Here is a guest blog by Marlon Kobacker, a renewable energy expert and work colleague, about his solar system, what went wrong, how he used data to find out, and his solutions. Thanks, Marlon.
"You shouldn't have to have a degree in Photovoltaic Engineering and be an active member of the Australian PV industry to make a 2.6kW system work."
I sent Marlon an article by Nicole Hasham, Environment and Energy writer at the Sydney Morning Herald about how 1 in 5 Australian household solar systems are underperforming. Here is his reply.
• A 2.6 kW solar system with data showing energy produced and matching expectations. Note incorrect capacity data of "3kW" entered by installer
Thanks Michael. That article prompted me to interrogate my 2.6kW system data again.
It would seem that it is performing beyond its expectations!
Note: They entered "3kW" in the software - it's only a 2.6kW system. But I only know that because I interrogated the technical data sheets.
I also note that when I was on the market for a PV system I had done system performance calculations and showed the sales guy - he wasn't able to carry the technical conversation about design and performance parameters, so I was probably a special case.
- I talked them down a step on the inverter (from 3kW to 2.5kW) to reduce cost - they simply oversized it to increase revenue
- I convinced them to change the PV panel manufacturer to a cheaper Tier 1 model, again reducing their revenue
- I asked for a net meter to export to the grid, which took 6 months - wasting all of my excess electricity and associated income during that period
- I asked for monitoring equipment and software, which took 9 months to get someone here to make work, and this showed me that the inverter was in fact down for 6 months, again wasting income. Apparently the mains had shut the system off from some kind of overload situation, and it never came back on. And I had no idea.
You shouldn't have to have a degree in Photovoltaic Engineering and be an active member of the Australian PV industry to make a 2.6kW system work.
Julie Moffat from Erskineville's community garden tells the story of how the gardeners gather local food waste to grow soil for the garden by composting the food scraps. Thank you, Julie, a terrific story.
I have some photographs with the green waste collection, which are boxes from the local fruit and veg store.
• Food waste from local Erskineville fruit n veggie store
The boxes are mixed with outer leaves and cuttings and other such produce that is no longer saleable.
The lovely owners and staff keep it in the boxes and store it in their refrigeration room until we collect with our trolley, usually twice per week.
Each collection is 3-4 large size boxes, more in the hotter summer months because the leafy veggies are harder to keep fresh in the heat. I give as much as possible to our chickens and then it goes to the compost bins in the Community Garden.
The bins will often fill all the way to the top with this, and then within half a week has composted right down. It's amazing. The cycle of filling and composting in these bins can extend for more than 6 months.
• Three boxes of food waste to be trolleyed to the Erskineville community garden
We have 3 x 400 litre bins and we tend to have just 1 or 2 actively composting, and 1 stay empty, then when we empty a bin we leave it inactive and start using the empty one. We take the chickens along for an excursion during the emptying, as there are lots of exciting grubs for them.
• Chooks love compost
And the magpies must be keeping watch because they start flying in for grubs.
I estimate we collect approx .6 cubic metres per week (I think, maths being each box .57x.37x.33m), and I am really proud that we can divert that waste from being transported somewhere to landfill, where we keep it local, transported manually, and composted locally, and the compost is used in our garden beds to enrich the soil for our gardening.
• Composting food waste and cardboard
When we find the plastic sleeves or other plastic in the boxes amongst the greens, we collect it and it goes into the redcycle bins at the supermarket.
I was told this soft plastic waste is not sent to China, but a company in Australia recycles it into plastic furniture.
We – each one of us – can solve Australia’s waste crisis.Here’s how.
There are three solutions. Any of us, living anywhere can apply them each day.
First, the easy first half of the problem - food.
About 47% of Australia’s waste into council garbage trucks is food. Food waste stares us in the face each week as we cook or eat out. We put it in our bins or the cafes do where we eat.
Food waste is not ‘waste’. It’s soil-becomes-food-in-the-making. It’s also soil fertilizer, better than any we may buy.
Food waste is the only way we can secure our food supplies because it creates soil which makes our food. Burning food waste to make energy is therefor an environmental crime, an existential disaster.
This is how I solve food waste at my place and when I eat out, and anyone can. The solution is a mix of: chooks, eggs they make, compost, and take away café food waste. (No, the chooks aren’t essential but do add entertainment and healthy food.)
