A Reprieve For Suburbia ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The SMH has a report on the Solar Cities conference that considers the idea that suburbia may be well suited to a distributed, clean energy future, noting "spacious suburbs are perfect for household electricity generation but there are obstacles".

If it is hard to imagine a future in which the suburban streets of Mosman, or Fairfield, or Parramatta are lined with revolving wind turbines and glinting photovoltaic solar arrays, it's worth remembering that 40 years ago, three-quarters of all Australian homes relied heavily on solar and wind power.

The Hills Hoist, the metaphor for suburbia, dried clothes without so much as a puff of greenhouse gas.

Australia's response to curbing emissions will be decided in the same streets. Suburban sprawl could be the surprisingly green ace in Australia's climate pack, said some of the 800 delegates who gathered in Adelaide this week for the International Solar Cities Congress.

Our preference for large backyards, detached homes and wide streets will allow for local electricity generation, effectively turning each home into a mini power-station. There are huge obstacles - principally the cost of manufacturing, buying and almost certainly subsidising the equipment - but the consensus among local government and the renewable energy industry is that the nation's cities will be transformed within 20 years.

"The suburb is perfect for low-energy development," said the ecologist Herbert Girardet, who helped plan South Australia's first sustainable suburbs and works on Dongtan, a Chinese city next to Shanghai that will be powered exclusively on renewable energy.

"Low density is good for wind and solar power because there's more space to generate locally," Girardet says. "I would like to see the spaces between houses, and the roofs, all being used to power the homes and cars."

The conference presented a curious mix of optimism, because most of the technology needed to slash Australia's greenhouse emissions has been proven to work, and frustration, because far too little money has been allocated to roll it out on a massive scale.

Rapid urbanisation has been the key driver of escalating greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Peter Droege, the chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, Asia Pacific, said: "Cities have become humankind's illusory safety blanket, shielding it from grasping the advent of a man-made terrestrial calamity: the climate tipping point … Renewable energy needs to be central to mainstream thinking on infrastructure planning and the very design of cities."

Six cities around Australia, including Blacktown in NSW, are running experimental renewable energy projects designed to both clamp down on energy demand and supply the rest from renewable sources. These projects and others have shown mixed, but generally encouraging, results. ...

6 comments

Love the photoshopped image of the McMansions with solar PV and solar hot water on the roofs.

Of course, the two PV panels depicted would generate a few hundred watts at best in the peak of summer, which would power about 1% of a typical McMansions needs. And some of them aren't even pointing the right way!

Solar hot water OTOH really works for at least 9 months of the year, in most parts of Australia. I'd legislate to make it mandatory just to p*ss off the libertarians :)

I'm shocked you would accuse the SMH of photoshopping an image !

As for your anti-libertarian campaign, its that sort of thinking that makes progress on global warming impossible - people wanting to score political points instead of trying to come up with solutions that satisfy almost everyone.

A carbon tax with matching tax cuts is by far the path of least resistance...

No arguments about a carbon tax.

its that sort of thinking that makes progress on global warming impossible

Actually no. Its the libertarians that are the problem. Given the choice between a new regulation that created no inconvenience but prevented millions of tonnes of CO2 being emitted, the libertarian would choose not to have the regulation. Every time.

(In fact, I pretty much blame the entire global warming problem on libertarians, all ten of them :)

If I was king for a day (and isn’t that a scary thought!) I’d make smart electricity meters mandatory. They’d attach to your fridge and show you the cost of your daily electricity usage. If you turned on too many appliances they’d flash lights and sound an alarm, a bit like that one on “Carbon Cops”. Kinda like smoke alarms for energy usage (which BTW are mandatory, cause near zero inconvenience, and save countless lives)

Anyway, I digress. My point is, I don't think most people are aware how much electricity they are using. I don't think most people could tell you what their quarterly electricity bill is, because they're not constantly reminded about it like petrol prices. So a carbon tax that raises the price of electricity by 20, 30, 40 per cent isn't going to work unless people actually know how much electricity they are using.

I don't believe we can solve this problem with carbon pricing alone. Sure, the market is our most powerful tool, but there is a place for regulation too.

As you're just trying to wind me up, I'll humbly suggest that all regulation should be banned :-)

I'm a libertarian, and I'm not part of the problem (the other 9 I'm not so sure about however. Splitters !).

I like smart meters - I wish I could buy one and out it in my house. Even better, I'd like dynamic electricity pricing and for the device to manage my power usage accordingly.

Your nag-o-meters don't sound quite as attractive though - very much a nanny-statist solution :-)

As you're just trying to wind me up...

How did you guess? :)

As a lefty I have made huge compromises on equity in my quest to come up with a solution for climate change and peak oil. Much as I would love any solution to to impact everyone equally, I know this is an impossible dream. I know that low income families in far flung suburbs, living in poorly insulated homes, driving dodgy old gas guzzlers are going to hurt more than others. Indeed, people like this have to hurt more otherwise they will never change their ways.

I acknowledge that the government cannot solve the problem by paying to insulate homes, installing solar on rooftops, and buying people hybrids.

I acknowledge that the government cannot solve the problem by mandating that people catch public transport, only drive fuel-efficient cars, and stop flying.

I have compromised pretty much everything a good lefty believes in, so why is it impossible for a libertarian to compromise on a few little rules and regulations that cause no inconveniece and deliver huge benefits to society?

I have compromised pretty much everything a good lefty believes in, so why is it impossible for a libertarian to compromise on a few little rules and regulations that cause no inconveniece and deliver huge benefits to society?

I think the purist answer to that is because libertarians believe governments will inevitably get the rules wrong - leading to bad outcomes, corruption and an endless quest to make more and more rules.

Personally I find myself compromising all the time - I'm not trying to abolish Medicare or the dole, for example.

If I had to compromise over your two suggestions, I'd choose smart meters over solar hot water - one is a tool, the other a solution...

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