Friday, August 01, 2014

Panasonic Moves to Grow Vegetables Indoors in Singapore

Panasonic, the Japanese electronics giant, has announced its entry into high tech indoor farming in land-strapped Singapore. 

Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia, a regional subsidiary that provides manufacturing systems, is starting out in the grocery business by supplying the 3 local outlets of Ootoya, a Japanese restaurant chain, using a newly developed vegetable cultivation system.

Panasonic's 248 sq.-metre indoor farm is located in Tuas, an industrial zone in western Singapore, and is the first facility of its kind to be licensed by the government.   Panasonic says the innovative soil-based system employs LED lighting to grow vegetables without pesticides in half the time a traditional farm requires. The system also optimizes other growing conditions, including temperature, humidity and CO2 levels.

The Tuas facility has an initial production capacity of 3.6 tons of vegetables per year, but Panasonic hopes to boost output to 1,000 tons by March 2017 - equivalent to about 5% of Singapore's current vegetable production. [THAT would be quite something!!]

Panasonic can cultivate 10 kinds of vegetable at present, including lettuces, radishes, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and basil. It is also producing popular Japanese varieties such as ooba (mint), mizuna (potherb mustard) and mitsuba (wild parsley) that are imported from Japan at present. According to Panasonic, its indoor-farmed produce could be half the price of imports. [ THAT is very relevant]

Panasonic is starting off its futuristic grocery business by supplying 3 kinds of vegetables for Ootoya salads, and will add two more next month. Ultimately, it hopes to produce 30 vegetables.

At a press conference on Thursday, Hideki Baba, managing director of Panasonic Factory Solution Asia Pacific, noted that Singapore at present produces only 8% of the vegetables it consumes due to the scarcity of farm land.    "Panasonic hopes our indoor vegetable farm can contribute effectively to the nation's food self-sufficiency levels," said Baba.

Panasonic's future business model for indoor farming will involve franchisees supplying restaurants and commercial grocers. A system for households that wish to self-grow is also being considered, and there are plans to export systems to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.    "With the increase of salary levels and a large number of Japanese restaurants in these countries, we expect the demand for fresh and safe vegetables to grow," said Baba.  

Mostly sourced from a press release on July 31, 2014 9:44 pm JST by Tomomi Kikuchi Nikkei Staff writer 

This is an auspicious move - especially with a soil based system, rather than using hydroponics.  While other parts of the world are also developing similar approaches [ think Detroit in the USA for example] this venture in Singapore aims to offer fresh salad greens in a land poor region.

Could this system be replicated elsewhere?   Like Darwin for example?  And think outside the target of Japanese customers - it seems eminently replicable for many, many vegetables.



UPDATE - It seems many are interested in this concept with both Sharp and Fujitsu also involved in similar ventures - some in Japan, and some in the middle east [ Dubai].

Read more here - https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/business/technology/a/24621789/electronics-giant-panasonic-wants-singaporeans-to-eat-its-veg/

Should we see more of these particularly in both hotter and colder regions of the world where vegetables are needed, but sometimes more difficult to grow, especially year round!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Grow Your Own - Compadre Zoysia Turf from Seed

Once the month of July finishes in northern Australia - anywhere from Northern NSW and north it is time to consider seed sowing for a new turf area.

While using turf sod is quick and easy you certainly do have to pay for quality turf sod.

And as many residents have found in the ACT recently - sod can also transport weed species.  You hope it is clean,but weeds can be in the soil that inevitably comes with the sod.

As weather slowly warms, sowing a new Compadre zoysia lawn is a worthwhile option.  Zoysia turf is recognised as probably the best turf for Australia.  Low water requirements [ once established], low fertiliser needs, and less frequent mowing all add to a turf that is a delight for a homeowner or even a commercial site.

Less maintenance and a great appearance for the turf, no itchiness if lying on the turf either.

Seed now available - contact us for a price and we have lots of information to help you achieve a successful establishment of your first class turf area.

Preparation is the key - a bit of time spent on the site preparation is very worthwhile, and fundamental to a successful turf sowing.

BUT.........start now,so you sow the seed before the heavy storm rains of summer / wet season arrive.

Zoysia sod farm
Compadre zoysia seed sown,at 16 weeks, Darwin area

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Germany Best at Energy Efficiency while Australia and USA Very Poor

Germany tops a new energy efficiency ranking of the world’s major economies, followed by Italy, China, France, and Japan, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). 
The United States ranked 13th out of 16 nations, behind countries such as India, China, and Canada, although new carbon pollution standards proposed this June for existing power plants in the USA would be a major stride in the right direction, the ACEEE said.