I give all household and café food waste to my three chooks, Feisty, Nellie and Blanche d’Alpuget, or I compost it.
L to R: small container used to obtain cafe scraps; scraps on ground; Feisty, Blanche d'Alpuget, Nellie, all in the chook run outside the kitchen
In return they give me fab eggs, a rich, healthy yellow. As I cook I hoik food prep out the window to them in their chook run beside the house. The girls remind my of my tasks, my reason for being, from dawn - ‘cluck’ – to dusk – ‘cluck’. So long since I bought some I have no idea what the price of eggs is.
• My chook eggs
No food waste has left my three to four person household since 1978, some 40 years ago.
For my eating out waste I take tightly sealed small buckets to my favourite local cafes, leave them there then pick them up filled with food waste when I have my next coffee. I can’t do this with other cafes where I eat but I’m describing what to me is a simple life of turning food waste into something that sustains me inside, is renewing, not a problem or distasteful – is that weird? Something anyone can do?
Café’s with customers like this can also improve their profits by cutting their waste bill.
The biggest blocker stopping café waste being valued isn’t cafes but local councils.
Below I explore the reasons, motivations for the national financial and environmental tragedy that’s inflicted on Australia every day by councils and, in turn, on cafes and restaurants, and Australia’s soil health.
• A Chippendale road garden under construction with a mix of compost and imported soil
The compost goes into my garden and where gardeners choose also into the edible road gardens in our Chippendale streets. Compost can grow community, too.
Second, there’s the other 53% of waste, or ‘stuff’.
Buying stuff – each of can buy food and many other stuffs without wrapping, containers.
I buy food that isn’t wrapped - nuts, seeds, fruit and veggies.
My yoghurt and some other foods comes in containers which can be recycled.
Beyond food the containers and wrapping we bring home comes from other things we buy - clothes, goods, utensils, tools, and other things.
As for clothes, some of the most elegant, well-dressed and stylish friends I have buy their clothes second hand. So much clothing is being recycled now that it’s easy to buy clothes that have not been worn, or just a little, for almost for nothing. This week I bought brand new swimmers for $5 at a specialist recycling shop in Bondi, NSW, when they typically sell for around $40.
Third – this is the vital solution I can’t do alone – not paying for waste services I don’t use. For this, we all need our local councils to act.
Now, I’m talking financial incentives or rewards for not creating waste when it need not be created.
I believe that, based on some 40 years of experience, only by providing financial rewards for not creating waste will most of us stop causing waste.
To get financial rewards for not creating waste all of we Australians and our households are waiting on councils to stop charging us garbage rates when we don’t put out garbage.
I assert that the key to solving the waste ‘crisis’ is to reward us for not creating it; any of us, I think would reduce waste if the less garbage we put out the lower our garbage bills are.
It’s our task to persuade each of our local councils to stop charging us for waste services if we don’t use them.
After all, if we don’t put waste out why should we pay for a service we no longer use? If I don’t use water, sewage, phone, banking, internet or other services then typically, with some exceptions, I don’t pay for them. Local government pricing of services and the design of those services have not changed since the beginning of time.
Councils, locked in the past, dinosaurs of the present and future, are truly a blot on the landscape of our wallets, streets and the city and countryside where garbage abounds in so many forms, in drains, gutters, landfill, bins out front, the roaring of the brutal garbage trucks, the debris on streets, the burden on small businesses, the . . .
As I don’t use them I haven’t paid ‘fixed’ charges for water or sewer or electricity services for years.
A wide range of financial incentives and rate rebates have been applied or operate now at local, state and federal levels and some are listed here.
Sydney City Council is my local council and is a complete failure when it comes to recycling because it:
· holds itself out as being a leader in sustainability but has not changed its waste practices for decades – even after the waste crisis began last year
· financially penalises rate payers who use smaller garbage & recycling bins: 50 & 70 litre bins charged same price as 80 litre bins ($281);
· even after the waste crisis hit last year it has not:
o promoted its smaller bins (80 l down to 50 litre) and lower prices
o simplified or speeded up its process for moving to smaller bins
o increased its charges for large bins (240 litre - $863 or 16 a week).
o provided career advancing incentives and promotions and pay rises for the garbage and rates folk to talk to each other to speed up, to simplify or increase the use by rate payers of smaller to no bins
o changed its rates notices or communications to promote smaller bins and lower costs
But Sydney City Council is no different from almost all other Australian local councils in its self-deception.
