Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sustainable Energy

Yesterday I attended the Innovation in Renewable Energies Expert Panel, put on as part of the Innovation in Ballarat festival. The panel discussion included specialists in wind, solar, and geothermal power generation, and introduced me to Breaze a local initiative around climate change.

I took away a number of key points

1) The cheapest way to get a more sustainable energy system is to reduce power use
2) Customers like to buy things (solar panels etc), but they don't buy into the idea of being more efficient - you can't show that to your friends and neighbours.

Taking these points together, there is a clear market for in-house power usage monitoring equipment, and we need to link that equipment to attractive outputs so the householder can 'show off' their savings and educate themselves and others about power use.

In Australia this education process would be easier as we're already pushing serious water restrictions. There's a big campaign around using 155L of water/person/day. We need a similar process for power usage.

One really simple approach would be making an in-home monitor mandatory for new homes and subsidising their retro fitting in existing homes. It would come with a visible monitor in the kitchen - preferable a nice big display (low power of course!). As soon as you turn something on, especially the big power users like clothes dryers, stoves etc you'd get a clear indication how much you're using. The meter needs to be visible, not hidden outside in a box on the wall. With that simple change, which would cost a deal less than pink batts, we'd get an easy reduction in our power requirements and a similar reduction in emissions.

The trick is to align that simple plan, with the big players political and commercial in order to get them to push it. We need an emissions trading scheme, so there's a strong financial incentive to reduce power use. Without that we're fighting an uphill battle. However, it's clear that will come, in time, it will come.

The figures
Australian homes use 28% of the generated power. It's relatively easy to reduce power needs by 20-30%. Therefore with some simple changes we could reduce our national power usage by 10% - that's the equivalent of 2-3 power stations that we just don't need any more.

It's very hard to store power, so we also need to look at the way in which balance our base and peak loads. The base load in Australia is around 5GWH (Gigawatt Hours), our peak usage is up at 10.5GWH - which we hit last summer when everyone's air con was running hard. To provide 10.5GWH of power, we need 10.5GW of power stations and that's double the normal day to day load. If we could smooth consumer's power usage again we could drastically reduce our need for new power stations, as well as reduce emissions.

Origin energy were also there and their green credentials look quite impressive. For instance they're already running a pilot in SA with 700 houses where they're selling power at a premium during high usage times of day.

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