Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Invitation to the O'Connor Wetland Planting Day, 14 March 2010

The ACT Government has invited the community to help plant native plants at the Banksia St O'Connor Wetland in Canberra, 9am - 12 noon, Sunday 14 March 2010. There is another wetland in David Street (behind the shops) across the road from City Edge, where my Smart Apartment is.
Banksia St O'Connor Wetland
9am - 12
Sunday 14 March 2010

Bring sturdy shoes, hand tools, buckets and a wheelbarrow & a rake if
you have one.

*Edwina Robinson*
Urban Waterways Coordinator
Sustainability Programs
Department of Environment, Climate Change, Energy & Water
6207 5520/ 0466 153 641

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Battery Backup Pump for the Smart Apartment

Zoeller 507-0005 Basement Sentry Battery Backup Pump SystemAfter flooding in the basement of the Smart Apartment I have suggested a battery backup pump be installed. This consists of a 12 volt electric pump, a battery, battery charger and some complicated plumbing. This pump would then come on automatically if the main pump does not.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Flooding in the smart apartment

While we have had only a drizzle of rain in my part of Canberra, the electric pumps in the basement of the "smart apartment" have failed and it is now ankle deep in water. Fortunately the Transact fibre optic node is mount a metre above the floor and is not in danger, unless there is heavy rain. I am going out not to buy a bilge pump.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Smart Home in Sydney for Free

The NSW Government is offering a family a free smart home in Sydney for a year. The family will receive free accommodation in return for writing about their experience using the energy and water efficient features of the house at the Newington Smart Village Project in western Sydney.

A "Smart Home Family brief" is provided. This is a 2.39 Mb zip file with:
  • Smart Houme (sic.) add 8-2-10.pdf
  • Smart Home Family Application 8-2-10.doc
  • Smart Home Family Brief 8-2-10.pdf
  • Making a tender response to Smart Homes.doc
A house has been acquired in the Sydney suburb of Newington to be the Smart Home. It is being developed to be a ‘house of the future’ showcasing and testing new technologies to reduce household energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The house, like other Newington houses, was designed and built to minimise energy and
water requirements. The Newington Smart Home already has:
  • passive design features such as a northerly aspect, well placed trees, window glazing and insulation to reduce the need for heating and cooling appliances;
  • a 1kW solar power systems to supplement the home’s electricity supply;
  • grey water; and
  • a gas‐boosted solar hot water system. ...
The Newington Smart Village

The Newington Smart Village is being established as a trial by EnergyAustralia and Sydney Water. The Smart Village will use innovative energy and water management
technology to give 1,000 households in Newington and Silverwater the ability to reduce their environmental footprint and their household utility bills. This is a $10 million, two‐year program.

The Smart Village Program’s scope covers:
  • Next Generation Smart Meters ‐ 1,000 household electricity smart meters with two‐way communication will be installed as well as 1,000 water meters and 500 recycled water meters. This allows Sydney Water and EnergyAustralia to communicate with residents on household energy and water use via a one‐stop‐shop website or in‐house display.
  • Smart grid switches – New smart switches are being installed on the electricity network to give EnergyAustralia greater information and monitoring of the network, and of Smart Village energy use. It will also allow faster response to power outages.
  • Home Area Networks (HANs) in 100 homes ‐ This will allow smart appliance monitoring and control so households can remotely turn appliances on and off using iPhones (if they have them) or via a tailored website. This will help homes better control their energy use and equipment, running costs and greenhouse emissions.
  • In‐house displays and tailored household websites – This will give households real time information on energy and water use, cost, greenhouse impact. The website includes the ability to compare use and enter neighbourhood competitions.
  • Incentives to reduce energy use ‐ Households can choose to trial innovative incentive packages and products, such as bill rebates for reducing energy use below normal in peak times, and free use of electric vehicles.
  • Renewable energy solutions – will be added to the grid as part of the trial including energy storage solutions to offset peak electricity demand and renewable energy technologies such as fuel cells. Electric cars and car recharging connection points on the electricity grid will also be tested. ...
From: "Newington Smart Home Family -
Brief", EnergyAustralia, February 2010
Curiously, applicants have to apply via the Energy Australia E-Tendering Portal. The tendering system requires the entry of complex information and does not suit such a competition. The tendering process and documentation is more than is reasonable for a family to complete.

Unfortunately the demonstration smart home appears to be of the same time as previous failed smart home projects, including the iHome at Pyrmont in Sydney. These projects equip homes with computer operated controls which require an excessive amount of attention from the householder. Experience shows that the novelty of such systems wears off quickly. The householder does not want to know the power consumption of their home minute by minute or to be able to control appliances remotely. They want the systems to be autonomous: that is the appliances control themselves. In many cases a combination of computerised, simile electronic and mechanical controls are better than full automation. In the case of the Sydney iHome, the high technology systems were removed at the end of the trial, as they provided no useful service to the house holder. It therefore makes little sense to conduct another such trial of a failed approach to energy saving.