Australian councils are asleep at the polluting wheels of their garbage trucks, deeply uninterested in simple, cost-effective changes which would stop the rivers of garbage, the plumes of air pollution.
Despite almost weekly public assertions about how ‘sustainable’ they are, in practice they don’t care about reducing waste, just about picking it up and taking it away.
Look at this table of costs and bin sizes for Sydney City Council:
$ Size $ Weekly price
863 = 240 = 16
428 = 120 = 8
281 = 80 = 5
281 = 70 = 5
281 = 50 = 5
[nil = - Not offered]
• Small, 50 Litre bins on a Chippendale street
On 12 November 2017, tired of paying council for a waste bin I rarely put out or only half-full, and using a council form, I asked the council to reduce the bin size from 120 litres to 80 litres, reducing my annual waste price from $428 to $281, or from $8 a week to $5 a week. I would have asked for the smallest bin, a 50 litre bin but the price for it is the same as for the 80 litre bin so I didn’t.
An automatic response said a reply would come in 10 days.
About two months later, on 6 January 2018 I emailed again, forwarding the first email and asking for a reply and the smaller bins next week. I also called and spoke to a person in the garbage section seeking a response. Two smaller bins were supplied a couple of weeks later, but nothing was done to reduce my rates.
• Larger, 120 litre bins and, in the distance, an over-flowing bin in Chippendale street
By that time some 8 weeks, or 8 garbage truck visits, had passed by.
When I again contacted the waste section they let me know on 13 March that nothing had changed in the council’s rates data records. On 14 March I received an email saying the rates had been reduced and apportioned with a back dating in the reduced charge to the date of my first email.
So, a total of about 16 weeks to get the smaller bins and rate adjustment or some 16 trips by the garbage truck plus my time and persistence.
And this is how a ‘sustainable’ council behaves in a ‘crisis’?
There’s no automatic reduction in rates for getting the smaller bill, one has to spur the garbage folk to talk to the rates folk using phone calls and emails.
So much for a council doing something about the garbage crisis.
The biggest opponents of reducing waste are the folk running Council garbage services, the waste directors, the unions whose members drive the trucks and run the waste landfills, and, perversely, the council financial officers.
These folk are also the folk creating the enormous pollution related to garbage.
After all the air pollution from the United States, which wins first prize, then China, which is second, the third single greatest air polluter is decaying food in both poor and rich countries. The typical Australian garbage truck roars along for an average of 100 k on each run.
If there’s less garbage there’s less work for the people who live off the garbage game as we know it.
(There’s stiff competition all about us, tho’ for the prize of biggest polluters. While writing this in a few cafes and my place over a couple of days I was kept company by a variety of folks in glossy four wheel drives who would park nearby, leave the car’s aircon running and either sleep for an hour or so, talk for 20 or so minutes on the mobile, or stare at the café while their partner – typically a female while the driver was male - collected take away coffee and food, all the while the car exhaust pumping invisible pollution into the air which I, their friend, my fellow diners, passers-by were breathing; if it was coloured black they’d be yelled at and shamed.)
Financial officers are the chief opponents of reducing rates because of two disincentives to do so: a lack of experience with them and a fear of losing revenue. The fear and lack of experience feed off each other.
Others who have tried to change councils have found that councils are as they say, “killing Australia”.
Let’s each of us cut our food waste, do what we can to avoid ‘stuff’, and, I suggest, most important of all, ask your local council for a smaller bin and a reduced garbage fee for it, even if it’s not offered.
And, most importantly, copy in each of your local councillors.
Designed and made in Queensland, Australia, the Ecoshower, is elegant, of solid metal, and will retain its water and energy efficiency over the years ahead.
Instead of filters it uses a simple hole to draw in air, which speeds up the water and mixes it into bubbles of water which burst when they land on your hair and body, working with long hair very well, too.
Ecoshower comes in a small film canister and this is it on my desk when I unpacked it yesterday
It uses the Bernoulli effect to turn the shower into jets of water bubbles.