The group also admonished Australia, which ranked 10th, for demonstrating “a clear backward trend” in implementing energy efficiency measures. 

Germany took the top spot largely due to regulations it has imposed on commercial and residential buildings. 

And China, despite lax enforcement of building codes, uses less energy per square foot than any other country, the analysis found.

The rankings are based on 31 energy efficiency indicators — including national policies and energy-saving programs — in 16 major economies representing over 70 percent of global energy consumption.

It seems that Australia needs to do a lot more in energy efficiency measures, but how will this rate among the hotch potch of what will be the new energy landscape in Australia in late 2014, following recent changes in parliament.

Energy efficiency measures cover such a wide range of actions - from shading of buildings, to using newer energy efficiency electric motors, sun reflecting films and windows through to better insulation and less draughty doors and higher efficiency air conditioners.  Simple stuff..........and it works! 

See the infographic for more details and full report at http://www.aceee.org/press/2014/07/germany-italy-eu-china-and-france-to 



Friday, July 18, 2014

Composting - Vital for Better Soil Health, Fertility and Reducing Erosion

Composting reduces waste and builds healthy soil to support local food production and protect against the impacts of extreme weather, from droughts to heavy rainfall. That’s the message of two new reports from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR):
State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How <http://www.ilsr.org/state-of-composting/> and
Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting<http://www.ilsr.org/size-matters-report-shows-small-scale-community-based-composting/>

Compost is the dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material produced by the managed decomposition of organic materials such as yard trimmings and food scraps. Compost is valued for its ability to enhance soil structure and quality. It adds organic matter to soil, improves plant growth and water retention, cuts chemical fertilizer use, and stems stormwater run-off and soil erosion. In the U.S., 40 million hectares (28% of all cropland) are eroding above soil loss tolerance rates, meaning the long-term productivity of the soil to support plant growth cannot be maintained.  

It might be worse comparatively in Australia, and China certainly has major problems!

compost production- commercial scale

Applying a meagre 12mm of compost to the all of the severely eroded cropland in the USA would require about 3 billion tonness of compost,” says Brenda Platt, the lead author of both reports and director of ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project. “There is not enough compost to meet that need.  No organic scrap should be wasted.”

Compost also protects the climate:  it sequesters carbon in soil and it reduces methane emissions from landfills by cutting the amount of biodegradable materials disposed. (Methane is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72 times more potent than CO2 in the short-term.) A growing body of evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of compost to store carbon in soil for a wide range of soil types and land uses.

Yard trimmings composting programs are fairly well developed in the U.S.

Of the 4,914 composting operations identified in the U.S. for State of Composting in the U.S., about 71% compost only green waste / yard trimmings (based on 44 states reporting). Food scrap recovery is slowly growing. More than 180 US cities and counties are now collecting residential food scraps for composting, up from only a handful a few years ago.  “There is more demand for composting, especially from businesses and institutions that want to source separate food scraps and not throw them in the landfill,” says Nora Goldstein, Editor of BioCycle, which conducted the state-by-state assessment of composting infrastructure and policies, “We not only need more infrastructure to compost these materials, we need more infrastructure to manufacture high quality compost that our soils — and climate — desperately need.”
 
compost berm used in erosion control
State of Composting in the U.S. is the first comprehensive review of composting basics, national and state statistics, job generation data, model programs, and policy opportunities.

The report calls for a national soils strategy and for new rules and programs to grow composting, especially at the local community level: including streamlined permitting for facilities, training programs, technical and financing assistance, strong recycling and composting goals, disposal bans, compost procurement policies, and more.  “The beauty of composting is that it can be small-scale, large-scale and everything in between,” says Brenda Platt. “Why send resources out of the community when our neighbourhoods need food and our soils are starved for organic matter?”

I would imagine that the report for Australia and the NT in particular would be quite similar.  However, around Darwin mulched green waste is widely used in domestic areas but much less so commercially and for landscape rehabilitation where it can be especially useful in restarting organic processes on damaged soils.

