American blackberry harvest time.

blackberrie-in-pot

Late February and March is the time for harvesting our thornless blackberries. I’m unsure of the exact botanical name but we know them as American blackberries. This particular bramble is a prolific grower and will spread by sending roots down from any cane that touches the ground for long enough. I planted about 5 canes 2 years ago and this year we have a large crop. Not having to avoid prickles makes the work much more pleasant. The timing is good too because our other brambles have come and gone already so the work in picking and processing is spread.

At REstore, we have a table of plants for sale/donation as well as some occasional produce. At times we have had these and other brambles available, including raspberries, boysenberries and youngberries. If you’d like to get some of these canes let us know by commenting here or come and browse at our garden. Our gardening group is almost always there on a Wednesday morning.

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Making best use of your rooftop solar PV

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It’s 11am which is into the peak generation time for our solar PV and now we (in Victoria) are off the transitional feed in tariff, it makes most sense and cents to use electricity while we are producing it. The photo shows our Watts Clever In Home Display. The top reading is what we are importing from the grid- nothing. The next one is the total we have used today, since midnight- 1.21 Kwh. The bars below that represent the total used each day for the last few days and you can scroll back using the buttons at the bottom. At the moment we have the washing machine going and some berries boiling away on the induction cooktop to make jam so the solar system is producing enough to cover that use and more. Our biggest energy guzzling appliance is our electric car. Prior to December 31st we used to just charge it whenever it suited us but now we try to do it during the day as much as possible.

One disadvantage of the Watts Clever display is that it does not show the solar production. I do like that it is so visible all the time though. Some products rely on opening up the display on your phone or computer which I don’t think is as useful. Energy researchers have found that people who use these IHDs typically reduce their electricity consumption by about 10%, just by being more diligent in turning things off. For most consumers that means a payback time of a year or so.

Another thing to consider is the feed in tariff that your retailer is prepared to pay you and how that relates to the total package of other rates and supply charges. You can compare retail offers at Victorian Energy Compare.

As batteries reduce in price and arrangements to sell your stored energy at times of high wholesale prices emerge, exciting changes in how our electricity market operates are going to happen. Reposit, Greensync, Sonnen and others are worth keeping an eye on.

Community owned energy retailer.

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This post is inspired by the community owned energy retailer Enova, from the Northern Rivers area of NSW. Their mission is to empower community, support renewable energy and the transformation of our energy system while providing returns to shareholders and the local economy. They state that it would possible to return $80 million to the local area through profits and operating expenses from a potential revenue of $300 million. Now that’s quite a significant boost to anyone’s local economy.

Let’s look at our part of Gippsland (Baw Baw, Latrobe and Wellington shires)- we have about 66,000 homes and the average Victorian home spends $2,800 per year on gas and electricity. That’s $185 million spent per year with a significant portion of the profit leaving the local area. Is there an appetite to draw some of that back home? Could we put that money to better use- building more local capacity in renewable power or storage systems like massive battery banks and pumped hydro? Building local infrastructure, employing local people in jobs that make a positive difference as opposed to those that worsen health or destroy the environment, maintaining and building our skills and providing hope for our children and grandchildren all seem like worthwhile goals to me.

The Congress for Community Energy gets underway today with a series of workshops over the next 4 days. It is sure to be inspiring and will be the source of more blog posts I’m sure!

If you’re interested in being involved in a local community owned energy retailer or anything else mentioned here, please comment or contact us at BBSN.

 

Artists in community energy

Yesterday I spent a fascinating afternoon with Creative Carbon Scotland and Land Art Generator Initiative at their Beautiful Renewables event in Edinburgh. The event brought together engineers, planners, community energy groups, artists and architects to develop an understanding of what is involved in the development of an energy generation project and what each of the events participants […]

via Every community energy group should invite an artist onto its board! — power culture

Baw Baw Emissions-Zero project

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What would it be like to live in a home that has no energy bills and is more comfortable? What if all your neighbours did the same? And imagine if all business and industry were accessing affordable, reliable renewable energy from their own roof or from a larger local generation facility? What kind of community scale renewable energy is best suited to our area? A core group of locals are pondering these and more questions and we’d love to hear from more people who are keen to get involved.

Baw Baw Sustainability Network based in Yarragon, Beyond Zero Emissions and Baw Baw Shire Council are collaborating on a project aimed at our region of Baw Baw reaching zero carbon emissions from our use of electricity and gas over the next 10 years. This will bring great benefits to the area with many jobs doing useful, beneficial work, reduced power bills, more comfortable buildings as well as showcasing Baw Baw as a leading community, taking action to address pollution.

