Standing on the inside looking out – graphing my house temperature in the heatwave

So, how did my old wooden house cope with the heat?

It’s not brilliant, but it’s also not unbearable.

I was at home most of Tuesday, and graphed the temperature rise. Inside temperature from the thermostat / Outside from the BOM Moorabbin Airport readings.

Inside vs outside temperatures in my wooden house, 14/1/2014

Unlike last time (2010), the overnight temperature had been a lot warmer, and thanks to this being just day one of a four-day heatwave, in the evening it didn’t drop off allowing the house to cool down.

The roof insulation that we have now made a little bit of a difference I think, but undoubtedly we saw the inside temperature slowly rise across the day. Better window protection is what’s really need to fight off the heat coming in, I suspect.

The additional fans we have make a real difference to comfort levels, even if they don’t seem to affect the temperature reported by the thermostat. Ceiling fans in two main rooms (plus a third in one of the bedrooms) plus portable fans help make it bearable.

Overnight Wednesday/Thursday the outside temperature dropped a bit more — down as low as 24 at midnight — allowing us to cool the house just a little from outside. As I write this, the thermostat reports 28 degrees. But to really cool the house will have to wait for the cool change on Friday afternoon.

And, in time, I’ll keep considering further house upgrades such as external blinds, window glazing, wall insulation, and the dreaded evaporative cooling and/or air-conditioning.

(By the way, if anybody had an appointment at the mobile Blood Bank in Bentleigh this week, they’ve cancelled the session due to the heat.)

Power consumption

Meanwhile, some interesting reading:

– Stuff like this makes me ponder that it’s a little unfair that some areas likely to see power cuts caused by the stress put on by those with juice-hungry air-con, but which affects everybody — whether or not they have air-con, and whether or not they are offsetting their grid usage with solar. Surely in the age of smart meters, they could limit everybody to X kilowatts off the grid?

Anybody else getting dodgy texts about a United Energy power surge?

Has anybody else had one of these, possibly dodgy, texts?

Possibly dodgy text from an alleged United Energy contractor

This is the second one I’ve received now. After the first I replied “Wrong number” and got a “Sorry” back, but the guy is persistent.

Something smells fishy. Note the supposed pick-up date, which is last Thursday, three days before the text was received.

When I mentioned it on Twitter last night, Marcus Wong noted that there was a power surge around that day (actually on the 11th if the 3AW article is accurate), on the Mornington Peninsula.

United Energy is a distributor, not a retailer — many people in Melbourne’s south-east are connected via them, even if another company is the one sending them the bills.

Of course, it could just be a wrong number plus poor record-keeping. The number of emails I get for someone, who apparently shares my name but has no idea of their own email address, is amazing.

Going solar – when should I jump, and how many panels?

Pondering adding to the solar hot water on my roof with PV panels for electricity generation.

My last electricity bill says I used up 659 kWh in 92 days, costing $187.61 (only including the cost for power and the 100% GreenPower surcharge; excluding the $76.41 service charge which I’d incur no matter how much power used)… that adds up to 2614 kWh in a year costing $744.32, or about 28.5 cents per kWh.

According to Origin Energy’s online quote (which I’m using as a rough measure, because I use them at the moment and they have a 2-years interest-free deal — obviously other companies may have better offers):

  • a 1.5 kW system costing $2315 will generate about 1971 kWh in a year
  • a 2.07 kW system costing $4315 (which includes a $250 discount because I got the solar hot water through them) will generate 2628 kWh in a year
  • a 2.76 kW system costing $5815 (ditto on the $250 discount) will generate 3626 kWh in a year

Leaving aside feed-in tariffs, and assuming for a moment that every kWh generated I actually use (which wouldn’t be the case), theoretically the 1.5 system would save me $562 per year, taking about 4 years to pay off.

The 2.07 system would pretty much save me the full cost of power every year, but take almost 6 years to pay off.

The 2.76 system would give me an excess of about 1000 kWh of power each year. The feed-in tariff is only 8 cents per kWh these days, so I’d be saving $744 plus another $80 or so, so it’d take about 7 years to pay off.

Some factors to consider:

If I cave and get some kind of cooling system, then my energy consumption will of course go up.

From what I understand, PV panels are dropping in price pretty fast. The longer I wait, the cheaper they’ll be (which is why I’m a little cynical about the ads you see on the telly implying if you don’t get in and order quickly, you’ll end up paying more).