A sneak peek inside State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How:
·      Section 1, What Is Composting and Compost, describes the composting process, what materials can be composted, composting systems, and the many uses for compost.
·      Section 2, Why Compost?, identifies the key benefits of composting to create jobs, protect watersheds, reduce climate impacts, and improve soil vitality.
·      Section 3, Where Is Composting Happening, provides a national snapshot of composting infrastructure, current policies, and model programs that could be replicated.
·      Section 4, How to Advance Composting, outlines new rules and initiatives to grow composting, and describes the importance of a diverse and locally based infrastructure.

ILSR’s companion report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, features successful community-scale composting initiatives, their benefits, tips for replication, key start-up steps, and the need for private and public sector support. 

Produced by ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project and the Highfields Centre for Composting, this guide highlights more than 30 diverse urban and rural small-scale locally based composting programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia.  They include schools, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens, and farms employing multiple composting techniques.


To download both reports, visit  www.ilsr.org/initiatives/composting

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Updates for Pasturefed Cattle Assurance Scheme

Changes have been made to the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System standards and rules, making it easier for beef producers to participate in the certification program.

Since its launch in April of 2013 more than 200 certified producers have become pasture-fed certified and many more are undertaking on-farm audits to prove claims their beef is pasture or grass raised and also to meet optional additional modules of antibiotic-free and GMO-free.

Teys Australia [ in SE Queensland], which had been the first processor to commit to the program, is now offering a 70 cents a kilogram premium for eligible cattle above the Meat Standards Australia grid price for August delivery - and has just extended its premium to 10c/kg for non-MSA grade cattle.

PCAS coordinator Lisa Cotter said it had been a great first year. Producers who had been early adopters were reaping the benefits of sometimes more than $200 a steer above MSA prices.

The Cattle Council of Australia - which had developed the program - had recently reviewed the standards and rules in line with United States Department of Agriculture updates with which the certification scheme was closely aligned, with experience from the first 12 months of the program.  Given the surge in Australian beef exports to the US this is a great plus, allowing marketing entry to claiming grass fed stature – quite a marketing plus - in the US retail market.

There were three objectives going forward in the program.
1 .   Standards need to evolve over time while still ensuring they still meet the market requirements
2       They need to be practical at the producer level and after the first year, some changes could be made to better meet this need  whilst maintaining the integrity of the program  
3        They must continue to reflect the international standards.




Standards and rules now clearly stated that the use of anthelmintics such as Ivermectin for the control of internal parasites was permissible [that is a big plus and definitely acceptable].  All topical treatments such as pinkeye ointments and back-liners were permissible to also meet the antibiotic-free module.

One of the major changes was in how life time traceability of cattle was achieved and defined.

The NLIS database was no longer the sole method to demonstrate lifetime traceability, taking into account many properties running sophisticated on-farm databases eg Practical Systems Stockbook software.

Producers must continue to show they are meeting their legal requirements of moving cattle on-and-off the NLIS database, but for example if a breeder who never trades cattle but had a ghost mob where a few animals had not been transferred, or where there were a couple of animals had tags fallen out, there can be problems.

Animals which lost their NLIS button could now still be classified as PCAS eligible if producers could prove it complied, through other management systems.

PCAS had no restrictions on producers yard-weaning their calves, with the guidelines only stipulating that animals must not be confined for more than 20 days each year.

Cereal grain at weaning is not permitted and has been an issue for some beef producers, but a lot of producers have been able to supplement by feeding hay, silage and cotton seed or canola meal, or a supplement mineral mix, depending on what is the most applicable for their business, to overcome weaning stress while maintaining certification.

A few producers have committed to the program in the NT, but with the live export market so buoyant, numbers moving to abattoirs have been low.  The program offers some real potential for the NT and indeed the whole northern cattle industry, by capitalising on the consumer demand for grass fed beef, especially if a premium price can be realised for the effort..

Every dollar helps producer viability and this option can add some dollars at sale time for stock going to an abattoir.


As consultants to industry we can assist with producers achieving these Pasturefed Cattle Assurance quality standards.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Poor Sanitation A Child Killer in India







12 Photos


SHEOHAR DISTRICT, India — He wore thick black eyeliner to ward off the evil eye, but Vivek, a tiny 1-year-old living in a village of mud huts and diminutive people, had nonetheless fallen victim to India’s great scourge of malnutrition.

His parents seemed to be doing all the right things. His mother still breast-fed him. His family had six goats, access to fresh buffalo milk and a hut filled with hundreds of pounds of wheat and potatoes. The economy of the state where he lives has for years grown faster than almost any other. His mother said she fed him as much as he would eat and took him four times to doctors, who diagnosed malnutrition. Just before Vivek was born in this green landscape of small plots and grazing water buffalo near the Nepali border, the family even got electricity.
So why was Vivek malnourished?


