What FIT’s could do for NZ


Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof

Electricity, Earthquakes and other Disasters


So in this series motivated by the Canterbury Earthquakes and particularly Christchurch, I have looked at how prepared we were and what personal lessons we could take away. I asked is it now business as usual, have we gone from maybe it could happen to me, to phew, glad that’s over and we’re good for my lifetime?

 

I don’t think the people of Dannevirke thought so this week when the 5.1 hit there. But then, were they planning on getting prepared before that? Possibly not. Are Wellington people still watching?

I talked about putting together an emergency kit and all the things that Civil Defence recommend you should have both for in the home as well as a kit that you can have ready to throw in the car last minute. This could be useful for so many things, not just earthquakes. In NZ and Australia fires, floods, volcanoes are just a few reasons for people to have to bail in a hurry. If you prepare a getaway kit and never ever need it, that’s great:)

I had a look at community issues and remembering or meeting your neighbors. This is really only a starting point and I want to come back to this in future because once we get over the physical wounds, the things we can see, we are going to have to deal with the psychological outcome. I believe we are going to be dealing with a whole city suffering from PTSS. We are starting to see small examples such as when people are visiting areas of Christchurch that have been closed to them. The tears are good and the visits will help with acknowledgement of the situation and belief in the recovery, but there are still people n0t able to get their cars back let alone go back to their places of work. There are still buildings being torn down.

There are kids who won’t sleep in their own rooms at night. There is an underlying emotional distress of an order that NZ has never had to deal with before. People will be saying I’m OK Jack, but many of them are not. I have some ideas on this, but it will be a separate blog.

I started on the insurance saga, this was before the EQC story and the AMI bailout.  I don’t know about you but I’m getting concerned about banks and insurance companies getting massive bailouts.

They are always talking about the risks they take in consumers, but it seems like perhaps it is the people taking the risks. Should we pay premiums to insurance companies, trusting that they will re-insure and spread their risk and spend a minimum of our premiums on sharing profit amongst employees and shareholder dividends, at least until after they know they have the necessary reserves for major disasters.

Insurance is like playing poker machines or lotto, it is about risk. If a gambler blows their rent money at the casino, does the Government bail them out? Rhetorical question. But when the banks get carried away and over commit themselves to loans that don’t stack up, when insurance companies commit themselves to risk they can’t cover and the government bails them out, it isn’t some nice friendly uncle we’re talking about. You and I are the Government. That money comes from our taxes. It means more pressure on minor things in our community such as education, health, taxes.

So I was wondering, if an insurance company has failed in managing its risk, is it in fact guilty of trading while insolvent? Should the $500 million bailout go to them, or should it go to a liquidator to share amongst the people who bought policies from them in good faith? How much of the bailout goes to the people waiting on insurance payouts? Would you like an answer?

I wrote about the lessons we learned about the telecommunications companies and I have to say I think the telcos did a great job. There are things you can do as well to be able to continue to communicate without power to run or charge your phones. Have you changed anything since then?

Today I wanted to write about electricity, but I’m at 681 words already and there is a fair bit I’d like to stay, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on electricity and emergencies, you could subscribe to my RSS feed or bookmark this page. I think you might find what I have learned interesting.

I also want to write about green power and particularly about solar power schemes, following on from my blog a couple of years ago on Feed-in Tariffs. I’ve learned a little since then and I’m not sure the Government has. It was great to see Bunny McDiarmid from Greenpeace on TV1′s Close Up last night talking about the Petrobas oil exploration and the tension between that and our ‘renewable energy policies’. But I have to wonder where the Green Party is right now. This is a huge opportunity for them in election year to discuss solar power opportunities which are really starting to prove effective in many countries around the world through FIT programs. More on this in one of my next blogs…………….

In the meantime, here’s a video that explains the installation of a PV system on a house in Puget Sound.

The practice of dumping excess fuel from aircraft


Qantas has had some bad press lately, having to abort several flights due to engine or other malfunctions. The most recent was when a flight to Buenos Aires from Sydney returned to Sydney yesterday after smoke was detected in the cockpit. A few days earlier a Qantas flight from Perth to Melbourne returned to Perth not long after take off due to engine trouble. In all 4 Qantas flights have been unable to reach their destination in less than 2 weeks.

In the overall scheme of things, this is of concern, but what it got me thinking about was that every time a plane gets turned back to due a malfunction, they dump most of their fuel because it would be dangerous to try to land a plane ‘heavy’ with aviation fuel, especially when there are already technical problems with the flight. Obviously the fuel itself adds weight and restricts low altitude manoeverability, but also represents a major fire/explosion risk.

With the price of fuel, I’m sure that airlines take as much as required to cover contingency plans and civil aviation law will also dictate rules around this. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how much fuel is dumped from aircraft around the world on a daily basis and what the consequences might be.

According to an enlightening article in Wikipedia  only large aircraft, fitted with fuel dumping systems have the ability to dump fuel. It is not universal. It also says that they generally dump fuel at high altitude which means that most of it dissipates before it hits the ground.

So is it safe? The Institute for Southern Studies found that fuel dumping was behind crop damage in Tennessee. They say that most of the fuel vaporizes and doesn’t reach the ground, yet the net is full of news stories about problems caused by fuel dumping. Of course it could be considered far less risky than an explosion on impact and in my research, there was far more evidence of massive losses of oil at sea from ships.

I found it really difficult to get any sort of statistic of how many fuel dumps happen around the world daily, I know its a lot because of the number of PA’s I have heard from the flight deck on my travels. I’d be interested if anyone has any statistics on this. One thing I do note is that in New Zealand we don’t have problems like acid rain and we have very low flight density. Yes, I do understand that most acid rain comes from heavy industrial pollution.

Anyway, just something I’ve been thinking about. Yes, I would still fly Qantas without hesitation.

A Qantas 380 Dumping Fuel in Flight

Barter, the New Old Economy


I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?

How far away is Peak Oil and what is it?


Lately there has been renewed interest in Peak Oil and while we are talking about Emissions Trading and allowing larger trucks on New Zealand Roads, the fact is that oil is running out.

What is peak oil? Wikipedia has an extended description, but in simple terms it is when the amount of oil being extracted is at the highest rate and from then on, the amount of oil becomes terminal. In other words, the amount of oil being extracted from the earth will be less than is being consumed, while demand, along with population, increases.

The Space Collaborative paints a scary picture of what the near future could look like without oil. Of course oil doesn’t just drive our cars, our ships, our planes, but it also helps to generate electricity.

Now of course for New Zealand it’s not a big deal because we have geothermal power and arrangements with countries like Japan to access oil, when it starts running out. Major gas guzzlers like the USA will gladly give us a share of their emergency stocks because we’re nice people.  We shouldn’t forget that we have more vehicles in New Zealand than we have licensed drivers.  Of course the price will sky rocket and you will need to be very wealthy to be able to run your car. Just as well we have natural gas.

It was interesting to read that Australia voted in November, not to put together a plan for peak oil, so we probably won’t find any help there.  New Zealand has been working on plans for a number of years, because in 2003 we were dependant on oil for 48% of our energy production. This means that brown outs as predicted in the diagram above, within the next 20 years could become a reality. Yet besides emissions trading, the Kyoto Protocol, which as I have blogged about before will require that instead of spending money to protect our own infrastructure will have us sending money to other countries who have lots of trees.

I don’t think we’re talking about science fiction here, where it will be a problem for future generations, long after we have turned to dust. I think this will be a problem that anyone reading this blog will face. So what are you going to do when you can’t get petrol or diesel for your car and there isn’t enough oil to generate electricity or even make candles?

It bears thinking about doesn’t it?