Also the competition process has problems it is using the system designed for companies to submit tenders, so that private citizens are instructed to pretend they are overseas companies, to avoid having to enter an Australian ABN. Instructing citizens to enter false information into a government tendering system would appear to be a bad precedent to set.
Details For Notice #ENERGY-447194

This tender is
· TenderLink Ref : ENERGY-447194
· Type of Notice : Request for Tender
· Region : New South Wales
· Contract Value : Not Specified
Closing Date/Time 22/02/2010 6:00 p.m. NSW

EnergyAustralia and Sydney Water are looking for a "Smart Home Family", including a resident writer, to occupy and write of their experiences in the Newington Smart Home located within the Newington Smart Village Project. A house is being developed to showcasing both current best practice and be a real life laboratory testing new technologies to reduce household energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions. The Smart Home will be integrated with an intelligent electricity grid and its key objectives include:
  • To provide a feature location for education on sustainable energy and water usage, smart metering and publicising the Newington Smart Village trial;
  • To showcase and test 'best of breed' appliances and quantify the potential energy and water savings;
  • To demonstrate the opportunities and benefits of a Home Area Network (HAN) environment;
  • To explore alternative electricity supply and storage options, such as micro generation and battery storage technology; and
  • To showcase the use of an electric vehicle and monitor its charging patterns, and potential integration with the battery storage.
Smart Home Family will increase the educational benefits of the house through living and reporting on their experience. A full description of the project and requirements of the family is provided in the Smart Home Family brief.

From: #ENERGY-447194, EnergyAustralia, 2010

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Breakfast at O'Connor

A cliché of 1960s Hollywood comedies is an exotic neighbour climbing through the the window of your apartment (Barefoot in the Park, 1967). Ideally you are a struggling writer (Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961). I thought this fanciful, until it happened this morning.

Interrupted while making some changes to my latest book, I opened the door of my Smart Apartment to an Amazon. This was a neighbour dressed their Australian Defence Force issue combat boots and camouflage uniform. Back from a run and forgetting her key, she swung out my window and disappeared from view. I assume she arrived safely, as I did not hear a thud.

This makes me think:

1. Those sitcoms are not so fanciful afterall,
2. With resourceful personnel like this, Australia's enemies need beware.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

China Eco Expo

The Chinese government is running an International green building & Sustainable Cities Exposition ("China Eco Expo"), June 18-20, 2009 in Beijing. This is sponsored by the PRC Ministry of Construction and includes a Trade show and Conference. If anyone would like to fly me over I would be happy to speak on green ICT and building.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Compact and bijou not he slums of tomorrow

Apartment PlanIn "Compact and bijou - the slums of tomorrow?" (by Ray Furlong, BBC News, 12 September 2008) the question is asked if small apartments will become inner-city slums. The issue here is not the size of the smallest apartment, but the mix of sizes and styles. I purchased a 64 m2 one bedroom flat in Canberra's "City Edge" complex.This is ideal for one or two people. This was built by a consortium of a non-profit housing cooperative and a developer. There is a mix of housing styles, from small 50 m2 bachelor flats (with an innovative sliding bedroom wall) to three bedroom family flats and town houses.

It is silly to suggest a mandated minimum size will somehow increase the quality of housing; all it will do is reduce choice and increase cost. What is needed is a mix of different sizes and styles to suit different families and different stages in life.

Other things being equal, the cost of building a home is proportional to the floor area. If the floor area was set by legislation to 100 m2, this would double the price of the smallest home someone could buy. This would not result in everyone getting a home twice as big, just in many more people not being able to afford any home at all.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making housing affordable

The NZ government has issued a request for proposals for research on investment in housing: "Research on institutional investment in residential rental accommodation" (DBH08/03/2, Department of Building and Housing). The issue is that, like Australia, home ownership is declining in New Zealand, making rental housing more important. Like Australia, private companies tend not to invest in rental property, it is mostly private investors with one or two properties or government or non-profit social housing.

The NZ Government want to work out why companies don;t invest and how to encourage them. This research would therefore seem to be applicable to Australia, where the government is considering how to provide tax incentives for such investments.

NZ have done quite a bit of work already in this area, with the Final Report of the House Prices Unit: House Price Increases and Housing in New Zealand , (March 2008), New Zealand Housing Strategy, and Policy proposals for Housing market (Cabinet Minute 1 February 200), Increasing choices and reducing costs in the housing market Cabinet 3 March 2008).

The NZ RFP mentions the Australian Federal Government's National Rental Affordability Scheme. This aims to provide 100,000 new rental properties by tax credits of $6000 a year for 10 years. The provider has to rent the homes at 20 per cent below market rates. State Governments will provide an extra $2000. However, there does not appear to be any research to show if this incentive will produce the desired outcome. So the NZ research could be very useful for Australia.

Open Source Low Cost Housing Proposal

One way to make housing affordable would be to reduce the cost of homes, by building them more efficiently and designing them to use fewer materials. This could be combined with energy efficiency to produce homes which cost less to rent and less to live in. As an example a home which is designed to be space efficient and so is 25% smaller, will cost about 25% less to build and use less energy to heat. Fitting an apartment with a $20 clothes drying racks in the laundry and on the balcony will save about $100 on the cost of a dryer, as well as saving electricity.

The Australian and NZ governments could jointly sponsor "open source" designs for low cost energy efficient housing. The plans could be made available free online and developers encouraged to use them. Local Government could pre-approve the designs to speed construction (or where councils refused to cooperate, state governments could override local planning powers to permit these buildings).

Modular construction techniques could be used to build housing quickly and cheaply. The modules could be clad to blend in with local housing styles and suit the local climate.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Classroom in a Donga?

Prefabricated steel buildingThe Australian slang for a portable building used on a mine site is a Donga. These are also used for prefabricated private housing in remote locations and for public buildings, including classrooms of schools. The size of the buildings is limited by the materials which can be easily transported on a truck. An example is Statewide Constructions range of buildings. These seem to be built in units of 4.35 by 10.8 m. Could a computer classroom fit in this?

The Queens University accessibility guidelines, require
workstations to have a surface at least 600 mm deep. Clear floor space is required 1200 mm deep, which can include 480 mm under the work surface. Guidelines on Computer Furniture Selection for Schools, suggests 900mm minimum between rows of desks.

