Gippsland News & Views

In praise of solar – the Solar Revolution (4.9)

My first experience with solar power was as a fire spotter in east Gippsland in 1976. The tower radio was powered by a 6v motor-cycle battery which was in turn charged by a small photovoltaic (PV) panel measuring about 45cm by 10cm. The panel was unregulated and consequently often boiled the battery.

Six years later when setting up a ‘stand alone’ power system for my home solar was far too expensive, so we opted for a reconditioned ‘Windlite” wind generator. The hope was that after 20 years when the wind generator was due for an overhaul that PV would be cheap enough to cover the roof with panels. This turned out to be a trifle optimistic.

In 1986 I installed 2 30 w PV panels costing about $14 pw. But the big winner at this time was the installation of a solar hot water service which was a perfect match with our slow combustion stove. The stove with hot water jacket at the back of the firebox was used through the cooler months and the solar provided an abundance of hot water for the rest of the year. After 29 years of operation this service is still functioning well with minimum maintenance.

The wind generator was mothballed in 2000 and replaced with 6 80w panels, larger battery storage and was professionally installed. At an approximate guess the price of the PVs was about $8 pw. In 2012 our new retirement unit was fitted with 16 250w panels with a total cost for panels, inverter and installation at $2.5 pw. Since that time with the 30c kw subsidy we have had no electricity bills and have had cash returns of about $1000. A payback time of about 6 years.

In the last 3 years prices of PV panels has dropped substantially. With the loss of our subsidy at the end of 2016 we are planning on adding more panels to our system and changing as best we can to daylight consumption. Batteries, if cheap enough, are a distinct possibility. The solar revolution is upon us.

The Coming Summer: increasing our Roof Insulation (30.8)

Insulation

Now residing in a 30 year old town unit we have been gradually upgrading our power supply, improving energy efficiency and other aspects to make it sustainable. Since our purchase two and a half years ago we have had the roof reconditioned and painted with reflective paint, had 4 Kw of photovoltaics installed, changed the old heater for a reverse cycle air conditioner and installed a heat pump.

The weather predictions for the summer of 2015/16 have been looking ominous. The earth is already on track for the hottest year since records began. As well a super strong El Nino threatens. With previous heat waves in mind I decided it was time to top up our roof insulation. The original insulation was still in place but thin. Typically these places were built to the minimum required building standards.

One phone call, two quick visits from the contractor, a quote, an hour or two installing bats and the job’s done. Hopefully this will reduce the load on our reverse cycle airconditioner this summer and help keep us cool. As there is no insulation in the north-west facing walls we are now looking for ways to provide summer shade for them.  Unlike modern buildings the eaves are substantial and provide wall shade except for late summer afternoons. With this in mind the gardening books have come out and we are searching for some suitable, non-invasive climbers or creepers.

 

Climate Change and Criminal Negligence – Letter to GT 23.8

B'dale Court Bairnsdale Court House

Criminal negligence has been defined as “the failure to use reasonable care to avoid consequences that threaten or harm the safety of the public and that are the foreseeable outcome of acting in a particular manner…a person who is convicted of criminal negligence is subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both, because of the status of the conduct as a crime.”

Climate Change is life threatening. Scientific predictions of an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events, including droughts bushfires floods and heatwaves, have been with us since the 1980s. All of these events threaten harm to public safety. In particular recent heatwaves have been responsible for a substantial increase in mortality. For example the number of people killed by the heatwave preceding Black Saturday was twice as many as killed by the following bushfires. All of these fatalities are ‘potential victims’ of ‘climate change’.

Who then is responsible for this and are they criminally negligent?

The responsibility will be seen to lie squarely with the following:-

  1. The politicians – in particular those who opposed efforts to ameliorate the severity of the threat by gaining short term political advantage. An example is the repeal of the “carbon tax” which was designed to reduce carbon emissions.
  2. Some journalists, media commentators and sections of the media who abuse their positions of power to delay or deny attempts at amelioration and use their positions to confuse and misinform.
  3. Companies and organisations financing and promoting a campaign of confusion and denial.
  4. The companies that are producing the carbon dioxide and have done nothing to reduce their contribution. In particular this refers to our brown coal electricity generators in the Latrobe Valley and possibly also others such logging companies.

Eventually, possibly much sooner than we think, science will be able to state with a fair degree of certainty (95%) that ‘x’ number of fatalities, or ‘x’ amount of property loss, from a particular event was caused by climate change. As an example recent studies claim that between 8% and 27% of the current Californian drought has been caused by climate change.

A bun fight of grand proportions beckons in the courts.

Geothermal Energy in Gippsland (24.8)

Petramap

It has been known for some time that Gippsland has promising geothermal energy resources. In 2010 I stood in the state seat of Morwell on a platform of developing the geothermal energy under the coal. This policy was based on work done by the Melbourne University Energy Institute (MUEI) where the main principle was that the thick layers of brown coal act as a blanket and that enhanced temperatures were to be found below the coal.

