Tag Archives: electricity

What is a ‘solar garden’ and why we should want one

I put solar panels on my roof soon after I built this house because I was trying to plan for my retirement. That makes me one of the lucky ones, but what about those who are renting? Or simply can’t afford to put solar panels on their roofs?

Given the soaring cost of energy, this article by Citizen Mum, an Aussie blogger, really hit the nail on the head:

‘The concept of a solar garden is new in Australia, and is being developed by Pingala, a citizen led co-operative focused on developing people-centred and socially just energy solutions. At its core the concept is very simple and based along the lines of a community garden, in that cooperative members have the opportunity to purchase plots (panels) in the solar garden and have the energy that is generated from the plot credited to their power bill. It is ideal for people in rental accommodation, apartments or homes that are not suitable for rooftop solar.’


To give a little context to that quote, Citizen Mum is talking about ‘mid-scale solar arrays’. These are like the solar panels we’re used to seeing when we see photos of solar farms – fields and fields of solar panels almost as far as the eye can see:

Yeah, like those but smaller, much, much smaller. Mid scale solar arrays are big enough to provide a decent amount of solar energy, but small enough to be ‘owned’ by a small town. Or as the quote suggests, owned by the individuals of that town.

If you’re interested in mitigating climate change, and perhaps saving yourselves some money long term, I strongly suggest you read the whole article on Citizen Mum’s blog.


Victorian Government Electricity Rebate – $250

Just a very quick post about the $250 rebate offered by the Andrews Government here in Victoria.

Click the ‘Submit a $250 Power Saving Bonus application’ button.

From there you will be taken through a number of pages that either request information or ask you to accept terms and conditions.

One of the things you will be asked to provide is a PDF of your electricity bill. If, like me, you receive your bills via email, you will have to download the attached document that details specifics about your bill – i.e. how much energy you’ve used, how much it costs, any solar contributions, etc. That attachment is the PDF they’re requesting. There is also an option to submit a hardcopy of the bill but as I didn’t select it, I don’t know how that would work.

I know the government is trying to get people to use the Energy Compare website – it’s pretty good actually, and I’ve used it in the past – but I can’t help wondering how pensioners without computers, or the skills to use them, are supposed to access this rebate. Smartphone perhaps? But what if you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t know how to use it for things other than making a phone call?

Having spent the last five years of my working life helping to teach computer literacy to Beginners, I know there are a lot of them.

I’m also a little puzzled about why this rebate isn’t being shouted from the rooftops. Then again, I don’t watch much TV so perhaps that’s why I didn’t know about it [thanks for telling me, Megan!].

Anyway, the rebate exists so put in your application and get some relief from the bill shock we’re all experiencing.


Warrandyte! No scheduled power outage today…grrrr!

By rights, I should be delighted that the power outage scheduled from 9am till 4pm is not going ahead today. Trust me, on any other day I would be. Today, however, I’m really ticked off because Ausnet Services, the electricity wholesaler that supplies electricity to a huge chunk of Melbourne, didn’t think to let us know the outage had been cancelled.

To be fair, we’ve had ferocious winds since Sunday, so a lot of areas have been without power…in an unscheduled way. Clearly, getting power to them has to be a first priority. But…it’s not the guys who go out and actually fix things that send us texts and letters about our electricity supply. It is…ta dah…the office types who do that. And…ta dah no. 2…not one of those office types had the mental capacity to go…”oh, hang on, didn’t we schedule a power outage for Tuesday? Maybe we should send a text out…”

Now it may well be that as a wholesaler, Ausnet Services only has the phone numbers of people like me – i.e. people who ring up and complain. So, still to be fair, maybe Ausnet Services doesn’t have the phone number of every person they supply. But. They must know who the retailers are in their area. Right?

How hard would it have been to ring up a few retailers and let them know? Then at least there would have been the possibility that the retailers could have diverted some resources to letting us know.

Or…! Failing all else, someone at Ausnet Services could have changed the automated message you get when you ring them about outages. You know, the one where you have to pick dinky numbers that never match the reason for your call…-cough-

Because I was expecting an outage today, I haven’t checked Twitter to see if Ausnet Services left a notice there. If you’ve seen such a notice, I’d love to hear about it in comments. Whether they did or didn’t though, I’d just like to point out that not everyone is on Twitter, or Facebook [makes the sign to ward off evil]. In fact, there are probably a lot of people who are on neither. So where does a large corporation’s responsibility end?

