Are You Ready for Cyclone Gita?


iPhone 088I remember standing on the back of a truck in my muddy Leo’s on a beautiful sunny day on the side of the road with a couple of cops and a couple of fellow trained Civil Defense Rescue people.

As I looked out over the Riwaka farmland, all I could see was river silt that was glittering with specs of gold in the sunshine. I remember thinking if there was a way of using a magnet to suck up all the gold dust that had flooded down the river and over the banks, inundating the house we had just emptied of muddy furniture, I could be wealthy. It was stunning and it was devastating.

Two days earlier it was a different story. I had been standing next to the house I was staying in, getting drenched in torrential rain on a hill overlooking a farm which was under at least 2 meters of water. The road next to my house had become a river. I wanted to go down to the farm to help the people whose homes were underwater try to recover their precious belongings. Unfortunately the torrent on the road was such that there was no way I could safely cross it. This was evidenced by an elderly person who drowned that morning trying to cross the road and lost their footing. I felt helpless, pacing up and down the hill trying to find a safe way across.

Other than losing all their furniture, all their food, all their photos and memories of good times gone by, their clothes, their cars and other material things (and their crops), the families on the farm were OK. They were hardy souls, a bit like the West Coasters. However, not everyone was the same.

On that sunny day and for a week afterwards, we worked tirelessly emptying muddy carpets (after digging 20 or 30cm of silt from them), furniture, bedding, appliances, food and other items. We tried to tell the residents to count their blessings, that they were still OK, which was easy to do with my own possessions being high and dry.

Many of them were devastated, some in shock and some just grateful that we were there to help them. None of them had expected the storm and the river to sweep right through their homes.

Cyclone Gita might come to nothing major, or it might become a serious storm. It’s great to see some people getting ready, keeping kids home from school, staying home from work if they don’t need to be there. It is also crazy to read about people still going to campgrounds in at risk areas. They obviously haven’t got first hand experience and what would be really frustrating would be if those people then need rescuing at the cost of looking after people who have taken reasonable step to make themselves and their properties safe.

Having been one of the rescuers in the past, I’d like to spare a thought to all the road crews, the linesmen, the emergency services and others who will be out selflessly in the wet (maybe even cold in some places), when they could be protecting their own families and properties. Where would we be without the ‘trained’ volunteers as well as the locals who just pitch in and do what is needed?

I hope everyone gets through this safely. That they have stocked up on all the essentials and are ready for the storm. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for Gita.

Finally I remember going to the local pub and having a beer with the locals. It was cool to see how the community rallied together and became stronger after the event. And I remember the gold flecks for miles, glittering in the sun as if there had never been a storm and the ground had always been flat and covered in silt.

 

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Petrol Tax Increase and Solar Power Feed-in Tariffs


It’s election year next year and the National Government has announced petrol tax increases to start in July this year. Now I don’t have a problem in principle with user pays, although after the report by the Ministry of Transport earlier this year, it doesn’t look like things are going to improve, in fact we are likely to see mid day traffic congestion (don’t we already have that?) in Auckland, as well as the morning and evening commutes.

Long BayThere doesn’t seem to be a lot of encouragement for people to work from home although that would ease the pressure on congestion. Auckland Council seems dead set on high rise housing in the Auckland Unitary Plan, but at the same time they are building new homes in areas like Long Bay as quickly as they can, with no sign of increased road capacity for the 2500+ homes to be built. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against high rise as long as it is done smartly, without taking sun away from existing properties and it is part of an environment which includes amenities that encourage people to work, live and play in a safe healthy environment.

Wouldn’t it be great if those homes all had solar panels on their roofs and were able to sell excess power back to the power companies. Even better if they could get interest free loans to cover the cost. This last long hot summer would have been able to generate massive amounts of power for water heating etc. It’s funny that when I built a minor dwelling next to my last home, I had to install an ugly water tank to capture rainwater and allow it to trickle into the stormwater system from the roof, which I could of course also use for the garden, but there were no options with regard to using renewable energy.

I was listening to the Peggy Smedley Show podcasts as I do each week and she recently interviewed Nick Bitterswyk CEO of Urban Green Energy, who mentioned that great things were happening in areas like solar power in Australia and New Zealand. He was right about Australia, which is going gangbusters with finance and feed-in tariffs, but clean and green New Zealand is not. We do not walk the talk when it comes to renewable energy as you can see on the web site at EECA.

At a recent home show I visited every exhibit where they were selling domestic solar power solutions and asked about the ability to sell surplus power back to power companies. They said that it was not happening, that the utility companies were not supportive or interested. They said that they and the Government have their own agendas when it comes to power generation.