Previously the valley generators could have used the geothermal resource below their power plants. The heat which is as little as 700m below them, could have been used to augment electricity production and reduce their CO2 output at the same time. Due to the looming climate emergency this is no longer an option. However direct production of up to 2gw (equivalent of 500 wind generators) of electricity from geothermal energy is possible within 10 years according to the MUEI.

Two companies have had Geothermal Exploration Permits (GEP) over Gippsland for many years. Greenearth Energy (also connected with Lakes Oil) has permits that covers the Latrobe Valley / Gippsland region and the land running south to the coast. Within the area lie four of Victoria’s major brown coal fired power stations as well as various existing and potential large consumers of electricity and heat. Although Greenearth have had permits since 2009 little progress has been made. Likewise Petratherm has had a GEP over East Gippsland since 2008 and has achieved little or nothing to date. (See Map above)

Obviously geothermal energy is not a priority with the Energy and Resources division of the Department of Name Change which is still issuing coal exploration licences. The MUEI is calling for a Geothermal Institute to be established to get the ball rolling. Perhaps this could be accommodated at the Federation University Churchill Campus? Or perhaps it could become part of a revitalised SEC also located in the Valley?

 

A Good News Story – East Gippsland Water’s Methane Digester (20.8)

Gas dome at BWWTP

Gasholder with Methane Digester in right background

Recently a good news story has been hard to find. But a friend at the recent Bioenergy Forum in Traralgon found one in my own backyard. East Gippsland Water (EGW) are in the process of recommissioning an old methane digester as part of their sewage treatment plant in Bairnsdale. The plant is due to begin operating in a few months.

The plant will operate as a continuous digester and will use cogeneration and heat pumps to maintain a stable optimum digester temperature of about 35 degrees. The gas will be stored in a newly constructed gasholder and used to generate electricity for onsite use. There are plans for taking food waste from local food processors down the track to use as additional digester feed.

EGW are also adopting numerous energy efficiency projects and beginning to employ solar PVs on a large scale. They state that their waste water treatment plants and provide 100% recycled water for beneficial re-use. Fully treated fresh water re-enters the system at the top of Macleods Morass helping to keep the increasingly saline lake water at bay from entering the Morass.

EGW are certainly working in the right direction looking for win-win situations for energy use, efficiency and energy production. At least here sustainability is not ‘greenwash’ jargon. Their website is at http://www.egwater.vic.gov.au/

 

Letter from Dr Jo McCubbin of Sale (17.8)

The Government’s early morning announcement of its 2030 target of 26% reduction in emissions, is way less than Obama’s plans for a 32 % reduction and Europe’s 40%. They suggest that this is in line with other similar countries – much as they are immune to facts with baseless mantras about coal curing poverty etc. etc.

Victoria’s brown coal fired power stations are the Nation’s worst carbon emitters and also major emitters of mercury, as well as dangerous fine particles. Obama achieved significant progress, by mandating expensive scrubbers to reduce mercury, which led to the closure of some plants … and CUT CARBON EMISSIONS! Daniel Andrews could do worse than to follow suit!

The Federal Government’s underwhelming response for Paris, stinks of a win to the “Tea Party” element within Coalition ranks and their fossil fuelled lobbyists who tell them what to think. If we stopped burning fossil fuels, not only would we get healthier lungs and live longer, we could stop the emitted mercury from falling on our schools, our farms and the catchment of the Gippsland Lakes!

A Gippsland Invention: Fred Sundermann of Heyfield’s water turbine (11.8)

Sundermanwater-turbine-prototype-3-tetsing2

A renewable energy invention by a local inventor has not received the publicity or support it deserves. The low head water turbine designed by Fred Sundermann of Heyfield has been around for some time. The first prototype was tested at San Remo in 2009.

The turbine is designed to operate in slow to medium flowing waters and is ideally suited to tidal situations. The unlisted public company set up to commercialise the invention claims that “they are leading the way revolutionising water turbine technology” and that their aim is “to capture the full potential of ocean and river currents”.

The Sundermann low-head water turbine is a submerged water turbine which drives a generator. The turbine has been specifically designed to maximize operational efficiency in slow to medium water flows of 6 – 12 knots.” And “the company’s core technology is a unique Modular Micro Hydro turbine, the main component in a complete renewable energy system.”

Each turbine can deliver 100kw and they can be arranged in banks to produce up to 1mw. Amongst its advantages are that of providing low cost baseload power with “minimum visual impact on the aquatic environment” and “minimal visual impact.” The latter should please our current batch of pollies in Canberra no end, but one suspects that they are opposed to any form of renewable energy that threatens coal.

