Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 5 of 2012

As we say goodbye to 2012, let's look back at this year's most-viewed items here on Convenient Solutions:

5. In an Olympic year, I was certain to start comparing nations in the climate change arena. The Australia v Germany infographic showed that despite being famously sunny, Australia still has a long way to go in solar power.

4. My convenient solutions for Keeping Warm in Winter was a big hit back in June. It might be helpful for our northern hemisphere readers right now.

3. Good news is always welcome. So it proved with the news about the Lego company doing their bit for renewable energy.

2. More good news was a coal power station closing. More stations followed later, but this piece of news was popular with you.

1. The most read part of my blog this year was the ending of support for solar hot water. The incoming Queensland government decided to the end the $600 rebate ($1000 for pensioners) to help people upgrade to solar hot water. The same government has continued to cut energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, but the solar hot water episode was the most read.

Thank you for reading this past year. Thank you for being interested in positive stories, realising that we still have a fair way to go, and for doing all you can. Let's hope for an even better 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Soft" plastics now recyclable

Recycling is great for plastic bottles and containers. But what about worn out green bags, bread bags - and other "soft plastics"? Now you can take them back to the supermarket.

Coles is expanding it's plastic shopping bag recycling program (in selected stores) to include the reusable 'green' bags, fruit and vegie bags, bread bags, biscuit packaging, confectionary packaging, rice and pasta packets and frozen food bags.

Check the map to see if your local Coles is involved. If not, maybe ask them why not.

Even if you prefer not to shop at Coles (and i can understand why) you can still use them to recycle your plastics for you.

PS. For recycling nerds, this is technically downcycling, as the used products aren't made into the same type of product again, but instead mostly into outdoor furniture (see examples). This is still good. It prevents the material from going to landfill, and conserves other resources that would have been used to construct those items.

UPDATE: Here is the illustrated guide to what plastics you can put in these bins.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Who's Naughty and Nice

cartoon - so the naughty children all combined their coal and made billions and that's why Santa now gives inhalers to all the nice boys and girls

Apart from being seasonal, i thought this was also relevant to the recent concern about uncovered coal trains travelling through the city on their way to port. And to the ongoing health concerns about coal as an energy source.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What all the fuss is about

Here's the greenhouse issue in one simple graphic.

graphic of the amount of greenhouse emissions and our remaining carbon budget

First box is the greenhouse gases emitted in the 150 years up to the year 2000. The second green box is what we've added in just over a decade. That would be scary enough, but there's more.

The black box is what scientists estimate we can "safely" release - if we have a hope of staying under 2°C of global warming. And it's only slightly bigger than what we've done in the last decade or so.

So, unless we really expect the whole world to be zero-carbon in about a decade from now, we need to reduce our annual emissions now - to make that 500 last as long as possible.

[Full version of the graphic]

PS. The graphic numbers are in gigatonnes. If you divide the 500 gigatonnes by 7 billion people you get about 70 tonnes per person. For the average Australian/American that's not even 3 years worth.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bad Decision, Referee

Sometimes being right is not enjoyable. 3 months ago i encouraged you to let the government know your thoughts on removing efficiency standards for hot water.

Now the government has announced that for both new homes and for replacement systems, the standards will fall. Ironically pitched as helping 'housing affordability' the tiny upfront saving is lost several times over - during the life of the system.

graphic of the running cost of different hot water systems

So who loses? Ordinary people who aren't aware of the running cost and are lured in to a cheap purchase price. Renters who have to pay the bills for whatever system the landlords install. The planet - as most of Queensland's electricity comes from coal, there will be millions of tonnes of emissions produced for no reason.

Who wins? Landlords who can save a few bucks, by forcing their tenants to pay significantly higher electricity bills.

PS. The 'housing minister' turns out to be former NRL referee Tim Mander. Despite many years of watching football, i've never disagreed with one of his decisions more than this one.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Different Reactions

Great cartoon from Andrew Wheldon. This is just some snippets of the larger, funnier full version.

Escpecially relevant considering last week's news.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Temperature Control

A classic energy saving tip is to set cooling at 24°C (or more) and heating at 20°C (or less). Every extra degree of heating or cooling uses around 10% more energy.

So what about heaters / coolers that don't have a temperature settings? Today I found out about plug-in thermostats.

They do just what they say. Sitting between the power point and the heater or cooler, they sense the temperature of the room and turn off the power when the room is at the right temperature. Automatic energy savings.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Tip #10

The good people at Planet Ark have put out The 12 Do's of Christmas - their planet-friendly guide to the festive season. Tip 10 is one i can vouch for.