So there is no cleaning out of filters, no slowing-down of water and no loss of pleasure. I've replaced such a filter-using water-saving showerhead with the Ecoshower because it lost effectiveness. It was given to me by the product maker who said it would be better than my Ecoshower which, relying on the discussion, I replaced it with and gave away.
“The forests are in what we call ‘hidden collapse’ because the ecosystem superficially appears to be intact, but the prolonged period of decline coupled with long lag times for recovery means that collapse is inevitable.”
Decades of research by Australian scientist, David Lindenmayer and Chloe Sato, shows that Melbourne city's water supply is collapsing.
Melbourne is the capital city of the Australian state of Victoria where some 4.8 million people live. Most of their water comes from a single government-owned supplier, Melbourne Water, which gets its water from forests outside the city.
Lindenmayer and Sato say in their article:
"Despite the extensive literature on ecosystem collapse, there are very few empirically based descriptions quantifying specific ecosystems undergoing collapse, especially in terrestrial environments (2). Evidence of ecosystem collapse is most often uncovered after it has occurred, meaning there are only retrospective opportunities to describe in detail the changes occurring in the ecosystem during its collapse. This may be one of the reasons why it remains extremely difficult to accurately predict if and when collapse might occur (2, 8). However, the increased likelihood of such problems globally means it is critically important to describe ecosystems in the process of collapse, document the drivers of change and how they manifest, develop more robust early-warning indicators of collapse, and better articulate what might be done to avert collapse."
• Researcher David Blaire measuring a tree in the Melbourne city water supply forest
Because their research has been underway for several decades Lindenmayer and Sato now have extensive linear data showing the forest and water supply from it is collapsing and may entirely collapse.
"Here, we use data from a series of multifaceted, long-term empirical studies to describe the process of collapse in the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests of southeastern Australia (Fig. S1) (9–11). This ecosystem supports the tallest flowering plants on Earth with large, old trees approaching 100 m in height (12). The Mountain Ash ecosystem provides habitat for species-rich animal and plant assemblages (including critically endangered taxa), generates most of the water for the ∼4.5 million people in Melbourne, stores large amounts of biomass carbon, and supports timber, pulpwood, and tourism industries (13). In particular, we focus our empirical analyses of ecosystem collapse on the current and projected decline in populations of large, old-cavity trees and closely associated cavity-dependent fauna. Changes in populations of these trees are a strong indicator of the condition and status of biodiversity (14) and the ecosystem per se. In addition, large, old-cavity trees are critical to ecosystem function through their influence on patterns of tree germination and seedling recruitment (15) and their disproportionate contribution to carbon storage (16), the water cycle (17), and fire dynamics (18). If collapse were to occur, the dominant overstory Mountain Ash tree species would likely be replaced by Acacia spp.-dominated shrubland. There are already areas of Acacia without overstory eucalypts within the boundary of the Mountain Ash ecosystem, but they are currently not widespread."
• Logging in the city's water supply catchment forest: Tabitha Boyer Toolangi logging coupe
There's an election underway for a new government in Victoria with voting on 24 November 2018. With some seven months ahead 'til the election I wonder if Melbourne's collapsing water supply will become an issue.
And I wonder if, during those months, the options of increasing rain tank use and numbers, recycling sewage and stormwater, and providing financial incentives to property owners to install tanks, draingardens, re-use sewage will be offered to voters?
Let's see; I'll blog about this again and if you wish to comment here I'd welcome your thoughts.
Firstly, thank you so much on behalf of my family for Saturday's 'Airbnb' session with you at your house. It was simply inspirational and also timely, since we are preparing to transition to our 'retirement' home later this year and are therefore very much in need of a good stiff (but gentle) metaphoric kick in the bum to get the house on the road to at least a passing grade in sustainability.
Anyway, to get down to far more mundane things, you asked for details of a few miscellaneous items in our abode.
Hot water heater: evacuated glass tubes
Firstly, in relation to our evacuated glass tube solar hot water collectors. Here are three photos I took this morning.
