Jobs, the Just Transition and Electricity Generation

Morwell Power Station (The Age)

With one or two exceptions political parties of all persuasions appear almost bereft of imagination when it comes to implementing a just transition in the renewable energy revolution. One exception is the South Australian government which has been encouraging widespread investment in batteries, renewable energy and other forms of energy storage.  The Victorian government is trying hard with renewable energy but somehow hasn’t quite grasped the main problem of the transition – that centralised power production in the Latrobe Valley is in decline and being replaced by electricity that can be produced anywhere. Because of the decentralised nature of renewable energy production it appears jobs are slowly being exported, for example, to western Victoria where wind energy has established a strong manufacturing base in Portland.

The valley is now going through the second painful ‘transition’ process it has faced in the last 30 years – privatisation being the first. A recent opinion poll indicates that employment is by far the most important concern for Gippslanders. But the damage done by clinging to the old power system is considerable as the remaining power stations will eventually be closed down in the not too distant future and possibly much sooner than we think. Through lack of planning jobs in the power industry are being exported wherever renewable energy is being developed.

There are many job options that utilise valley resources with Gippsland advantage include offshore wind, energy storage in pumped hydro and floating solar farms. I made a few suggestions along these lines in the previous blog below. There are also a number of possible projects suitable for the valley that involve win/win situations. They include restoration of the Hazelwood open cut and lining the walls with solar PV as suggested some time ago by Dan Caffrey and manufacturing products from the various fly-ash deposits in the valley. I understand that this was considered by the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council and some work on this was done at Monash Gippsland.

The current squabble over the heritage listing of the Morwell Power Station could also be resolved into a win/win opportunity. Is it possible for the asbestos to be removed and then use the buildings for other purposes such as the installation of batteries, flywheels or some other renewable energy component? I hope to look into each of these options in more detail at a later date.

To achieve a ‘just transition’ the State government needs to pour funds (taken from other less important areas) into the valley and create more than full employment in the area. It must be emphasized that this requires government funding – it cannot be done by private enterprise.

100% Renewables by 2030

The aim for 100% renewable energy in Australia by the year 2030 (and much earlier dates) has been around for some time. It was the main platform of the Renewable Energy Party in 2016 and a quite achievable goal. It is a goal that could be achieved on a much faster timescale with strong political support and sound planning. The pioneering report in this area of policy was done by the think tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) who published their Stationary Energy Report in 2010.  This report closely documented how we could get to 100% renewable stationary energy by 2020 and relied on solar thermal plants to provide 60% of the renewable energy and storage required by that time. The first solar thermal plant has only just been commissioned at Port Augusta and the rapid development of photovoltaics plus batteries has probably by passed this option.

Heavily influenced by the BZE report I had my own sketchy outline of how the transition from dependence on coal fired energy to 100% renewables could be done in the Latrobe Valley. This was basically part of my political platform in 2012 and, like most documents of this kind, short on detail. What it did emphasize was the need for planning in this process and to have a “Federal Energy body that will plan, oversee and facilitate the replacement of coal based generation and the rapid uptake of renewable energy.” It also made some suggestions as to how the Valley could utilise its natural advantages. Advantages that include established transmission infrastructure, a manufacturing base, transport and proximity to Melbourne.

Recently there has been a study by the Australian National University  and another by the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) on how to achieve the 100% goal by 2030  the latter based heavily on the former. Contributing author to the ATA report Andrew Redaway summarised their work in the journal Renew (No.142). This summary looked at various aspects of the 100% renewables revolution, including renewable energy capacity, energy storage and energy efficiency. Interestingly, both these reports suggest the drastic increase in energy storage required will come from the Snowy 2 pumped hydro project. Recent remarkable developments in lithium-ion batteries and in particular using the electric car battery as a house battery (known as vehicle to the grid) may be other alternatives.

Where does Gippsland fit in this renewable energy surge coming, whether we like it or not, very quickly. The bad news for the valley and Gippsland is that jobs and big projects such as wind are being developed elsewhere. Our electricity system is transitioning from a highly centralised one to almost the opposite – decentralised to the extent that every house and business can be a generator of power for their own use, for sale, and sometimes to buy from the grid.

