Tag Archives: community solar

Sustainable Vs Resilient: The Supermarket Test

So what’s the difference between ‘sustainability’ and this new-fangled word ‘resilience’? I get hooked on words because they carry so much meaning, even when we don’t mean them to, so here’s an example of how different ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’ can be.

I’m going to use a supermarket as an example. I don’t have anything specifically against supermarkets – I loathe any type of retail environment in equal measure… but the typical mega-chain supermarket [and I’m specifically not naming names here] has, over time, stealthily burdened us with a swathe of community ‘fails’ that have significantly undermined our community resilience.

panda sup

A supermarket could be labelled as highly ‘sustainable’ because it has some attributes that are recognised as ‘green building’ elements. Let’s take some of those sustainability attributes and see what we can tweak in order to make them more resilient;

  • Solar panels on roof: becomes solar panels owned or leased by the local community, with income stream for the supermarket and reduced energy costs and improved reliability for the local residents;
  • Organic waste diverted from landfill: becomes on-site or local composting of green waste, with by-product used for local soil conditioning and urban agriculture;
  • Organic produce: becomes locally grown organic seasonal produce from multiple small scale growers, home owners and community gardens, providing better food security and local economy – in reality the supermarket no longer plays a role in fresh food production, but let’s be nice;
  • Reduced or even neutral carbon footprint through energy efficiency, renewables and offsets; becomes locally redeemed offsets through community street planting, home and business energy renovations and community renewables schemes;
  • Energy efficient refrigeration; becomes reduced refrigeration thanks to increased local food growing and ‘field-to-table’ supply chain, meaning the need for refrigerating fresh produce is vastly reduced;
  • Biodegradable or Recyclable packaging; becomes reduced packaging, again thanks to local food production and the removal of the need for freight transport of goods;

Of course the list can go on. The point is, Resilience is something like Sustainability but with community wellbeing, health and prosperity included. In some senses a supermarket might be ‘sustainable’ but a local farmer’s market is more resilient – and in my opinion much more fun : )

If you know of any supermarket chains anywhere in the world where they are trending back towards community resilience I’d love to hear about it.


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 http://www.solarseedfund.org 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!



The Top 5 Green Collar Jobs of 2025

How safe do you feel in your current profession or occupation? Are you certain that your field will even be relevant in the near future or that it won’t be managed by ever-smarter computers? 

There are plenty of these ‘jobs growth’ lists around, but most of them still seem to do a simple extrapolation of current trends without looking at the fundamental shifts that are taking place around the world. So my list, focussing on the built environment, has a futures bent to it in that I’m predicting the boom jobs of the future based on emerging trends in today’s economy.


Image from Green Talent, RSA. Click image for link.

In no particular order, here they are;

  • Sun Catcher [Solar Power Installer]: We’ll see massive automated solar panel factories teeming with robots, churning out solar panels night and day. This will include printed PVs [on paper, film and plastic], glazing integrated, building fabric-integrated and plug’n’play systems. Car assembly plants are already being re-geared to produce components. But it will be a bit longer before we don’t need humans to install the stuff because the installation sites will be so incredibly varied. Sun Catchers will be busy retro-fitting our homes and existing buildings for years to come. They’ll also have sidelines in other energy-reducing retrofits such as insulation, shading, ventilation etc.
  • Woodsmith [Carpenters and Joiners]: in the property game we’re at the early stages of a timber revolution. We’ll soon need teams of skilled carpenters to build our new buildings, renovate existing, and even help design and program the automated pre-fabrication factories that are already starting to reach scale. Wood, in my view the ultimate carbon sink, will become stylish again.
  • Forester [Ecologist or Conservation Biologist]: double-demand – to protect and understand our remaining biodiversity and also to restore what we’ve lost. Nature’s health is inextricably entwined with our agricultural production, fresh water supply, food supply and even our community health and wellbeing. These skills will even scale down to our cities and buildings, contributing to occupant health and healing, and urban agricultural production.
  • Integrator [Resilience Planner or Urban Planner]: We’re only at the starting point of grappling with climate change, adaptation and disaster planning. As we gain momentum we’ll see rocketing demand for those who can see the systems-basis of our world and can orchestrate the synthesis of ideas. Integrators are big thinkers and will require high-end people and change management skills. In this respect Integrators will also be great Communicators.
  • Sparkitecht [Systems Programmer]: we are still experiencing exponential growth in computing power and speed [Moore’s Law]. The Internet of Things; networked devices, appliances, cars and buildings; smart dust and the ubiquitous ‘net; networked and smart wind and solar farms will all require increasing levels of integration with our physical and then physiological world. Maybe the geeks will still inherit the Earth.