Poor Sanitation Linked to Malnutrition in India

New research on malnutrition, which leads to childhood stunting, suggests that a root cause may be an abundance of human waste polluting soil and water, rather than a scarcity of food.





Like almost everyone else in their village, Vivek and his family have no toilet, and the district where they live has the highest concentration of people who defecate outdoors. As a result, children are exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat.
“These children’s bodies divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival,” said Jean Humphrey, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted. What’s particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.”
Two years ago, Unicef, the World Health Organization and the World Bank released a major report on child malnutrition that focused entirely on a lack of food. Sanitation was not mentioned. Now, Unicef officials and those from other major charitable organizations said in interviews that they believe that poor sanitation may cause more than half of the world’s stunting problems.
“Our realization about the connection between stunting and sanitation is just emerging,” said Sue Coates, chief of water, sanitation and hygiene at Unicef India. “At this point, it is still just an hypothesis, but it is an incredibly exciting and important one because of its potential impact.”
This research has quietly swept through many of the world’s nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?

A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families.
This disconnect between wealth and malnutrition is so striking that economists have concluded that economic growth does almost nothing to reduce malnutrition.

Half of India’s population, or at least 620 million people, defecate outdoors. And while this share has declined slightly in the past decade, an analysis of census data shows that rapid population growth has meant that most Indians are being exposed to more human waste than ever before.
In Sheohar, for instance, a toilet-building program between 2001 and 2011 decreased the share of households without toilets to 80 percent from 87 percent, but population growth meant that exposure to human waste rose by half.

“The difference in average height between Indian and African children can be explained entirely by differing concentrations of open defecation,” said Dean Spears, an economist at the Delhi School of Economics. “There are far more people defecating outside in India more closely to one another’s children and homes than there are in Africa or anywhere else in the world.”


Not only does stunting contribute to the deaths of a million children under the age of 5 each year, but those who survive suffer cognitive deficits and are poorer and sicker than children not affected by stunting. They also may face increased risks for adult illnesses like diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

“India’s stunting problem represents the largest loss of human potential in any country in history, and it affects 20 times more people in India alone than H.I.V./AIDS does around the world,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, vice president for research and policy at the Public Health Foundation of India.

India is an increasingly risky place to raise children. The country’s sanitation and air quality are among the worst in the world. Parasitic diseases and infections like tuberculosis, often linked with poor sanitation, are most common in India. More than one in four newborn deaths occur in India.
Open defecation has long been an issue in India. Some ancient Hindu texts advised people to relieve themselves far from home, a practice that Gandhi sought to curb.
“The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere,” Gandhi wrote in 1925.
Other developing countries have made huge strides in improving sanitation. Just 1 percent of Chinese and 3 percent of Bangladeshis relieve themselves outside compared with half of Indians. Attitudes may be just as important as access to toilets. Constructing and maintaining tens of millions of toilets in India would cost untold billions, a price many voters see no need to pay — a recent survey found that many people prefer going to the bathroom outside.
Few rural households build the sort of inexpensive latrines that have all but eliminated outdoor waste in neighboring Bangladesh.
One analysis found that government spending on toilets pays for itself in increased tax receipts from greater productivity, but the math works only if every member of a family who gets a toilet uses it.

“We need a cultural revolution in this country to completely change people’s attitudes toward sanitation and hygiene,” said Jairam Ramesh, an economist and former sanitation minister.

India’s government has for decades tried to resolve the country’s stubborn malnutrition problems by distributing vast stores of subsidized food. But more and better food has largely failed to reverse early stunting, studies have repeatedly shown.

India now spends about $26 billion annually on food and jobs programs, and less than $400 million on improving sanitation — a ratio of more than 60 to 1.



“We need to reverse that ratio entirely,” Dr. Laxminarayan said.


Better sanitation in the West during the 19th and early 20th centuries led to huge improvements in health long before the advent of vaccines and antibiotics, and researchers have long known that childhood environments play a crucial role in child death and adult height.
The present research on gut diseases in children has focused on a condition resulting from repeated bacterial infections that flatten intestinal linings, reducing by a third the ability to absorb nutrients. A recent study of starving children found that they lacked the crucial gut bacteria needed to digest food.

