x 2.4 m, 2.9 m high) container (from eBay) rather than simply hiring one to do our move. It cost us $2500, plus $500 to get it delivered to us in the suburbs and then hauled up to Daylesford.
The day the container arrived, we watched in trepidation lest the truck’s cranes broke the low wires overhead. Then we filled it up, to the top, grateful we would have an enormous shed at the other end to supplement our new little house.
Our intrepid truckie, Bluey, arrived to collect the now-heavy container, and drove it through the rain and up our slippery, narrow driveway onto the farm. I held my breath the entire time, certain there was a very expensive towing bill in our near future. But Bluey was amazing, and our life’s treasures were planted carefully in front of the shed to wait out the winter while we gallivanted off to a life-changing northern summer.
A full season later, we returned to commence our new life as farmers. Our design for the interior of the container was inspired by the RockVan (a 1977 GMC motorhome) we’d used on our holiday in the USA. The RockVan has terrarium-like windows that made us feel constantly connected to the outside world. I wanted my bed’s placement to replicate the RockVan pleasure of waking to the gentle visage of trees and sky.
I had imagined cranes and costs and the stress of working with contractors to move the container into position as our new bedroom/office with ensuite, but my partner Stuart had better ideas. All we had to buy were some pine fence posts, which we needed anyway for, well, fencing, and borrow Stuart’s folks’ 4WD.
Stuart dragged the container into place, using eight round fence posts as rollers. In total, he had to move it about 50 metres, and 90 degrees. He then jacked it up and put pad footings with brick piers under each corner.
The building commenced in earnest then, with the roof we pulled off the house’s superfluous, low carport becoming a feature on the container—and reducing the heat load on its roof.
Stuart bought double-glazed, aluminium-framed windows and doors direct from China, for both this and a second guest container. The windows in fact arrived in the soon-to-be guest container! The total cost was around $5500, including delivery, of which about $3500 was for the container.
Dealing directly with Chinese suppliers meant the windows were much cheaper, but it can be tricky, as quality can vary and the logistics require a lot of knowledge and time. However, Stuart already had 10 years experience dealing directly with Chinese companies, so for us this went smoothly.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
New choices in lighting: An LED buyers guide
The move to LED lighting has become mainstream, with more options appearing constantly. Lance Turner takes a look at what’s available.
For many homes, lighting is one of the most overlooked aspects. Incorrect lighting can make a room unpleasant to be in, or make it more difficult to perform tasks such as reading or cooking. Getting it right can take a bit of effort, and though this guide won’t answer all your questions about lighting design, hopefully it will give you a headstart when thinking about the types of lighting to use and the questions to ask.READ MORE »
With almost all lighting technology moving towards LEDs, this guide focuses on LED bulbs. Even the reasonably efficient technologies such as fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps are rapidly being replaced by LED lighting. It’s likely that within 10 years, most other light sources will have disappeared in favour of the robustness, longevity and energy efficiency of LEDs.
What is an LED?
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are unlike any other lighting system. They contain no glass tubes or heating filaments, instead using a small piece of semiconductor material (as used in computer chips) that emits light directly when a current is passed through it.
LEDs produce light in a range of colours, without the need for coloured filters; thus, to get white light, a phosphor is used over a blue or UV LED chip, similar to what’s used in a fluorescent tube.
Note that the LED is actually the small light producing element(s) in a light bulb or fitting, but most people now erroneously refer to LEDs as the entire bulb or fitting.
There are a number of specifications that are useful to consider when buying LED lights.
All light bulbs have a wattage rating, which measures how much power they consume. This is where LEDs have a shining advantage over older, more inefficient technologies. For domestic LED lights, the rating is usually between one and 20 watts, compared to a typical incandescent rating of 25 to 100 watts.
Light output: lumens, LUX and beam angle
Many LED bulbs include an ‘equivalent-to’ wattage rating, showing the wattage of the incandescent bulb that the LED bulb is equivalent to in terms of light output. For example, a six watt LED bulb might be rated as putting out the same amount of light as a 50 watt incandescent.
This ‘equivalent-to’ rating is based on the light output in lumens. The lumen rating of an LED bulb, usually included on the packaging, measures the total light output, relative to the response of the human eye.
