Decarbonising my home

While my most pressing home renovation need is the bathroom (planning to do this the next time my sons are away on a trip), I was also thinking:

Governments should be doing a lot more on climate change, but what are the major emissions in my home, and how could I decarbonise?

The car. I recently bought a petrol car, because given how little I drive, I couldn’t justify the cost of hybrid or electric, and with brown coal power generation, electric cars arguably just move emissions from the tailpipe to elsewhere. Hopefully by the time this car is replaced, most electricity (certainly in my house) will be green and electric vehicles will be more affordable. So let’s leave the car aside just for the moment.

In the house itself, several of the appliances involved are quite old and inefficient, and may need replacing anyway in coming years. So there’s an opportunity to move away from gas (unavoidably fossil fuel) to electricity (which can be renewable).

Gas central heating — this system is more than 20 years old, and not very efficient by modern standards. Maintenance also seems to be increasing.

Current thinking seems to be that split system air-conditioners are more efficient than has central heating, particularly from electricity from renewable sources.

There’s a cost there of course — each area of the house would need a new unit fitted. I got one for the main living area a year ago for cooling, which is the other obvious benefit of installing them.

Good insulation also helps. I’ve done the roof, and we have external blinds for summer, as well as ceiling fans, but wall insulation is worth doing too.

My ancient stove

Gas cooking — my ancient gas cooker still works around 90 years after it was installed. It’s got minor problems though with gas leakage, and both the oven and cooktop are small and lack precision. We’ve learnt to live with this, but modern facilities would be nice – for instance an oven that’s big enough to cook multiple pizzas.

Replacing these with electric could be the way to go. Electric cooktops can be induction or ceramic — I like the sound of induction, though that may require replacing some of my cookware.

Gas water heaterten years ago I got solar hot water with a gas booster. It’s worked well, though a bloke who came recently to clean the panel mentioned that parts are likely to need replacing before too long — perhaps in the next five years.

Options might include a conventional electric hot water heater (expensive to run) or a heat pump, which can be expensive to install (up to about $3000), but are apparently quite cheap to run. Though come to think about it, I think I paid about $4000 for the solar hot water system.

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Electricity — currently I pay for green power, but an obvious upgrade would be to invest in PV panels, which have dropped in price markedly, and the new subsidies make it more affordable, even if the feedback tariff isn’t very high anymore.

One benefit of removing the solar hot water would be making more space on my relatively small roof for more PV panels. Some owners of houses with a small roof have been quite creative about maximising the number of panels – see photo above.

There are also different options for PV panels, which some expensive ones generate more power — and of course one can install batteries to make use of the power generated rather than feeding it back into the grid (typically during the day) and having to buy it back at peak times (typically in the evenings). Batteries are really expensive though, well over $10,000 it seems.

Can rooftop solar generate enough power at the hottest part of the day to run air-conditioning?

I also need to keep in mind future development around me. My neighbours on the western side have rebuilt their house as two storeys, reducing sun onto the roof in the afternoon. If the same happened on the eastern side I wouldn’t be surprised — there’s been a lot of similar development in my street.

Put all these things together, and (for a cost) I could move off gas completely, and move most of my power generation to solar, cutting my household emissions to hopefully near zero.

I’m sure I’m not the only one pondering these issues. What are other people doing?

Old photos from October 2008

My monthly post of ten year old photos

My day job had me working in Collins Street, and occasionally we’d get to go to the upper levels and check out the view. That’s Manchester Lane at the bottom left, and near the top left you can just see the Shrine. Newspaper House dates from a 1933 revamp of an 1884 building, and at the time was owned by Herald and Weekly Times. The renovation also added the lovely mosaic on the first floor.
Collins Street, October 2008

Looking down at Swanston Street you could see the Burke And Wills statue, well before it got moved to make way for the metro tunnel works now underway.
Bourke and Wills, October 2008

A-class trams at the Town Hall superstop
Trams, Collins Street, October 2008

How many people would know that a 108 goes most of the way of a 109? Not many I suspect, which is why the mystery route numbers were always a bad idea.
Tram 108 to Montague, October 2008

Before the days of Myki, queuing for a V/Line ticket at Southern Cross station. You have to wonder how many people actually missed the train and had to wait an hour or more for the next one because of the queue.
Queues for V/Line tickets, Southern Cross Station, October 2008

Above you can see the flatscreens were working for V/Line… not so for suburban services, which were using temporary CRTs on the concourse.
Southern Cross Station - temporary screens, October 2008

Myki had yet to start properly — that would be in December 2008 in Geelong — but it already a spot had been reserved at SoCross for an information booth.
Myki booth at Southern Cross Station, October 2008