Assuming the same curved designs for the fronts of desks, as previously discussed, so small could they be? Assuming that wheeled chairs are used, there is little value in making the curve of the desks less than 150 mm deep. This is because when a wheeled chair is unoccupied and pushed into the desk, it is about 150 mm deep. Therefore the unused chairs will fit into the curves this deep, effectively taking up no room. There is therefore no point in making the curve any shallower.

Assuming there has to be a straight path 900 mm between the desks, the curves of the desk will therefore result in the actual distance between the front of one desk and the opposite one being 1050 mm (900 + 150).

Assuming the room is 4200 m wider and there are rows of desks a minimum of 600 mm deep and maximum of 750 mm against each side wall, then two waling spaces 900 mm wide. This leaves a space 900 mm wide (4200 - 2 x (750 + 900)) in the center for two desks face to face.

At first glance, 900 mm would not appear enough space for the depth of two desks. However, the seating is assumed to be staggered; that is the students are not sitting directly opposite each other. One student face the space between the two students opposite. Assuming flat panel LCD screens are used and placed within 600 mm of the front of the desk, there will still be 300 mm behind the desk for the opposite student.

Assuming each student has 1200mm width of desk space, and an LCD monitor is 400 mm wide, there will be 800 mm between the back edges of the screens on each side of the student. As these screens will be 300 mm from the edge of the desk it should not look overly cramped.

It is likely that students will choose to place the LCD screens much closer than 600 mm away. Assuming the displays are about 450 mm from the desk front, they will then form a neat row down the center of the room

Four rows of 6 six student desks could be fitted in, allowing for circulation room at each end for a total of 24 students.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

HP Kitchen Computer

HP TouchSmart IQ770 19HP released their TouchSmart IQ770 PC in 2007. This has a a 19 inch wide LCD touch screen and built in digital TV tuner (for the North American market). It is the sort of computer you might have on the kitchen bench. But unlike the sub $1,000 Linux based TV/computers ASUS is planning to release this year, the HP is around $US1,500. This is because the Touchsmart has a disk drive and enough processing power to run Windows Vista.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

How to fix a dishwasher using the Web

dishwasherAfter several years of having to manually advance the dishwasher through the cycle, I thought it was time to fix it. The web turned out to be a useful resource to do this. Apart from the inconvenience, I was using more water having to use more water to rewash partly washed dishes. To find out how to fix just about anything, try typing into a search engine "how to fix a ...".

One danger is that how to instructions can get you to attempt repairs you should not really try. In this case the Dishwasher Troubleshooting Tool proved most useful. The symptom was " Dishwasher cycle does not complete" and the suggested checks were: Unfortunately these are generic instructions not specific to a particular model. But after testing the timer motor and heating element, I tried the thermostat. There turned out to be a small press button on the thermostat. I pressed this and it stayed pressed. The dishwasher then worked. This seems to be an overload cutout, but was not mentioned in any of the instructions.

Fisher Paykel Double DishDrawer dishwasherOf course, a replacement smaller countertop dishwasher, or a drawer unit would use less water and be more convenient for small loads. The Fisher Paykel Dual DishDrawer units look very attractive, with the ability to fill one drawer, while the other is washing. But as my unit is now working there is no point in replacing it.

ps: Another part of the dishwasher which may need replacing is the cutlery basket. There are some replacements ones sold, but these can be flimsy plastic. A better alternative might be a bit of the stainless steel security fly screen mesh used in windows. Offcuts are available from suppliers, such as Alucom in Canberra. Aluminum mesh is not suitable, as the harsh dishwasher detergent tends to dissolve it.

See also:

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Shipping Container Cafe

I am not sure how serious this is as a product, but for the 52nd International Art Exhibition in Venice architect Adam Kalkin designed a fold out cafe in a shipping container, (called the "push button house") Folded this looks like a rusty old container, but at the press of a button the sides fold down to make a cafe, complete with seats, tables and even lamps.

See also:

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Getting all your hooks in a row

Metal 3m Command hook3M sell a range of "Command Systems" stick on hooks. These are useful as you can remove them (usually) without damaging the wall. One catch is that the larger hooks come in two parts: a backing plate with the adhesive strip on it and a cover which slides down with the hook on it. If putting up a row of hooks, this can cause a problem (which I just discovered).

According to the instructions you assemble the hook and press it onto the wall. But however carefully you position the row of hooks, if the covers are not firmly in place on each hook, some slip down a bit after being installed and the row looks uneven. Also the hooks have a rounded body making them difficult to position vertically. I discovered, by trial and error, that it was easier to stick just the rectangular backing plates on the wall and only when they are aligned put the covers over them.

Other products

3m Command cable clipsAs well as the regular hooks, there also metal hooks, cord clips, Velcro type interlocking fasteners, Soap Dishes, and Shower Caddies. The soap dish and shower caddy use a different formulation of adhesive for their Water-Resistant Strips. The catch is these cost much more than regular stick or screw on products. However, being able to move a hook, without having to fill in and repaint over a hole can make it worthwhile. Also the hooks come with spare adhesive strips which can be used to mount other items (I have used to stick a fire alarm to a ceiling, but don't recommend it).

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sustainable Housing Ideas

The Housing Industry of Australia (HIA) opened its new Home Ideas center in Canberra on Saturday. This has quite a few good examples of sustainable housing products and books in its bookstore.

Dual Flush Toilet: The bathroom section had Caroma's Smartflush toilet on display with Integrated Hand Basin. This has a handbasin built into the top of water cistern. When you push the button water flows through the spout allowing you to wash your hands. That water is then collected in the tank to flush the toilet. Caroma claim this meets plumbing standards. The unit is water efficient even without the handbasin, using 4.5/3 litre on their dual flush (typical dual flush toilets use 6l for a full flush).