For bulbs that are suitable for general room lighting—those with wide beam angles, above 60 degrees, but preferably 90 degrees or more—matching lumens for lumens should give you the result you need. Thus, for these types of lights (these are generally found in the common Edison screw, bayonet or ‘oyster’ fittings), the ‘equivalent-to’ rating should be all you need to determine if the bulb is a suitable replacement.
For directional lights, often known as spot lights, it’s a bit different. These are lights with a smaller beam angle, up to around 60 degrees. Such lights are generally used for task lighting, directed onto a desk or work area. Halogen downlights are an example of these—it’s because of their small beam angle that so many of them were needed to light a room! For these spot lights, small differences in the beam angle can make a big difference in how bright the light appears. Many people have had the experience of buying an LED bulb which was meant to be equivalent to a 50 watt halogen, but found that it appears much less bright. The lumens may have been lower, but more likely the beam angle was narrower, creating a bright light directly under the light but darker patches around it.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
Downlight transformers: The good, the bad, and the very inefficient
Not all halogen downlight transformers are created equal when using them with retrofit LED globes. Alfred Howell explains how the wrong transformers can be costing you money.
With the retrofitting of LED downlight bulbs to MR16 halogen fittings, households have seen great efficiency gains and cost savings.
However, if you change your bulbs to low-power LEDs but don’t check the transformers, you may be wasting energy. Many of the older downlight fittings use ferromagnetic (iron core) transformers. While simple, they are inefficient compared to modern electronic replacements. To determine the extent of losses in these transformers I performed some simple testing.
Testing and results
I tested a typical ferromagnetic transformer alongside an Osram Redback electronic transformer. Both transformers were tested, with and without a Brightgreen DR700 retrofit LED globe. A Power-Mate Lite energy meter was used to measure power draw.
||Type||No globe, or globe blown||10.5W globe fitted|
Table 1. Energy consumption of electronic versus ferromagnetic transformers,
with and without a load (globe) fitted.
As can be seen in Table 1, the electronic transformer performs well with or without the globe. While it seems a bit pointless to test a transformer without a globe fitted, it’s actually a good indicator of the efficiency, or otherwise, of each transformer. Compare the electronic transformer’s 0.38 W draw without a globe with the ferromagnetic transformer’s draw of an extra five watts. Indeed, the ferromagnetic transformer uses an extra five watts more than the electronic transformer with or without the globe’s load.
While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s not uncommon to find 20 or more downlights in a home. With all 20 lights on, that would be an extra 100 watts burning a hole in your wallet—or 0.5 kWh if they’re on five hours a day.
Solutions and options
To reduce this energy use, the cheapest option is to swap the ferromagnetic transformers for electronic ones when you retrofit. They are low cost, usually under $15, and available from electrical wholesalers and lighting stores. Alternatively, you could upgrade the halogen fittings to dedicated LED downlight fittings with an incorporated driver.
An even better option is to remove the downlights altogether in places where suitable. Downlights compromise ceiling insulation as they must be uninsulated to prevent the fitting from overheating. Also, many downlights, even LED ones, have a fairly narrow beam angle and so tend to produce pools of light. To get high ambient lighting levels requires a greater total wattage from downlights or a light fitting with a wider dispersion, such as an oyster fitting.
It’s clear that changing the globe as part of an energy saving makeover is only part of the solution. For maximum efficiency and results, the whole lighting system, and how the system is used, needs to be evaluated. This includes behavioural changes such as turning lights off when not in use. With a bit of effort, you will be amazed at the savings that can be realised.
Alfred Howell has years of experience managing complex machines, which he reckons puts him in a terrific position to understand how we can work as part of this complex machine we call Earth.
For more great articles like this buy ReNew 133.
Peak plastic: The proliferation of plastic
Dorothy Broom tells a personal story of the history and sociology of consumer plastics. She is 70 years old; her lifespan encompasses the development and proliferation of petroleum-based consumer plastics.
MY training is in social science, not natural science or chemistry, so I won’t try to tell you anything about marine biology, biodegradation versus photo-degradation, how big the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become, or why we have minute plastic beads in toothpaste and face wash.READ MORE »
When I was a child, we had practically no modern plastics—certainly no single-use plastics. I remember food packed in plant-based cellophane, waxed (not plastic-coated) paper, alfoil, glass and cardboard. Grocery bags were paper. Food and beverage containers were returned and refilled, including the metal pie plates from the local bakery. Drinking straws were glass, metal or cardboard. Take-away drinks were sold in glass bottles or metal cans or cardboard cups with no lid. I remember getting my first few plastic bags in the 1960s which were scarce and robust so we washed and dried them so they could be reused. Cling wrap was around, but it was an expensive luxury. If anybody was concerned about pollution or harm from plastics, I didn’t know about it.
