Creating jobs with FIT for renewable energy

So how about this picture. If the Government gives us interest free loans to install solar panels on roofs, we could reduce the need for expanding coal and oil based electricity, whilst maintaining our geothermal and hydro production.

The Government would set up Feed In Tariffs enabling power companies to purchase spare power units to feed in to the grid to supplement its own resources and those of the community as and when required.

The technology would include smart meters where appliances and power consumption may be monitored by the consumer This is already available in NZ from companies such as SmartNow. This is very important because it educates consumers of all ages  as to the impact of each household appliance.

Smart Meter

You would be able to monitor this on your SmartPhone as well as the touch screen in your home, perhaps even control appliances remotely. Now you will know if you turn your 3 TV’s off instead of having them on stand by, exactly how much energy and cost you are saving.

Many of our household devices are developing sufficient intelligence to be turned on and off remotely. This can apply to anything from your stove or microwave, to your TV Set Top Box, washing machine, heating etc.

Kiwis are very clever. With a little encouragement and support, we could have people coming up with new technologies for smoothing power, sharing and reticulating, designing solar panels that look good and work more efficiently in our environment.

Whole new industries and thousands of jobs would come out of this. Educators, estimators, designers, manufacturers, installers, inspectors, service people, finance companies, new boutique electrical companies, to name a few.

New Zealand is an island and we can be potentially isolated from gas and fossil fuels, especially if the worst happened and a serious war broke out somewhere on the planet.

Do you think that in the Middle East, Europe or USA, they would be saying, oh don’t forget New Zealand, we must set aside x number of tonnes of crude for our antipodean mates down under? But I digress. We are smart people and I think we could create not only some serious domestic growth, but our inventions spawned from this adventure could also contribute to some huge potential export revenue through the innovations that we would produce.

We also made a commitment to being clean and green. Digging up coal and gas doesn’t exactly honor that commitment, although I agree we need the money. Maybe we can’t do it with solar and wind alone, but if we could produce even half of our requirements from our roofs whilst at the same time reducing power consumption through smarter use and education, wouldn’t that be cool?

We could also lead in international design and R & D, with companies like Fisher & Paykel in the development of new technologies that burn much less power, including heating, consumer electronics and more. We need revival of new companies like Gallagher, Rakon and Taits, which have shown that we can be world leaders in technology. Those number 8 fencing wire companies we are so proud of.

The problem is that all of this needs to start with the politicians and all I seem to hear from them is that the coal, oil and gas is worth a lot of money and we should sell them. OK, if we need to do that because New Zealand is insolvent, then do it, but put the money earned into renewables, try to make ourselves self sufficient and then develop export revenues by exporting the technologies we built and developed locally, exploiting our IP. Kiwis are smart people.

Come on National, Labour and Green Parties, lets take a long term view beyond the next election. Change only happens when you do something different. Make it happen and you can have the credit if that is what drives your ambitions, but lets show our leadership.

I didn’t mention tourism, but I don’t think people really buy into clean green anymore. Lets show them we can be clean and green and beautiful and then generate export revenue out of our new skills and industries.

As a footnote, a quote by Farrell J. January 2011 on the Ontario FIT which started in 2009 from New Rules Project:

Ontario’s clean energy program encourages local ownership and distributed generation, in part to broaden support for renewable energy and in part to capture the increased economic impact generated from local ownership.

The domestic content requirement has already resulted in the promise of 43,000 jobs and dozens of new manufacturing plants to support the 5,000 MW of new clean energy.

As a footnote, imagine if the panel didn’t have to be on your roof, but could be on every one of your windows and you could see through it? That’s what MIT is hoping for. 


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

Preparation Lessons from Japan and Christchurch

It’ll never happen to me is probably the first thing. Even in Japan, which I have visited at least 20 times, I doubt many people expected anything like this latest earthquake. I experienced earthquakes on many of my trips to Japan. I have been in office buildings and hotel rooms and felt the vertigo as buildings sway. The thing is it happens so often that people take it in their stride and the evidence was seen with images of people standing on bridges watching rather than racing for cover.