The bookstore had a limited but good selection of sustainable building books, as well as more general ones and technical standards for builders.

There was also an interesting use of polystyrene and corrugated steel sandwich panels to build a roof. This consisted of stow sheeted of curved
corrugated steel with about 200 mm of polystyrene between. The polystyrene had been molded to have a corrugated surface to match the steel. The result when finished would look like a traditional Australian steel roof, but have very good insulating properties. There are numerous such systems using structural insulated panels, but these are usually used for industrial buildings.

See also: Energy and Water Saving.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Noise cancelling headphones

Noise cancelling headphonesChoice magazine tested Noise Canceling Headphones, in their August 2007 edition. Surprisingly the more expensive Bose units did not top the list of those recommended. Top was the Jabra C820s, followed by a discontinued Logitech model and then the Bose QuietComfort 2 and Bose QuietComfort 3.

Some years ago I bought a
Panasonic set of Noise Canceling Headphones for using on aircraft. These are very effective for reducing noise, but are uncomfortable on a long flight (such as Sydney to London). These units use active noise reduction, with electronics powered by a AAA battery to create anti-noise. The ear-cups are too small to completely cover my ears. Also the headphones fold into a ball, which is compact, but makes a lump which does not fit in my briefcase. The Jabra and Bose QuietComfort 2 units have larger earcups and fold flat.

Other units are made by companies including: Sennheiser , Philips, IRhythms, Sony, Koss. These include smaller units which designed to sit on the ears and ear buds in the ears, but the larger units which cover the ears completely provide passive, as well as active, noise reduction.

There are also much more expensive units designed for use by the military and pilots, with more sophisticated electronics. In addition there are Electronic Hearing Protection units, designed for protecting against noise which could damage the ears. These units are used by builders and work by blocking sound using passive material and then a microphone to carry sounds at a safe level.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Samsung Internet Refrigerator

Samsung Refrigerator with Wireless ICE Pad on doorAn indication that a DOT.COM bubble may be happening is that Samsung have resurrected the Internet fridge. The Samsung model RH269LBSH has a 10.4 inch LCD touch pad computer on the front. The "ICE Tablet Pad" can be detached and operated using wireless networking

Samsung Q1P 7The pad presumably uses similar technology to the Samsung Ultra Mobile PC, although that has a smaller 7 inch screen.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Saving the Planet One Towel at a Time

On the weekend I bought 3m of 10mm diameter (1m thick) aluminum tube (about $7) and bent it to make a drying rack which fits under the vent on my home air conditioner. This allows me to dry washing while using the air conditioner as a heat pump. Perhaps air conditioner makers could offer this as an accessory.

Ideally washing should be dried in the sun naturally, without the need for a clothes dryer. But many homes are now equipped with a dryer. It may be difficult to convince the average householder to give up their dryer, so it might be better to give them a more efficient cheaper one.

Electric tumble dryers use an electric heating element which warms the air and then discharge hot wet air into the room or outside. This is very inefficient. Some more expensive "condensing" dryers use mains water to condense the humidity out of the discharge air. These waste water as well as electricity.

A cheap and simple alternative might be to equip the laundry with a reverse cycle air conditioner. The clothes would be hung on a small fixed rack above the laundry tub, under the air conditioner. Ideally the air conditioner would have an interlock so it would not operate when the door or window of the room is open.

Assuming the home is already being equipped with air conditioning, an extra outlet for the laundry should be cheaper than an electric clothes dryer. An alternative might be a fan and duct to circualte air from an air conditioner elsewhere to the drying room.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cut your own hair

Remington HC-912 Precision 100 15 Piece Haircut Kit CordedI decided to follow the advice of John Birmingham and Dirk Flinthart in their book "How To Be a Man". Not all the advice in the book is to be taken seriously (such as "How to land a jumbo jet"), but that on hair seems sound: when a gentleman's hair starts to thin, do not try and hide it; go for a very short haircut (Number 3 with the electric clippers).

But why pay $AU10 to have someone run a set of electric hair clippers over your head? So I bought a Remington hair cut kit for $AU14 from the supermarket. There are similar units on Amazon starting from $US11. The clippers come with a set of attached combs to set the hair length. These are numbered one to four and cut from 1/8 Inch for Number 1, to 1/2 Inch for Number 4 (the numbers seem to indicate the hair length in eights of an inch).

I went for the longest (Number 4) and following the instructions with the clippers: starting at the back, cutting upwards. Then I did the sides, similarly cutting up and then the front. I then changed to the Number 3 and did the back of my neck and sides, to create a slight layered effect.

The instructions say to remove the comb to trim the line across the back of the neck. There are many web sites saying how this should be shaped. Worried about creating a jagged line and taking chunks out of the hair, I found I could put one hand over the hair I wanted to keep on the back of the neck (with a thumb just under one ear lobe and foe finger under the other) and use this as a guide for the clippers.

manual hair clippersA simple set of mains powered electric clippers seems the simplest. Replacement blades and combs seem to be readily available. If you have someone else doing the clipping, you might save some energy by using a manual set of clippers.

Sideburns were also an issue. But I wear glasses and found that putting them on created a guideline I could cut parallel to. Cutting your own hair is a hot topic of conversation on the web.

vacuum cleaner powered hair clippersCutting hair creates a mess. One proposed solution I am not sure about is the Fowbee, vacuum cleaner powered unit. If you are going to cut in the bathroom or outdoors, keep in mind that mains powered electric clippers should be kept away from wet areas for safety. A rechargeable battery operated set might be good alternative.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Economics of Rainwater Tanks in Australia

Oxygenics Water-Saving ShowerheadA report on "The economics of rainwater tanks and alternative water supply options" suggests tanks could delay the need for water desalination plants, particular when the energy costs of such plants are considered. The report was prepared by economics consultants, Marsden Jacob Associates for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

One shock in store for house holders is that water from a rainwater tank costs at least $2.15 per kilolitre and possibly much more, taking into account the cost of the tank. But then the bigger shock will be that water from desalination plants costs around this as well. State politicians seem reluctant to tell voters that water is going to have to at least double in cost in the next few years.