By the late 1960s there was an awareness of air and water contamination. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I knew about air pollution from personal experience. Rivers in industrial areas were catching fire. After university, I read books such as The Population Bomb (1968) and Limits to Growth (1972) and began to worry about what we humans were doing to the planet. I joined small, grassroots community organisations which lobbied for environmental protection, retaining deposits on beverage containers and municipal recycling. One group took a field trip to the local tip. It was deeply disturbing to see the astonishing quantity of potentially useful material being discarded by a university town of only 30,000.
My activism on environmental issues continued after migrating to Australia in 1971. I was part of a team that prepared a research paper on beverage containers for a parliamentary inquiry. I sewed calico bags for friends and was naïve enough to think that threats to the environment were the result of ignorance. I thought that when the potential hazards were documented and better known the problems would disappear. The task was to raise consciousness. For me, plastics remained an occasional convenience but were not yet on my radar as a particular concern.
Around the 1990s I noticed that plastic was everywhere, including in a lot of places it didn’t belong such as waterways, around the necks of sea turtles and in the gullets of pelicans. Always a lover of the ocean and its inhabitants, I found the images of dead and suffering marine life enormously distressing. Efforts to ban plastic six-pack rings (seen to be a significant culprit) provoked push back from the plastics and packaging industries.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
A toxic legacy
Mountains of e-waste continue to grow, and much of it is still ending up in landfill. Kirsten Tsan looks at what’s happening here to address the problem.
Australians are among the most prolific technology users today—and some of the most wasteful. From 2007 to 2008, an estimated 15.7 million computers reached their ‘end-of-life’ in Australia, but only 1.5 million were recycled. The rest went to landfill.
E-waste is any electronic equipment that requires electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to function that has reached the end of its useful life. Up to 2011, we were sending over 90% of our e-waste to landfill, endangering not only the environment, but ourselves; computers and televisions contain materials that are hazardous to humans, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and zinc.
Worse, we were wasting the materials in this electronic junk—the majority of which could be fully recycled and used in other products. To give an example: the amount of gold recovered from a tonne of electronic scrap from PCs is more than can be recovered from seventeen tonnes of gold ore! These valuable and non-renewable resources are lost when they are thrown into landfill, and so are the resources that were used to make them, like water and oil.
National recycling scheme
To address these issues, in 2011 the federal government launched the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) under the Product Stewardship Act. The scheme states that the companies and businesses making computers and televisions are also, to a certain extent, responsible for funding their product’s recycling programs around Australia.
The NTCRS is a stepped implementation and will take place over a number of years. It started in 2012–2013, with the aim that industry would take responsibility for 30% of the collection and recycling of their products. The ultimate goal? By 2021–2022, industry will have taken 80% of the responsibility for the recycling of computers and televisions.
Before the NTCRS was launched, a 2010 report stated that industry funded 17% of the recycling for that year. In the first year of the scheme (2012–2013), a total of 40,813 tonnes were recycled by industry—98.8% of the scheme target and almost double the estimated levels of recycling prior to the introduction of the NTCRS. In the latest report (2013–2014), out of 131,607 computers and televisions that reached their ‘end-of-life’ in Australia, industry was required to fulfil a 33% target (43,430 tonnes). By the end of the year, industry recycled 52,736 tonnes, which was 7% over the scheme target, and 40% of the total recycling that year—a marked improvement. Liable parties—the companies within the television and computer industry—were also reported by the Department of the Environment to have mostly complied with the scheme, with an impressive 99.2% complying in proportion to the weight of liable imports.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
Small changes, big savings: Low-cost, carbon-neutral housing
You don’t have to spend up big to get an environmentally friendly home. Glenn and Lee Robinson show us their clean, green cottage based on common-sense principles.