Meanwhile, electricity prices are expected to rise only moderately in the next few years.

The bigger the system, once paid off, the greater potential in future years to make more money back from the feed-in tariff.

But I also need to check how much space I actually have left on the north and northwest-facing sides of my roof, given the solar water panel already up there.

And of course, once I jump in and switch to solar, I’ll be markedly reducing my personal emissions, which will be good!

Yallourn: impressively big, but inefficient

On the way back from Walhalla, we decided (at Peter’s suggestion) to go via Yallourn. He said there was a lookout with a good view over the Latrobe Valley, and the power plants, and the road through Yallourn was very close to one of them..

We started off by diverting off the road to a spot called Peterson’s lookout. This turned out to be a long narrow dirt road to a view which, you’d have to say, wasn’t outstanding — but reading up on it now it sounds like we needed to go a little further down the road for the real view.

In any case there was a better more-accessible view a bit further along, on the main road itself. Looking over the Valley, you could see a fair bit of haze, and many smokestacks in various directions.

(Andrew Highriser actually posted just yesterday about who owns which power station.)

We drove on, stopping briefly in the town of Yallourn North, which apparently originally opened as the romantically named “Brown Coal Mine” in 1917, and was renamed in 1947. There’s still a Brown Coal Mine Road leading into the eastern side of town, though the signs seem to have disappeared in favour of the less descriptive C103.

Big cooling towers

A little further on was the power station itself. It looms, huge, over the road. We stopped off in the viewing area, which has a picnic barbecue, powered by — you guessed it — electricity.

The cooling towers are impressively large.

Of course, they often shows these on the news when talking about carbon emissions, even though (as I understand it) it’s steam that comes out of them, not the smoke from burning coal.

Down the road a bit was an open cut mine viewing area. It’s not hard to see how decades of mining for coal has ravaged the landscape. It ain’t beautiful, that’s for sure.

Latrobe Valley power stations

But one could argue that farms of wind turbines or solar panels or dams aren’t beautiful either. You know, eye of the beholder and all that.

The real problem is the emissions. Yallourn isn’t as dirty as Hazelwood, but as this table notes, coal sits at about 1000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour over the lifecycle of the generator, compared with about 10 for wind or hydroelectric, or 32 for solar.

Grams CO2/Kilowatt hour

In other words, even the cleanest coal is much, much dirtier than renewables.

And while there might be doubts about a single renewable source being able to provide baseload power, other countries such as Germany are using a variety of sources, with a stated aim of 35% renewable electricity by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Impressive stuff, and I bet we get more sun than they do.

We lost power last night in the storm

Things I learnt when we lost power:

Take-away pizza by torchlight a bad way to have dinner.

A Smart Meter won’t keep the juice flowing if there’s problems in the local distribution network.

I don’t have enough torches. At least one per person would be good.

The Dolphin mini LED torch I got recently is really good. Will get a couple more of these I think.

Thank goodness for mobile internet, and having a phone that still has a charge in it.

If you’re not sure who your electricity distribution company is, try the list here.

The United Energy Distribution web site is quite good, and accessible via a Smart phone. It shows you maps of the affected area and so on, but is not to be trusted entirely — our area vanished off the list when their estimated recovery time of 8pm passed.

The UED phone service was more candid, with a more up-to-date (?) estimate of after midnight.

The early night didn’t do us any harm. I was glad to get the extra sleep.

Questions I still have:

If the power was off from about 4pm, until sometime overnight (perhaps up to 12 hours)… is the stuff that was in the fridge still okay? The milk seems to be all right (as far as I can smell), but what about frozen food?

PS. Jeremy noticed that some ice that had been loose in a container was still frozen and loose; eg it hadn’t even melted enough to stick together, let alone into water and then frozen again. Which to me suggests all the food should be fine, as (in the freezer especially) the temperature never got very high.

They’re not Smart Meters anymore, they’re Advanced Meters

Advanced MeterThey finally installed a new electricity meter at my house. This was after receiving three sets of letters saying “we’re about to install it”.

It wasn’t one of those much-criticised allegedly-defective Smart Meters though — oh no, it was an Advanced Meter. So much better.

Will be interested to see what effect it has on the next power bill.