Options for Gippsland are only limited by our imagination. Massive rooftop solar installation to houses and businesses, a similar approach with heat pumps, commencing appropriately sited large scale pumped hydro and floating solar projects and expanding the current offshore wind project many times are possible options that come to mind. The transition can be done and must be done. The climate emergency dictates as quickly as possible.


Modern-day Biochar by John Hermans *

John raking up the end product beside his ‘biochar producer’. Nice t-shirt too!

Biochar use has been documented as far back as the Amazonian Indians, who created tera preta or ‘black earth’. These nutrient-enriched soils retain much of their higher fertility, and their char, thousands of years after they were created. Biochar can also permanently lock up carbon to help neutralize our carbon footprint. In this world where governments are largely failing to mitigate a climate catastrophe, this is another path for a ‘bottom-up’ global effort.

Biochar is now commercially available as a soil conditioner, at around $10/kg, but if you are not confined by allotment size, it is quite easy and cheap to make instead. You can also then control what goes into it. In my case, I have been using the sticks and leaves that I would otherwise have burnt to reduce summer bushfire risk.

Making it has also given our household another option for becoming truly carbon neutral, other than planting trees. Biochar means we can now lock up atmospheric carbon in the soil, potentially for thousands of years, rather than have it re-enter the atmosphere when the ground litter rots or is burnt. Once it is added to the soil, it remains mostly inert to oxidation and hence does not re-enter the carbon cycle. At the same time, it increases the soil fertility in our extensive food garden.

When organic matter is burnt in the open air, it nearly all burns to ash, with only very small amounts of unburnt black char. In biochar manufacture it is preferable to use enclosed steel drums to control oxygen delivery. When the fuel is burnt in controlled conditions, gas is converted to CO2. An added advantage is that it is a fairly smoke-free production process— far more neighbour-friendly than open-air fuel reduction burning. But because so many people use this method and will continue to do so, I have describe an option that has little added effort to this procedure.

There are many ways that char is produced commercially or in back yards. A method which I have recently developed allows char to be made from leaves and small sticks that are routinely racked up from under Eucalyptus trees in the spring and summer period. By using a modified rake with the lower section of the handle being made of steel, to avoid being burnt, there is little else required to achieve the task.

A long row of leaves and sticks around a meter wide and 20 cm high is created with a simple leaf rake, and around 6 meters long, the up wind edge is set alight, it is helpful to use an accelerant such as kerosene, to get it all going at once. When the leaves are mostly all alight, you then use the extended handle rake and roll the leaves from below the row over top of the burning leaves, continue doing this for as long and as quickly as you can, and before you know it the flames go out and you are left with nothing but small leaf sized of biochar! This season I ended up with two 200L drums of char using this method.

Reduce atmospheric CO2, reduce wild fire fuel loads, and increase your garden soil nutrition capacity. Happy biochar making!

* an edited version of an article by John that appeared in Renew 124



The Renewable Energy Party is now defunct unless some how it can be revived by a last minute miracle. I feel both relief and sadness at the prospect. Relief because as both secretary and returning officer to the party the work was beginning to look overwhelming – a daunting workload on the shoulders of few. Sadness because I have been looking for a political party of this type to challenge the status quo – mainly of the conservative parties – for many years. It is no secret that I assumed the positions of management by default in a last ditch effort to save the organisation. This was an effort I felt obliged to make and note that it almost succeeded.

The main platform of the REP in 2016 for 100% renewable energy by 2030 will probably be achieved around that time regardless of the political reaction if the predictions of futurist Tony Seba are anywhere near the mark.  So what is the purpose of a political party of this kind? A difference of some years can be made between governments that plan for the future and readily promote and adopt and adapt to what that future is most likely to be and those that react adversely to each and every change. Our current federal government, firmly in the pocket of the fossil fuel industries, is a clear stand-out of reaction and negation.

There are a number of requirements for a single issue party like the REP to be successful. It must be a party of the centre and its policies should appeal across the political spectrum. Conversely policies of the sort that are anathema to one side of politics or the other should be avoided. Examples include nuclear energy solutions which are toxic to the left and animal liberation the same for the right especially in rural areas. As well there has to be a certain amount of luck which starts a snowball effect in publicity, membership and active workers.