Our aim was to build a home that was a lot more environmentally friendly than the average in Australia. So we did a bit of homework and found that it’s surprisingly simple and economical to build a carbon-neutral house. This article describes what we learnt, how that information was turned into a building and how the house has performed now that we’ve lived in it for 12 months.READ MORE »
The most important discovery was that most of the techniques for creating a high-performance house cost little more than standard building practices. There are lots of small things in a building that, when done a bit differently, add up to a big difference in comfort and energy use (see our ‘20 guidelines’ on the last page).
Finding the right design
Our goal was to minimise dependence on energy from unsustainable sources and create a comfortable, affordable home suitable for occupancy through all stages of life.
We began the design process by making a list of what did and didn’t work in all the buildings we were familiar with, listing the features we would like to incorporate. We set a performance standard of net-zero carbon emissions and a budget of just $250,000 for the complete project, including house, garage and landscaping.
We looked at the options available with local builders, project home companies, prefabs and kit homes but found nothing that came near our specifications. A few prefab companies in Victoria could meet our performance spec but freight costs pushed the price above our budget. The one ‘net-zero’ project home available fell short in the performance stakes. The options were disappointing, but, in a country with the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions, perhaps not surprising.
By default we were left with the only viable option being owner-building, which has ended up working out well. We started out by looking at the history of efficient buildings and which techniques and ideas have stood the test of time, and which haven’t. We really wanted to see if we could avoid over-complication in the design so we researched low-tech ideas that have been proven to work.
We found a lot of good ideas in the layouts of Earthship buildings. They often have excellent room arrangements for maximum sun penetration, but we weren’t fans of all their design principles as they require huge amounts of labour to construct and can overheat and leak.
An excellent resource is the website Build It Solar (www.builditsolar.com), where we found the Montague Urban Homestead, winner of the Massachusetts Zero Energy Challenge. We looked far and wide at hundreds of designs and, to us, this was the most elegantly simple, high-performance, economical design. We used this as the basis of our design, but de-tuned it to match our climate and rearranged the layout to suit our needs.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
Up to standard: Passive House in Australia
Designing and building your house to the Passive House Standard in Australia is now a viable option. Architect Fergal White visits a certified Passive House home in Canberra to see the house in action and hear its story from owner and designer Harley Truong.
I approached Harley Truong’s Passive House in Canberra knowing that this freezing cloudy July day would be a real test of the house’s certification. Stepping inside, the building was beautifully warm, with no heating system in use. Truly impressive!READ MORE »
The Passive House Standard dictates (low) maximum energy usage per square metre, both overall and for heating and cooling (see box). It does this by specifying a well-insulated envelope and airtightness that is perhaps unprecedented in Australia, where the building code doesn’t stipulate any level at all.
There are now six certified Passive Houses in Australia, with many more under construction. But that wasn’t the case in 2013 when Harley Truong embarked on his own build, so he made remarkable use of the internet to find his way to successful certification.
His family’s journey to find a better way of living began with an attempt to renovate their 40-year-old home in Canberra. The house was draughty with cold floors, constant use of ducted gas heating and mould growing on the windows from condensation, all issues that were affecting the family’s health and bills. Winter bills were often as high as $600 per month.
Harley attempted to thermally improve the house but to little effect. Replacing steel-framed single glazing with double-glazed windows (non thermally broken aluminium) and adding curtains made the condensation worse. Locating a whirlybird on the roof pulled heated internal air through the 30 ceiling downlight holes into the attic. Harley says, “I slowly realised that the home was almost the perfect inverse to what a passive solar designed house should be. It had the main glazed living areas facing south, minimal insulation, high air leakage and no thermal mass.”
So when a large corner site (1020 m²) with no overshadowing came up for sale just down the road, Harley bought it almost instantly. The decision was also quickly made to knock down the poorly sited house on the block, and build two homes, one to live in, and one as an investment property.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
Comfortably ahead – A tale of two heaters
Turn on your air conditioner—and knock hundreds of dollars off your heating bill. Tim Forcey describes the learnings (and savings) gained from his experiment with reverse-cycle electric heating.READ MORE »
Over the last 20 years my wife and I have raised a family in our 100-year-old Melbourne bayside weatherboard home. Last spring, following our third partial renovation, we installed two air conditioners in preparation for the hot summers to come—particularly so my wife and I could stay comfortable when working at home.