With severe climate change effects threatening us we need these and other similar ideas in abundance. For further information go to  http://www.sundermannwaterpower.com/

 

 

Wanted: a Conservative (or Liberal) Climate Party? (9.8)

coalition-2“Coalition politician attitudes to Climate Change Feb 2013” https://uknowispeaksense.wordpress.com/election-2013/

As far as I am aware the only Liberal politicians in Australia to speak out in favour of wind energy recently are the Tasmanian Minister for Energy Matthew Groom and the Federal member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson. Across the nation politicians on the conservative side of politics have been condemning wind energy and promoting coal with the aid of a compliant media. No doubt there are others out there – both Liberals and Nationals – who favour the opposite and whose position the media ignores.

According to analysis done before the 2013 election just over half the elected conservatives supported the science of climate change and one must assume were therefore sympathetic towards renewable energy. Where are they now?

Where is the federal MP on the Conservative side of politics that accepts the science of climate change and is prepared to support all forms of renewable energy including wind generation? Is there a conservative MP with enough courage to realise that the issue is far more important than party loyalty, personal ambition or power?

There is a need to give conservatives a voice on climate and renewable energy. Farmers and country people in general have the most to gain by adopting efforts to mitigate climate change and will be the first to suffer from its damaging effects. There is a need to give farmers who are the forefront of the fight to stop climate change and who recognise the seriousness of the problem a voice.

Before he was deposed as leader of the Liberal Party by one vote in 2009 Malcolm Turnbull said: “Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires”.

All that is required is just one MHR or Senator to resign from their party and quickly garner 30 members to create and register the Conservative Climate Party. To put the boot into the current dinosaurs in both houses this is a party I would gladly join.

 

CSG Double Whammy for South Gippsland – subsidence & sea-level rise? (7.8)

CSG subsidence

A recent article by Tom Arup entitled ‘Gippsland Water Table Could be Hit Hard by Coal Seam Gas’ (The Age 6.8) outlined a potential drop in aquifers in the Gippsland basin of 15m. (see map) These predictions form the basis of a government report to the current Coal Seam Gas Inquiry.

This report listed that the aquifers may drop from 2-15m as a result of various CSG and other unconventional gas activities. The report outlines the threat of subsidence of land in the highly vulnerable Gippsland basin but considers it low i.e. up to 2m drop. This the report argues is within ‘historical parameters’ and is therefore an acceptable risk.

However even a 2m drop in the aquifers ignores other continuing uses of the ground water and that the drain on the aquifers may be cumulative. Parts of the Latrobe Valley have subsided by as much as 2m and subsidence of even a fraction of this on the Gippsland coast as a result of CSG activities may be severe.

The other aspect of CSG that is getting little publicity is that it is a direct contributor to climate change and fugitive emissions of methane from pipes and wells probably means that it is as damaging as coal if not worse. That it is being considered at all is an indictment of our political processes.

Each year the sea-level is rising about 3.5mm pa in Gippsland. Worst case climate  scenarios of business as usual have this rise doubling in as little as ten years. That combined with even a small amount of subsidence will be truly catastrophic. I examined these factors in a paper some years ago which is still valid today. See http://petergardner.info/publications/gippsland-coast-2100-4th-ed-pdf/

Gippsland Bioenergy Forum: good and bad news (2.8)

pyrolisis 1

Recently a bioenergy forum was held in Gippsland about the same time as the Senate was passing an amendment to include so-called “sustainable forest waste” in the Renewable Energy Target. This was an unfortunate coincidence. As well a number of the presentations at the forum were dependant on this ‘forest waste’ as part of their process. These should not be considered sustainable in any way or form.

With a climate emergency looming preservation of native forests as a carbon store must be a priority. As soon as the forests are preserved and protected this feedstock will dwindle if not disappear. Secondly burning pelletised wood waste still produces CO2 when our aim should be restrict output of greenhouse gases as much as possible.

There are at least two ways to do this. The first is using anaerobic digesters to produce methane gas and manure. This process was represented by several presentations at the forum including by East Gippsland water who have recommissioned a digester built in the 1980s. I will comment on this more fully later. The second is the Flannery pyrolysis generator which does not appear to have been represented at the forum. This process produces liquid or gas fuel and has a residue product called agrichar or biochar which is stable charcoal or carbon.

Also presenting at the forum was Heartwood Plantations who currently manage 50 plantations in Victoria. They pointed out that bioenergy was quite compatible with their operations but as yet it was not economic to do so. Up to 40% of their product would be available for bioenergy and cogeneration (heat and power). Since we need to phase out native forest logging we should be encouraging operations like these as much as possible.

 A participant at the forum noted thatDue to the nature of the energy market current being over supplied with electricity, and falling demand, the message around the applicability for using bioenergy was consistent.  There is a place for bioenergy energy current in small scale, site or precinct applications where users have a ready supply of biomass material (a biomass waste material) and a need to meet the localised demand of combined heat and electricity.”

With the above provisos in mind we concur.