My parents bought me a digital camera for Christmas 2005. My sister gave me a battery charger and 4 rechargeable batteries. In 2007, 4 more rechargeables - even though the first set were still going well.

Over time, they lose some of their capacity, but as we approach Christmas 2012, i still haven't needed to buy a single battery for that gift of 2005.

[See all 12 tips]

Friday, December 07, 2012

Looking the Other Way

Loved this cartoon - especially having witnessed the recent solar eclipse, and heard many safety warnings about not looking directly at it.

However, for the politician, looking away seems to be not so much to protect the eyes but to protect them from having to take action.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Highs and Lows

Recently i've been talking about the heatwave high temperatures in Victoria and Queensland. You might be asking why this matters. Aren't records always broken?

In recent times the record highs having been much more frequent that the record lows, as demonstrated by this graph from the Catalyst special Taking Australia's Temperature.

Also, a lot of hot days that aren't quite the hottest ever are often the hottest in 40 years, or 100 years. That's still pretty hot-even if it's not the record.

With more heat records, and more days that are very close, perhaps it's a sign that instead of talking about a warming planet as something that might happen someday, and start talking (and doing something) about it as a problem that is already affecting our lives - and will do even more in years to come.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Brisbane's Scorcher

It fell just short of the predicted 39°C, but was still a hot one here in Brisbane yesterday. Just north of the city, it was the hottest December day on record in Tewantin. The 39.7°C broke the previous December record (from 1901) of 39.2°C.

Additionally, two thirds of the state was put on bushfire alert and i heard on the news that 35 fires were being fought. In light of the report the came out yesterday, I guess the is a glimpse of future summers.

[More info: ABC report]

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Global Warming worse than we thought

A new report out today by the Global Carbon Project measures 2012's emissions at 58% higher than those of 1990. It says to forget about warming of 2°C; we're looking at 4-6°C of warming this century.

This comes at an interesting time for people here in Brisbane. Today is forecast to be a 'heatwave' of 39°C. You'd think that adding another 6°C to that would be something we'd want to avoid.

[ABC News report]
[SBS News report]

This amount of heat increase would see up to another 8600 deaths from heatwaves. There are also flow-on effects for Australia - including a possible 90% decrease in irrigated farming and complete loss of wheat production. $226 billion of infrastructure would be at risk to sea level rise.

[ABC 7.30 report]

Monday, December 03, 2012

Electricity Refunds Every Quarter

Friend of mine at work says to me "It's a good day for solar". That's a bit of clue that someone has recently installed solar panels at home. Non-solar people often just say 'a nice sunny day'. :)

His recent electricity "bill" had $220 of usage and $450 credit for the solar power he exported. He was quite excited in telling me this - as i would be if the electricity company was giving me a few hundred dollars each quarter.

He graphs his solar output on, but with no autologger - it's just the days he manually notes down the reading. It's looking good though - especially through spring.

PS. yes this is the same friend who picked up the bargain LEDs

Friday, November 30, 2012

Another Melbourne Heatwave

Ironically, after posting yesterday about heat, i found out that the Melbourne (and the rest of Victoria) was having another heatwave. Mildura was the hottest at 45.5°C (113.9°F) - their hottest November day since 1905.

And last night was also a record. Melbourne didn't get below 24.6°C (76.3°F) - Melbourne's hottest November night since 1901.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Taking Australia's Temperature

In the season finale of Catalyst, they did a special episode Taking Australia's Temperature - taking a local look at the effects of global warming.

It's pretty interesting stuff. In the parts of Australia that get snow, it's melting earlier and quicker than in the past. Melbourne's heatwave, broke the previous February record by more than 3 full degrees - reaching 48.5°C (115.7°F). In some heatwaves, flocks of birds are dying as they fall to the ground.

There are jokes that if it gets too bad we could all move to Tasmania. But Brown Brothers winery is serious. They've bought up property in Tasmania to avoid having their wine (and their business) ruined by high temperatures.

Of course some will say that this is just 'natural variability' or 'random chance'. But the planet has had 330 months of above average temperature. Imagine tossing a coin - and getting the same result 330 times in a row. Or your sports team losing 330 games in a row. Some things can't be put down to chance.

[Read the transcript or see the video.]

Friday, November 23, 2012

Creating Value

I often wonder how we'll look back on these times. I think this cartoon sums it up well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

$500 of LEDs to be won

A local LED Store here in Brisbane is running a competition. The winner (drawn at random) wins $500 worth of LEDs from their shop.