Whether or not these 5 jobs are indeed the highest growth areas [only time will tell] I hope they are amongst the growth areas because they’ll all be doing positive things towards a greener future.

Do any of these sounds like a good step for your next career move? 

[Notes: a couple of ideas were sparked by Mother Nature Network. Go here for the article. If you really want to have your imagination stretched check out Thomas Frey’s ‘future jobs that don’t exist today’. Not necessarily green collar but maybe a sign of how different our future could be?]

Weekend Warrior #12 – How to $ave on Standby Power

Have you ever counted how many of those little lights you have on around the house? Those little lights, chargers, computer cables and stuff are costing Australia around $480M per annum in energy bills, and are worth a power station.

Small things do make a difference [as Horton said; ‘a person’s a person, no matter how small’]. The best news I saw this morning was that Australia’s projected energy demand for the next year has dropped – talk about reversing a trend! Apparently our nationwide adoption of rooftop solar coupled with our efforts to reduce energy consumption and make our buildings greener is making a difference. Yeah!


ReNew Economy site – a great source of daily news on renewables

So we’re on the way. How can we keep going?

When I’m in light sleep mode [which is a lot lately thanks to Mr 2-year-old] I regularly notice a flashing next to my bed – it’s the standby/active light on the phone, which I never use. And I’ve never turned it off.

According to the Australian Commonwealth [visit energyrating.gov.au] approximately 10% of Australia’s residential energy consumption is from standby power – the little lights, blinkers, appliances and chargers that sprinkle our households with a night-time glow. I’ve come across other sites that claim it’s only 5%, so let’s work with that to be conservative.

household power

Clean Energy site

So what would 5% of your annual energy bill be? Doesn’t sound like much?

I’ve found a swathe of different opinions on what this might cost us on average over a year – and the most conservative estimate is $80 per family household based on 2013 prices. Multiply $80/family by 6 million family households in Australia [not even counting singles] and you get $480,000,000 of energy purchased just for standby power. Just for those little lights that have become part of the background. Could buy Christmas presents for a country or two.

To give you an idea of how we’ve managed this, the following chart shows an approximate distribution of our household standby power;


From the EcoSwitch site; Click image for source.

So, the challenge for this weekend, should you choose to accept it, is to hunt down and extinguish as much of the standby power at home as you can. Here are some tips;

  • turn off computer cables at the power point – if the pack is warm it’s using energy, even when the computer is off;
  • same with phone chargers – how many do you have hanging out of your wall full time? They use energy whenever the power point is on;
  • turn off your set-top box. I’ve heard some recent estimates that these comprise up to 11% of our total energy bill [!]. Go read a book.
  • turn the plasma screen ‘off’ off, at the switch on the TV. Try living without the remote for a while. We do because I haven’t been able to fix ours. We’ve adapted.

How many others can you find in your home? I’m going to get Mr 4-and-a-half to see if he can count all of ours. Should be fun. Might pay him a finders fee.

The Car Hive – Autogeddon or Autotopia?

Imagine our city streets without the sound of traffic, without traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, line markings, bollards and signs, car-related advertising, kerbs and parking meters. Imagine if we stripped away every single thing related to the automobile except for one tight efficient ribbon of hard surface.

rollerhaus, architecture, living cities, eco, sustainable, concept, illustration, virtual, futuristic

Well, it’s all on the way, and sooner than we think.

For 100 years we have had a love affair with the car [or is it a love-hate relationship?]. We have designed our neighbourhoods, our towns and our cities around the needs of the car.

We are now entering an unprecedented phase of the automobile which will completely transform the way we plan cities. A short while ago I posted some thoughts about the ‘autonomous car’ and how that might change street design. Since then that thought ricocheted around inside my head to the point where I’ve followed the trend through to a scaled-up impact on city design.

The Car Hive

  • The autonomous car drives itself, and will be networked with all other cars. They’ll communicate with each other. They’ll swap music and share data on us [their customers];
  • When we need to get from A to B, we’ll summon a car through an App, and the nearest available car will be tasked for our journey and come to pick us up. All driverless. We’ll simply pay-for-service based on the amount of energy we use. No more designated driver.
  • These cars will have their own culture and economy where they will source their own energy from the grid [all renewable juice] through discreet recharge points, and even trade with each other. When we use the car it will debit from our account.
  • Because the cars all have crash-avoidance tech, they’ll drive nose to tail at speed, they won’t need any street signage, speed limit signs, speed humps or parking signs, won’t even need headlights or indicators… all gone. They’ll just self organise and cooperate. No more white-knuckle cycling in the city.
  • Private car ownership will eventually disappear. Today we have ‘collaborative consumption’ schemes like GoGets… Tomorrow we’ll simply have a ‘utility’ that is transport and we’ll pay based on usage.
  • Eventually [I give it only 12-18 months] we’ll see electricity utilities, who are right now waking up to the death spiral of rooftop solar, branching out into EV [Electric Vehicle] fleets which run off the utility’s renewable energy… they’ll add value back to their network and remain viable.

