Given the fact that everyone else in the Questionably Civilised World seems to be giving themselves a forum to vent their fury at the injustices and indignities we're being subjected to on an almost daily basis the last thing the world needs is another semi-political blog, but I can't help myself.
With the sheer volume of such rantings out there, and the fact that practically nobody reads these pages, once I decided to set out on this little venture it seemed to make sense to hive this bit off as another annexe to the Little House of Concrete rather than adding political and socioeconomic commentary to the main site and risk losing what few readers I might actually have.
So, in the unlikely off chance that there's anyone out there who is actually interested, welcome to the People's Republic of the Little House of Concrete, the title of which is probably a fair indication of where we're coming from.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Little House of Concrete Goes Solar (4)

The Critical Reader might be inclined to ascribe the subject matter herein to the non-arrival of Those Log In Details. This particular diatribe, however, was always going to be the middle entry in a trilogy exploring what's possible, what might have been and some possible implications for the future.

We've already established that the system that now sits on the roof of The Little House of Concrete will look after the day to day power consumption. That's fine. We've also established, at least in my mind, that we're not going to get out of paying a substantial power bill. Not as big as it would be without the solar, but still a significant expense.

That's going to continue thanks to the quirks that went in when the national grid was set up a few years ago.

Now, I might not have this quite right, but I reckon I'm not far off the money as I wind the memory back to a dimly remembered discussion on the radio a few summers back. I am as I've noted elsewhere, inclined to watch the cricket on the radio. The regular January/February heatwave down south back prompted discussion about how to meet peak demand on the couple of days when temperatures in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide climb towards (or into) the forties.

On those days, the demand for power goes up through the ceiling and beyond, and there was as I understand it, the very real possibility of brown outs. Predictably, and quite understandably, that's something politicians at the state and federal levels are keen to avoid. Having the air-con cut out while you're sweltering is the kind of thing that might stick a voter's mind, and might just prompt a vote for the opposition.

It's not too hard to envisage the minister responsible for the power supply going to the advisers and asking what can be done to avoid brown outs. It isn't too hard to envisage the response. It was probably along the lines of It can be done, but it'll cost you.

There's another issue lurking in the background here, the ongoing tendency of governments at all levels to dig themselves out of their current financial hole by selling something off. The state governments haven't all succeeded in selling off their electricity businesses, but they've all tried.

So, along with the avoidance of brown outs you've got the cost of creating the capacity to meet peak demand and the cost of maintaining the system over large distances. And when you want to sell it off you need to persuade the people with the cash that it's a good investment.

I mightn't have that exactly right, but that's a large part of the gold-plating of the electricity grid. It needed a good bottom line to persuade those institutional investors that shares in the power grid were a good buy that would yield a decent return.

The power bills went up. Governments change. The other mob gets the blame. The new government says something along the lines of we wouldn't have done it that way, but that's the way it is and it's out of our hands.

But you can't help wondering if it really had to be that way.

The answer to that question, of course, is that you're looking at something implemented by people working their own murky agenda, so it probably did.

What follows may be seen as a diversion, but it goes down here so I can invite other people involved to refresh my memory. It's a rather sore point that ends up having some relevance given that phrase people working their own murky agendas.

At the beginning of 1997, I had a change of year level and classroom at The School on the Hill. Where I'd previously been upstairs in B Block with Year Six, I was now downstairs in The Pandemonium with a Year Four. The Pandemonium, for The Inquisitive Reader, was the demountable known as I Block referred to by my good friend Bart the Prickle Headed Degenerate as The Condominium. I reckoned Bart was getting ideas above his station, hence the revision of the nickname.

I wasn't particularly chuffed by the move since my new room was in the lee of B Block, which stood substantially between me and the prevailing sou'easters. Upstairs in B Block was, I knew from experience, a rather cool location. I suspected The Pandemonium would be a sweat box.

I was even less chuffed when The Rifleman (a.k.a. the Principal) turned up on the doorstep to advise B Block was about to be demolished. It would be replaced by a new, wider ultramodern brick structure. My immediate response was that this would be noisy and dusty, and The Pandemonium could do with some airconditioning.

The Rifleman said he'd look into it. He did, and came back with the first round of correspondence in a long-running rigmarole that ran all the way through the construction of the new edifice and for a good year and a bit beyond that. We were, if I recall correctly, dealing with someone in Cairns who'd been placed in charge of the roll out of school airconditioning through the Cool Schools Programme.

There was no way this dude was going to vary his programme. Not even when a particular local issue raised a very ugly head.

It was a brick saw. Which brings in another murky agenda. The new B Block wasn't the only building using that particular design, and the design called for odd shaped bricks that needed to be cut to particular specifications. I don't know how many different particular specifications. But I do know that it required a brick saw to operate from 7:45 to 3:45 five days a week for most of the year.

It was one of those devices that required the operator, according to Workplace Health and Safety, to wear protective earmuffs. Workplace Health and Safety wasn't as generous with the four teachers and the hundred and twenty odd kids within a thirty metre radius of where the thing was set up. Half of them were upstairs in A Block, where they got some breeze along with the racket. The rest of them, along with Yours Truly and The Dragon Lady were battened down in The Pandemonium with the louvres on that side closed to keep out the noise and dust.

When you heard the brick saw start up on your way to work in the morning your first reaction was to turn around and head straight back home.

But eventually it stopped. The new (airconditioned) structure was finished. And an impressive bank of split system inverters blew hot air straight down onto the poor old Pandemonium.

Around eighteen months later, we got out airconditioning. Interestingly, when it arrived, one end didn't seem to chill at all, and the other seemed irrevocably set to Arctic. I was in the Arctic end. I like it cold. I wasn't complaining, though everybody else was (and guess who copped the blame).

But, over those few years in the late nineties most schools across Queensland were airconditioned, and I don't recall sighting a school building anywhere recently that hasn't had the predictable array of inverters outside.

The electricity bills associated with those would have to be huge. Pause, for a moment and consider the possibilities of solar in those circumstances.

W know it wouldn't come cheap. Our experience with the Cool Schools programme suggests the cost would turn out to be significantly higher than it might be when you're hiring consultants to oversee the process.

Still, it should be possible to whack enough panels on the roofs of schools across Queensland to have them all very close to self-sufficient as far as electricity is concerned. And their airconditioning would only be chewing up power between 8 and 4, Monday to Friday, forty-two weeks a year. School based solar would be pumping its pull output into the system on weekends, and on that six week Christmas holiday period.

They could, once they'd been paid off, even be a nice little earner for each school community.

With that sort of network in place, we mightn't have needed the same gold plated electricity grid, and those power bills might, just possibly, be significantly lower.

But, of course, that sort of scenario makes a privatised electricity supply a much less attractive proposition.

But, to me,  the most interesting aspect of all this comes with tomorrow's discussion of some implications for the future.

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