Unfortunately the REP never came anywhere near it with the 2016 election called immediately after the party was registered and whose candidates entered the political arena with mostly unrealistic optimism. They all performed dismally (including yours truly) losing their deposits and from which the organisation never recovered. A small group of us (3) made the effort to salvage the party – as we now know unsuccessfully. A similar event overtook the Climate Coalition in, and after, the 2007 election making our effort an example of history repeating itself.

I had hopes that a revitalised REP would pursue a short term strategy of challenging the climate denialists in their seats by providing high profile conservative opponents to the likes of Abbott, Kelly, Joyce, Frydenberg and other pro-coal reactionaries in the conservative parties. The aim being not necessarily to win these seats but rather to help the incumbents lose them or at least make their seats threatened and unsafe. Such actions may help accelerate the process of necessary change. Consequently I will probably do my ‘two bobs worth’ supporting a climate independent or two in Victoria. But keep firmly in mind achieving 100% renewable energy is just the first step in combatting global warming.


Bairnsdale: reducing the Heat Island Effect


Roof with reflective paint prior to PV Installation

The heat island effect can basically be defined as the extra temperature that occurs in a place as a result of structures – roads, buildings, car parks – that retain heat compared with the countryside around it. You only need to put your hand on a brick wall or walk barefoot on a road at the end of a sunny summers’ day to recognise this. That is why the Bureau of Meteorology is particular about the siting of weather stations so that their measurements are not exaggerated by this effect.  Their care in doing so has meant they have occasionally been criticised for adjusting the records of some weather stations to allow for this – usually by climate change deniers.

Anyone can calculate the heat island effect merely by measuring the minimum and maximum temperatures at your home and then comparing them with the equivalent amounts recorded at your local weather station. The difference between them is the heat island effect.  In Bairnsdale the weather station is at the airport – about 5 kilometers from the CBD – and amongst the number of reasons for the choice of this site must also include the elimination of the heat island effect. I have measured this on several occasions. My observations indicate that at our location in town on hot days is from 1-2 degrees warmer than the measurements at the weather station. The effect is most noticeable with extreme temperatures including cold days like the record frost last year when a warmer town was most evident.

Climate change is influencing heatwaves, defined by the Bureau of Meteorology as “by three or more days of unusually high maximum and minimum temperatures in any area” making them more frequent and more severe. The extra degree of two of the heat island effect is on top of these temperatures. As the nights get warmer the overnight minimums after a run of hot summer days hovers in the mid to high 20s. This makes it very hard for our bodies to recover from the previous heat without artificial cooling.

The heat island effect and the extreme heat of climate change enhanced heatwaves can be lessened in a number of ways including by increasing greenery and shade in a town – especially trees. I have recently commented on the fact that Bairnsdale is a tree friendly town but much more can be done on this here and other towns in Gippsland.

Another way of reducing the heat island effect is by using reflective paint on dark surfaces. A white roof, for example reflects more than 90% of the energy that hits it back into space. Whilst cooler in summer the downside is that it is also cooler in winter. I have had the roofs of my last two residences painted with light reflective colours – in one case white and in our current unit a much less reflective cream. Applying light colours to some surfaces such as roads may cause problems with users being affected by summer glare. Rather than painting or surfacing car parks with a light coloured material perhaps they should have cover them – preferably with solar cells.

Other options include roof gardens or completely covering roofs with photovoltaics – now legally required on all new buildings in Paris. Similar actions are being adopted around the globe. All told local councils have it in their power to reduce the extreme temperatures in their cities and any effort in this regard (possibly as simple as changing a by-law or two) is a step in the right direction.


Gippsland Business installs largest solar system on school in Australia by Andrew McCarthy*


(Gippsland Solar)

The uptake of renewable energy shows no signs of slowing down, with system sizes getting larger every month. Gippsland Solar have just announced they are completing the largest installation on a school in Australia, a whopping 862kW (2,650 panel) system across the Camberwell Grammar School precinct in Canterbury.

The first 550kW of panels have been installed, with the remaining 312kW to be completed in the April school holidays. The impact of this system will be significant. It will generate around 1GWh (1,000,000 kWh’s) of renewable energy per year, reducing Camberwell’s environmental footprint by 1,200 Tonnes per year. And when the school is closed (particularly in summer), this system will export many hundreds of kW of solar electricity into the nearby grid, providing a critical service to reduce demand from traditional energy sources.