The disrespect that some traffic engineers have for public transport is evident in this photo — they had allowed off-peak parking in front of the bus shelters for one of the busiest bus stops in Melbourne. Checking Google Streetview, not fixed as of November 2017, but at least now it’s a loading zone, not general parking, except on Sundays.
Lonsdale Street bus stop, October 2008

I think this was an RTBU campaign to get more railway stations to have staff. What happened instead was the rollout of Protective Service Officers, mostly after 6pm.
RTBU campaign for station staff, October 2008

On a trip to the country, I found this wind turbine. I’m betting critics of the newer type don’t feel the same wrath at these more traditional models.
Windmill in the country

A protest at Flinders Street Station in favour of more sustainable transport. Note the “no tunnels” signs; this was in the wake of the Eddington Report, which is where the East West Link gained prominence, and was in the lead-up to the Victorian Transport Plan, which was the Brumby Government’s response.
Transport protest, 26/10/2008

Thirty years on

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

This is especially so for school reunions. My eldest son is pondering whether to even go to his – the people he wants to stay in touch with, he does via Facebook.

Fair enough.

I however do go to my school reunions. Melbourne High School has an active Old Boys Association which is very well organised for them.

The 30th (gulp) reunion was on Friday night.

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The old school. 30 years on #gulp

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Those of us who got there by 5:30 got to have a tour of the school. Much of it looks about the same, but most (but not all) of the old portable buildings have been replaced. Overall the grand old school building is looking good, though a little shabby in places. There’s never enough funding for as much maintenance as they’d like.

And… gasp… we got to go to the top of the tower. I never got to go up there as a student.

The view was spectacular.

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking west across the city

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking northeast

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking east

The reunion proper was down in the pavilion as usual. Of the 300-odd-strong cohort, about 60 attended, perhaps not too bad after this long.

Some speeches, a flood of memories, some reflection on those who didn’t make it to thirty years, then some raucous singing.

The song “Forty Years On” might have been specifically designed for school reunions, and it’s damn devious of the school to implant it in our brains while when young so we can belt it out in our senior years.

Most valuable was some good chats with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.

One bloke I was with at primary school too. We had a strong bond in grade six (what’s that, 36 years ago?), but we lost touch in high school — and having thought about it over the weekend, I think that was my fault.

Melbourne High School at dusk

So it was good to catch up, have some laughs and reminisce over old times.

Great to see them all in person. Better than Facebook and Linked In.

And the view from the tower was better in person, too. Well worth going.

Old photos from August 2008

Here’s my monthly post of photos from ten years ago.

For a while I was waging war on ghost tram route numbers via this blog post and then this Age article.

Numbers like 7 and 9 were pointless because nobody outside a few gunzels knew them. This was tram route 7 to Malvern Depot.

In 2011, all the obscure route numbers got renumbered to something people can actually understand.

Route 7 followed route 6 as far as Malvern Depot, so today it would be called a 6d.
Tram route 7 in Swanston Street

Here’s route 9 to Thornbury. Today I guess this would now be an 11d.
Tram route 9 in Collins Street

Banksy’s “Little Diver” had appeared in 2003 just off Flinders Lane. The building’s owners put some perspex in an effort to protect it, but it was subsequently destroyed a few months after this photo was taken.
Banksy "Little Diver" picture, Melbourne

Massive Spirit Of Progress poster advertising the Art Deco exhibition at NGV.
Matthew Flinders

Bentleigh station: Some kind of work in preparation for Myki equipment installation. Note the mounting poles. The system eventually got switched-on in Melbourne at the very end of 2009.
Installing Myki equipment at Bentleigh station

Back on the trams, this holding siding had just been built on St Kilda Road. At first, some drivers seemed not to slow down sufficiently, so the trams would lurch in and out of the points. Hopefully they’ve improved since then.
New holding siding, St Kilda Road, August 2008

The same project included this triple track at the corner of Southbank Boulevard, allowing route 1 trams (turning right) to wait for their traffic light without delaying other trams. (Perhaps a cheaper option would have been to fix the traffic light so none of the trams got delayed?)
Then new superstops outside NGV, August 2008

In August 2008 I got my “new” (2000-model) car. First order of the day was to put a PTUA sticker on it, something I did last month with the brand new car that replaced it.
The new car, August 2008, with new sticker

Back in December 2007, we’d gone to Spamalot, the musical. From this photo, it seems I subsequently found a can of Spam commemorating the show, though according to Wikipedia it had closed back in April.
Spamalot spam can, August 2008

Mernda rail extension opens this Sunday

On Sunday I went out to see the Mernda rail extension.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority, who built it (well, it does involve new stations and grade separation of an existing disused rail corridor, so it kinda makes sense) ran a community open day, with free shuttle trains between South Morang and Mernda.