The two air conditioners we chose did just that, easily cooling our full ground-floor living space (128 m2 consisting of seven rooms and a hallway). Based on advice from Matthew Wright (founder of www.pure-electric.com.au), we opted for two top-of-the-line Ururu Sararas (US7s) manufactured by Daikin: one small wall-mounted unit in our front bedroom (2.5 kW rated for cooling) and one medium unit (3.5 kW) in the lounge room.
The total US7 rated cooling capacity of 6 kW contrasts with a 14 kW multi-headed unit that the salesperson said we would need. So lesson number one: avoid the up-sell if your house is reasonably well-shaded and insulated (see box for more on sizing).
Come winter, I was keen to learn how these reverse-cycle units would compare with our 20-year-old ducted gas heater in terms of health, comfort, convenience and operating cost, particularly following on from research by Beyond Zero Emissions and the ATA (ReNew’s publisher) into the potential for economic and environmental benefits from going off gas.
My findings? There were pluses and minuses when comparing the two heating methods on comfort and convenience. But when it comes to cost, the reverse-cycle air conditioners beat ducted gas hands down—not only for our home, but possibly for hundreds of thousands of homes around Australia.
Science—sort of—in the home
Starting in late June 2015 (mid-winter), I sought to heat our home on alternate days using the US7s and then ducted gas.
The US7s are heavily instrumented and can tell you the outdoor temperature, the indoor temperature, the indoor humidity and how much electrical energy they have consumed since you turned them on today, or since you installed them last year! Adding to this, I spread thermometers throughout our living areas. I also referred to our in-home electricity display that relays instantaneous electricity-use figures for our whole house from our smart electricity meter.
And for the first time in my life, often wearing a bathrobe and head torch, I journeyed out behind the bushes to the not-so-smart gas meter to diligently record gas usage.
I will not claim that this exercise was the best example of the scientific method we have seen. Variables and shortcomings had to be managed, such as failure to focus on the task-at-hand at 5.30 am before the morning coffee, Daikin’s less-than-fully-illuminating owner’s manual, and my co-occupants.
Read the full article in ReNew 133.
Book review: Post-petroleum design
by George Elvin
Routledge, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-138-85390-4 (print)
The author of Post-Petroleum Design was halfway through designing an iPad case when the news broke about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosions. The oil disaster prompted an epiphany, “How could I put more petroleum-based plastics into this world? … I made up my mind then and there that if I was going to bring a new product into the world, I was going to make it plastic-free.” After developing a wool iPad case, Elvin’s commitment to post-petroleum design escalated. He founded Gone Studio, a design company which pioneers zero-plastic, zero-waste and zero-electricity manufacturing.
Post-Petroleum Design caters to the booming demand for plastic-free products and projects. It brings together case studies of 40 of the world’s leading post-petroleum designers, working across architecture, industrial design, transportation, packaging, electronics, clothing, furnishings and more.
This book is highly readable and is solutions-based. It opens with a historical perspective on oil and plastics, and explains the principles and actions required to move beyond them. It profiles such innovations as bamboo keyboards, buildings and packaging made from mushroom mycelium, electricity-free manufacturing, bridges constructed from 100% recycled plastics and open-source ecology.
“When it comes to architecture, alternatives to plastic abound.” This book will appeal to ReNew readers as it goes into technical details about plastic-free building materials such as algae roofing, bioplastics, insulation made of recycled denim jeans, and hemp. An inspiring resource for design professionals and a soothing read for the plastic-ravaged soul.
Review by Sarah Coles
This book is available for order at
For more book reviews, buy ReNew 133.
Q&A: Polystyrene foam alternatives
I found out from a friend that most of the expanded polystyrene used in building in Australia probably contains a brominated flame retardant—likely HBCD or DBDE—and that these are being banned in Europe because they are persistent, toxic chemicals.READ MORE »
We are about to build a sustainable house but don’t want to use something that’s both toxic to people and persistent in the environment.
Apparently these flame retardants are not used in polystyrene used in food packaging (phew!) but a flame retardant is required in all commercial building polystyrene.
I’ve called a few companies and they have trouble telling me what the exact chemical is. I’ve found that they import their beads from China already coated in the retardant, and then expand them here. Apparently the flame retardant is just a coating on the beads and not part of the chemical structure, so it can come away once installed, and end up in dust or in the air.
Are you able to tell me if anyone at ATA has looked into this and could you recommend a supplier that doesn’t use a brominated flame retardant? I’d be a willing customer!