All you have to do is like their facebook page and enter your email address.

Each LED that replaces a halogen saves you about $15 per year. Multiply that by the number of halogens you could replace, and it could save you hundreds each year (as well as quite a few greenhouse emissions).

Monday, November 19, 2012

LEDs at Aldi

Chatting to a friend at work, who tells me that he just found some affordable LED downlights to replace the old halogen energy-suckers.

He tells me they're available at Aldi for $7.99, which is a fair bargain. They use just 8 Watts - but do the job of a 50 Watt halogen. Even at just 2 hours use per night, we worked out they pay for themselves in under a year - through electricity savings. And being LEDs, they'll probably last until his pre-school kids have finished high school.

PS. Quick calculation. Over the lifetime stated in the picture (25,000 hours) each LED downlight would save $266 compared to the halogen equivalent. (Not bad for an 8 buck investment.)

UPDATE: If you're looking to replace some halogens with LEDs, i've since discovered a handy LED Savings Calculator.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Solar Credits ending

Today the federal government announced an early end to the Solar Credits scheme - halving the assistance Australians get to install solar - effective 1 January 2013.

The government says this will save money, but analysis of the figures, calculates the savings to be 20 cents per household per week.

Anyway, the upshot is that you can still get solar credits. If you get a system installed in 2012 solar credits still apply. Also, if you signed a contract before today to get them installed by 30 June 2013, solar credits will still apply.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Win Prizes in the Recycling Quiz

For National Recycling Week here in Australia, Planet Ark have a Recycling Quiz, where you can test your knowledge of recycling, and also win some planet-friendly prizes.

For the record i got 7 from 7 - but i think everyone who completes the quiz is a chance of winning.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dirty Weather Report

It's almost time for the Dirty Weather Report. It's called that because of the recent extreme weather (eg Hurricane Sandy) that is made worse by our dirty energy pollution causing climate change.

I guess it's also a play on words - because extreme weather is sometimes described with some 'unclean' language.

Similar to last year's event, it will travel around the globe visiting one timezone after another, starting in New York at 8pm. See the schedule for details.

[RSVP on facebook]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Greenpower - Save 44%

It's not often the electricity company tells you about a price decrease, but that's what happened to me recently. A 44% decrease - because i buy greenpower.

Ordinary electricity went up slightly in July due to the carbon price. But because renewable energy doesn't produce carbon pollution, it makes sense that its price should stay the same. This is effectively what this discount does - it takes the carbon price out of my electricity costs.

One of the great things about a carbon price is that it makes renewable energy more attractive for investors. Now this is true for us normal people as well - with the cost of going renewable now 44% cheaper. Thankyou carbon price.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Sound of a Leaf

This neat little video shows just how quiet a Leaf is - one thing i couldn't photograph during my Leaf ride.
(Note: Turn up the volume to hear the clip properly)

Of course, this feature won't be appealing to drag-racers, and those who buy the loudest car they can find. But for the rest of us, it's another advantage of the electric car.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election Funds

OK, so the US election is over, but 350's petition continues. They're asking the big oil companies to donate to help the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Given that climate change (driven by fossil fuels) makes hurricanes worse, it seems a fairer use of the money - than making more politcal donations.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The People Have Spoken

The results are in! Recently a community initiative gave Australians a say in the review of the Renewable Energy Target. Turns out we love renewable energy.

Almost everyone wants to see an increased renewable energy target (from 20% by 2020). The vast majority also want to see a 2030 target of at least 50% renewable energy.

Let's see if the people get what they want.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Carbon Nightmare

One of my favourite comedy programs is The Hamster Wheel (aka "the Chaser"). Last night, they did this piece on the "scare" around a price on carbon.

Basically, they satirise the politicians/media that were milking the carbon fear campaign for votes/viewers. It's astounding the obscure things that were blamed on carbon. Newspaper staff losing their job. Even a man driving his car into a pile of dirt.

With the benefit of hindsight most people have worked out that it's nowhere near as bad as all the hype. Of course, we knew this already. But it's just funnier when the Chaser point it out.

PS. Viewer warning: there's a tiny bit of vulgarity in the clip.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The End of Coal?

This graphic from AYCC sums up the great amount of coal shutdowns i wrote about recently. By using less energy, and moving to cleaner forms of energy, we've eliminated the need for 4000MW of coal-based power.

