Sustainability Assessments

Reducing emissions is not going to be enough

With the failure of COP25 in Madrid to reach consensus on a framework to reduce emissions, there is a growing sense of despair and frustration with the ability of governments to act in the planet’s best interest. Even though Australia is suffering from unprecedented  fires that are clearly closely linked to climate change, the federal government continues to resist any meaningful action. However, even if the Paris commitments are fully implemented they will not be enough to keep temperature increases to below 2 degC, let alone 1.5. Comparison between climate models and observed data show that the low impact scenarios can be ditched as being not credible and many indicators are tracking worse case scenarios or even worse. The accelerating melt of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets have caused alarm as has the increasing evidence of methane releases as the permafrost melts. Closer to home the temperature increases over the last few summers are showing extreme heat day frequency going through the roof.  Penrith’s historical average is 17 days a year above 35degC, the last three years have averaged well over 40; by the end of the century that figure is likely to be over 90.

The enormous lag in Earth’s energy system will ensure that impacts will continue to grow even if, miraculously human society manage to achieve zero emissions over the next 10 years. Importantly, we also need to start mitigating and adapting. Mitigation would take the form of increasing albedo (reflection of the sun’s radiation) , especially of our built form; increase the permeability of surfaces to allow water to be absorbed rather than simply run off in to storm water amongst other measures. Perhaps even more importantly we need to ensure that mangroves and wetlands, (great absorbers of carbon), are repaired, protected and restored; increase tree planting to not only absorb carbon but also help retain moisture in the soil. We also need a plan to tackle the increased risk of desertification and to replace and improve soil, one resource that Australia is sadly lacking. Diverting food and all organic waste from landfill would help in the later and remove them as a source of methane. Maybe these are initiatives that a federal government could embrace without provoking a hysterical reaction from their reactionary climate change denying right wing.

Energy Usage 2017

Still waiting for our Tesla PowerWall 2 – months overdue. It will be interesting to see if it removes our need for the grid for most of the year. Once installed, we will move to a time of use tariff (TOU), possibly shifting the hot water from controlled load 1, which would allow us to use excess solar during the day to heat it, although at current winter demand there is only a marginal amount of excess.

Summer demand blew out this year, due to the extreme hot spells; usually, it is our lowest demand period.

Winter usage is dominated by controlled load hot water demand; this remains a continuing problem to solve. Currently, there are no solutions that make economic sense. We used virtually no heating from the grid, the slow combustion stove and heat transfer working well to keep us warm.

Overall, the next few months will reveal whether our current PV will be enough to make the house net zero for the year.

Carbon Budget or why we don’t have time to waste

The vacillations of the Federal Government over Australia’s future are unlikely to change the makeup of future grid; the market has already decided that coal is an uneconomic and risky investment for the generation of electricity.

         Global cumulative installed capacity: 2016                   Global cumulative installed capacity: 2040

Solar and wind tipping points One down and one to go  RenewEconomy.jpg What is of greater concern is that the Government will seek to slow this transformation. This raises two issues, both with economic and social implications. Firstly, delays are likely to increase costs rather than decrease them; this is not new news but has been a constant refrain by those who have looked at the issue. One only has to look at the what happened to the wholesale cost of electricity  when the carbon tax was in force (allow for a certain amount of lag) to see the impact removing incentives for clean power. See graph belowscreenshot.png

Ironically the removal of the Carbon Tax has contributed not only to the increase in wholesale prices due to an increased dependance on gas, but has the slowed investment in renewables that has further exacerbated the situation.

The second issue is clearly outlined in the following graph which highlights the impacts of delaying measures to clean up our power generation to keep within the ‘carbon budget’. The longer the delay the more radical and sudden the change will need to be and thus likely to cause incalculable negative effects and disruption. The alternative – exceeding the carbon budget is highly likely to lead to impacts potentially even more disruptive and costly and most seriously, likely to last much longer. Add to this is the very real risk that ‘positive’ natural feedbacks will amplify and dwarf humanity’s emissions and leave much of the world uninhabitable. In terms of Australia, I am informed by those who should know that it could be one of the places most heavily affected, after all, we already experience extreme and sometimes devastating weather events.


We should not be held captive by a few reactionary ideologues who feel there world view is being threatened. It is one thing to virulently resist social change, quite another to threaten the future of the world our children inherit. I make no apology for using emotive language, because those that are not willing to accept the science and take the issue of climate change seriously are  not just being wilfully ignorant but dangerous.

Finkel Review

The Finkel Review into Australia’s future energy makeup was released on Friday June 9 2017. While greatly anticipated, it proved to be somewhat underwhelming to many interested parties. The report seemed designed to accommodate both political realities as well as technical challenges, and in the process, may have failed to inspire anyone.

Reading the Finkel Review, one is reminded of Einstein’s observation: Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you anywhere. At a time of extraordinary, disruptive and exponential change in the Energy Industry, one might have assumed that imagination was an essential element in articulating a vision for an energy future that is both environmentally responsible and appropriate for the 21st century.  Many will disagree with this sentiment, but history has shown that disruptive change has not often been well managed by society. One only has to look at how Governments reacted to the introduction of motor vehicles as an example of decisions both blinkered and lacking vision.

The report still managed to provoke a typical reactionary response from the conservative right wing, whose blinkered obsession with coal as the only legitimate and acceptable source of energy, flies in the face of virtually everyone else in the industry, and the majority of Australians, if recent polls by the Lowy Institute and MyVote are anything to go by.

For those who would like to make up their own minds or at least be more deeply informed, here are the links to the Executive Summary and full report:

Governments with different agendas

While the Federal Government has shown itself to be hesitant about embracing action on Climate Change, State Governments around Australia are becoming much more proactive. This new found enthusiasm has perhaps been encouraged more by large corporations and the Paris Climate Change Accord, rather than by an environmental conscience, but whatever the driver, the result has been much more ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions. In NSW, the BASIX targets will be made more stringent, with the energy reduction component increasing to 50%

In NSW, the BASIX targets will be made more stringent on July 1st, with the energy reduction increasing to 50% from 40% and thermal performance caps lowered across the board. While this has been in the pipeline since before 2012 and only brings NSW more in line with the rest of Australia, what is more encouraging, is the aspirational targets of net zero carbon emissions for buildings by 2050 and an ongoing pathway to reach that point.  Consistency and predictability is one element that businesses request from Governments so that they can plan with certainty. This has been sadly lacking, especially at a Federal level, from both sides of the political spectrum. This will have significant implications for design and especially for windows. Windows are the weakest element in the current building stock in NSW and it seems inevitable that double glazing will eventually become the default window type, as it has become in the southern states.

This increasing stringency will have significant implications for design and especially for windows. Windows are the weakest element in the current building stock in NSW and it seems inevitable that double glazing will eventually become the default window type, as it has become in the southern states. Another initiative is the proposed energy efficiency disclosure for existing rental and sale, similar to the ACT and the NABERS scheme for commercial properties. Mooted as a voluntary scheme to be introduced in 2018 and if successful mandatory by 2020.

Another initiative is a proposed energy efficiency disclosure for existing residential dwellings for rent and sale; this is similar to the ACT and the NABERS scheme for commercial properties and is common in the Northern Hemisphere. Mooted as a voluntary scheme to be introduced in 2018 and if successful mandatory by 2020.