Our initial steps will be to gather baseline data on the use of gas and electricity in the shire, engage the community in the process and draft an implementation plan for the on the ground works to happen over the coming decade. There’s a lot of work ahead of us and there’s no doubt plenty of hurdles to jump and pot holes to avoid. If you’d like to get involved please make contact with us:

Email bbsn@dcsi.net.au

 

Retrofit case #1

valve-cosy

Mr C is an older man who is living alone in his home, with ducted gas and air conditioning which he finds he is using more as he gets older. The ceiling had blow in cellulose insulation which he topped up with R3.5 fibreglass batts a few years ago, as well as rigid foam board under floor insulation. Just like my parents, he does not want to spend a lot of money retrofitting his home given that he reckons he won’t be around too much longer and whoever lives in his house next is likely to make alterations.

At the initial assessment with the blower door we found he had 10.37 ACH@50Pa which is lower than the average Australian home but is still way too leaky to be considered energy efficient. There was a large ventilation hole above his fridge and microwave which led straight into the roof space, a floor drain that led straight under the house, gaps around his doors and pipe penetrations as well as a few around architraves, skirting boards (felt through the carpet even), cavity sliding doors and electrical sockets. His gas storage heater had the short section of hot water pipe leading into the house unlagged and the PTR valve was exposed and toasty warm- wasting heat 24 hrs a day. His energy use has been  higher than average for a single person dwelling in Victoria, mainly due to the gas heating.

Given his desire for a minimalist retrofit we agreed on some simple draught proofing and installation of pipe lagging and a valve cosy. The valve cosy is pictured above- simple to install and relatively cheap. It is easily popped apart to activate the PTR valve as needed.

weatherstripping

His leaky back door was fitted with a bottom door seal

door-seal-strip

and good quality compression door seals in a hardwood strip around the sides and top. The front door just needed the compression seals.

floorwaste

This is the floor waste in the laundry with the plastic grill insert removed, showing that it leads to the void under the floor with no more plumbing. You can also see the polystyrene sub floor insulation. We will go back and install a u-bend which he will need to occasionally fill with water as it evaporates, to create an air seal. Some extra plastic fittings required!

The biggest air leak was, of course, the hole into the roof space above the fridge. There was plenty of room around the fridge so the extra ventilation really is not necessary and is a big source of escape of wanted heat or coolth. We closed that off with a piece of unwanted corflute signage and sealed it with caulking, then covered it with insulation. Lastly was some general caulking around pipe penetrations, sealing up a leak in his dryer duct work and then recheck the blower door test to see how we’d done.

ccpostpressuregauge

This shows the pressure gauge indicating the blower door is keeping the pressure difference between inside and outside at 50Pa and the air changes per hour (ACH) is at 8.196. That is quite a bit better than baseline and we still have the floor drain to fix. Blocking it temporarily brought the ACH down to 7.9. Is this getting to a level of air tightness that is problematic for adequate ventilation? Not even close. We’d have to get the ACH well under 5@50Pa before he would even have to start to think about it.

Mr C should notice that he doesn’t need to run his heater or cooler quite as much and that his bills go down, down, down! We’ll check back with him in a year and compare his spending on gas and electricity. Our total cost for the assessment (which covered all the areas of the Energy Freedom Home), report and this bit of retrofitting was around $500 which he should get back in energy savings over a year or two. There’s a link to the BBSN website with contact details here.

Community energy for Gippsland

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Last night a reasonable crowd gathered at the Latrobe Performing Arts Centre to hear a presentation by Soren Hermansson from the island of Samso in Denmark about the transformation of the energy system to 100% renewables which they achieved some years ago. That presentation was followed up by a workshop with about 40 participants from across Gippsland. What is clear to me from the last 24hrs is that there is a real sense of excitement and of opportunity to make the transition from coal based energy in Gippsland to something much better.

It is now obvious that in only a few years there will not be any brown coal power stations in the Latrobe Valley. The age of coal is ending and brown coal is dying first. The market is moving to the cheapest form of new generation which is renewables. The CSIRO has advised that there are no technical barriers to a 100% renewables power grid. The issues of frequency synchronisation and matching supply with demand are manageable with adequate storage capacity in either chemical form in batteries or in potential energy like pumped hydro and other technology.

How Gippslanders respond to this new reality is crucial for the health of the community. We could step back and be the receivers of solutions from big multinational companies who will reap profits lost to our local economy or we could step up and create solutions ourselves. We could duplicate existing community ownership structures for a range of services from energy retailing (see Enova), generation of power through solar or wind or biomass or pumped hydro, hydrogen production, electric car charging points, managing our waste streams for profit through energy production, putting waste methane to good use from disused tip sites and more….. I think the key is to ensure that the community has a chance to be involved, to plan and to have ownership with reliable financial returns.

Gippsland Climate Change Coalition (GCCN) will be holding more community workshops as will BBSN, so watch this space and get involved. Do you have more ideas to share?