Gippsland News & Views

Using battery storage in the bush 18.11



My isolated house in East Gippsland functioned very well with a stand-alone power system for 30 years until the property was sold. And as far as I am aware it is still doing so. Integral to this system and its most expensive part were the lead acid deep-cycle batteries. My 12 volt battery bank initially stored 200 amp hours in 6 2v cells in series. The storage was then doubled with another 6 2v cells added in parallel. Finally after changing over from wind to solar as the energy source large 600ah 2v cells were installed with 6 200ah cells in parallel giving us 800 ah storage. The rough formula for this is amps X volts = watts thus 800ah X 12v = 9600 watt hours storage. Enough, in theory, to run a 60w globe continuously for 6 days.

In practice the lead acid batteries seemed to have memories and needed to be ‘mollycoddled’. Through trial and error and the occasional dud cell, it was found that they functioned best and their lifetime was extended when only the top 20% of the power stored was used giving us under 200ah of usable energy. They are called deep cycle batteries but the number of times you could actually deep cycle them was strictly limited. The 800ah bank was still functioning well after 12 years with no problems when the house was sold.

In all the system was quite reliable with only 2 power failures in 30 years. One was a faulty connection between terminals that was fixed in a few minutes. There were teething problems with the system as we learned the hard way of the limitations of the term ‘deep-cycle’. When deep-cycled too frequently the weakest cell would fail and the system’s voltage, usually 13v to 13.5v, would drop to 12v or below. The faulty cell had to be identified and replaced which I did with selected second hand ex-telecom ones. Otherwise it would have been an expensive business.

Now with the Tesla battery (and a number of other competitors) and the lithium technology the battery revolution is upon us. For anyone building beyond 1 km from the grid a stand-alone system is already the best financial option, in particular for large parts of Gippsland remote from the grid. In reality we are now experiencing two revolutions – energy storage is the complementary partner to the solar one. A Battery Information Night is being held at Mirboo North on Thursday 3 December. (See Events page)




Supporting the People’s Climate March 16.11

PCC March Nov 27

It is more than fifty years since I attended my first demonstrations in Melbourne. Then the issue was conscription and the Vietnam war. Those demos were followed in the early 70s by the massive Vietnam moratoriums, and in the 80s by large People for Nuclear Disarmament Rallies. Although residing in the bush by then I attended many of these rallies. This century the madness of the invasion of Iraq again brought the people into the streets in large numbers. Now it is climate change.

In the early 80s scientists were offering us the bleak oblivion of the ‘nuclear winter’. Today it is the reverse of that coin for instead of the cold brought on by nuclear war (global dimming) the evidence overwhelmingly supports a warming planet. The physics of the greenhouse effect, pioneered well over 100 years ago, are being realised. Global warming is not a scientific problem. It is a human and political one. Currently vested interests still dominate the Australian and international political processes. These forces of reaction and self-interest must be opposed at every step.

The politics of change is not only a matter of voting. It requires you to participate in the political process; to speak out as often as you can; to apply pressure to politicians and to people with power and influence; to  act, doing things both large and small; to complete these acts where possible and persevere with them whilst you are able when you can.

Which brings us to next week’s rally. Gandhi once said: “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” Participating in a demonstration such as the People’s Climate March is an admirable action. In action there is hope. On Friday 27 November we will be gathering at the State Library of Victoria at 5.30pm. Please support this event.


Mr Sustainability of Gippsland (11.11)


John-Hermans-hydro-web-300x200 (photo by Stitch)

We have, somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ labelled John Hermans of Clifton Creek, ‘Mr Sustainability’ of Gippsland. John is a man of many parts but he will probably be embarrassed by our label. Above all he is practical having built and lived in his sustainable house for many years. As well as teaching by example John is a great publicist for many of the basic tenets of sustainability.  He is a long term member of the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) and has been a frequent contributor of articles to their publications Soft Technology and Renew.  He has also been the President of the Gippsland Environment Group (link on side bar) for many years and has participated in the ATA’s solar installation project in East Timor.

His owner built home – incorporating a substantial workshop – is a showpiece. It is constructed of earth walls and an earth roof and John has used mostly onsite and second hand materials in its construction. Integral to this was his own small timber mill in which he was able to mill timber for the house from trees that had to be removed from the house site.