After catching a regular train to South Morang, I found a big crowd waiting for a shuttle train.

South Morang station

Mernda

Mernda was packed with people, so it’s just as well they built this new terminus to generous dimensions, with a good wide platform.

Mernda station open day 19/8/2018

I met up with Darren Peters, who headed up the community campaign that got the politicians to commit to the rail extensions (both to South Morang, then Mernda). Locals kept stopping to congratulate him – deservedly so!

Mernda station has a wraparound roof structure similar to the Dandenong line skyrail stations, but glass panels block the wind coming through. The design is less rounded futuristic, more boxy, and I’m told is meant to reflect the farm heritage of the area – still seen on a few farm buildings in the vicinity.

Mernda station open day 19/8/2018

A huge amount of space is available underneath the station platform. There’s a large car park and a bus interchange on the eastern side, where buses will converge from nearby suburbs, mostly with frequencies of 20 minutes in peak, 40 off-peak.

To the west is… an empty paddock. This will be the place for the Mernda town centre.

Mernda station open day 19/8/2018

North of the station is more parking (with a second station exit), and a stabling yard to store trains between the peaks and overnight.

Mernda station viewed from the north

Mernda stabling yard 19/8/2018

New traffic lights seemed to be giving an inordinate amount of green time to nonexistent traffic coming out of the station, without actually providing much green man for pedestrians. This was resulting in traffic jams along Bridge Inn Road. Perhaps trying to get locals used to the traffic lights being there?

It’s unlikely that the line will be further extended to Whittlesea any time soon. This is the northern edge of Melbourne, and the Urban Growth Boundary shows no signs of shifting.

While there aren’t many houses in the immediate station environs, there are a few in the street north of the station, some of which look like they’re already being re-developed to medium density. And a little further away are vast numbers of homes, so it’s no wonder Plenty Road, pretty much the only road to the south, gets packed with cars at rush hour.

Hawkstowe

Heading back south, I looked at Hawkstowe station, a similar island platform design to Mernda. Already there’s a playground underneath the tracks, which reminded me of Singapore, and may be an indicator of what’s coming underneath the Caulfield to Dandenong skyrail.

Hawkstowe station open day 19/8/2018

Hawkstowe station open day 19/8/2018

Middle Gorge

And then there’s the third station…

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There’s been some controversy over the name, but let’s look at the actual design.

Side platforms have been used, which is fine, and a nice wide subway connects them, reminiscent of Tarneit station.

But for some reason the building structures have very high-up roofs, which look impressive at first, but I expect will provide almost zero weather/rain protection.

Middle Gorge station open day 19/8/2018

There’s a plaza on the outbound side which is quite nice, but it also means the bus stops are a good couple of hundred metres away from the station, ensuring anybody who tries to interchange when it’s raining will get drenched. The bus stop has no shelter that I could see (maybe that will be installed before opening day this Sunday?)

Okay, so not as many buses will connect here compared to the other two new stations – it’s only route 383, which also goes to South Morang, but it’ll be about eight minutes faster to change to the train at Middle Gorge.

And the shared (bike) path coming from both directions is on the opposite side of the tracks to the bike cage, and particularly indirect from the north. Is this really the best they could do?

Middle Gorge station precinct

These concerns aside, it was great to see the community come out and see their new stations – despite the weather having been horrible earlier in the day.

Enough about the infrastructure – what about the services?

There’s little doubt the trains will be popular for those headed to destinations further down the line including into the City.

Some extra services have been added for peak hour, making for trains up to about every 6 minutes in peak.

There are no express services to speak of – the peak frequency is so intensive that there’s really no spare capacity for them. An express train would catch up quickly with the train in front. And remember, express trains save less time than you’d think – typically a minute per station skipped, while penalising people at those stations with fewer services, and leading to uneven train loads.

There are some counterpeak expresses – in the AM peak a train arriving at Flinders Street will go around the Loop, then back out in service. Some of these stop at only a handful of stations (including Reservoir for the 301 shuttle bus to Latrobe Uni), then up to Epping or South Morang to terminate and go back into stabling.

Outside peak hour, the current frequencies will remain: mostly every 20 minutes, but every 30 after 9pm, 40 on Sunday mornings (WHY?!) and hourly Night Train services overnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

In the long term, the Metro 2 tunnel will be needed to cope with continued growth on both this line and the Hurstbridge line.

Meanwhile, obviously authorities will need to watch patronage carefully and keep adding more services where they can, though there’s a limit to peak capacity between the city and Clifton Hill. The usual point applies: better off-peak services can help spread the load across the day.

But one thing’s for sure: the three new stations add richly to the transport options for people in the outer northern suburbs.