That's a huge amount of power. Lighting a major sports stadium uses just 2MW. So we're talking the equivalent of 2000 stadiums. Well done Australia!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

EzyGreen Challenge

Here in Brisbane, the EzyGreen group are running a 6-week energy challenge. Each week they send out an email challenge with 3 energy-saving tasks. As well as saving energy, there's also prizes to be won! :)

I guess in a way it's kind of like those 'bootcamps' that people do for a number of weeks. Except instead of improving your fitness or your waistline, it's you energy bill that benefits from the exercise.

You still have a few days to sign up before the challenges start. So sign up on the EzyGreen Challenge website.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Charging Up The Leaf

Last week i wrote about my ride in a Leaf. Today i'm writing about (or at least showing pictures of) the charging. First is the chargepoint installed in the garage for home charging.

No more visits to the petrol station. No more queueing for fuel. Just charge up from home. In fact, the car can be charged from Rob's phone. (Just like in the ad). The phone display shows the number of kilometres still available and how much charging time is needed for full charge.

Should the situation arise where Rob needs to charge away from home, the Leaf comes with this handy cable - with one very familiar-looking end, and the other end for the car.

I should also mention that Rob is signed up to 100% greenpower, so in addition to not having to buy petrol, his driving is also powered by renewable energy.

He also has the charger connect to an off-peak (economy) tariff which means he gets about a 30% discount for charging in off-peak times (another thing that wouldn't happen with petrol).

[Read Part 1 - Riding in the Leaf]

Friday, October 26, 2012

Recycle Your Batteries at Aldi

Got used batteries that you'd rather not put in landfill? The helpful website Recycling Near You tells me that Aldi now offer free battery recycling in every store in Australia.

Household batteries (AA, AAA, C, D and 9V) can be dropped off into one of the battery-style bins. (For other battery types, see

A battery holds only a few cents' worth of energy - most of the value is in the physical product, so it's a good idea not to waste that. Especially when we are throwing away millions of them each year - 8,000 tonnes according to Aldi.

Bonus tip: For uses where you go through a lot of batteries, rechargeable batteries are a good way of reducing waste, and saving money.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Smarter Washing

Found this handy advice on the side of a packet of laundry powder.

Apart from the great stat of saving 80% on power, it also linked to that brand's website. Among other things, it has a washing calculator which estimates how much you could save by taking on their tips - like air drying clothes (rather than in the dryer), selecting cold water and washing full loads.

This screenshot is from a pretty extreme case, but you can work out your own savings by entering your own figures.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The People's Review

As i've mentioned before, the Australian government is reviewing the nation's Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 20% by 2020. A couple of community groups have come together with a great initiative - The People's RET Review.

The idea is to enable the people some say in the outcome. We all know the big energy companies (including my energy biller) will be making their voices heard (to decrease the target). So this is the chance for the Australian people to have our say.

Apart from voicing your opinion, there are also some interesting facts to discover along the way. For instance Scotland has already committed to 100% renewable energy!

Have your say in the People's RET Review

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Ride In A Leaf

My friend Rob is the proud new owner of a Nissan Leaf electric car, and was nice enough to take me and some friends for a ride in it. It's hard to take photos of the quietness and the lack of emissions, but here's a quick summary.

One of the first things i noticed was the 'gearstick' - with just P,R,N and D. Nissan's CV transmission means having the convenience of an auto, but with an even better range of gears.

So one of the first things we did was test the gears (and the power). Dispelling any myth about electric cars not having enough power, we cruised up one of the steeper streets in Brisbane - and without the neighbourhood-shaking sound a petrol car would make.

Another major difference was the dashboard display, which calculates your driving efficiency, and (for those with range anxiety) how much distance you have remaining.

The circles across the top indicate the power flow. This photo shows the car at rest. The dot moves to the right to indicate how much power is being consumed, and to the left when you are braking - to show how much power is being recycled back into the battery.

Despite what i said earlier about the difficulty of photographing an absence of emissions, Rob had this sticker on his old car. Clever :)

[Read Part 2 - Charging the Leaf]

Thursday, October 18, 2012

More Coal Shut Downs

Recently i rejoiced about Munmorah closing down. Now Tarong (here in Queensland) and Yallourn have announced the shut-down of 700MW and 360MW of generation, respectively. This takes the count to five recent shut-down announcements by coal-fired power stations (totalling about 3000MW).

To put some scale to this news, my back-of-the-envelope maths has the 360MW generator putting out about 510 tonnes of pollution every hour it runs. Obviously the 700MW would be even more. Now that they're shutting down, that a lot of greenhouse gas not being produced.