The only flaw I can find from a quick skim of the report is that demand management measures are not given more weight. The report points out that saving water is cheaper than water tanks or desalination plants, but does not seem to go on to quantify this. This confusion seems to extend to the general community, where people are considering thousands of dollars on water tanks, before they have spent hundreds on a dual flush toilet and low flow shower.

The full text of the report is available online, but it is a large (1Mbyte) PDF document. The issue is an important one and the authors should take the trouble to produce an easier to access version of the document. They could at provide the Executive Summary in a separate PDF file, which would take a few mouse clicks to produce, or better still as a web page, which would take a few minutes work.

Here is the Table of Contents of the report:
Executive Summary 4
1. Introduction 8
2. The relative cost of rainwater tanks 9
2.1. Rainwater Tank yields 9
2.2. Cost of rainwater tanks 11
2.2.1. .Rainwater tank costs 12
2.3. Cost of alternative water sources 12
2.3.1. .Case Studies: Sydney and SEQ 14
2.3.2. .Summary 15
2.4. Other potential impacts 16
2.4.1. .Water mains 16
2.4.2. .Stormwater systems 17
3. Adding environmental costs to levelised costs 19
3.1. The cost of carbon 20
4. Deferring alternative water sources with rainwater tanks 22
5. Cost of rolling out rainwater tanks 31
6. References 33
Some excerpts from the Executive Summary:
Marsden Jacob Associates (MJA) has been commissioned by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Environment Victoria and the Australian Conservation Foundation to conduct research into the impact of a targeted rainwater tank roll-out in Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland (SEQ).

For individual property owners, the cost effectiveness of rainwater tanks is typically determined by comparing the cost of installing and operating a rainwater tank against savings from household water bills plus the impact of garden water restrictions. However, considering the benefits only from the perspective of the property owner does not recognise the broader cost savings to the community such as deferred water infrastructure, savings to stormwater infrastructure, and environmental externalities such as the cost of greenhouse gas emissions.

The present study compares the yield and levelised cost (i.e. the cost per kilolitre supplied) of various long term water source options in Sydney, Melbourne and SEQ against the potential yield and cost of rainwater tanks. Previous research by MJA for the National Water Commission indicates that both the yield and the cost of tanks varies significantly based on individual household variables - in particular the size of the roof collection area. This study compares the cost of rainwater tanks with other water infrastructure such as dams and desalination plants. Levelised cost (the cost per kilolitre of water supplied) is a factor of water yield from a particular technology and the cost of supplying it. Yield from a 5 kilolitre tank for a small (50m2 ) and large (200m2) roof collection area was shown to vary from around 47 kL to 105 kL in Sydney, 24 kL to 86 kL in Melbourne and 41 kL to 99 kL per year in Brisbane (airport sites only).


In addition, the key findings of this report include:

rainwater tanks will be widely installed in new housing developments due to regulations imposed by both the Queensland and NSW governments. While new dwellings can be designed to be 'rainwater tank-friendly', a growing proportion of future dwellings are expected to be in high density unit blocks which are mostly unsuitable for rainwater tanks (although the majority of new dwellings since 2001 have been detached 'rainwater tank-friendly' dwellings). However there is also significant potential for take-up of rainwater tanks in existing dwellings. The majority of existing dwellings, particularly in SEQ, are detached houses, making them suitable in theory for rainwater tanks. Many may not accommodate a tank due to limited land area or plumbing constraints. There are currently around 1.1 million houses potentially suitable for rainwater tanks (i.e. detached and semi-detached houses)1 in Sydney and 0.9 million in SEQ.


Water sources could potentially be deferred by more than the indicated time if demand management initiatives reduce future demand, or may be deferred by less than the time indicated due to other factors such as the need for emergency water supplies or specific regional growth requirements. The deferral of water sources will be cost effective only to the extent that rainwater tanks are less expensive than alternative water sources ..

Similar results would be expected for Melbourne depending on the growth in the number of dwellings and the impact of demand management initiatives. Additional demand management initiatives could potentially defer the need for water infrastructure even further. ...

research indicates that rainwater tanks are more than five times as energy efficient as desalination plants per kilolitre of water produced (rainwater tanks requiring around 1 MWh/ML compared with a typical desalination plant requirement of 5 MWh/ML); ...

See also my:

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Self Watering Pots

Self Watering PlanterMy smart apartment balcony is a harsh environment for plants. The Canberra sun can dry out plants quickly. One way around this is to use a self watering pot. These have a water reservoir in the bottom.

The pots are usually made of plastic and do not look as good as more natural materials. So I fitted the self watering pots into glazed ceramic ones. The air gap between the ceramic and plastic pots provides some insulation, reducing the heat in summer.

Plastic self watering pot being fitted with a plastic sleeveOne plastic pot did not fit, so I cut the top off with a small saw. The pot then fitted, but did not quite come up to the top of the ceramic pot and there was a gap between the two. So cut a piece out of the off-cut top of the plastic pot to make an adjustable sleeve. This I inserted into the top of the pot to cover the gap to the ceramic one. The springy plastic held it firmly in place until the soil was added to cover it.