In a little-discussed but surprising finding, Muslim children in India are 17 percent more likely to survive infancy than Hindus, even though Muslims are generally poorer and less educated. This enormous difference in infant mortality is explained by the fact that Muslims are far more likely to use latrines and live next to others also using latrines, a recent analysis found.
So widespread housing discrimination that confines many Muslims to separate slums may protect their children from increased exposure to the higher levels of waste in Hindu communities and, as a result, save thousands of Indian Muslim babies from death each year.
Just building more toilets, however, may not be enough to save India’s children.
Phool Mati lives in a neighborhood in Varanasi with 12 public toilets, but her 1-year-old grandson, Sandeep, is nonetheless severely malnourished. His mother tries to feed him lentils, milk and other foods as often as she can, but Sandeep is rarely hungry because he is so often sick, Ms. Mati said.

The effluent pipe that served the bathroom building is often clogged. Raw sewage seeps into an adjoining Hindu temple, and, during the monsoon season, it flooded the neighborhood’s homes. The matron of the toilet facility charges two rupees for each use, so most children relieve themselves directly into open drains that run along a central walkway.

No Indian city has a comprehensive waste treatment system, and most Indian rivers are open sewers as a result. But Varanasi, India’s oldest and holiest city, is so awash in human waste that its decrepit condition became a national issue in recent elections. The city’s sewage plants can handle only about 20 percent of the sewage generated in the city, said Ramesh Chopra of Ganga Seva Abhiyanam, a trust for cleaning the river. The rest sloshes into the Ganges or fetid ponds and pits.


Millions of pilgrims bathe in the Ganges along Varanasi’s ancient riverfront, but a stream of human waste — nearly 75 million liters per day — flows directly into the river just above the bathing ghats, steps leading down to the river. Many people wash or brush their teeth beside smaller sewage outlets.

Much of the city’s drinking water comes from the river, and half of Indian households drink from contaminated supplies.  “India’s problems are bigger than just open defecation and a lack of toilets,” Dr. Laxminarayan said.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Repealing the Carbon Text May Kill the Very Successful Fire Abatement Programs in North Australia

The West Arnhem Fire Abatement program that reduces greenhouse gas emissions is at risk if carbon pricing is removed. This program is run through the Northern Land Council.

Details are here -http://www.nailsma.org.au/walfa-west-arnhem-land-fire-abatement-project  

In the NT this program sells greenhouse gas credits to LNG company Conoco Phillips in Darwin and has had plans for expansion.

Once the carbon tax goes, these programs are potentially likely to fall over, with this one and others in the Kimberley area at risk.

The following press release also has more to say.

Killing the carbon price will hurt Indigenous communities


Today the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) publicly supports the Kimberley Land Council, who on Friday reported that Indigenous communities stood to lose millions if the carbon price is repealed. 
“As the Prime Minister does deals with cross-bench senators this week, Indigenous communities throughout Australia are watching on in dread. Removing the ‘carbon tax’ will seriously threaten future prosperity,” said Wade Freeman, Kimberly project officer with ACF. 

The hugely successful Indigenous Rangers Program, and their work in fire management, is one area that is at risk.  “Well-planned prescribed fires have not only prevented dangerous wildfires, but have cut greenhouse pollution entering the atmosphere. Through the Carbon Farming Initiative, these are a key source of income for Indigenous communities.  “So far, the fire management activities have generated 230,000 credits estimated to be worth about $5 million based on the current carbon price,” Mr Freeman said.

“Unfortunately, the government’s own Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) will make things harder for Indigenous communities.  “Indigenous Ranger groups and communities will be pushed out of the market if the Abbott governments "reverse auction" in the ERF model is adopted. The ERF effectively has sellers competing to generate the lowest price on carbon as opposed to the current arrangement where large polluting companies compete against each other to buy credits.  "If Tony Abbott is really the Prime Minister for Indigenous Peoples, he need to find the missing link between a great initiative for Indigenous people and managing Australia’s pollution levels, and the ERF isn’t it," Mr Freeman said. 

“Earning income from carbon farming by managing country is important to the plans of remote Indigenous communities to participate in long term economic activity, rather than rely on welfare support,” Mr Freeman said.


The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again??   

Monday, July 14, 2014

Could Fodder Exports Come from Northern Australia?

There has been increasing production of fodder for export derived from near Perth, Victoria and even South Australia.  There is also some from central NSW with potential for some development in southern Queensland.