A similar situation occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all expected that if a big one did come, it would be in Wellington, not Christchurch. I used to be a Civil Defence rescue team leader and our earthquake training was all based around Wellington because it has a compact CBD, lots of buildings clad in glass and sits right on the fault line. Like Japan, they experience lots of earthquakes there.

What I really wanted to mention in this blog though, is the survival kits, the essentials required besides shelter and ablutions. That is water and power. Water has proven to be probably the biggest issue in many fronts. Basically water is the most crucial element. We can live longer without food, but not without water. We need water for drinking, bathing, cooking etc and when the water supply either fails or becomes contaminated, this becomes a major problem.

I will certainly be taking this more seriously in future because it was obvious that if you didn’t have any, your chances of getting your hands on water were pretty slim. In Christchurch for example, only one supermarket remained open. Not a lot for New Zealand’s 2nd largest city.

If you don’t have electricity, you can’t boil contaminated water, can’t wash yourself, your clothes and risk hygiene problems. A generator isn’t much of an option but gas is. We saw lots of images of people filling up their gas cylinders and having communal BBq’s because their refrigerators couldn’t run and food would soon perish.

Getting gas after the quake

Of course gas also means you can boil water. We were very lucky in Christchurch to not have outbreaks of cholera or other diseases due to water contamination, not to mention the inability to flush the toilets etc.

In this situation I’m not sure how much it would help, but these are easy things that I will be doing to ensure even though I don’t think it will ever happen to me:

  • Stocking enough water and non perishable food to support my family for a number of days.
  • Ensuring that I have a couple of full gas cylinders (remember that without power, petrol stations close)

Longer term I will look at replacing my hot water cylinder with gas. Doesn’t help if there is no water, but does if there is no electricity.

Then I get back to my hobby horse of solar power. A hobby horse of mine is that the government should not only be encouraging us, but facilitating solar power for both business and consumers. I’ve blogged before about feed-in tariffs and interest free finance for people to install solar panels as happens in other parts of the world. If we all had solar power, we would be much more sustainable. Obviously New Zealand will not be running nuclear power, even more so given the latest catastrophe in Japan. As I write this a 3rd nuclear reactor has lost its emergency cooling system after the 8.9 quake!

For a country that asserts itself as clean and green, I think this is a big fail. Maybe this would be an opportunity for the Green Party to assert itself. With the election due in November this year, if I was them I would be pushing hard for interest free subsidies for solar energy, especially for water heating. I would also be pushing for the right to sell surplus energy back into the grid .

When I was in the Netherlands a couple of years ago I saw many warehouses and farm buildings covered in solar panels. I also of course saw many wind farms. I thought they looked really cool, although I probably wouldn’t want one in my backyard. Fortunately for the size of our country we have plenty of space.

So have we learned anything and will we act on it?

The following video illustrates how people are so used to earthquakes that they don’t do what they have been trained to do.

Feed-in Tarriffs and The Greens Party

So election year is hear and in less than 2 months the political fate of New Zealand will be decided for the next 3 years. With Greenhouse / Global warming , Kyoto and the global call for positive action on sustainability, I would have thought that The Green Party would have had the perfect opportunity to become a dominant force.

In several parts of the USA there are government subsidies and interest free loans on the purchase and installations of solar panels for domestic use. New Zealand has major problems with power. This year the lakes which are used to generate hydro electricity in the South Island were close to empty and given that this has been a recurring situation, it is only a matter of time before we start having enforced power cuts.

The government has been quick to sign the Kyoto Protocol which apparently gives us a sustainability debt which we will have to pay to other countries. In my humble opinion this is stupid, not the least because countries including our Australian cobbers and the USA have not signed. But more so because we would be far better using those funds, taxpayers dollars, to do better things at home, such as interest free subsidies for urban water tanks for drinking water and solar panels on our homes to generate water to heat it. Surely that would make better sense?

