Tag Archives: solar

Rooftop Solar – Would You Like Fries With That?

I once read a Richard Branson book where he talked about there being no such thing as an original idea – as soon as you come up with something brilliant you can guarantee that another 5 or 6 people did simultaneously… all that matters is who gets it to market first.

So on the assumption that I’m not the first [I haven’t researched it so if someone else has written about this then it’s purely my coincidence], I’m giving it away anyway ; >


mobile PV printers – montage all mine, components all ‘salvaged’.

During the past few weeks there has been some media coverage about a recent CSIRO consortia development that I think has the potential to turn the entire existing rooftop solar industry on its head – printable photovoltaics.

Printable PVs aren’t hot off the press [sorry] per se, however this team’s focus is to develop the tech to make the printing achievable at a domestic scale and accessible to all. They’re already up to an A3 size printed PV sheet – the printer literally prints the circuitry onto an A3 size sheet of flexible plastic.

So – my idea? If this trend continues we’ll see a few things happen;

  1. the printing technology will become smaller and more economical[miniaturisation] making it more mobile;
  2. the printers will soon be able to churn out larger sheets, say B1 size, literally great long strips of PVs that can be draped over anything;
  3. the product will become increasingly cheap to produce [they’re already predicting $1/W but I think it will go much lower] – it’s the ‘cheaper production trumps better efficiency’ model;

So potentially in about 5-7 years from now, you’ll be able to dial up ‘Sol’s PV printing services’. They’ll arrive out the front with their van all decked out with PV printer, connection plug’n’play kit, and samples. You’ll zap over some credit and they’ll hit the print button – sending out reams of PV cells which the team will install directly onto your home as you watch. The hardest bit will be holding the lightweight PVs down so they don’t blow away.

We’ll no doubt also be able to hire a 3D PV printer for the day to do just the same thing [if we haven’t yet bought our own printer].

Think cheap as chips. Think franchise. Think the home solar reno you’ve always wanted but couldn’t afford.

The booming development of solar tech is simply amazing, ranging from solar PV spheres and paper prints through to wearable PV fabric and even ‘moonlight harvesters’. We really are in the midst of a wild and clean frontier and it’s an exciting time to be alive.

If anyone does set up this mobile PV printer business, I bags riding shotgun on your first delivery.


Monday Motivation #11 – 12 Alternatives to ‘Runs on the Smell of an Oily Rag’

‘It runs on the smell of an oily rag’ – intended to convey super efficiency of a machine, i.e. it’s so efficient it runs on just fumes, let alone the actual fuel.

It’s one of those phrases that we grew up on – no-one’s really sure where it came from, and no doubt it causes all sorts of grief when it’s translated into other languages.

Anyway, I’ve got no idea why the cliché popped into my head, but when it did I thought ‘time for a makeover’. Surely there’s a more contemporary, sophisticated, relevant and renewable phrase we can conjure to get the same meaning across?

So here are my top 12 attempts, for what they’re worth [and I’ve sanitised this as far as I’m willing to go – for any remaining offence I do apologise];

Runs on;

  1. Thin Air – sounds great but there will be a slew of physicists out there who’ll point out why this won’t work.
  2. Dirt – the rev heads will say ‘yeah you bet it runs on dirt, it flies mate!’… maybe not;
  3. Old Boots – might work but my mind says ‘I wonder how many old boots are actually available?’ And isn’t running in old boots kinda slow?
  4. The Swish of a Unicorn’s Tail – suitably rare, it might just work, but I wonder if it sounds too pink?
  5. Love and Fresh Air – a regular supply of either may be uncertain, one can end up being very expensive… maybe more complex than I first thought…
  6. Master Chef Tears – hang on… that’s a lot…
  7. Reality TV Integrity – sorry, can’t help it… it’s not the contestants’ fault..
  8. The Solar Feed-in Tariff – well, it is scarce and becoming more so, but perhaps the reference to something that is quite well known may confuse
  9. On a Bee’s Fart – assuming they even do, would no doubt be tiny. Possible candidate [‘missed it by a bee’s whisker’ has prepped us well]
  10. On the Breeze of a Bat’s Wing – not bad. Definitely light, but there’ll be a whole personality set trying to visualise how to build the contraption..
  11. On a Snowflake – I did read recently about some new invention [so claimed] that is able to catalyse sea water into hydrogen fuel [so claimed], so this one might just be within the realm of workable physics. And I like the poetry. Good candidate I think.
  12. On Moonlight – another good candidate. And according to this little article I found we may just have the tech to do this now. This invention is claimed to be able to focus even moonlight to generate electricity at night.

design by Rawmelon, image from Inhabitat e-mag, click me for more detail

The combination of the hight tech potential, the beauty of the design, the ability to integrate this with building fabric, and the poetry of the moonlight connection – all make this one my favourite candidate.

Choosing the right language when promoting sustainability is half the challenge, so it doesn’t hurt to every now and again clean it up a little.

What would your favourite alternative be?

Do we still need a Solar Feed-in Tariff in Australia?

I got asked a question yesterday to which I was about to reply when my self-preservation kicked in; ‘hang on, I need to be better informed before I answer this – I could be wrong’. The question was ‘How can PV attractiveness in Australia increase?’ asked by Richard Wykes of Catylis Properties in Sydney.

I’d just posted this graph which shows that Australia is sitting on a solar gold mine [as always just click image for source and credits] – see Oz in top right;


I was about to launch in and respond with ‘make feed-in tariffs reliable and valuable’, but I reached out for a second opinion from someone who really knows their stuff in this field, Blair Walter with whom I work.

And Blair’s answer has somewhat changed my mind.

I’ve copied it below with only minor paraphrasing to keep the size of the post down;

  • Why do we need to make it more attractive at all? Solar is making huge strides forward and PV is currently less than half the cost of wind power in Australia on a levelised cost of energy basis.
  • The costs are still dropping [see the graph below] and efficiency is increasing so it will only be a few years before solar starts to be a major part of our energy mix.
  • Solar already has some big advantages like scalability, versatility (can be mounted on rooftops, can be integrated into building materials etc), correlation with demand profile, no moving parts, long life etc.
  • Supporting solar through specific feed-in tariffs or other mechanisms would just increase costs to consumers unnecessarily [check out this post on Renew Economy for a current example in Queensland]
  • Pure economics and demand & supply are going to accelerate solar without additional support.

This graph that I reposted from REnewEconomy highlights how much the costs have come down;


I don’t profess to be an expert on the feed-in tariffs issue so I’m going to leave that alone, and instead add another dimension or two to the answer;

  • As the feed-in tariffs in Australia continue to fall and perhaps disappear [and keep in mind this was always the plan – to bootstrap the solar industry], microeconomics says that people will start looking for ways to avoid rising utility costs – and will look harder at the option of going off-grid altogether.
  • As more people disconnect from the grid, those remaining will have to shoulder more of the network costs, hence their own business case for going off-grid improves… classic death spiral for the network.
  • But we need networks in order to distribute the energy around, so I think the real action will be in how the network evolves – either the existing grid running on 100% renewables, or localised [distributed] grids supporting local communities.

In addition to the financial equations and network machinations I also think there’s something exciting and poetic in the shift we’re currently seeing towards solar. It’s simply millions of Australians just getting on with it – leadership from the grass roots. And the push by the newly formed Solar Citizens may just force the issue to a head anyway.

So now I don’t think we need feed-in tariffs to make solar attractive to consumers, but perhaps we do still need them if we want people to stay connected to the grid.

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.