While the USA has had a major role in this trade, many of the export markets are somewhat keen to diversify suppliers to avoid longer term supply issues, and provide options for growth.  Certainly the market seems to be destined for future growth to supply feed for the dairy cow industry in Asia, as Asian economies actively consume additional dairy products, often as quality fresh milk, produced locally.

This is driven by lucerne and oaten hay as primary crops going into the export market.

Principally these countries have been Japan, South Korea and more recently China. The article below provides some more detail on the current trade - http://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/news/agriculture/agribusiness/general-news/hay-market-eyes-china-growth/2704546.aspx?storypage=0 

But what is the possibility for northern Australia being able to obtain some of this market?

While lucerne and oaten hay are seen as annual crops and may be the ideal for dairy cows [ and there is a lot of mystique about why they are used over others], is there a place for some of the feed crops that go into the cubes and hay used for the live export trade?  This is especially true if you consider the experience now available around the northern areas of Australia in producing these materials for what is a very substantial live export market of around three quarters to one million head per year leaving the region annually.

Quality may be an issue, but that can be adjusted relatively easily as the legume / grass mix is adjusted to suit.

The region can definitely grow fodder, and do it more easily than grain or seed, in the wet season, as well as irrigated crops into the dry season.

Shipping may be a constraint - but can be overcome.

Can north Australia join this trade and bring benefit to the region?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Why Rush to Repeal Australia's Carbon Laws?

In an op-ed piece published today John Connor of the Climate Institute makes the plea to not rush and repeal Australia's climate management laws.

Full text is here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-02/connor-dont-rush-to-repeal-our-effective-carbon-laws/5561638

I somehow think this will fall on deaf ears.......but it is a reasonable proposition!

As he points out, they are actually working.  And the broad swath of society is now more comfortable with the system.  Yes, energy intensive industries - think aluminium smelting - is suffering, but there are also other factors at work here including overall issues about metal demand and labour costs.  Maybe further measures are warranted if it is worthwhile saving.

I have no doubt that if repealed consumers will not get back the so called additional costs incurred because of a carbon tax - we will get diddled - absolutely sure to happen.  And already some commentators are saying maybe only 50% reduction of current energy costs from law repeal.

Australia is progressing well with distributed solar PV rollout around the country, adding to more low carbon energy production.  Fossil fuel generation of power is down, but that is associated with lower demand generally, and a small contribution from distributed power production [ local PV, hydro, wind etc] as well as a better focus on energy efficiency in buildings and similar areas.  These latter changes are still ongoing and offer much more options for reducing energy consumption in buildings especially - a major user of energy. Industry is also reducing water use - and in water there are considerable energy costs associated with distribution and use of that water.  More can be done, I am sure, in these areas.

There is more coming too, as manufacturers are forced or voluntarily, adjust processes to have more efficient appliances eg recent new appliance and air conditioner energy standards in the US and Australia., and as way of example, less energy consumption in newer TV sets.

The real issue may be not their repeal...........but whether there are the numbers to do so in Parliament, whatever!

It will be interesting.  

And - I agree, it is sensible to leave them alone at least for a while as they are working -  and much of the rhetoric coming from the Australian government is muddying the issue - many countries and regions we trade with  are developing systems similar to what we have already.  Why change now?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Recycling Water Crucial To NT Water Supplies

In the face of global water supply shortages, recycled water has the potential to help us be more climate-independent. And even though it seems novel, reused water is already cycled back into the supply. If you live in a community downstream of another one, chances are, you are reusing its water.
Australians and Americans have embraced “sustainability” in so many aspects of modern life, but not when it comes to water resources.

Recycled or reclaimed water is water that is used more than one time before it passes back into the natural water cycle. Treated wastewater, including sewage and water used for industrial processing, can be cleanly recycled for agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, replenishing a groundwater basin and even for drinking water.

Scientifically proven advances in water technology — including reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection, and oxidation — applied to wastewater allow communities to reuse water for many different purposes, treating the water differently depending on the intended use.

And the best part is: there is huge potential for growth in using recycled water. Thirty-two billion gallons of municipal wastewater are produced everyday in the United States but less than 10 percent of that is intentionally reused and the equation is quite similar in the Northern Territory, particularly in the northern areas, as Alice Springs now does have an aquifer recharge program using treated wastewater from the effluent ponds.  

Also, it is known that the NT uses up to four times water per person more than temperate Australia, and much of that extra water is used outside, where non potable water would do.  It is certainly wasteful to treat all water to drinking standards and then use 70% outside as is common in Darwin.