Sound speculative? Not really, at least, all the technology is out there now. Masdar City for example is tinkering with some of the above components.

The real thing to watch will be when the realisation hits that the bottom will fall out of so many automobile-related industries and businesses – the scale of this economic shift will be ‘autogeddon’ for many companies.

The Car Hive itself will make possible a type of ‘autotopia’ where city design is de-coupled from the needs of the car, and we will re-focus on pedestrianism, active lifestyles and the compounding benefits to our health [not to mention our overloaded health systems]. If we want this near-future to evolve in the right direction we need to be planning appropriately right now.

This future might sound daunting and even a little socialist, but I don’t think we need to read anything into it. It’s just economics at work, and it excites me that our advances in technology will enable us to re-focus on great place-making, safe and green streets, and a multitude of new industries.

Community Solar #02 – Don’t Have a Roof? Use Someone Elses.

In part 2 of 2 in this piece we overview Community Solar, or in other terms ‘strata solar’ installations. There are many of us without our own roof (e.g. we live in an apartment), or we have a roof that isn’t suited for efficient solar power (e.g. wrong orientation, overshading etc.). But there is still a way to generate solar power that we can financially benefit from.

To recap on part 1 of this post, there are essentially two directions that community solar schemes can take;

  • Collective Bargaining – where a large number of community households convene what is effectively a ‘purchasing cartel’ to unlock bulk-purchasing power; and
  • Community Solar – where a community group pools resources to invest in a large consolidated solar installation, and receives dividends.

The principles of ‘community solar’ are relatively simple;

  • a group of stakeholders (could be residents, businesses, investors etc.) form an entity that invests in a larger scale solar power installation;
  • the larger scale installation achieves some economy of scale, reducing costs per investor;
  • the investors receive some form of dividend from the power generated.

There are various structures under which an installation can be governed. One option is that the group literally invest in building the installation, and receive dividends.

Another is where the local Council will build the installation, and rate payers can lease a chosen number of panels. Their dividend in energy production is then deducted from their rates. The South Melbourne Market scheme is intending to adopt a version of this approach via Port Phillip Council who have funded the first stage.

photovoltaic on parking

There are even schemes popping up where a multi-tenanted office building provides a strata PV array on the roof, and tenants can then include a chosen number of panels in their lease, receiving deductions on their outgoings.

There appear to be many examples around of legal or funding complexities, particularly out of the US, but it’s also clear that this form of community-backed renewable power generation has gained a foothold and will only grow in strength – it just makes good business sense.

Community Solar #01 – Community Empowerment Through Collective Bargaining

Are you one of the 1 million Aussie households with solar panels on the roof? Or have you hesitated due to uncertainty about the costs, value and processes or simply because you dont’ have a roof? (I’m sure you can work that one out…)

If you’re not confident of going it alone, there is another community-based avenue which, when combined with the emerging ‘collaborative consumption’ movement, might appeal.

Two avenues in fact:

  • Collective Bargaining – where a large number of community households convene what is effectively a ‘purchasing cartel’ to unlock bulk-purchasing power; and
  • Community Solar – where a community group pools resources to invest in a large consolidated solar installation, and receives dividends.

The Portland Sustainability Institute directed me to a great collective bargaining benchmark in Solarize Portland, a solar panel volume-purchasing program set up by local neighbourhood associations.

The approach is pretty simple – a large number of neighbourhood residents pool their bargaining power and strike up the best deal possible on a bulk purchase and installation. This approach gives the vendor and installer economies of scale and surety of sales, so they can drop their prices… often by a lot. It puts the power (sorry) back in the hands of the community, whilst avoiding more complex community ownership structures and legalities… it’s basically group purchase and install, then the group is disbanded.

The Solarize Guidebook from Solarize Portland has a number of good examples of community solar purchasing schemes in the US, plus a simple graphic showing a timeline template of how to go about setting one up. (click on the image below)

solarize timeline

This community option, like all such ideas, needs a catalyst in the form of someone with enough energy (sorry again) and time to get things set up.

I’ll let you know how I go.