Category Archives: Zero Carbon

Solar Seed Funding – Will Your Next Client Pay it Forward?

Have you seen the movie Pay it Forward? I bet you’ve always wondered how we could do that and help drive economies of scale in our rooftop solar industry, right?

I wrote about this one over a year ago and re-visited recently thanks to a now constant flow of queries around solar leasing options in Australia. This particular model works like this;

  1. The original investor [think of them as ‘your project or client’] installs a solar system on a recipient’s roof;
  2. The recipient leases the solar panels on their roof from the investor;
  3. The recipient enjoys reduced energy costs overall, compared to grid-price electricity, so they start saving money;
  4. The investor, rather than paying down their original investment as quickly as they can, reinvests the income back into the seed fund, helping to set up the next recipient with another solar system.

Check out for more detail on how it works

So the investor has put up the cost of the first system. Sound unfair? Well, clients are already willing to pay for Green Power [a renewable energy product in Australia], carbon offset credits or other ‘licence to operate’ costs. So if they’re committed to spending the money, why not spend it where it creates the most community uplift?

It’s not too difficult to visualise a way in which development projects could roll out extensive community solar schemes using a version of this model. Even if the lease payments help in part to pay down the install costs, it’s still a great way to make solar energy more accessible to entire neighbourhoods.

Anyone interested in setting up a crowd fund to kick-start one of these in a needy community?

Remember, if you’d like to help me get the message out there, vote for Green Futures this month. Thanks!




Lights On or Off – What Should We Really Do?

‘It uses more energy to keep turning the lights off and on, so just leave them on’. We probably all grew up with this one, but is it really true? Well, naturally the issue is a lot more complex than you might think – but leaving all of the world’s lights turned on based on this logic would clearly be idiotic, so I’ve dug around and found a collection of research-based conclusions that bust this myth.

lights off

To put things in context;

  • The studies compare incandescent globes with Compact Fluorescent Light-globes [CFLs];
  • A globe’s [or ‘lamp’] lifespan [rated hours] depends on both how durable the design is, how often it’s turned on and off [uses], and the operating cycle [how long it’s left on for]
  • CFLs are rated at around 8,000-10,000 hours life span [let’s say, to keep things easy], based on a typical operation of 3 hours on then 20 minutes off;

One of the best facts I found was from the US Dept. of Energy site: when we switch on a CFL it has an ‘inrush’ phase where it does use more energy, but only for 1/120th of a second, equivalent to 5 seconds of operation. So unless you’re a little kid standing there flicking the lights on and off fifty times a second and going ‘whooohooooo’ then don’t stress – just turn them off.

For some further detail, this Rocky Mountain Institute study conducted in 2008 has some great findings and write-up (i.e. easy for me to understand). It found that no matter what, a CFL still trumps an incandescent globe. Increasing the uses and/or decreasing the operation time, e.g. switching it off and on many times a day and only running the light for 5 minutes at a time will significantly reduce the lamp’s lifespan, however even then a CFL will still;

  1. pay itself off with the energy savings;
  2. last longer than an incandescent globe;
  3. emit less greenhouse gases [by a long way];
  4. emit less mercury [by a long way].

In the office the story is pretty much the same. Lights such as T5s are rated for 10,000 or more hours and will typically stay on all day. Switching them off at the end of the day is part of what the lamps are designed for – at least 6,000 cycles and rising as the lamp technology improves – so don’t fret, just turn them off when you’re done, even in the smaller rooms that you might visit a few times a day.

Hopefully this leaves you feeling illuminated for the week : )

How Many Greenies Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

Last week we saw some news about a new plant that has been genetically engineered to emit light – Bioglow’s ‘Starlight Avatar’. This plant has a life span of a few months and is currently up for auction as a prototype.

Normally I’d start banging on about the risks of genetically engineering plants – but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the topic is emotionally and politically charged and I’m never certain what to believe, although millions of bees dropping dead in Canada is something to worry about…


Bioglow’s Starlight Avatar. Click me for the source.

What I’m curious about here is the eventual application of plants that glow… I’ve long imagined indoor plants that give us light to read by, magically re-distributing the light that they’ve harvested during the day. The trend can be easily plotted to indoor-outdoor gardens that glow and light our way, a true blending of architecture and landscape.

Another relatively new kid on the block is the OLED, Organic LEDs. These are a surface-emitting light source rather than a globe, so in effect the walls themselves can glow.

Oled lighting panel

Siemens / Osram’s OLED. Click for source.

This technology will eventually yield clear windows that then glow at night, interior surfaces that light our way, and even furniture that gives us light… the possibilities are endless.

If I were to pit the glowing plant against the OLED I’d be inclined to pick the OLED simply because the tech is more progressed and the applications broader. In reality I’d put my money on both with the glowing plant having a longer timescale (they’d need to gen-eng controllability as well) – we may eventually live in a world of light with no light globes at all. And this will all be realised much sooner than we think as night-time economies grow in response to a whole range of pressures.

So the answer to the riddle? The prosaic answer of today is simply ‘one’, but in our near future it may be ‘what light globe?’.

Is Workshifting The Greenest Thing We Can Do?

I received a short e-book yesterday from Greensense where they’d calculated that typical office buildings sit unoccupied for 72% of their time, based purely on typical work days and hours per year. Yet during this time these buildings consume 55% of their energy.

It goes without saying that we need to get a grip on this wasted energy and either stop using it or put it to use… but to date we’re still focussing on ‘energy efficiency’ (i.e. eating less) and tinkering around the edges of Activity Based Working, ‘hotelling’ of facilities and ‘work shifting’.