Now we have a large reliance on hydro and geothermal power. Much of our power in the North Island comes from geothermal power sources in the Taupo region, such as Wairakei. I wonder what would happen if we had a major eruption and this source of power dried up. What would our back up plan be? What if we had another drought similar to the one we had this summer and the lakes were too low to provide sufficient energy. You can’t suddenly roll out a solar energy plan at the last minute.

I urge Kiwis to consider solar power and feed-in tariffs when thinking of who to vote for next year in our national elections. This is not a new topic, I have blogged about it several times. If a disaster happens, will the Government say they could not have foreseen this situation? I don’t think so, it is a choice. I’m hoping that at least the Green Party will think about this as part of their election manifesto. Actually where are the Greens? They do appear to have a policy on feed-in tariffs, but its pretty hard to find.

So if you were able to get an interest free loan to put solar panels on your home and the ability to use that power when you needed to and were able to sell power back to the grid for a rebate at fair market pricing, would you take advantage of it? I welcome your comments.

What Do You Hate About Car Parks?


I recently asked you what you liked about car parks. I guess based on 25 votes and 3 comments, most of you don’t really think about this subject, which is fine. I appreciate your feedback.

So lets look at the negative side of car parking. What do you dislike about car parks? I can think of lots of things and maybe I can start you off with a few things to think about and I will also add another poll.

I went down to the new Wynyard Quarter a couple of weeks ago on a sunny Saturday for lunch. We thought we’d have a look at this new development, have lunch and enjoy the new showcase area in Auckland. We drove the 30km from our home, drove through all the car parks, couldn’t find a single park (this was around noon) and after 20 minutes of crawling in circles went to Takapuna for lunch. I hate going somewhere and not being able to get a park.

I hate not being able to find a suitable car park close to my destination when its raining. We’ve had more than our fair share of that this winter in New Zealand.

I hate car parks with small parking spaces and large pillars, which going by the black and other colour scrapings on them, do more than their fair share of damage.

Car parks with small spaces means that often motorists overlap into the park next to them, so that that the vacant park is rendered useless to anything other than a Beetle or a motorcycle.

I hate car parks where the machines only take cash and I very rarely carry cash any more.

I hated having my car broken into in a public car park and finding that the only video security available was there to stop people leaving the car park without paying! I haven’t used that particular car park since. I either walk further or go to a more expensive one in that area.

I hate car parks where the machine doesn’t work and all the staff seem to have gone on a break.

I hate parks that cost more than the activity I want to consume.

So how about leaving a comment and participating in the poll, you can even create a new question in it yourself. I am going to be presenting to the Parking Association later this year at their annual conference and want to give them an idea, positive and negative about their business. This includes curb side parking by the way. Any car parking dislikes at all.

I haven’t forgotten special needs car parks, but I want you to tell me about your experiences:)

As a footnote, this is not a bitch session. We are a motoring people and we need car parks. I am looking for feedback with a view to coming up with ideas as to how to make car parking more user friendly and attractive. I believe that there are many improvements possible and many opportunities for car parks to engage with their users and their community.

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, disasters and Feed In Tariffs


I’ve been itching to write more about FIT for ages as you will know if you have been reading my blogs. If you didn’t, my last blog was pretty much a summary of my thoughts which started with the Christchurch earthquake.

Prior to that for a few years I have been wondering why a ‘clean green’ country like New Zealand only went so far as to provide subsidies for roof insulation and clean heating. Where is the NZ Green Party on FIT, I asked 2 years ago. I’m not even sure where the party is on much at all at the moment and its election year, when National has launched its new policies on oil and gas and other efficient power sources like coal.

In fairness I do have to acknowledge that Environment Minister Nick Smith did through caution to the wind at the NZ Wind Energy Conference this month, but he also made the point that you need windy places and probably also noted the frequent opposition any time someone wants to set up a wind farm. Personally I like them and if they are silent, I wouldn’t have a problem looking up at them on a hill somewhere.

Dutch windfarm

I have 2 interests here, the first one is renewable energy in the form of solar panels, with the ability to feed power into the grid, but also the ability to make individual households and businesses more resilient in times of crisis.

The common thread anywhere in the world when there is a disaster is that the power goes off. In my recent posts this month I have discussed a whole range of issues where we are so reliant on electricity today that there are a variety of problems after the crisis is over.

I want to again acknowledge the heroism of electricity workers and supporters who risked life and limb to get things up and running as quickly as possible.

Anyway, back to my story. Imagine if we followed on from the subsidies to put insulation into our roofs, by offering subsidies and Feed In Tariffs for installing solar panels on the roofs. This is something we should be doing anyway, but imagine if a large number of people were still able to have at least some electricity when the grid is down. They would still potentially have phone communication, they would have lighting, heating, the ability to wash themselves and much more.