When I started to research this, I found that South Australia is enforcing a concept that they got from the NZ Green Party which is a Feed-in-Tarriff. I’m amazed that I had never heard of it! I’m not sure if that reflects more poorly on me for not knowing or on the Greens for not being more vocal about it. Anyway, rather than providing subsidies and interest free finance, which I feel we should still enforce, this concept requires the power companies to purchase excess power from consumers who have solar power in their homes, at a price higher than they pay to the commercial grid.

If we are in for some serious problems as a consequence of global warming, rising sea lavels, increased pollution in lakes and rivers, exacerbated by increasing water temperature, how is it that the Greens do not feature high on the political radar. I suspect that a lot of it is driven by their perception as tree huggers, driving sooty diesel vans who used ot be extremely vocal, but just didn’t seem like us, the average Joe Public. They don’t fit the mould of the ordinary politician, perhaps because they represent only one (important) facet of life on planet Earth today. They haven’t convinced us that we need them, which is a shame, because they may have some great ideas that we dn’t know about. Maybe they need to make some changes to the way they present themselves.

So here’s the problem. I can’t afford to spend between $30,000 for water heating and $100,000 for generate power to my home equivalent to what I get off the grid today. But if I could borrow the money interest free and pay for it from savings as well as selling excess back into the grid I’d be keen.

Skyscrapers and high society

The race is on to build the world’s tallest building, yet again. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia they are working on the first building the will be a mile high. No this isn’t a joke, it will be more then 1600 metres tall and will be called Mile High Tower. It is due for completion in 2012. You could join the mile high club without getting on a plane!

I’ve been to the top of buildings like the Twin Towers (and grateful for the experience and respect to those who died or were injured when she came down) and Sears Tower, well this is almost 3 times as high as Chicago’s ediface.

Why are they building it? In this case mostly I suspect because they can. Because Prince al-Walid bin Talal, who owns the Savoy, can. Is he doing something that is needed because of a shortage of land in Jeddah? I don’t think so. I wonder if he hsa a very large ego that he needs to house. If the Sears Tower contains 4.4 million square feet the Mile High Tould have to have close to 10 times that amount of space because the base would have to be enormous to hold up the rest of the structure.

Aside from all the issues of building and trying to pump wet concrete a mile into the sky, there are also power issues. Imagine how much electricity it would take to power a building like that? Suggestions are that the building can house a huge number of solar panels and in many cases it’s height could mean that while it is raining on lower floors, the higher floors will be basking in sunshine. maybe the ecosystem could capture boh the sun and water and try to head towards self sufficiency. As to energy use, I wonder how much energy it would take to send a room service meal from the ground to the penthouse?

This is the stuff that they have been writing about in Science Fiction for years. Imagine having a penthouse apartment that is so high up that you can’t go onto your balcony without an oxygen mask because the air is too thin. They say that from the penthouse you will be able to see the Middle East, the Pacific Ocean and Africa.

Because of the height and technology involved you would need to have 10 or more lifts just to get to your apartment. Imagine what would happen if you had to evacuate it in hurry.

A building that big would be like a medium sized town. You would have everything you need in a homogenous environment. Schools, shops, busineses, you would have your own hospital, police station, everything.

But who would want to live in such a building. Sure it would be great to have an apartment in it so that you can say you do. It would be great for corporate events. But would you want to live on the 351st floor of an apartment building? Imagine if the power went out and you had to climb down 350 sets of stairs to get to the ground.

I’ve never lived in an apartment. I’ve enjoyed staying in hotel rooms 30 floors above the ground, but this is something entirely different. I don’t much like gardening, but I do like living in a free standing home where I can turn the stereo up loud and go and sit by the pool or potter around in my rock garden. I find the whole idea of living in a building which for practical reasons, you never have to live, to be quite claustrophobic, but it will happen. Many others feel the same.

If the future means that more and more people live at great heights, this might help with the development of new transport technologies as they try to find more economic ways to move around. Who wants to spend 15 minutes standing in lifts to get to the ground floor. They won’t be able to go too fast because you are likely to suffer effects of gravity and air pressure. There will off course be helipads, but that’s a little expensive for the average person.

I’ll leave the last word to BOB with his 15 reasons to live in a skyscraper🙂

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