I could go on about how corporate culture has killed the concept of customer service, but I have to go mop the laundry floor again. Why? Because I was stupid. Thinking the power would be off any moment, I decided to fill the washing machine via a hose. While it was filling I thought I’d check with Ausnet Services because it was closer to 10am than 9am and we still had power. The rest I’m sure you can work out for yourselves.



p.s. has anyone else noticed that WordPress is distorting images from the Media Library when you insert them into a post?

Power at last!

SP Ausnet had a planned power outage today from about 8:30am to 3:30pm, and it was not pleasant. The weather was grey and drizzly but thankfully not super cold otherwise I have no idea how we would have coped. It seems that electricity is needed for absolutely everything.

Did you know that without electricity the solar hotwater doesn’t work? Yup, because a small pump sends the water up to the solar thingie on the roof. No pump, no circulation, no hot water.

And heating is no better. We have gas heating but…a fan is required to blow the hot air around, and also to stop the heater from overheating. So again, no power, no heat.

But wait, there’s more! I knew the electric oven wouldn’t work, but I forgot that the gas cooktop has piezo electric ignition. Thank heavens I had matches! Actually, that’s one of the good things about living in Warrandyte; we have unplanned outages a lot so candles and matches are staples.

And finally, there are the solar panels on my roof. Great investment for my old age except…when the power goes out, they’re automatically switched off because we ‘feed in’ to the grid. I swear, if I ever win tattslotto, I am buying a battery and hooking the solar panels up to that so we have power even when we don’t have power.

But today wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Offspring and I got stuck into garden stuff. Still a work in progress, but we both feel super righteous. 🙂

Hope your day was productive but pleasant!

Lucid Energy turbines

Lucid Energy is running electricity turbines from the water flowing in the pipes of a city.

This provides baseload power with no emissions, and the technology can be retrofitted into any water pipe large enough.

Most drinking water pipes in most cities of the developed world can use this technology!

#Email bills – Christmas for #scammers?

Here in Australia, Origin Energy [one of the big utilities companies] recently introduced gas and electricity accounts sent via email. Good idea? Not so, and here’s a picture of why:

email bills

The screenshot above is a picture of my new, email electricity bill. Notice all the red? Each one of those circles denotes a link to some address on the internet. Click on that link and you are automatically taken to that address.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? We all use the internet a million times a day.

What’s wrong is that each link is a potential opening for scammers to steal your information, especially that big, orange ‘Pay now’ button. You see, these days, the really good scammers can reproduce the Origin Energy logo, its fonts, the colours, even the text…PERFECTLY. If you were to receive one of these reproductions, you would need to look very, very carefully to pick the fake from the original. And let’s face it, how many of us scrutinise each email we receive, especially when we are expecting to receive it?

Expectation lowers our defences.

I already expect to receive a mobile phone account [via email], and now I will also expect to receive gas and electricity bills, via email. I may scrutinise the first five, ten, 25 emails but after that? I’ll get complacent.

One day, I’ll be in a hurry and I’ll forget to check all the tell tale signs of a forgery. I’ll click on that big orange ‘Pay now‘ button in the email, and it’ll take me…somewhere. That somewhere will look like the  real deal as well so, still in a hurry, I’ll enter my banking details, pay the ‘bill’ and get on with my life. But one day in the not too distant future I’ll realise my bank account has been hacked. And in that moment of disbelief and horror, I’ll remember the day convenience, and a busy life style, made me follow a link in an email.

And what do you think the big corporations are going to do about the theft of all my money? Will they pull their hair out by the roots and cry ‘mea culpa, mea culpa’? Not on your life. They’ll say that the fault was all mine. They’ll say that they warn customers about ‘scammers’ so it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’.

But the truth is that the big corporations will NOT warn you about this particular type of scam because they do not want to put you off their new, much-cheaper-to-run email billing service. Origin intends to charge $2 for each paper bill from now on. I’m pretty sure the real cost of sending out a paper bill is nowhere near that much, so they won’t be saving $2 for every bill to every customer, but they will be saving something. Multiply ‘something’ by hundreds of thousands of customers and the bottom line starts to look a whole lot better.

