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 […]
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:
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.
His leaky back door was fitted with a bottom door seal
and good quality compression door seals in a hardwood strip around the sides and top. The front door just needed the compression seals.
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.
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.
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?
Baw Baw Shire Council are going through the process of developing another 4 year plan. There was some community engagement with a half day workshop with an opportunity to contribute afterwards. Here is the story BBSN contributed- I hope some of it comes to fruition. What do you think?
Alternative Baw Baw Future #2
The rapid transformation of technology, energy, transport and manufacturing that occurred since the end of the council plan in 2016 took many in in our community by surprise. As has the climate that has begun to change the look and feel of the countryside in Baw Baw with even further reductions in rainfall and more hot days than only 8 years ago. Frequent storms, bushfires and heavy rain events have necessitated more spending on damage to roads and other infrastructure at the same time as the rising cost of insurance coupled with decreased household incomes due to reduced employment have led more families to choose not to insure their homes.
In 2025, the need for strong community supports and volunteerism to help those in need has never been higher. Although we have not yet reached crisis time, the signs of stress after each natural disaster are showing. More and more people are aware that our community would be more resilient if there was a fairer way to distribute the wealth that has been created by more efficient manufacturing with robotics working 24hrs a day, self-driving cars, garbage trucks, street cleaners, taxis as well as robotic dairies and tractors managing our farms. Even retail and postal jobs have been further decimated with more online ordering and drone delivery of items. Inequality that began soaring about 50 years ago with the rise of neoliberalism has left many people disaffected, resentful and ready for change. 13
There are, however, some reasons for celebration in these tough times. One has been the widespread transformation of our energy system. Five years ago we finally stopped building poor quality homes and offices that required massive energy input to keep us comfortable. Since 2020 every new home must comply with the Passive House standard and because of the volume and improved designs since then, the cost of building a home has not increased at all. There is no need for any heating or cooling system and our all electric, highly energy efficient appliances coupled with almost universal uptake of solar PV on buildings means that all new buildings actually produce more energy than they use. From 2017 we began systematically retrofitting existing houses to bring them to as close to this new standard as practical. Boy did that take some doing- there are hundreds of people doing that work in Baw Baw alone and some of our local businesses have developed such a good reputation for their expertise, they are training Americans who were sadly left behind a few years ago.
Our larger, industrial users of energy are covered by a mixture of local production with solar, wind as well as from a large local biomass plant that produces heat and electricity which is fed with some of the waste streams that have not been diverted to recycling and also from the massive tree planting program we started 8 years ago. We also import some from the huge solar thermal plants now operating north of the divide who are also sending their power back to the Latrobe Valley via the same transmission lines that used to export the coal sourced power years ago. When Latrobe City realised they could become the natural home of heavy power using industry as Australia transforms into a 14
renewable energy superpower, they successfully attracted data hubs, more manufacturing businesses, education and research facilities and in contrast to expectations, they’re booming! Just like the previous era of coal power stations, many Baw Baw residents now also work in Latrobe.
In order to deal with the rising summer temperatures making living in Baw Baw unpleasant at times, our council planted a lot of leafy street trees which cool our towns by evaporation and providing excellent shade. What is left of our carparks, which are progressively being turned into public spaces since the trend to driverless cars and falling car ownership picked up, have been covered in community owned solar panels, providing more shade as well as power for the community owned electric bus network which has made access to services possible for all shire residents.
Possibly the best thing that happened in 2019 was the decision to stop any more of our agricultural land being developed. We made the decision to cope with increasing population by embracing apartment living in 3-4 storey blocks that now give Warragul, Drouin, Trafalgar and even Yarragon a more vibrant feel with more people using the public spaces, more nightlife and very popular community gardens at the same time as cementing our position as a reliable supplier of organic food locally, nationally and in overseas markets.
The Latrobe Valley Authority has announced a new program to help soften the blow of the closure of Hazelwood power station at the end of March. The home energy retrofit program will provide up to $4,500 per home for 1000 homes of disadvantaged people in the Baw Baw, Latrobe and Wellington shires. If you have an existing health care care, pension card or have a concession arrangement with your energy provider, you may be eligible to apply. You can register your interest in participating here. Baw Baw Sustainability Network have registered our interest in being a provider of the energy audits and look forward to being involved.