Keep in mind that some plants do not benefit from the constant water supplied from the pot and may need to be left dry some times. Also the water could harbor mosquitoes other pests in some areas.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bubble shower saves water

Oxygenics Water-Saving ShowerheadCSIRO announced they had developed a device for saving water by introducing bubbles into shower heads. But the technology is not new as claimed; such products have been available for years and even the wording of the media release appears to not be original.

The CSIRO described their work in a media release:
While the general concept of using an aerated showerhead to save water is not new, the technology behind the CSIRO's device is novel.

Developed by a team led by Dr Jie Wu, the aeration device is a small nozzle that fits inside a standard showerhead. The nozzle uses a small Venturi tube - a tube for which the diameter varies, creating a difference in pressure and fluid speed. Air is sucked into the Venturi tube as a result of the partial vacuum created, causing air and water to mix, forming tiny bubbles within the water stream.

From: 'Air shower' set to cut water use by 30 per cent, Media Release 06/223, CSIRO, 9 November 2006
In 2005 I bought an aerating shower head from the Australian business E-Co Shower. As CSIRO describes, the unit sucks in air, and mixes it with the water to give you a shower of bubbles.

As pointed out on PhysOrgForum, what CSIRO announced appears to be very similar to the existing E-Co shower. Even some of the wording of the the CSIRO media release appears similar to the wording of the E-Co web site from 2003:
  1. E-CO : "air and water mixing together causes bubbles"
  2. CSIRO: "air and water to mix, forming tiny bubbles"
Leaving aside the question of who invented what (and who wrote what), such devices work very well. It is difficult to tell the E-Co shower in my bathroom from a normal one. There is a slight tingling sensation, which is pleasant. As well as saving water I suspect the system uses less hot water and keeps the bathroom dryer. This is because there is not the very fine mist you get from many low flow shower heads.

Previously I tried a water saving shower head. When on the high setting this produced a narrow jet of water. I had to move around it the shower to get my whole body wet and the force of the water was almost painful. On low setting it produced a fine mist which did not seem to wet the body. Either way it was not a pleasant result.

The E-Co units seem to be particularly popular with institutions. There is a vandal resistant model which just has a small hole for the water to come out of, instead of the usual rose pattern. The unit is only about 20mm wide and 40mm long and can be securely connected to the pipe coming from the wall. As a result there is little for anyone to vandalize.

Also there is the Oxygenics shower head. I am not sure I believe the health claims for the "oxygenated" spray, but it seems to operate on the same principle as the E-Co and CSIRO units and they have a clever animation showing how it works.

Diagram of of Oxygenics showerhead

The innovative technology behind Oxygenics® is based on the Venturi Principle. As water enters the base of the showerhead, it is propelled through an accelerator fin to increase the velocity of the water flow. It is then directed through a channel where oxygen is injected into water. The result? Phenomenal coverage and a continuous range of sensations - from a soft relaxing spray to a deep, therapeutic massage to everything in between. Are you ready to be wowed? Get ready for a healthy, powerful, oxygenated spray!

From: Oxygenics, 2007

The only innovation in the CSIRO approach seems to be that it is an adapter designed to be added to a normal shower head whereas E-Co make a complete shower head. E-Co make an adapter for hand-held showers and basins. E-Co include testimonials from Canberra residents and from the Department of Defence, so it it difficult to believe that CSIRO didn't know of it.

There is also a US Patent for such a device from 1978, complete with diagram:
The passage of water from conduit 17 and through the chamber within the shower head establishes, in accordance with the Bernoulli, or venturi principle, a low pressure environment within the shower head. The low pressure environment tends to draw ambient air through outlets 20 and 21. The drawn air mixes with the water within the shower head due to the turbulent nature of the flow therein and is ultimately ejected through nozzles 31.

Because the ejected jets of water are mixture of air and water, the spray striking a bather will not have the conventional sting of sharply defined jets of water. Instead, the spray will tend to be "softer" and produce a physiological massaging effect which is very pleasant. Aside from the physiological benefits, the amount of water seemingly necessary to provide the bather with a shower to which he has become accustomed to, consumes approximately one-half of the normal water useage. Thereby, aerator 15 can effect a water savings of approximately 50 percent and yet require no change in habits by the bather nor in any manner curtail or restrict the habits developed from a lifetime of showers."

From: Shower head aerator, Richard Harmony, United States Patent 4072270, February 7, 1978
There are only two things I have found wrong with the E-Co shower: is the price and the web site used to sell it. The price is very high compared to a cheap plastic water saving shower head. But the device is very well made, from solid metal and comparable in price to fashion shower heads. E-Co let the quality of the product down with a poor web site, which makes it hard to buy.

There is also another use for a Venturi in a shower: This is the "Venturi shower", where cold mains pressure water is used to draw hot water from a low pressure tank:

Diagram of venturi shower"High pressure mains cold water is used to "suck" tank pressure hot water through the special venturi valve inside the unit, so that the resulting mixed water comes out at a much greater rate than could be achieved using an electric shower or ordinary shower mixer valve. The venturi shower uses no electrical connections, it simply plumbs straight into the heating system."

From: Venturi Shower,, 2007

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Triple Glazed Solar Cell Window Panels?

Photovoltaic trough concentrator window panelHad a query asking when the Sliver solar cells would be available. Assuming the money for research and development is available it will be years before you can buy a Sliver solar panel.

The major cost with solar panels is the silicon used for the solar cells. The Sliver design minimizes this by using thin slices ("slivers") of silicon. But perhaps this could be reduced further. I suggested building the cells into glass window panels of Shanghai offices and apartment blocks.

One way to reduce the amount of silicon used is to use a reflector to concentrate more sunlight onto the cell. This can be done with a trough concentrator above a long strip of cells Normally the trough is about a metre wide and several metres long and is mechanically steered to keep it facing the sun.