So what’s the solution?

The solution is to print the bills off and pay them as you would a paper bill – by going directly to your internet banking and using BPay to pay the bills from there.

As a caveat, I have to say that I can’t guarantee that internet banking is 100% safe. I believe it is, but I can’t guarantee it. However…if the banks mess up with your money, they have to pay you back. If you mess up with your money, that’s it, it’s gone. You might try a class action suit against the corporation in question, perhaps citing negligence, but going through the courts could take years and may still not succeed.

Why not? Because no one held a gun to your head and made you click that ‘Pay now’ button.

This is the reason I keep bleating on about not clicking on links in emails. That little bit of extra convenience is just not worth it. And yes, it could happen to you.

Take care and stay safe,





#Coal vs #solar – the true cost of electricity for India’s poor

angryQueensland’s Galilee Basin contains a lot of coal which could create a lot of electricity, but let’s not get precious about why we’re going to export it to India. No Australian government, state or federal, is interested in providing the benefits of electricity to India’s poor. They are only interested in export dollars. As for India’s poor, they cannot afford coal fired electricity.

“The poor will benefit from coal-fired power generation only if you ignore the costs of pollution and if industries can be attracted to rural areas. Without industry, though, electrification for the world’s rural poor requires a different model to that offered by coal-fired power.”

That quote comes from an article written by three Australian academics:

They crunched the numbers and came to the conclusion that India’s poor would be far better off with localised, small-scale solar power generation. You can read the Quartz article here:

The deadly cost of bringing coal-powered electricity from Australia to India

Or you can read the original article on the Conversation here:


Now, my fellow Aussies, ask yourselves whether making an almighty mess of the Galilee basin is really worth those export dollars when only large corporations will really benefit?

Then ask yourselves what might have happened had we supported our solar industry [we let it die here or go offshore] instead of coal?

I believe a thriving Australian solar industry could be bringing in squillions of export dollars from the Third World as well as doing a great deal of good for the Third World’s poor. Instead, countries such as China* are exporting solar panels to the world and we are still trying to flog coal.

Clearly the coal industry has a great deal more lobbying power than the fledgling solar industry did. Or perhaps our politicians are just too damned stupid to read the writing on the wall. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both. Either way, we Aussies are the ones who will miss out in the not-so-long-run.

I’m angry,


*This is an interesting article looking at the provenance of so-called ‘Australian solar’.



A taste of dystopia

Thanks to http://persononthings.wordpress.com/

Thanks to persononthings

Well, that was fun…not. The Daughter and I have just had six hours of being without power, and it was kind of scary, not because of any intrinsic danger [there was none], but because we were forced to acknowledge just how much we rely on power from the grid.

The most obvious thing that hit us was the lack of computers and internet. We both use the internet to stay connected to the great big world online, so six hours offline was painful. Strangely though, being offline would not have been so bad if we could have continued with our work. ‘Twas not to be.

The daughter uses a computer graphics package called Maya to model and animate 3D digital graphics, and of course I write and blog. She was reduced to dragging out a sketch pad and working in 2D. I went out into the garden and worked my butt off while cursing fluently and at length.

Why didn’t I get a notepad and pen and keep working the old fashioned way? Because I can’t seem to think and write longhand at the same time, not any more. But this very lack in myself was rather interesting, and triggered one of those moments when you recognize the influence of the past on the present.

Back when I was in my early 20’s I tried looking for a job armed only with my brand-spanking new BA  [Bachelor of Arts]. The economy was going through a downturn, and no one was interested in training up a graduate. In desperation, I talked my parents into giving me the money to attend a dinky three week course. The purpose of the course was to train me to be a receptionist.

Most of the course was devoted to the use of archaic switchboards, grooming and what passed for elocution back then. Tucked away in odd hours was some instruction on touch typing. We were given a manual with pictures and graded exercises, some paper, and a roomful of the oldest, clunkiest manual typewriters ever invented. The ones where you had to press a lever to create a ‘carriage return’.

For some odd reason I really took to typing. I’d learned the piano for ten years so my manual dexterity was pretty good, and it just felt so damn satisfying seeing those letters transfer from the inked ribbon to the clean white page.