Across the 3 local council districts there are over 60,000 homes. According to previous surveys of Victorian homes, most of these are in need of very significant retrofitting to make them more comfortable and more energy efficient. The average cost of the works required is around $30,000 per home but many gains in comfort and efficiency are possible with much less than that. So, the amount of potential work to be done is enormous. We hope people in the Latrobe Valley and wider area see and grab the potential in this project- it will lead to ongoing savings for the homes, reducing the cost of living difficulties currently being faced, at the same time as making homes more comfortable and even alleviating health problems associated with leaky or mouldy buildings.
You can visit our website to read more about our home sustainability assessment service here.
Beyond Zero Emissions is a Melbourne based group doing research and producing reports on various topics with the aim of providing a road map to living without producing greenhouse gas emissions. One of their publications is called The Energy Freedom Home which is an excellent, concise guide to making your home more comfortable at the same time as wiping out COMPLETELY, your energy bills. It is possible!
It’s a nine step process which you can do in any order, though it makes sense to leave the solar PV until you have made other changes, in order to size the system correctly. Briefly, here are those steps:
- Lighting. Upgrade your incandescent or halogen bulbs to LED. Replace CFLs as they fail with LEDs.
- Draught proofing. Seal up those gaps. See another post on this topic here.
- Insulation. Upgrade the ceiling insulation to R6, walls to R2.5 and floor to R2.5. It is not commonly understood that any “holes” in the insulation layer make a huge difference to the overall performance. Attention to detail while installing is crucial.
- Windows. These are the weakest performing area in the building envelope as even double glazed windows can’t insulate as much as a wall. Improving windows by adding secondary glazing, curtains and pelmets or replacing the whole window unit with good quality, double glazed, thermally broken framed ones are all good options.
- Appliances and cooking. When buying appliances, don’t buy larger than you need and go for the most energy efficient model. www.energyrating.gov.au can help. Changing your cooktop to an induction type means you will be reducing energy use while retaining the same or better functionality as gas. You do need to have iron containing bases in pots and pans for this to work. I have not met anyone who does not love their induction cooktop.
- Heating and cooling. Reverse cycle air conditioners or heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat and cool. It sounds incredible but they are up to 600% efficient. That means for 1 unit of electrical energy input, they output 6 units of heat (or cool). They do this by gathering up the heat energy in the air and moving this into (or out of) your home whereas a gas heater can’t even turn 1 unit of gas energy into 1 unit of heat because there are losses in the flue waste, ducting and so on. Electric bar heaters similarly only produce 1 unit of heat from 1 unit of power.
- Hot water. In our part of the world, the research shows that the most practical choice of HW is the heat pump. Solar is great but requires back up energy in winter months and when you add up the total required over the year, the heat pump wins. As you move further north, solar becomes the best choice. There are a number of companies who can provide heat pump HW units. You can tell which is the most energy efficient by the number of STCs (Small scale generation certificates) offered. My understanding is that Sanden are leaders. Siddons make a “Bolt on” model that will attach to your existing tank and is portable enough that renters could buy it and take it with them when they move out. Earthworker in Morwell is a retailer of these.
- Energy monitoring and control. Having your real time energy use visible on a little monitor in the main living of your home has been shown to reduce energy use by about 10%. It’s easy to see how as the natural inclination is to try to reduce it. It’s easier to see if someone has left the lights on in the shed, equipment on stand by gets turned off, boiling only enough water as you need in the kettle are all small changes but together make a large difference. There are a few models that range in price from about $60 to $200. You can also take advantage of the internet based feedback you can get from your energy distributor or retailer in some cases. They can provide graphs and charts of your electricity use in blocks of 30min. The disadvantage is that this is not “in your face” as the in home display models are.
- Solar power. Once you have made all these other changes and reduced your overall power use you can now get a solar system of the right size to cover your energy needs. I haven’t specifically mentioned it up to now but the process involves getting rid of all your gas appliances. Kick the gas habit! There is no form of renewable gas (unless perhaps you have a home biogas digester). At the moment, the only way to be 100% renewable at the household level is to be an all electric home. There’s a facebook page dedicated to this.
This has been a very simple run through of the concepts. You can buy the book, borrow it from the library or consider having our experienced home assessment team come to you to work through any or all of these steps with you.