John is perhaps best known for his hydro-electric plant on the nearby Nicholson River which has generated renewable energy to the family home for many years. But he also has a large, netted, fruit and veggie garden in front of the house, and has been running his vehicle on biodiesel for many years. The oil is collected from fish and chip shops and processed on site. The vehicle uses either biodiesel (manufactured on site) or straight veggie oil. John is also a great fan of recycling and is often repairing electrical goods, cast off with simple malfunctions like a faulty switch. Recently he has been experimenting with biochar production. Is there anyone in greater Gippsland who can match this record?

A wonderful article, interview and photos was done with John seven years ago by the ABC’s Cath McAloon. It is still relevant, available online and well worth a visit.


The Economics of Rooftop Solar 8.11


solar roofs

My fellow climate activist Andrew Gunner has gone through the financial aspects of installing rooftop solar on his suburban home. His calculations produced some astounding results – that even at the low feed in tariff of 6.4 cents and feeding all the energy back into the grid they were profitable. His calculations went through several upgrades and eventually this proposition was revised downwards to about break even. So unless you are absent from your dwelling during daylight hours every day of the week and use little of your rooftop power you will be ahead. Andrew noted:

“Here is a step by step guide to help you work out whether getting photovoltaic solar panels for your house is good financially.  You can do the calculations with a hand calculator.”

His final calculations take account of all the costs of installation, maintenance, depreciation, current and future electricity prices, inflation and opportunity costs. His conclusion is that if you use 22% of the energy from your rooftop and export the rest at 6.4 cents per Kilowatt hour your return on your investment will be 8.5% and far better than bank interest. Most of us would try to improve on the 22% base by bringing flexible energy tasks, such as washing clothes, into the sunlight hours.

To back up his in-depth calculations Andrew has provided an excel spreadsheet where you can enter your own data and modify his assumptions to suit your own circumstances. He does note that if you are paying off a mortgage – about one third of Australian households – that this repayment may be preferable to installing solar. For further details go to Andrew’s blog a site worth visiting regularly

Climate Change Denialism, mostly the Murdoch Media and Criminal Negligence (4.11)


Murdoch cartoon

Currently calls are being made for Exxon – the long running climate change denier – to face charges and fines for their denial in the same way as the tobacco industry is now being forced to do. I have written previously on criminal negligence and loosely defined it as “the failure to take action against something that causes harm.” This presupposes the offender is aware that their actions may cause harm and does nothing about it. Worse still they may make every effort using all their available resources to present the opposite view, or at the very least to create confusion and doubt. The latter action was the path taken by the tobacco industry and equally so by Exxon.

Writing about the, at best abysmally slow, actions of governments to mitigate climate change Tim Flannery in his Atmosphere of Hope recently noted: “Some companies bear a disproportionate share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. The most important by far in the media is the Murdoch news empire, from Fox News to the Australian newspaper and the many tabloids that help shape public opinion. It’s extraordinary to think that a media empire overseen by Rupert Murdoch, a man whose father was a frontline news reporter in World War I, continues in the twenty-first century to impede progress on this most vitally important issue.” (p.72)

To ‘balance’ the books The Melbourne Age has just published (3.11) an opinion piece by climate change denier Christopher Booker. The lie that there is a ‘debate’ about climate change is still found across the media. But the debate – if there was any – about climate change and its obvious human origins is long past. There is debate about how bad climate change will be and whether there will be abrupt harmful changes that we as a species can do nothing about. Flannery cites the 374 additional deaths caused by the 2009 heatwave in south-east Australia – an event that in turn was influenced by climate change.

Still fighting against the overwhelming evidence supporting basic greenhouse physics we have the bile of the ‘flat earthers’ – Andrew Bolt, sundry ‘shock jocks’ and other supposedly more sophisticated parts of (mainly) the Murdoch media, along with too many of their foolish followers in Canberra. Their monumental ignorance is no longer an excuse. They must now be aware that the misinformation, lies and distortions they have written in the past and continue to peddle is causing harm and may have already contributed to the premature deaths of hundreds of Australian citizens.

That is criminal negligence. The case against the climate criminals is only beginning and the media’s spurious attempts at balance must carry a large part of the blame. As an interesting postscript it has been suggested on the social media recently that all climate change deniers be disbarred from public office.


East Gippsland Shire (EGS) – Energy Efficiency & LEDs (1.11)


bright_futures_roll-out_led_streetlight_1Energy conservation and energy efficiency have long been known as the easiest means of reigning in one’s greenhouse gas output – sometimes categorised as the “low hanging fruit”. Local shires have been at the forefront of these operations from which there should also be considerable financial benefits.