Anyway, I digress. By the end of the three weeks I knew more about how to apply nail polish than I would ever want to know, and I knew how to touch type…very slowly. My speeds did improve though, and for many years I supported my life, and continuing studies, by temping as a typist/secretary/personal assistant. In short, I became a very good typist.

The ability to type, and my psychology course, eventually led me to computers and the rest is history. The point of this ramble, however, is that today I had an epiphany – if I had not done that stupid course, and if I had not learned to touch type, I might never have become interested in computers.

Would that have been so terrible? you ask.

Well, on my first date with my ex-husband we spent the whole night talking about philosophy and… computers. I firmly believe we would not have had a second date but for our shared fascination with this new phenomenon. And had we not married I would never have had The Daughter, I might not have done tech support and tech writing, and I might never have morphed that technical writing into writing fiction!

So there you have it, a whole life sent off on a different track because of just one, small skill. It’s not quite Chaos theory, but my own personal butterfly definitely clicketty clacked its way into my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The power’s back on, and I want to know if any of you have experienced something similar. Can you remember some small thing that changed your life? Maybe a series of small things? Or even some big ones?


-cough- suffering from internet deprivation syndrome -cough-



How to save money on your electricity bill – Australia

I don’t normally write posts like this, but I found out yesterday that I’ve been doing everything wrong in my attempts to save money, and energy. If your electricity bills are as high as mine, read on.

To start, a quick word sketch of our household :

– 2 adults

– Solar hot water [with a gas booster]

– Solar panels on north facing roof [in Southern hemisphere solar gain comes from the north, not the south].

– Late model dishwasher and washing machine.

– Very little use of tumble dryer [maybe once a month for those emergency moments].

– Big TV, but with cut off switch when not being watched.

– Gas ducted heating.

As you can see, we should be ahead of the game in terms of electricity consumption. Yet still we get $500 plus bills. 😦

Well, this is what I’ve been doing wrong :

– I’ve been running the dishwasher during the day to take advantage of my solar panels.

– I’ve been running the washing machine during the day, also to use up the solar power.

Because of these two, misguided strategies, I only get an average of $100 of credits from the feed-in tariff [this is excess solar power I generate that goes into the electricity grid].

You see, what I did not realize was that my two major appliances [dishwasher and washing machine] use far more electricity than my solar panels can provide. So by running them during the day I am both wasting my solar power, and drawing electricity from the grid during the most expensive, peak period.

A few simple numbers should explain what I mean.

– feed-in tariff = $0.66 per KWH

– peak tariff = $0.34 per KWH

– off peak tariff = $0.19 per KWH

So you see, by running the dishwasher during the day I am not only using up my own solar electricity, I am also using grid  electricity so it is effectively costing me :

0.66 + 0.34 = $1.00 per KWH

That $1 is made up of lost money [what I would gain from the solar] plus actual cost [the peak tariff].

So what is the answer? Off-peak, that’s what.

Here in Victoria, Australia, the off-peak period is 11pm to 6am Monday to Friday, and all day and night during the weekends. So with a bit of organization all of us could schedule our most energy hungry appliances to run during off-peak.


Most modern appliances allow you to schedule when you want them to run. My dishwasher only has a one hour delay capacity, but that one hour is enough for me to turn it on at 10pm and have it start up at 11pm – in time to catch the beginning of the weekday off-peak period. My washing machine is even more flexible. And if none of that is possible then there is always the weekend.

Now, for those with solar power, the answer is simple – send as much of your solar gain to the grid as possible. You will earn almost twice what you spend. And here at least, those credits are subtracted from your total bill.

So let’s do a thought experiment. First let’s look at my stupid usage :

Cost of electricity from the grid = $600

Minus credits from solar power = $100

Total bill = $500

Now, let’s say I gain $100 by going off-peak, and an extra $50 from my solar feed-in :

Cost of electricity from the grid = $500

Minus credits from solar power = $150

Total bill = $350

I do not yet have any actual figures to play with but the numbers I estimated are pretty conservative so I may even end up saving more money. Whether I do or not, I should still see a huge reduction in my next electricity bill.

Origin Energy [my electricity supplier] is sending me some information on the average cost of running various appliances. Anyone can request this information, but I will share relevant bits in a follow-up post.

Until then, I urge you all to take a look at your own lifestyle and electricity consumption. Even a few small changes could make a difference to that next big bill!



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