One key reason that water reuse is not a bigger part of the nation’s water supply is that it is still characterized as a waste product in most places. 

In a progressive move, California in the US recently enacted legislation that reclassifies recycled water as a water resource. The state government also recently streamlined the permitting process for using recycled water for irrigation and allocated $200 million in grants to encourage related projects.  While California uses different legislative systems to Australia, the truth is, Australia could do a lot ore with use of appropriately treated wastewater.  AND......such programs would be sensible infrastructure development in a continent as dry as ours.

In other parts of the USA,communities in dry west Texas have used state-of-the-art technology to augment their drinking water supply with reused water; Phoenix in Arizona has had an aquifer recharge program using treated effluent which is subsequently redrawn for use, for about 50 years; the governor of Oklahoma just signed a law to encourage water reuse; and Florida’s most recent water reuse report indicated that 719 million gallons of water is beneficially reused each day in 2013 — the largest amount in the country.  Yet here in north Australia as we discuss developing the north, there is little discussion about reuse of water, in an environment which is totally dry for 6-8 months each year, while in the other few months water flows away freely [ admittedly it is used by the environment!].

The amount of water intentionally reused in both Australia and the USA still quite low and it will stay that way as long as the public regards reuse as an emergency measure. Citizens have embraced “sustainability” in so many aspects of modern life, but not when it comes to water resources.

Conservation cannot meet future water demands alone and other measures that create new sources of water, like desalination, are still more expensive, with some people believing that it is too expensive although newer technologies are encouraging in possibly lower costs.  Desalination has its advocates though, with WA a champion of the technology, with development being driven by the woman who is the Chair of the WA Water Corporation.

In the Top End of the NT the only avenue seemingly being explored for more water is to develop more dams or other above ground storage systems, such as the pumped off river system discussed for an area in hills north of Adelaide River, and the dam above Adelaide River.  Desalination of seawater is also a possible option around Darwin. 

Water reuse is the easiest and most economical fix. It should be included in the water supply portfolio of the Darwin region, and in fact for all  communities.  It at least should be given equal weight in assessing future water resources for the region.

[ partially adapted from an article by Melissa Melker of the US Water Reuse Association in the NY Times 30 June 2014]
UPDATE - http://ecowatch.com/2014/03/20/solar-technology-californias-water/
This is a solar technology to distill irrigation tailwater from agriculture fields using solar technology to heat a oil filled tube and then use the heat to distill the tailwater.  It works and can be scaled up, with a projected cost of about one quarter the cost of desalination of sea water [ many places say a cost for this of $2 per kilolitre].  Search for Water FX online for more details.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Arsenic in Water - NO Safe Level for Drinking?

The issues of arsenic in groundwater, especially used for drinking, is well known for areas of Asia.  This is particularly serious in Bangladesh, and also of concern in some areas of India and Thailand.  It is also known to occur in many other areas including Indonesia, Australia and ....... the USA.

Up to at least around the year 2000, arsenic levels in drinking water considered safe, especially from groundwater sources were highly variable.  Again Bangladesh was among the most problematic, as some whole regional areas mostly seemed to show groundwater wells were commonly unsafe - even with nominally quite high "safe" levels of arsenic - 100 ppb or more. [ should be much lower]  

In early 2000 the US reduced the safe level from 50 ppb to 5 ppb, which was subsequently raised to 10ppb [0.010 mg/L] which became the new standard in 2001, allowing a few years for compliance, and which could be enforced by 2006.
http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/arsenic/regulations.cfm 

It did not apply to smaller individual wells or bores however, only public utilities.  

In Australia the level was set at 7 ppb [0.007 mg/L] in the 2004 Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, and with which public authorities must comply .

Mostly, bores and wells did not get tested unless arsenic was suspected.

Recent evidence seems to indicate that possibly there is no allowable level for arsenic in drinking water.  It should be zero.......not present in drinking water.

More information is here in this recent report.  
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/politics-derail-science-on-arsenic-endangering-public-health/?&WT.mc_id=SA_SP_20140630

It seems it could be a bigger and more important issue than the presence of lead, an issue of some considerable concern in those areas where lead is mined or refined, and was previously of more widespread concern over lead in both paint and fuel.  Lead poisoning is potentially life threatening for young children......as may arsenic.

