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Week Ten - Changing Power

Experiment failed.

· Weekly experiments

My preschooler

- Mummy, pretend I'm Big Sister Pony and you're the other pony and we're pretending to be rabbits and I'm Lily Bobtail and you're Peter Rabbit. Now pretend there's a fox chasing us and we're hiding in the bunny treehouse. Now pretend the fox climbs the tree and we're running away and pretend the fox fell out of the tree and --


- You can keep track of all that, but you can't put your shoes on the right feet?

Fox chases bunnypony up treehouse

Author's note: Since publishing this, the ACT has switched to 100% renewable electricity. Looks like it's not that hard with a bit of leadership...

Power Plays

Some games are too complex to play. Australian energy policy is one of them. Our politicians have been bickering about it for the last 20 years. These power plays about power have toppled seven leaders, with the latest falling earlier this month.

My last two experiments cut my carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions (CO2e) from winter heating. I went from generating 600 kilograms CO2e to 343 kilograms CO2e per capita. I did this by turning down our temperature setting two to three degrees, and installing better insulation and draught-proofing.

I decided to complete the section by spending a week looking for the most carbon-efficient means of generating the remaining power. This is my first 'thought experiment' rather than a real-world test because we already have solar panels installed. I'll still run the numbers to see what works.

I spoke to carbon economist, Salim Mazouz. 'You need to spend more than a week on this,' Salim said. ''Energy policy in Australia is massively complex and it's constantly changing. If you rely on good information that's six months old, you're out of date.'

Piffle. Salim's a carbon economist. He gets bogged down in the detail. Clearly, he's never applied the big-picture insight of a writer. I'll keep it simple and compare rooftop solar, green power and energy straight from the grid.

Rooftop Solar

Ten years ago, we installed a 1.26kW system on our roof. We paid $5,100 after government rebates. It was expensive, but we got a great deal on the ACT Government feed-in tariff. What would happen if we installed now?

Prices have dropped. Systems start at $1500 and range up depending on size, quality and specs. Panels can be connected to the grid, battery-ready or entirely offline and fitted with battery storage. Each state has different rebates and feed-in tariffs and there's a federal solar credit scheme, all of which change regularly. You can buy outright, get finance through a bank or solar company or lease the system from a solar company. You can buy a solar power purchase agreement and have the solar company pay to install it, then buy the power back from them. You can even buy into a community energy project and have the panels installed on someone else's roof.

Solar panels

Great! The industry got bigger and cheaper. It also got way more complicated. But I can still run my analysis. What size system would I need to cover winter heating?

'Clean Energy Council guidelines say for each kilowatt in the system, you get 4.3 kilowatt hours per day of power,' said Michael Brown of Solar4Life. 'But that's under "ideal conditions". We use a more conservative industry standard of 3.7 kilowatt hours per day. The price has come down so people are buying bigger systems.'

I also need to know how much carbon went into making the panels, so I can factor this in. I asked several solar companies. No one could answer this simple question. Why?

'Customers don't ask,' Michael said. 'We don't sell solar panels based on their environmental benefits. It's a financial decision. Customers aren't that interested in the detail on carbon.'

I found a study estimating embedded carbon in solar panels, but some of its assumptions worry me (like assuming a system will last 25 years when most industry warranties last 5 to 15 years).

Hm. Rooftop solar is complicated. What about GreenPower?


Nope. Not simpler.

Choice magazine explains that GreenPower is a government-accredited scheme that lets you choose a proportion of your energy to come from renewables. This renewable power is fed into the grid on your behalf. While your funds genuinely support renewables, it's hard to track what your purchase buys and how that renewable facility performs, which means I can't run the numbers. The federal government includes your GreenPower carbon savings as part of Australia's overall reduction, so it's not additional. This means that whatever your GreenPower achieves, our government could and should have done better (although that argument applies to most individual actions).

Salim was right. I'm calling it. Week Ten's experiment is dead. I'll come back to this when I cover general electricity use. I'll be more careful about structuring my experiment. I've already booked Salim in for a consult. A week ought to cover it, right?

How is my Carbon Diet going?

My original goal was to slash my carbon footprint by 75%. I'm ten weeks through a 40-week plan. I've improved my recycling, changed the way I feed my dogs, reduced my overseas flights and changed the way I heat my house. What has this achieved?

Carbon footprint; carbon bootprint; shrink footprint

The changes I've made so far have cut 1.05 tonnes of CO2e from the 1.9 tonnes I've measured - a 55% reduction. More impressively, the average Australian would cut 1.6 tonnes from the 2.7 tonnes measured by following these same changes. That's a 59% reduction.

I've only looked at a fraction of the total 22.5 tonne footprint. I've examined the big toe, not the whole foot. I need to finish this project if I'm going to see real change. But cuts of 55-59% are promising. My ridiculous goal is starting to look almost plausible.

Pity I can't say the same about Australian energy policy.

Spreadsheet calculations for reductions of my carbon footprint & the 'average' carbon footprint in the 'Notes' section, Week Ten.