We are not aware of any polystyrene foams for building that use fire retardants that are not brominated. According to the US EPA publication 740R14001, Flame Retardant Alternatives For Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD—Final Report, June 2014 (www.bit.ly/FRAFH14), “No non-brominated flame retardants are known to be compatible in polystyrene manufacturing and associated flame tests.”
There are other products that are naturally fire-resistant and so don’t have added fire retardants, such as hempcrete, timbercrete, AAC (Hebel) and similar naturally derived building materials. Insulation materials such as glass and mineral fibres are naturally flame retardant. I used Knauf Earthwool insulation in our home here; it is naturally non-flammable and the fibre binder is based on plant starches.
To read more questions and answers, buy ReNew 133.
Product profile: Sit on it!
EVs are cool, being clean, quiet and efficient, but the Fonzarelli 125 from Fonzarelli Electric Moto has that extra bit of cool.READ MORE »
The scooter has a top speed of 65 km/h, or 75 km/h when you press the ‘F’, or Forzo, button (a short-term boost button). The 3 kW electric motor pushes the scooter to 60 km/h in six seconds, and range on a single battery can reach up to 75 km (the average is around 50 km), or twice that using two batteries.
With the battery being easily removable, there’s no need for a charging station or power outlet where you park your scooter—just take the battery with you indoors and charge it there—this also prevents anyone stealing your scooter, or at least riding off on it.
Charge time is around three to five hours, and an 80% charge of the 72 V, 24 Ah lithium ion battery can be had in just one hour.
The scooter features regenerative braking, both when coasting and actively braking. It comes with a 24-month battery and major component parts warranty and 12-month warranty for other parts.
RRP: $4490 inc GST. For more information contact Electric Moto, L4, 53-55 Liverpool St, Sydney NSW 2000, ph: (02) 8283 5467, email@example.com, www.fonzarelli.co. Also available from Positronic Solar, 2/214 Leitchs Road Brendale QLD 4500, ph: (07) 3103 6018, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.positronicsolar.com.
For more product profiles, buy ReNew 133.
The Pears Report: Changing states
Alan Pears looks at the rapid changes in electricity policy, provides some practical perspectives on carbon pricing and discusses some good news about the national appliance energy efficiency program.
We are seeing some interesting developments in clean energy at the state level as the states (predictably) move to fill the hole left by the national government.READ MORE »
Victoria has announced it is developing an Energy Efficiency and Productivity Strategy to be released this year. It has also announced development of its Renewable Energy Roadmap intended to re-establish Victoria as a “global renewable energy leader”. In Western Australia, former head of the Institute of Public Affairs (a conservative lobby group), now energy minister and treasurer, Mike Nahan has flagged a central role for solar. Meanwhile, the ACT and South Australia continue to lead the pack.
In contrast, the electricity industry continues its struggle to come to terms with the significance of energy efficiency and demand-side management. AEMO has just released its latest Statement of Opportunities (SOO). It predicts higher consumption and peak demand than previously, reflecting stabilising prices, loss of momentum in energy efficiency policy and slower PV growth—with no discussion of the importance of actively driving demand management harder to avoid this. Its low-demand scenario suggests planned generation is adequate to beyond the next decade, while its medium scenario requires investment to provide 5780 megawatt hours of additional supply over the next decade, 3.2% higher than 2014–15 consumption. AEMO does, however, flag that next year’s SOO will include analysis of demand management. That could dramatically change the outlook.
Energy companies continue to lobby for the right to apply anti-clean energy measures such as high fixed charges and low feed-in prices, while moving into the solar PV market!
The Energy Networks Association published a paper in August proposing a range of options, including grid connection fees, network exit fees, payment for grid access and payment for risk of stranded assets. It continues to assume that network operators are entitled to make a profit, and that their shareholders should be protected from losses. The age of entitlement continues.
We need some practical perspectives on carbon pricing. Although I wouldn’t call a carbon price the ‘centrepiece’ of climate policy—as Labor has claimed in the past—it is important because it sends a signal to change, particularly to investors. And the revenue a carbon price raises can fund other abatement action. To cut emissions we now face a choice between ‘polluter pays’ (pricing emissions) and ‘taxpayers pay the polluter’ (the Emission Reduction Fund).