As i mentioned yesterday, this is the positive outcome from years of being energy efficient and installing solar power. (Of course, the other benefit is paying lower electricity bills).

PS. I later discovered a graphic of the shut-down coal power stations.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Australia - Doing More With Less

Energy data for the 3rd quarter of this year is now available. The Conversation published this comparison of the same period for each year. The red dots show the average electricity use.

Not only did we stop increasing our energy use each year, but we actually turned it around to use less electricity - a big achievement especially considering the growth in population. Our power usage was on track to be 25 by this year, but we brought it down to 21.

Home solar power and energy efficiency are thought to be the main reasons behind this amazing achievement. Well done Australia - keep up the good work. :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bill and Tony in the news

I've written before about the flimsy and misleading attempts to portray a price on carbon polllution as being something bigger than it is. Another such incident happened in the Australian parliament this week. A supporter of the opposition party sent in her bill which was twice the amount of her previous bill.

Without too much checking of the facts, the opposition leader tabled the bill in parliament and attempted to blame the carbon price. Once the bill was tabled, and the government held it up, it was obvious even to the parliament cameras that the person's electricity usage had also doubled in the same period.

It should be fairly obvious that double the usage means double the bill.

The opposition leader was accused of misleading parliament

Surely when attacks on the carbon price have reached this level of desperation, it is time to realise that the impact is not as bad as all the huffing and puffing would have had us believe.

[Related Link: Beliefs vs Reality]
[Related Link: It's Really Not That Big - Part 1 and Part 2]

Friday, October 12, 2012

Well played, neighbour

A little while ago I mentioned how the new Queensland government
slashed the solar bonus. But they did give a couple of weeks for people to register under the old scheme (causing an accidental solar boom).

On the final day of the scheme i noticed this brand new system on my neighbours' roof - presumably registered under the old (more rewarding) scheme. A good financial decision, and a good environmental decision. That's what i call a convenient solution. Well played, neighbour - well played!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Save Money and Energy - the guide

The ATA have put out another helpful guide to help people save money and energy. It features a handful of tips for each area of the house (and one for transport) in an easy-to-read format.

It also has specific information and assistance for renters and for people struggling financially. Many of the tips can be done at low cost, or for free. To quote the last page of the guide, "Saving energy and saving money on your power bills can be easy. There are many easy and inexpensive things you can do to make your home cheaper to run and more comfortable."

They're what we call "Convenient Solutions"!

[Download the guide]
[Read more about it]

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

20 Days

A friend shared with me this great graphic about the abundance of renewable energy.

It's more readable at its original size, but points out that all of the fossil fuels the human race has ever discovered equate to the solar energy that hits the earth in 20 days. Wow!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Solar-powered Sport

This weekend was round 1 of Australia's basketball season, and it was a pleasant surprise to see the Adelaide 36ers with a solar company as their major sponsor.

As it turns out the same company also sponsors the soccer team Adelaide United.

I like it. As well as seeing more promotion of solar power, it's also good to see that solar is doing well enough to sponsor top-level Austalian teams.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Give and Take

Yes, there's now over 7 billion of us, but the message is still true.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

TV - Walk for Solar

Here's the video of last weekend's Walk for Solar.

One of my highlights was Dr Karl emphasising that solar is cheaper (in the long term) as well as being more planet-friendly. The hard part will be to get decision makers to think about the long term, not just the next few years.

PS. Apparently there was also cover on ABC News Breakfast, Channel 7 and Channel 9.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Click to Save on Hot Water

Electric hot water sucks. (Money that is). But here's your chance to lower your bills (and other people's too).

The old electric systems are cheap to buy, but cost a fortune to run. The ticket price lures us into buying them. Later we suffer the consequences - in the wallet and in greenhouse emissions).

Over time, the old electric system can easily cost $10,000 more than an efficient one. We should stop buying them. When they break, we should upgrade to something better. But of course, not everyone realises this. And landlords don't care, because it's the renter who pays the electricity.

So there's a rule here in Queensland that replacement systems (or systems in new homes) have to be more efficient. Sadly, the government is looking at scrapping that rule, and allowing energy-hungry systems to be installed.

Fortunately, the government is asking our opinion this time. So head to the survey page and let them know that you'd like the rule to remain in place. Hopefully the next home you move into will have a more modern system and you won't have to pay thousands for your hot water.

PS. The cost projections were done on system prices provided by the government, and on this year's electricity prices, allowing for a 8% increase each year (which if anything is possibly underestimating the cost - given recent history)

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