I read around a year ago about this concept of ‘workshifting’ and even in the past 12 months it seems that the original origin of the word has morphed – it’s now taking over the language of ‘remote working’ and so forth [some good background here]. But I recall the original idea of work-shifting was to literally shift entire working hours into non-standard hours. night-shift for offices.

night shift

flickr share by Mario Gutierrez, London UK.

Whilst the energy efficiency drive is good and has value and is easy, perhaps the real payoff is in doing away with our traditions of the 9am-5pm work life, and using our buildings 24/7. I’m not saying make people work longer hours – it’s nothing more complicated than making more work hours available. One work day becomes 3 x 8 hour shifts, and people can choose which shifts they want to work.

Employers are paying the same rent, and yes most likely some extra energy, but they’re getting more than four times the productivity out of their tenancy (one week would have 21 shifts instead of 5). We’re also then getting 4 times the value out of materials and all of the embodied energy.

Seems to me like the cheapest way to grow a work force without growing in real estate. Think of how much of that 72% could be expanded into! It’s only a matter of time before this becomes our warmed-climate reality.

Weekend Warrior – Have you got Wind?

This isn’t a story about beer and pizza so if the title mis-led you I do apologise. But read on, because there might be something just as cool at the end…

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved maps. Countless days spent as a child simply exploring the world through one of those huge atlases… maybe it’s a thing about exercising the imagination or something to do with wanderlust, but either way it’s now even more fun to explore the world through online maps.

For reasons I can no longer recall I found myself getting lost in an online map this week that shows all of the world’s current and proposed wind farms. I think I was trying to get a handle on how Australia stacked up against the rest of the world.. and WOW are we a long way behind.

global wind power

[this only marks each country with wind power – drill down to see each country map, which show a lot more detail]

This site is packed with statistics, graphs and interactive maps that can take you right into the detail, from the global map right down to individual installations, their capacity and often who the owner is – good stuff if you’re researching for renewables investments and shares.

This weekend’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is simply to delve into this data and see where your country sits on the world chart. And perhaps more importantly which countries are investing the most in new installations? (there’s a function on the site to filter for ‘proposed projects’) For the Aussies you can also have a look at the Feds’ site which overlays all of Australia’s renewable power plants (wind, solar, hydro etc.)… interesting to see the balance of solar in the desert and wind on the coasts.

renewables map ozzie

Tech Prediction – Medical Robots and The Grey Tsunami

How far would you let a hospital robot go before you insisted on a ‘real person’ taking over? Would you let a robot operate on you? Give you a needle? Wash you? Deliver a meal?

Whether we like it or not, hospital robots are rapidly spreading and are taking up tasks that most people would prefer not to do, or put more accurately simply don’t have the time to do. These robots are freeing up valuable time so that healthcare professionals can get back to their core tasks – looking after people.

hospital robots

Robots are now carrying out delivery roles in larger hospitals, meaning that staff don’t have to walk thousands of metres each day simply carrying stuff from A to B. These staff can now spend more time with their patients thus improving the level of care they can offer. Indeed this technology is what we call an ‘enabler’; it takes over specific tasks that then start a virtuous cycle – staff can spend more time with patients, being less rushed, decreasing errors and helping improve patient recovery.

Much of the developed world is approaching a ‘grey tsunami’ where an ageing population outstrips the healthcare industry’s ability to take care of it. Robots are touted as the solution to the looming challenge.


George Lucas predicted it, even if it was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

What I’m really interested in is how this technology might transform the way we move everyday goods around. Imagine delivery robots moving goods between factory and retail outlet, or factory and home. We’ve already seen pizzas being delivered by drone. We already have 3D printers magically creating solid objects out of dust, and even printing drones [to deliver more pizzas?]. How long until we see autonomous robot-vehicles shipping goods around our streets?

Ironically we’ll see robots visiting us at home to give us a medical check-up and likely even minor treatments. As long as they bring pizza and maybe a nice cold drink I’ll be ok with that.

Weekend Warrior #18 – Bring Back The Stars

How often do you look up at the stars? Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with them, and it still boggles my mind to think that some stars are in fact planets or galaxies. And my own kids are the same – they’ll take every opportunity to gaze out the window or their skylight before they hit the pillow.

nasa image

US east cost. Thanks NASA.

According to the Sydney Observatory, from the light-polluted centre of Sydney or Melbourne we might be able to spot around 125 stars, but from a dark country site maybe 2400. If you’ve ever experienced the wonder of the Milky Way from the Australian outback you’ll be thinking ‘2400 doesn’t even come close’.

It’s a simple fact that we can’t see many stars from our cities due to the light pollution. The NASA image above, one of thousands of similar views, looks beautiful at first sight, but then one has to ask ‘what is all that light doing in orbit?’. Aside from the wasted energy it’s washing out the stars.

And they’re our stars. Don’t we deserve to be able to see the stars at night from wherever we live? Do we necessarily have to accept the fact that living in a city means ‘no stars’? I think not. I’d like my kids [and theirs] to be able to stand wrapt in awe anywhere, including in the city.

This is an idea that’s been doing the rounds in my mind for years, so I’m unlikely to let it go. I want to bring back the stars.

So this weekend’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to spend a little time looking up, and also do a walk around your block and count how many lights you think don’t really need to be on. What would it take to turn them off, re-globe them, change the fitting, add hoods etc.?

If you’re lucky enough you’ll even spot the first star of the night, which is in fact usually one of the planets. Do you know which one?