But the sliver cells are made in long thin strips. So they could be individually mounted above miniature trough concentrators each a few mm wide. Making thousands of tiny reflectors for one solar panel would seem like hard work. But they could be made all at once from a sheet of aluminized mylar plastic pressed to the shape. This would look like a shiny silver chocolate box liner (with indentations molded in for each chocolate). Mylar is already used in some solar panels.

The mylar sheet would be sandwiched between two sheets of glass provide a multiple functions:

  1. Hold the sliver cells in place: The Mylar would be molded to form mounting points to hold the individual slivers in place.
  2. Trough concentrator: The mylar would be curved to form a miniature solar trough concentrators (about 10 mm wide) for each sliver. The concentrators would be shaped to reflect concentrated sunlight onto both sides of the cells (Bifacial concentrator) for most of the day without the need for the panel to be mechanically steered.
  3. Insulation: The Mylar would provide an additional layer of glazing to insulate the building panel.
  4. Filtering: The reflective coating of the Mylar would prevent excessive sunlight entering the building.
  5. Transmissive: The Mylar would be semi-transparent, allowing the panel to be used as a window, with the solar cells forming a decorative pattern.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Setting up your home computer network

A friend is moving house and asked how to set up their home computer network. My suggestion was to install their ADSL modem in the home office next to the office PC. The modem is connected to a router with four Ethernet ports and Wi-Fi. The office PC can be connected with an Ethernet cable, as can a second laptop in the room. Wi-Fi could be used, but you might as well use a cable if convenient, for a more reliable and secure connection.

Other computers in the house could be connected by Wi-Fi, with the security turned on. But I still prefer Ethernet cable, if possible.

VoIP PhoneAnother thing to consider is a Skype or other Voice over IP (VOIP) Internet phone service. This could be simply a low cost handset plugged into the office PC , a more expensive router with VOIP built in, a cordless VoIP phone or wi-fi Skype phone. But a home with several people in it might need multiple phone lines and it might be worth considering a full PABX. using This can have a phone number for each person in the house.

WiFi PhoneIf the Wi-Fi is working fine, another option is a Wi-Fi phone. This looks like a mobile phone but works via a Wi-Fi hot spot and Skype. You can use it around the house via your wi-fi base station and when out if near a Wi-Fi hotspot. Each member of the family can have one of these, each with its own phone number and each making a call at the same time.

UPSKeep in mind that a VoIP phone will not work with the power off. Some devices have a fallback facility where the ordinary phone line can be used if the VoIP fails. It would be best to have an ordinary old fashioned phone plugged in as well, just in case. If you get occasional power glitches, you can use a small Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) . This has a battery which can keep the equipment running for the few minutes the average power interruption lasts.

Fire SafeWhile fitting out the office, consider installing a fire and burglar resistant cabinet to hold a copy of your data. If your computer is destroyed in a fire or stolen, it may be replaced by the insurance company, but your data will not. The larger cabinets will hold a notebook computer.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Sliver Solar Cells for Military And Domestic Use

Andrew BlakersProfessor Andrew Blakers presented an inspirational talk today, on the Australian National University's sliver solar cell technology. But what is needed is more research funding to develop the technology into a usable product. Andrew sees the cells being cheap enough to be installed by individual householders and businesses, as well as for solar power stations.

At present solar cells are cost effective for remote locations off the grid, such as Illawong Lodge and Kings Canyon:
Illawong LodgeIllawong Ski Tourers manages Illawong Lodge, located at about 1600 metres altitude in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales, Australia. Illawong is several kilometres from the nearest roads, power, gas, water, sewer, telephones, ski lifts, and other services. ...

The first hut built here in 1925-26 was called Pounds Creek. ... The lodge consists of four small rooms with a roof and walls of iron, floor of wood, lined. It includes an innovative high-country solar power system for lighting.

From: Illawong Ski Tourers
Kings Canyon Solar Power Station
Kings Canyon is a high-profile tourist resort in Central Australia's Watarrka National Park in the arid zone. The remote resort previously relied on a diesel-fuelled power station. ... Peak power demand in the Northern Territory closely matches solar availability, with the peak occurring early afternoon. The PV system provides peak load and is run in tandem with a smaller diesel engine. Battery storage is not required since the diesel engines supplement ...
From: Kings Canyon Solar Power Station, Australian Business Council - Sustainable Energy 2006
However, research funding is likely to come for more exotic applications first. The first uses for solar cells were military and remote uses in telecommucations.

Some which the sliver cells might be applied to are:
  1. Solar Building Panels for China: The usual location for solar collectors on buildings is the roof. However, high rise buildings have only limited roof space. An alternative would be to use the same micro-louver technology as for military vehicles (below) and build the cells in to wall and window panels. Sun facing vertical panels would have cells arranged horizontally facing up towards the sun. For windows, sufficient space would be left between the cells to allow the occupants to have a view out the window. The cells could be made in aluminum frames as a direct replacement for domestic and commercial cladding, balcony balistrades and windows. Such panels could be used by the million for Shanghai offices and apartment blocks.
  2. Lightweight solar panels for the F-35 Lightening II JSF: Sliver cell panels could be incorporated into the sun shields used to protect aircraft cockpits on the ground. This would have the dual function of cooling the cocpit and providing power to keep the aircraft batteries charged. The sliver cell shades would be light, flexible and compact enough to be stowed aboard the aircraft for deployment. Research for this could be funded under the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project.
  3. Solar generating windows for military vehicles: Military vehicles, such as the Australian ADI Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle have difficulty keeping the occupants cool in desert regions and supplying sufficient electrical power for equipment. These vehicles have flat armored windows which could be fitted with sliver cell panels. The cells could be arranged as micro-louvers to shade the interior of the vehicle, while optimizing solar collection to power equipment. The silver cells have an anti-reflective coating which would enhance the situational awareness of the occupants of the vehicle, while reducing the visible and infrared signature. The ability to generate electricity would reduce the fuel consumption of the vehicle and its sound signature when stationary, as the diesel engine would not need to be run as much.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Australian solar cell technology, 27 October 2006

Andrew Blakers
Back in March I mentioned an inspirational talk by Professor Andrew Blakers on Australian solar cell technology. He is giving another talk in Canberra next week.