Commenting on the changeover in street lighting in East Gippsland, EGS environmental officer Rebecca Lamble recently stated that  “it’s not just Bairnsdale and Paynesville that have had the LED street lights swapped…it’s all the 80w mercury vapour lights in residential streets across East Gippsland…” Information on the EGS LED program can be found here 

Rebecca noted that “The final street light report is due in May next year…and it will show the emissions avoided and how much money we will be saving…after being installed for 12 months.” The EGS website estimated that their “energy efficient residential street lighting project” would make “energy savings of over 70%.  Replacing these street lights will save 1,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.  This is the single biggest action East Gippsland Shire can take to reduce its carbon emissions.  In fact, streetlights typically represent 30-50% of a metropolitan councils’ carbon footprint.”

The EGS should now be considering some of the harder options. At State and Federal levels Government departments are often pulling in different directions on climate change and thus working against each other. Something of this kind is happening on a smaller scale locally with sustainability and old fashioned economic growth in competition. Action on climate change as a matter of urgency must take priority. It is time for the EGS to break ranks with the rest of Gippsland – including specifically the promotion by the Committee for Gippsland – over coal, to move from promoting the logging industry to protecting our forests and a number of other no cost actions like banning another harmful fossil fuel – CSG or ‘Unconventional Gas”.



A Plea for a government of National Unity on Climate Change 28.10

parliament house Canberra

With the current business as usual scenario the planet is still heading for a warming of far greater than 2 degrees. There is mounting evidence that even a 2 degrees rise will be disastrous for most of the planet. Even now with a warming so far of about .8 of one degree the human occupied planet is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and bushfires. Climate Change has been a major factor in the current Syrian crisis and the refugees flooding Europe are the just the first of the climate refugees. Refugees from a number of Pacific Islands that are regularly flooded by storms and high tides may be next.

It follows that it is high time that the overwhelming issue of climate change took priority over party. A government of National Unity on Climate Change will probably be the precursor to an Emergency (war-time style) government. Major changes in direction, policy, finances will be required across all levels of government where measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change become paramount. It may be necessary at least to name and shame, and possibly make illegal, resistance to the required changes.

The immediate aim of climate activists across Australia should be to use the system to cleanse denialists from both houses of parliament. The preferential system makes this possible. Preference trading should be ignored by all people and parties of goodwill and be replaced with preferences for strong climate candidates and against the climate deniers. This tactic is especially needed in the Senate to help the major parties dispose of some of their ‘albatrosses’ like Senator Benardi.

At the moment a government of national unity would be comprised of about half the Liberals, most of Labor, all the Greens, some Independents and even perhaps one or two Nationals. It would have an overwhelming majority in both houses. It could even be led by Malcolm Turnbull who, of the leaders of both major parties, has been most outspoken on climate change in the past.


Planning for a Just Transition in the Valley – from Coal to Renewables (25.10)



The term ‘just transition’ has been bandied about by all and sundry recently but we need to ask “What does a Just Transition mean?” It certainly involves a substantial amount of planning but both the previous State government and the current one seem to have little idea of the processes involved. The Greens are correct in their recent call for an overseeing or co-ordinating body on this matter. I have suggested a number of times that perhaps the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) can be revived from its current hollow shell to co-ordinate and direct proceedings so that the changeover from coal based to renewable energy is gradual, smooth and seamless but done as quickly as possible.

The planner’s (SECV or otherwise) first task should be the elimination of unemployment in the Valley whilst looking for a complete shutdown of the Hazelwood Power Station within 12 months as the first major steps in the transition. This closure of the nation’s most carbon intensive power station should be a priority and follow full employment. Considerable finances and co-ordination will be required. The ample funds should be directed towards providing both renewable energy and local employment. Basic employment programs such as tree planting or a new greatly expanded apprenticeship program in the various renewable energy areas should be considered as possible means to help soak up the local pool of unemployed.

The planners should also be looking at means of utilising the current infrastructure as much as possible including closely examining possible power sources as pumped hydro and geothermal energy. Study programs on these matters should be implemented at Churchill’s Federation University – perhaps in conjunction with the Melbourne University Energy Institute – and used to assist and direct planning.