Take care if you are using well or groundwater from a bore as many rural properties do - it should be very low in arsenic, preferably free of the metal.  If any hint of a problem, or in a region with known problems - get it tested.  

Avoid arsenic in drinking water. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Australian PV Systems - World Leader on Residential Installation Costs: Lessons For USA

In 2013, the United States installed more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity than either Germany or Australia for the first time ever. (the U.S. has triple their combined population, so arguably this should have happened long ago…). 

With the decline of feed-in tariffs and other incentives in Germany, it is likely that the U.S. will continue to outpace that country in new PV installations. However, the U.S. continues to lag behind global PV leaders Germany and Australia in another important category: prices for residential systems installations. As of Q2 2013, the average installed residential system price was $4.93/W compared to Germany’s $2.21/W and Australia’s $2.56/W. That needs to change.

Whether you look at U.S. DOE SunShot targets or RMI’s own Reinventing Fire vision, which has the U.S. solar market scaling from 4.5 GW PV installed per year to 20 GW, system costs have to come down to accelerate residential and commercial customer adoption. A new analysis and report from Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI)—Lessons from Australia: Reducing Solar PV Costs Through Installation Labor Efficiency—identifies opportunities for the U.S. solar market to take important steps in that direction.

Non-hardware costs (permitting/inspection/interconnection (PII), customer acquisition, installation, and margins/overhead) now dominate system prices in the U.S. For sub-10-kW systems, 80 percent of solar system cost decline in the U.S. since 2008 has been due to hardware price reductions. In the U.S., non-hardware costs now account for 70% of system costs. Setting aside margins/overhead, the U.S. spends $1.22/W on PII, customer acquisition, and system installation. PV leaders Germany and Australia, on the other hand, spend just $0.33/W and $0.65/W, respectively. The U.S. clearly can and should pursue significant cost reduction opportunities to eliminate this difference.

RMI and GTRI previously launched a PV installation labor data collection and analysis effort under the SIMPLE BoS project, which investigated differences in non-hardware costs between the U.S. and Germany, including installation labor. 

This 2013 report provided a detailed breakdown of primary drivers of PV installation labor cost differences between the U.S. and Germany. Now, in 2014, RMI and GTRI are following up on that groundbreaking work with further investigation of Australian solar installations.

Australia has emerged as a dominant player in the world residential solar market, with more than 10 percent of households possessing a solar system on the roof and system prices rivaling Germany’s. Even as feed-in tariffs (FITs) have declined, demand in Australia for residential rooftop solar has remained high and costs have continued to decline. Much of this is due to a focus on customer-owned PV, and thus an extremely competitive marketplace around system cost. Both retailers and installers have been forced to lean processes in order to offer lower pricing and gain market share; they rely on high volume rather than high margin to remain profitable. 

According to our on-site analysis, Australian installers are averaging 6.1 labor-hours per kW solar installed, while the U.S. is more than 50 percent higher at 9.4 labor-hours per kW installed. This is similar to averages observed in other industry surveys and studies.


Unlike Germany, Australia does not use motorized lifts, scaffolds, or other advanced installation equipment. Instead, economic incentives drive labor—installers in Australia receive a flat rate per installation, and thus make greater profit by mounting more systems in less time. That Australian installers were able to shift so quickly towards a one-day install as an industry standard indicates that Germany is not an outlier; optimized installations are possible and should be pursued at both the U.S. and international levels.
We noted several factors that may increase efficiency based on observations and analysis of installation practices in Australia, Germany, and the U.S.: 
  • Optimizing the pre-installation process
  • Reducing time spent on base installations, especially for clay-tile roofs
  • Pursuing rail designs that minimize installation labor
  • Reducing the number of meters installed in each electrical system to monitor PV output
  • Viewing the one-day installation goal as an opportunity to reduce time spent on non-production activities such as meals, travel, breaks, setup, and cleanup
These opportunities vary in magnitude, but in combination could have a significant impact on the number of labor-hours/kW U.S. installers typically invest in system installations. We believe installers in the U.S. could approach or go beyond Australian levels of efficiency by pursuing these primary measures, as well as other opportunities that help the industry approach the one-day installation as standard. 

If it can be done in Australia and Germany, there is no reason it cannot be done in the U.S.

We hope this report on Australia, the report on Germany, and all follow-on work under the SIMPLE BoS project will help the U.S. industry continue to reduce solar PV costs and enable the widespread, cost-effective deployment of residential solar PV systems.

Download the report