May 29th, 2010
Name: Local Power
Description: Solar photovoltaic bulk buyers/installers
Founded: Brisbane, 2007
What’s a tried and true way of bringing the cost down on purchases? Buy in bulk. This is the principle used by Local Power, a Brisbane not-for-profit that organises the bulk ordering and installation of solar PV power systems.
Every few months, Local Power opens a new ‘buying group‘ for householders to be a part of. Rather than offering a wide range of solar panels/inverters to cater to a wide range of personal preferences, Local Power’s buying groups only offer a few product options. Cutting down the complexity and focusing on fewer solar system models allows Local Power to negotiate better prices from its suppliers. It also simplifies life for the tradies that install the systems. Not only is it easier to repeatedly install identical systems on different roofs, bulk buying groups also allow the installers to better plan their work and efficiently drive between houses in local geographic areas.
As well as offering great value for people that are already interested in renewable energy, Local Power opens doors for people who are willing to embrace solar power, but lack the time or knowledge to buy systems on their own. Working in a coordinated fashion gets positive attention from the government, supports the fledgling renewable energy industry, and makes Local Power customers feel like the are a part of a kind of ‘movement’. A not-for-profit with four successful buying groups behind it, Local Power is a great example of a community initiative that has ‘filled a gap’ for hundreds of households, and made genuine steps to reducing the carbon intensity of our neighbourhoods.
- Local Power FAQs.
- Excerpt from a 2009 book about the Local Power story.
- Listen to a 12 minute chat between 612 ABC’s Madonna King and Local Power founders Russell Holmes and Rob Farago. Discussion mostly about broad, layperson descriptions of solar PV and solar HWS.
April 28th, 2010
In my last post I mentioned solar thermal energy technology. I thought I must mention how solar thermal is different to the photovoltaic solar cells that readers may be familiar with.
While photovoltaic cells directly use the sun’s light to create electricity, solar thermal installations use mirrors to concentrate the heat from the sun into a storage medium, such as molten salt. The high heat of this molten salt can then be used to turn a turbine by boiling water into steam, much like what happens in a coal, gas or nuclear power plant. The benefit of solar thermal over photovoltaics is that it can be relied upon as a baseload, 24 hour power source as heat is gradually drawn from the molten salt when required. The benefits of solar thermal over coal, gas and nuclear is that it requires no fuel inputs, and emits no pollution from its operations.
I’m sure I’m not the only one excited by technology such as this. I’m fascinated by the idea of energy sources that need no fuel inputs and produce no pollution or emissions. Better yet, the cost of solar thermal is comparable to coal power plants and the technology is well-suited to Australian conditions. Bring it on.
A quote from page 87 of The Ecology of Commerce (1993) by Paul Hawken:
Solar technologies are currently more expensive than coal because they internalise their costs to the environment, but coal externalises its costs.
I think it’s great that despite this situation (the costs of coal pollution to the environment being written off as ‘free’), solar thermal is still emerging as an economic challenger to coal under these ‘old rules’. When we remember that coal is only ‘cheap’ because of the incomplete way we account for its environmental lifecycle, the choice between fossil fuels and renewables is stark. Let’s make our priority supporting clean, rapidly deployable technology such as solar thermal.