• Distant view of north-facing, roof-mounted evacuated glass solar hot-water collector (left of skylight) with 10 removable and replaceable tubes
• Close up of north-facing, roof-mounted evacuated glass solar hot-water collector
• Explanatory sheet for roof-mounted evacuated glass solar hot water collector
What is notable about this type of solar hot-water heating collector is that:
(i) each glass tube is twin-walled with a vacuum between the two sheets;
(ii) however the inside of the tube where the copper heat transfer pipe is located is NOT a vacuum;
(iii) each tube is removable and individually replaceable (they cost about $55 each to replace and it takes about 30 seconds to change them, not dissimilar to a large light bulb), so the system is very practical and serviceable by non-technicians. Our system has been in for about ten years; very successful and, apart from our painter smashing one tube one day recently - which was quickly and easily replaced, still going strong as ever.
• Induction cooktop with handle that allows non-steel pots to be used
Secondly, here is a photo of our induction cooktop grill plate with handle that we bought on E-bay (cheap as chips). It allows us to use non-steel pots and pans because the steel hot plate heats up from the induction cooktop, then transfers its heat to whatever metal pot or pan you are using.
So, for me being a Greek, for instance, I can make my Greek coffee in a traditional copper briki without any problems. So, don't let induction cooktop manufacturers tell you you can only use steel pots and pans. That's rubbish! Of course you have to watch out for the heat.
Again, highly recommended.
Solar chimney staircase
Thirdly, I am also attaching a photo of our "solar chimney and designed and built into our staircase, which is not much different from your own.
• Solar chimney, ventilating staircase
By having two operable Velux-type skylights in the roof over the stairwell, we can open them up on hot summer days and the cool air from the south side of the house is then drawn up the staircase pushing all the hot air out and creating a very pleasant slight breeze to boot.
Passive solar design at its very best and most effective, plus architecturally attractive as well.
As before, highly recommended.
Okay, that's about all you asked for, so I hope the information is what you were expecting and needing.
By monitoring the energy used by household appliances I can learn how to reduce my energy use here.
A household refrigerator can use most energy because it is on 24/7.
The bumps in the graph below show the times the fridge compressor - the engine which keeps the air in it cool - turns on and off at night and during late night times when most appliances are off. The bumps show, for example:
at 5.20 am the fridge compressor turns on; energy use goes up to 319 watts from 233 watts
at 535 am the fridge compressor is still around 318 watts
at 5.45 the compressor turns off and the power use drops to 233 watts
The data tells me the compressor ran for 15 minutes and for that time used another 85 watts in addition to the 'base load' or typical minimum energy being used by the house at any one time, which is around 233 watts.
• Screenshot showing energy use at Sydney's Sustainable House, 10 April 2018
The compressor bump tells me the additional energy is used during these midnight hours (when the house is cooler) every 30 minutes or so.
This data source is from the household solar and battery system and has proven unreliable throughout the period since installation, March 2015. I'll do another blog later about the inaccuracy of the data systems and very poor performance of the solar and battery system designed, provided and installed by two firms I strongly recommend against using, Australia Wide Solar and Alpha-ess; detailed initial analysis of the installation and systems is here. With three years of data it's clear the systems are giving me less than 46% of the promised amount of power and are fundamentally inadequate, or 'lemons' in design, installation and performance. They're being fully replaced.
The more reliable data source is from a product I also use to monitor household energy use and is a combination of technology from Wattwatchers and Solar Analytics.
This screenshot below shows data from these products.
• The data on my energy use - notice the energy use 'bumps" up when the fridge turns on
Solutions for cooling a fridge and reducing your energy use are here.
This inner Sydney terrace is offered as a whole house for lease from the month of June, 2018.
It is Sydney’s Sustainable House, one of Earth’s first inner city off-grid houses, a famous model of how to keep our lovely oceans and air clean.
Since 1996 four people have lived here for energy and water bills less than $300 a year.
You can, too.
It’s a modern, stylish two storey renovation, three bedrooms, well ventilated with lots of windows, lots of natural light, powered by clean solar energy and easy to live in, suitable for anyone wishing to live sustainably.
An environmental lawyer, sustainability coach and author I realised that after renovating my inner city Sydney terrace and making it almost entirely self sufficient in energy, water and waste disposal I needed to share my experience with others. My two books Sustainable Food and Sustainable House were a start. My home reflects my passion for living cheaply, stylishly and cleanly.
Suit two to three people who wish to live lightly and show your love for Earth.
Click here for a 2 minute 20 seconds video showing the house and more insights...