Sustainable Water & Energy Talk

Myself and Andrew attended a "Sustainable Water + Energy" talk hosted by RAIA Sydney East Architects at Paddo Bowls Club on Tuesday, March 11th last.

The night consisted of two separate talks:

1. Solar Systems and Photovoltaics - Presented by Alex Bergmann of "Energywise Living".

2. Sustainable Water Management - Presented by Mark Leibman of "Sustainability Workshop".

Both talks were very informative and attempted to give both a synopsis of the broad range of each subject and also a snapshot of where each technology "is at" presently. This was an ambitious goal for each speaker but as it is an everyday frustration for designers to access reliable information on either of these two subjects, a truly worthy one. (I will cover the details of various aspects of this talk in future blogs and will only provide a summary here).

Solar Systems & Photovoltaics:

As an Irishman who arrived in Australia seven years ago, I still recall my surprise on discovering the complex relationship between Australia and Solar Energy Generation. From an outsider's perspective the climate of repetitious clear blue skies and beaming sun coupled with the spirit of Australian pioneering endeavour should place Australia in pole position to lead the world in Solar Power Generation use and innovation. However I understand that the landscape of fossil fuel commerce and politics is a complex one in every country and I was keen to ascertain from this talk what the current situation is in relation to financial incentives for the standard domestic user and also what advice Alex would have for sizing a current domestic system.

Alex started out by describing the basic theory of how solar power works and the various different forms that it can take, Grid-Connect, Battery-Storage (off grid) and Hybrid (battery storage and grid connection). Whilst his statistics relating to the number of solar systems installed nationally were inspiring at 1.2 million, he spoke at length about the now nearly extinct notion of public "incentive" and how this has changed his day to day business. Alex stated that the IPART benchmark rate for Solar Feed-In Tariff for 2013/14 is now lower than 2012/13 at a range of 6.6 to 11.2 cents per kWH. Alex also pointed out that this is a "suggestion" only and it is not mandatory for a retailer to pay this to a consumer. Alex explained that with the change of domestic incentive from a mandatory Gross Feed-In Tariff to to a miniscule 'suggested' Net Feed-In Tariff has changed domestic Solar Energy to a "Use it or Lose it" energy that must be used during the day to maximise it's benefit.

However, it was not all doom and gloom as Alex did discuss how households could maximize the benefit of Solar Power by switching to a "Smart Home" type system where all the various domestic electrical "tasks" are arranged to come on during the daylight hours. He sees this as a "shift" from these events occurring during the traditional "low-tariff" periods at night. Alex did not go into detail on this subject and we will make it the focus of a future blog as therein lies the key to maximising domestic solar energy.

Sustainable Water Management:

Mark provided a fascinating historical overview of the history of cities looking solely at the evolution of sustainable water practices. As with the previous talk Mark went through alot of detailed descriptions of various sustainable water management strategies which we will make the subject of future blogs. The main domestic topics that Mark spoke about were:

1. Importance of providing Urban water and planting to reduce Urban Heat Island Effect.

2. Rainwater re-use including proper sizing of rain water tanks using the free online "Tankulator" software.

3. Greywater systems - when do you require DA?

4. Rainwater gardens - The basic philosophy and their successful promotion in Melbourne.


Overall an enjoyable an informative evening was had by all.

Fergal White

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