One thing the ‘just transition’ will not mean is that workers and miners will transfer out of their current jobs into 6 figure salaries doing unskilled labour. There will be still be highly paid jobs but they will be in different areas. One possibly is the technical and physical aspects of asbestos removal during power station rehabilitation. The power station owners, and in particular GDF/Suez, should be gradually downsizing now, retiring employees and generators at appropriate times and with proper payments. They should also be carefully examining ways in which they can utilise their resources beyond coal. A transition of this sort will not only benefit the workers and residents of the valley – it will benefit us all.



Living with (and beside) a Wind Generator 21.10

Windmill and solar panels

In 1982 a reconditioned wind generator was installed at our newly built ‘mudbrick mansions’. It was to be our main power source for 16 years along with a small backup petrol generator and 200 amp hours of lead acid battery storage. The generator was rated at 300 watts. The total cost of the whole system including tower, reconditioned generator and blade, a small back-up petrol generator, battery bank, inverter, dual power wiring and installation was less than one third the cost of getting the mains power brought to the house. The genius behind it all was my good friend (and ex-student) James Poynton. This, along with a swap of an old trail bike for the tower, and lots of help from friends and neighbours, got everything up and running over one hot summer.

To minimise power lost through resistance the tower was situated close to the house. And the power system went through a number of upgrades over the years. The problem with the wind generator was matching supply with demand. For a lot of the time the generator was physically turned off with the blade feathered to the wind. For the windy months of winter, it was turned off frequently whilst there were also still periods, sometimes lengthy, in autumn. One experiment was to use a rotary inverter to run a dishwasher (with the heater disconnected) usually during windy periods. Another improvement was to double the battery storage.

Until the end of its life mechanical problems were few, and aside from once losing the magnetism of the outer casing and annual maintenance, the system required a daily battery check-up and sometimes turning the generator on or off according to the level of power storage. It was definitely a ‘hands on’ operation. The back-up petrol generator, when brought into use to charge the batteries during still periods, also pumped water and was sometimes used for the rare times clothes needed ironing. One quickly got used to the sounds and rhythms of the wind generator and it was easy to detect when electricity was being generated or if there was a problem with the system.

On the downside the generator blade did kill birds. When charging the blade was like an aeroplane propeller – invisible. The total kill was about one a year – exclusively magpies which was the most common species in the area. By comparison about twice that number of birds – and of a wider variety of species – were killed annually by flying into our house windows.

Excluding one’s labour and depreciation costs we operated with free power. With the help of amazing advances in solar PVs and energy efficiency we continue to do so. And it goes without saying that I am a strong supporter of wind power. It is the modern wind generator that is challenging the dominance of coal in our electrical supply system. Without a rapid phase out of coal and other fossil fuels mankind will be condemned to the most diabolical scenarios of global warming.


Gippsland Climate Change Network Meeting & Forum at Warragul (18.10)

gccn_logo small

The Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) held their AGM in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria at the Federation Training Conference Room at the Warragul Railway Station on the 14th. A few of the more adventurous participants used the train to commute there. The GCCN meeting was ably and quickly conducted by President Cr. Darren McCubbin of Wellington Shire – although the acoustics of the room left a bit to be desired. Board members elected include Beth Ripper of Stratford and Ian Southall of Mirboo North. One position on the board of management is still vacant.

Luke Wilkinson Gippsland representative of Sustainability Victoria conducted the Forum on “State Government Community Conversations on Climate Change Action in Gippsland”. Local organisation the Baw Baw Sustainability Network were well represented and member Natasha Brown spoke to the meeting on the wide range of her group’s activities. Rebecca Lamble, Environment Officer with the East Gippsland Shire Council, spoke at some length on the Shire’s achievements so far, including converting street lighting in the township of Bairnsdale to LED lighting. Several short videos were shown.

It is unfortunate that the segmented nature of our State administration severely hampers Sustainability Victoria’s efforts. Whilst they are working very hard on climate change another department is still issuing brown coal exploration licences. But it is certainly a positive to have a State Government in power that recognises that there is much work to be done on climate change. It is even more important that we support the GCCN and Sustainability Victoria and let all the politicians know of the immense challenges before us.

Sustainability Victoria are conducting these forums or “community conversations” across Victoria. Unfortunately they have received minimal publicity. They will be conducting another “Community Conversations on Climate Change” on Monday 26 October from 11am-2pm at the Segue Community Hub & Arts Café Stratford. If you are interested in attending contact Beth Ripper at