Press reports, from as far as Turkey, indicate the technology will be developed offshore:
Origin Energy has confirmed commercial manufacture of ANU's solar sliver cell technology is poised to go offshore, possibly to Germany or the United States, to capitalise on government investment incentives for solar energy in those countries. ...

From Journal of Turkish Weekly, 3 Oct 2006
I don't see this as a bad thing, as long as Australia gets a reasonable payment for licensing the technology. Perhaps Professor McKibbin's "Architecture for International Cooperation on Climate Change" would make it cost effective to manufacture the cells in Australia. The cells could be used to charge our electric cars and run our houses.


Professor Andrew Blakers (Director, Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems & ARC Centre of Excellence for Solar Energy Systems, ANU.)

DATE: 2006-10-27
TIME: 11:00:00 - 12:00:00
LOCATION: RSISE Seminar Room, ground floor, building 115, cnr. North and Daley Roads, ANU

The worldwide solar energy industry is doubling in size every 18 months, driven by concerns about global warming. Photovoltaic technology is likely to be a substantial component of future electricity supply. About 95% of solar cells are manufactured on crystalline silicon substrates. However, the current shortage of hyperpure silicon is constraining the industry. Possible solutions include thin crystalline silicon solar cells, non-silicon materials and solar concentrator systems. The talk will describe the technological and commercial problems and opportunities of the PV industry, and will include a survey of Australia's position.

Photovoltaic research and commercialisation in the Australian National University will be described. Recent work shows that Sliver solar cell technology is capable of cost reductions of three quarters compared with current photovoltaic technology. Standard materials and techniques are used in novel ways to create 20% efficient thin single crystalline solar cells with superior performance and sharply reduced cost. Sliver technology is a disruptive technology within a well-established conventional industry. PV and hybrid PV/thermal solar concentrator systems are also under development at ANU. This is a multidisciplinary endeavour, and brings together solar cell physics & technology with materials, mechanical, electrical and control engineering. Solar concentrators have good economic prospects in Australia and elsewhere once the cost of carbon emissions is internalised into fossil fuel costs.

Professor Andrew Blakers is the Foundation Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Solar Energy Systems. His research interests are photovoltaics, solar energy systems and energy policy. Particular interests are Sliver solar cell technology (which he co-invented with Klaus Weber) and solar concentrators. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering, the Institute of Energy and the Institute of Physics, and has published approximately 200 papers and 10 patents.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Australian Solar Cells to Power Indian IT Boom?

Professor Andrew Blakers
This morning I attended an inspirational talk by Professor Andrew Blakers on Australian solar cell technology:

"... Sliver solar cell technology is capable of cost reductions of three quarters compared with current photovoltaic technology. Sliver technology was invented at the Australian National University (

Standard materials and techniques are used in novel ways to create thin single crystalline solar cells with superior performance and sharply reduced cost. Sliver technology is a disruptive technology within a well-established conventional industry, and has an excellent chance of dominating the burgeoning worldwide photovoltaic industry.

First generation Sliver technology is being commercialised in Adelaide by Origin Energy ( ANU is developing a second generation Sliver technology which offers large technical and manufacturing improvements over first generation technology. ..."
From: "The Extraordinary Prospects for Sliver Solar Cell Technology", Prof Andrew Blakers, CSES SEMINAR SERIES, 2006-03-10 <>.

The clever bit about the technology is that it is uses existing silicon material and processes in a more efficient way. Instead of using a whole silicon wafer as a solar cell, they slice it into thousands of thin strips (slivers) and so get more electricity out of the same amount of material. As well as helping the environment, this could earn billions of dollars for Australia.

One use for the cells is in window panes. As the cells are thin slivers, they can be used as window shades, letting some light through and turning the rest into electricity.

One use which occurred to me might be in India, where there is a shortage of electricity. Offices and cyber cafes have large banks of batteries to supply electricity during blackouts. Cheap solar cells could be added to charge the batteries and supply surplus to the grid. The cells could also be used to charge the batteries of the electric cars being made in Bangalore.

One issue I raised at question time was regulatory impediments to energy conservation. My smart apartment is in a building with a computer controlled solar boosted gas hot water system. The cost of gas used is therefore very low. But the gas company, with the blessing of the the ACT government regulator, charges each apartment in the complex the same amount as if we each had a gas connection. As a result I am penalized for using solar power.

Professor Andrew Blakers is an inspiring speaker with a grasp of the economics as well as the materials science involved. He was asked if the Australian government had expressed interest. Unfortunately, while the Greens and the ALP politicians have been along to talk to him (as well as the Governor General), none of the relevant government ministers have bothered to visit.

ps: If the Ministers do visit, I recommend lunch at the Purple Pickle cafe on the ANU campus. Today is a stunning autumn day. Pedalling alongside Sullivans Creek to the seminar, there was a vista of cloudless blue sky, water, ducks and students ambling to lectures. Oxford and Cambridge Universities may have their dreaming spires, but it is a lot more pleasant most of the time and just as beautiful here in Canberra.

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