We could find ourselves with a renewable energy source that doesn’t pollute, makes people much more aware of power consumption, involves the community and provides greater resilience while allowing us to get closer to meeting our commitments to reducing carbon waste that we so obligingly adopted with the Kyoto Protocol.

It has been said that I am wont to be verbose. I don’t necessarily want to change that because I am intensely interested in what I write about, however I don’t want to lose you dear reader (borrowed that from Stephen King). So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write an new series of shortish blogs on the benefits of FIT for New Zealand in the hope that more people will understand the massive potential benefits to New Zealand and put some pressure on the politicians and energy authorities to do something about it.

I’ve done some reading on the topic and found the paper by Miguel Mendonca of the Birkbeck Institute of Environment, Birkbeck College, University of London particularly helpful. He also wrote the book Feed-in-Tariffs Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy. You can find more information here. He discovered that FIT could work in the UK, that it had many positive benefits above and beyond the basics of a renewable energy source and I plan to discuss some of these from a New Zealand context. I also find it interesting that some people (who perhaps are the ones who wanted Henry Ford to breed faster horses instead of horseless carriages) say there is not enough sunlight in NZ to create an acceptable level of energy. Kiwis who go to UK for their OE’s don’t often come back recounting stories of endless sunny days.

So lets explore what FIT’s and solar power can do for NZ, for our resilience, for our GDP, for our commitment to the environment, for industry, for entrepreneurs and to generally show the world that we are in fact as green as we say we are. There are some amazing benefits to be had along the way.

Please come back and check out what I have learned.

Doesnt look that shabby

New Ways To Read The News


I’ve written before about the newspaper industry and why newspapers will fade away. In Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? there is a prediction that the last newspaper will be printed in 2040.

I no longer subscribe to a daily paper. I do scan the office copy and have a Firefox widget that gives me access to my local paper the New Zealand Herald although they haven’t updated it since March and it doesn’t work properly with the latest Firefox version.

Where I get most of my news from is in fact Twitter. Lots of people still don’t understand the power of Twitter. I’ve found it is the best way to get up to date information about what is going on locally and internationally. If I want to get information, I simply do a search on my Twitter client, Hootsuite, which I can save as a stream so I don’t have to keep searching.

In addition, I use the paper.ly service and have 2 daily Twitter newspapers where the content is generated by the people or businesses I follow. I have 2 daily papers. One is for my generic Twitter account, and the other is for my songwriting business.

The service I use is called Paper.li and my daily online newspapers which you can subscribe to for free are the Luigi Cappel Daily and the other is my Cappel Music paper. I can go to either of these papers and read stories that are of interest to me. The reason I can do this, is because it aggregates Twitter stories with links from people I follow.

A benefit of this is that it focuses me on following people that have something to say that I am in fact interested in. So if you follow me on Twitter you will see that I typically hover around the 2,000 follows as opposed to some people who follow and collect people like they were trying to follow everyone. If I follow you and your tweets don’t interest me, I won’t be following you for long. Doesn’t mean you don’t have something valid to say, just that I only have so much time and there is so much going on.

So my newspaper has a front page and today it includes stories such as Google TV devices being delayed, South Korea’s military exercises, arrests in a UK terror plot, the latest in the Pike River Coal Mine Disaster, faulty Kindles and more. There is a Stories Page, an Arts and Entertainment Page, a Technology Page, and more. You can even subscribe to my paper, or make your own and its all free.

I mentioned searches on Twitter for news as well. I won’t go into hashtags, you can google that if you are interested, but for a couple of examples, here is a search on Heathrow, which has been closed for several days because of snow and ice. The best way to find out what is going on is from people who are there. You’ll probably find photos and lots of human interest stories as well as the latest information. Interesting as I write this, Sky News were saying on TV that Heathrow Airport doesn’t want their cameras at the airport interviewing angry people waiting for their delayed flights.

Another topical example is North Korea which is obviously of great concern to those of us who don’t want to see a new war front.

This isn’t the only way I get news, I also have an iGoogle page which is my RSS feed aggregator. I keep standard news searches there for things that interest me as well as tools such as currency converters, time zone calculations so I don’t miss my online tutorials from Berklee Music out of Boston, weather forecasts and lots more.

So do I need a print newspaper? No. Is that good? Well putting my ecological hat on, according to Wikipedia, 35% of all trees felled are used to generate paper. Newspapers must be a massive proportion of that. We know that we need trees to combat climate change, so I’m doing my little bit:)

Death of the newspaper