The project was driven entirely by the school student council, who presented the idea to the board at Camberwell, demonstrating great student leadership from within. While this investment will pay for itself well within its lifespan, it is also a statement that students want to see their school’s becoming more environmentally conscious.

As part of this project, Gippsland Solar are also installing two ‘off grid classrooms’. Two of the science classrooms will be powered entirely by solar and a Tesla Powerwall, with a TV screen showing their usage in the classroom. The two classrooms will compete on energy efficiency for 6 months, creating an extra level of educational value to the project.

We are eagerly awaiting some new announcements regarding solar on public schools as well, with a positive announcement expected in the lead up to this year’s Victorian state election.

*Andy is a principal of Gippsland Solar


Inverloch Artist Ray Dahlstrom’s Climate Change series

Different Directions – between poles from the climate change series. This work has been sold

I have written about Inverloch artist Ray Dahlstrom’s work before.  For the last 10 years this work has highlighted the problems of climate change, acid oceans and other aspects associated with mankind’s burning of fossil fuels. The different series are progressively entitled ‘Black Saturday’ (Ray’s family were burnt out at Steeles Creek in 2009), ‘Your Carbon Footprint’, ‘Acid Ocean’ and recently Ray has embarked on a ‘Climate Change’ series, an example of which is the image above.

The works vary from landscape style to abstract. The ‘Black Saturday’ paintings tend to the former whilst the new series can be described as abstract. The ‘acid ocean’ paintings are semi-abstract. They depict the skeletons of dead fish being replaced by jellyfish in a dark, sombre range of blue green colours. This series was part of his show entitled ‘Jellyfish and Chips’ held in Prahran a few years ago, and culminates in his painting ‘Mendusozoa Mayhem’ where the sea is depicted as crowded with a horrible swarm of jellyfish. Whilst some aspects of the series may not be scientifically accurate they certainly convey the mood of a dark future for us if we continue the era of fossil fuels for much longer.

The ‘Carbon Footprint’ series generally have images of symbolic burning or burnt leaf embers, outlines of footprints or a mixture of both. I have a Dahlstrom original from this series on my lounge room wall on which Ray has inscribed “your responsibility, your carbon footprint”. The almost obligatory footprint outlines are there, with an added touch of carbon with charcoal being added in parts, on a colour background suggestive of fire and smoke.

His website promotion states that “In recent times, Ray’s work has been affected by the dramatic influences of climate change on the environment.” Ray notes: “My art should have something to say about the effect of climate change on the environment. It’s OK to create pretty pictures, but it’s more important to me now to get people thinking about the big issues which affect all of our futures.”  For his full story go here. For a slide show of selected paintings go here.

It is pleasing that one of the four completed works in the new series has already sold. The other pieces ‘Antarctic Melting’, ‘Red Dust Rising’ and ‘Capricorn Burning’ are all in a similar style. More power to his brush and progress in his task to get us thinking about the biggest issue mankind has ever faced.



The ATA and the Renewable Energy Revolution

As noted previously I have been a renewable energy fan for most of my life. As part of that interest I joined the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) in the early 1980s when I first installed a ‘stand-alone’ wind powered system at my home. I have remained a member (with a few missing years in the late eighties and/or the early nineties when I was broke) since then. As I was living in a remote location the most important aspect of the ATA then and now, was their quarterly journal/magazine ReNew (originally called Soft Technology).

For approaching 40 years this journal has been both my main resource and inspiration. With wide ranging topics on all aspects of renewable energy, energy efficiency and stories of what others are doing across Australia. ReNew has regular columns on letters, new products, recent news and occasional book reviews. My favourite column is by well-known commentator Alan Pears who in each issue offers sage advice on a multitude of related topics from energy efficiency to climate change. If only the pollies would listen.

The current issue (No.142) has a solar panel price guide, some DIY advice for renters including constructing cheap and easy curtain pelmets, using the sun for heating and improving grid stability with the use of renewables. There is also an article on achieving 100% renewables by 2030, a subject I hope to write a separate blog on in the near future. Also of great assistance was the recent issue on batteries (No.141) which is guiding me in a major, near future, purchase.

The renewable energy revolution has been a long time coming. When building my house in 1980 I opted for a wind generator system as the price of solar panels was then prohibitive. My first solar panels (2 X 30w) installed in 1986 were still very pricey.  At this time I naively believed that in 10 years solar panels would be so cheap I could cover the roof with them. In this case I was a little premature (by 30 years) but that moment has now arrived.