By removing Labor’s carbon price but leaving in place assistance measures, this government has not saved Australians any money: in fact it may have increased costs to taxpayers. Under Labor, the assistance was funded by revenue from the carbon price. It must still be funded, but now through consolidated revenue, gained from taxes or borrowings eventually repaid by taxpayers, or offset by reduced services. On top of this cost, we must also pay for ‘Direct Action’. Simple slogans can be very misleading.
The good news is that the cost of managing climate is proving to be far lower than expected: many measures such as energy efficiency and some renewables are even profitable. The polarised politics of ‘carbon taxes’ and ‘Direct Action’ is dumb and distracting. We need both a price on carbon emissions and direct action, along with other measures.
Empowering people to cut emissions
I and others from the Voluntary Carbon Markets Association spent a lot of time trying to get Labor to modify its carbon trading model to empower individuals, business, and local and state governments to cut emissions. Our basic concept was that all voluntary abatement should be matched by the government cancelling Kyoto permits (allocated by the UN based on our national target). This would ensure our efforts were recognised as globally ‘additional’ abatement beyond government-driven measures.
For example, if Australia has a target of 500 million tonnes (Mt) of emissions in a given period and households are expected to emit 60 Mt, this means other emitters are able to emit 440 Mt (440+60=500 Mt). But if households (or some other group) voluntarily cut their emissions by an extra 10 Mt in that year down to 50 Mt, the government should cancel 10 Mt of permits. The target would then effectively be 490 Mt so other emitters still have a target of 440 M t (440+50=490 Mt). If the government doesn’t cancel permits, other emitters would now be able to emit 450 Mt and Australia would still meet its 500 Mt target (450+50=500 Mt). So those other emitters would be ‘free riding’ on the voluntary efforts of households. And from a global perspective, Australia’s emissions would not be reduced below the 500 Mt it was originally allowed to emit; the planet would not see a reduction in emissions as a result of the efforts of households and their efforts would not lead to additional abatement beyond what the Australian government has previously agreed to.
After a carbon price was introduced, conservative state governments justified cutting abatement action with the excuse that their actions would not be additional to national action—so there was no point in a state having its own climate target or actively pursuing emission reduction. We had warned the national Labor government, but they did not want to hear: the arrogance of policy makers swamped our efforts.
Recently, one of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) architects, Martin Parkinson, gave a speech (reported by Gareth Hutchens, The Age 30/6/15) in which he acknowledged that they had failed to engage and empower the community. Hutchens wrote:
“[He] never gave enough weight to the fact, when designing the trading scheme, that voters wanted to feel they were making a contribution to emissions reductions, and emissions trading systems do not provide them with that feeling because they are too abstract. ‘We got so hung up on the [idea that] we’ve got this really big problem that we have to deal with, and we’ve got to do it at least cost to the economy, so we delivered a least-cost way of doing it,’ he said.”
The situation is even worse now. The present government is using our money to pay polluters to cut emissions (including subsidising things they were already doing). And abatement actions that households, businesses, and local and state governments take which fall outside the Emission Reduction Fund (like installing rooftop solar or saving energy) allow the government to use our investments to make it easier to meet its weak and globally irresponsible abatement targets.
Positive news for energy efficiency
COAG has announced that the national appliance efficiency program (GEMS) has survived a review, and will even be expanded because it is so cost-effective. This is a relief for the many who were concerned that this review was yet another government attempt to undermine progress in clean energy. The Alternative Technology Association (ReNew’s publisher) played a key role by making a comprehensive submission.
The program faces other hurdles, including the requirement that any additional regulations be offset by reductions in related areas. And undoubtedly the Office of Best Practice Regulation will continue to do its best to delay and block new Mandatory Energy Performance Standards, which it opposes on ideological (neo-classical economic) grounds.
State energy policies
I’ve recently been spending some time in South Australia and the ACT. This has led me to ask what makes them so different in their approach to sustainable energy? Could it be that the lack of powerful coal and resources industries makes it easier for them to be more progressive?
It will also be interesting to see how the Victorian government responds to a scathing study by the Brotherhood of St Laurence that shows the state’s retail electricity market model is a disaster. It delivers remarkably high profit margins for retailers while many disadvantaged people pay the highest prices. This is the model lauded by many in the electricity industry as the template other states should use!
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 133.