When not to use CFLs

Letter the other week in The Age:

Not worth the cost

AM I the only person having trouble with expensive ”green globes” alleged to last 10,000 hours? Used eight hours a day, a globe should last more than three years. I have replaced the globe in one lamp four times already this year. I want my cheap, long-lasting, environmentally unfriendly globes back.

Leone Garro, Northcote

My CFLs are lasting ages… provided they’re in the right places.

I would bet the globes referred-to above are switched on for short durations (less than 15 minutes), many times a day. That kind of usage is bad for CFLs, and it’s precisely why I’ve avoided using one in the toilet, for instance, and also in the bedrooms — our particular usage there seems to predominantly involve ducking in to get something/drop something, then out again.

For those types of spots, it’s far better to stick to non-CFLs, such as the energy-saving incandescents still available. (My local supermarket has the Philips EcoClassic products, which for instance provide 100w of light but burn 70w of power.)

Evidently this message isn’t isn’t getting through.

Or possibly Leone’s light fitting or wiring is faulty, but I’m betting it’s the former.

(Previous blog post on this topic)

Stuff I’ve learnt from Radio National

Often when I listen to Radio National, I’ll learn something I didn’t know before. In this case, I was listening to Saturday Extra last week.

Cutting power consumption?

One item talking about electricity efficiency noted that enormous amounts of money are being invested in distribution networks, instead of being spent on measures to cut consumption (and thus GHG emissions) so you don’t need to upgrade distribution (or at least not as much).

GERALDINE DOOGUE: In the Lend Lease proposal… they say for every dollar spent on demand management, studies have shown the need for investment in energy infrastructure is deferred or reduced by $6.50. …

TOM CAWLEY (Energy Efficiency Council): In California what they’ve done is spent a lot of the money that would be spent on the electricity infrastructure on energy efficiency. And it’s easy to do in California because the power companies are vertically integrated. That is that the same company owns the power station, owns the power lines, and owns the retailers. We don’t have that situation in Australia…

GERALDINE DOOGUE: Keith Orcharison, who’s been a very prominent commentator over many years, writing in Business Spectator last week wrote something I think most of us wouldn’t know: that there will be forty to fifty billion outlayed in the next four to five years on distribution and transmission network systems. …

TOM CAWLEY: There’s no business case for the distributors to spend money on energy efficiency. There’s no structure for them to do that. … The other problem here is that with energy efficiency, you’re talking about [spending] at the point of use. Now, if demand keeps growing, then they need to keep spending money on infrastructure to deliver that energy. The idea is that if we can spend that money at the usage point, then we can reduce the demand.

So basically the electricity industry is structured in such a way that they can’t do the sensible thing and spend those billions on making electricity consumption more efficient; instead they have to assume demand will grow and so all that money goes into building capacity to distribute more power.

That’s just silly.

The mining “super tax”

Who coined the phrase “super tax” in its current context (that is, a proposed 40% tax on “super profits” on the mining sector)? According to a search of Google News (hardly the most scientific method, I know) It appears to have been Joe Hockey, shadow treasurer, quoted in an AAP report on April 24th.

With a nickname like that, it’s no wonder the mining companies joined in.

But it was interesting to hear the Financial Review’s Laura Tingle talking about it — both the negatives and the positives, which haven’t really got an airing:

LAURA TINGLE: The resources we’ve got in the ground are a finite item, they’re owned by all of us, and therefore when people go to buy them, you should try to get a return to the taxpayer for that…

There is a very potent argument to say… well, even if it does slow the pace of resources development a bit, that’s not a bad thing because we’ve got infrastructure problems, skilled workforce problems flowing from the resources boom in the rest of the economy, and it helps even-out the level of activity across the economy, so you don’t have interest rates rising, you don’t have the exchange rate making the rest of business uncompetitive.

(The issues around infrastructure were echoed the other day on 774 when the editor of The Weekly Times, I forget his name, noted that rail transportation of grain had dropped markedly, in part because so many grain hopper carriages are elsewhere serving the mining industry instead.)

And Tingle made the point that the government’s done an absolutely hopeless job attempting to tell people what the benefits are, so it’s not surprising that the Opposition and the mining companies have dominated the debate.

It’d be nice to see this debate become a little less one-sided. It’s hard to gain an informed view when one side is completely dominating.