Of recent years I have discovered that a close friend and a contributor to ReNew John Hermans of Clifton Creek  is also a long term member of the ATA. John has been a strong advocate of renewable energy long before the need for replacing our fossil fuel energy and transport became obvious with the threat of climate change. It should be remembered that renewable energy is not the complete global warming solution as after we have stopped burning fossil fuels we still need to draw down the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to suitable levels. But it is a good start. So is ATA membership and a subscription to ReNew.


Venus, Gippsland and the Greenhouse Effect

I have not left the ‘Bay’ out of the header, as in Venus Bay (named in 1798 after the ‘evening star’ by George Bass) in South Gippsland. I am referring to the companion planet of Earth, sometimes also called the ‘morning star’ that has, because of its size, an atmosphere and a greenhouse effect. In fact Venus has experienced a ‘runaway greenhouse effect’ where the average temperature of the planet is over 400 degrees C where solids or earth such as lead are in liquid form and the planet’s atmosphere is mainly composed of carbon dioxide – identified as the main greenhouse gas on Earth.

Recently I tweeted a brief review of episode 2 of Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places. The review noted:

“NASA explains that for up to 2 billion years of its early history, Venus may have had a shallow liquid-water ocean and habitable surface temperatures. However, due to its position to the sun, the planet’s water eventually evaporated. With no water left on its surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere and led to a runaway greenhouse effect that created Venus’ present hellish conditions” and “‘This is what happens when greenhouse gases are out of control’, Hawking said, implying that our own planet could also meet the same fiery fate. He then [amusingly] quipped, ‘Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare.’”

The atmosphere of Venus was the subject of early study by James Hansen who has often been called the ‘father of climate science’. Hansen applied his models of the Venutian atmosphere to Earth and has been warning of the threat of global warming since 1988. Amongst his many other achievements he is the author of Storms of My Grandchildren (Bloomsbury, 2009) is a founder of Citizens Climate Lobby and  advocate of the ‘fee and dividend’  alternative to the carbon tax.

Whilst the planet most Gippslanders can see in the early mornings and evenings is otherwise seemingly remote its importance in this context is that it verifies the science of the greenhouse effect and shows why it is necessary to act to curb our carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible. It is another way of looking at the greenhouse effect that I have not described before.


The Nuts and Bolts of Demand Response

Basically demand response is the act of responding to fluctuations in energy demand in relation to the supply of power over brief periods of time. Currently this is almost exclusively either related to disruption in the conventional power system where supply drops for some reason or there are extremely hot summer afternoons where power consumption soars when we all turn on our air-cons. The conventional power source is unable to supply this extra electricity causing or threatening black-outs in some areas. By paying a sufficient number of consumers to stop consuming power, supply and demand can be balanced and grid operations maintained without disruptions.

An example of this was recently carried out with our power supplier Powershop called “Curb Your Power”  and this is how it worked. Firstly we accepted an invitation from them to participate in their demand response program. They then contacted us by text about one hour previous to requiring us to reduce our energy consumption by at least one third between the hours of 3.30 to 5.30pm. Before 3.30pm I wandered around our unit turning off all the unnecessary power consumers including the major one – the air con – but left 2 ceiling fans running as it was quite warm. Other power consuming actions such as cooking and clothes washing were deferred. A few days later the retailer rewarded us, and all other participants, with $10 on our account and conducted a survey to find out how we responded.

It later transpired that there was a power outage in the Lindenow area stretching across to places north of Bairnsdale – in this case over 1000 customers were blacked out – although the cause of this is not known. However we were experiencing hot weather and both our fans and air con were in operation when the request to reduce power consumption was received.

The demand response (sometimes called ‘negawatts’) process is simple. Sign up to a demand response program with your retailer and supply contact details to them. Then reduce your power consumption by a significant amount at the time and for the duration they request. Assuming this was successful your account will later be credited.

Almost certainly this was a trial run for our retailer as well. The next step is a refinement of smart meters (plus some computer software?) to calculate exactly how much power was reduced so that participants can be rewarded for that amount. Home batteries can extend this by selling power for an appropriate tariff when demand is high and buying it when the price is low or negligible thus helping to balance the system. This is a story I hope to elaborate on when we eventually have our battery installed.