4 Reasons To Go Solar in Australia

This is a guest post from the team at Solar Market, a Perth, WA based company that shortcut the process of finding quotes for solar installers in your area.

image of solar panels

Solar power is a great source of renewable energy. It utilises the incredible light and heat of the sun to power homes and many other buildings. Using solar energy to power homes offers many benefits – Australia has some of the most sun in the world, so why not take advantage? Here are some of the top reasons to make the switch:

Solar is Low Maintenance

The process of installing solar panels can be tricky and ideally should only be done by a professional, but once the installation is done, the solar panels will be little to no trouble. Solar panels generally do not need much maintenance once they have been installed. They aren’t an energy source that needs a lot of extra cash to maintain. Along with a quick yearly check-up, panels may only need something done every 30 years which is a sizable amount of time.

Solar is a Prime Energy Source

The most attractive reason to use solar energy is because the source of energy is free. The sun is powerful and will last for billions of years, so there’s no reason to worry about the source of energy running out or being lost. It’s almost wasteful not to take advantage of such an obvious, readily available energy source like the sun. Whether it’s solar power for homes, or a commercial business, the electricity bill can be greatly reduced. This is a great way to beat the impending carbon tax!

Solar Rebates and Feed-in Tariffs

Although the Federal Government has ended the solar hot water rebates, they are still continuing those for solar power systems. This means you can save thousands of dollars on a full solar system including the PV panels, inverter and roof mounting. Just double check the equipment is certified by the government to meet safety standards so the goods actually qualify for the rebate. Apart from rebates, most states around Australia have what’s called feed-in tariffs, where you can sell your unused electricity back to the grid – this means you could end up not paying a power bill ever again – how good does that sound!

Environmental Advantages

Using solar energy is much better for the environment. Fossil fuels and some other energy sources require plants that spew out waste which pollutes the environment. These plants also release a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to the global warming problem.

Another disadvantage of fossil fuels is that the methods used to obtain them can devastate areas of the Earth permanently. Solar energy causes no problems with water, land, or air. Solar energy is clean, efficient and completely environmentally friendly.

logo for solar market

If you’d like to find out how Solar Market can help you, simply fill out the form on the website mentioned above and three Clean Energy Council accredited solar installers will be in touch with you within 24 hours.

When We Were Green…

I got sent this fabulous email recently, and to me it really highlights where we’re going wrong with our efforts to tackle climate change and the like (and boy, isn’t that getting some airtime here in Australia at the moment!).

Image of old lady with a shopping trolley
"Shopping Trolley"

The Old Lady

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologised to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

That’s right, they didn’t have the green thing in her day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, Coke bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.  

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she’s right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 240 volts. “Wind and solar power” really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right, they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house, not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.  Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.  

But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty, instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled pens with ink, instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.  

But they didn’t have the green thing back then. 

Back then, people took the streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But that old lady is right. They didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

They didn’t need it.

Now I’m no luddite, but it makes you think about simpler times, less consumerist times doesn’t it? And if you’re celebrating it this weekend, Happy Earth Hour.

Image Credit: Looking Glass

Don’t Landfill it, Freecycle it!

Today, I’ve a guest post from Caroline Smith, about one of her passions – freecycling. Caroline also likes to find creative ways to reuse old furniture and give it a new lease on life. If you’d like to see more of Caroline’s work, visit her website that features a selection of Surefit slipcovers and tips on how fit them on recycled furniture.

The Concept of Freecycling and Why it’s a Great Idea

Why is freecycling such an outstanding, innovative concept? First of all, it allows everyone, on a worldwide basis, to help build and maintain a healthy green environment while decreasing the need for constant production of new products. For, by reusing and sharing the goods we now possess, we lessen excess spending for ourselves and others, thus helping both local and global communities to strengthen budgets and save for the future. By eliminating clutter from our homes and workplaces, we enhance our own lifestyles. And, when we share unused items with other people who need them—especially when we freecycle, offering them for free—we elevate both the morale and self esteem of all concerned throughout our communities.

Freecycling as a Concept Put into Practice

The Freecycle Network in the United States (www.freecycle.org) was first initiated in Arizona in 2003 to recycle and reuse goods free of charge, rather than adding them to landfill trash and refuse. This vital network is comprised, at the time of writing, of 4,857 groups with 7,593,829 current worldwide members. As a major green movement, this nonprofit network of people both give and receive free items in their communities. The group’s concepts and practices are both practical and ecologically beneficial, since they promote the reuse of well-made, lasting products, at the same time lessening the burden of overloads at landfill sites.

Attraction to Network Membership and Freecycling Incentives

Membership in the Freecycle Network is free, and there are Internet posting Web sites for all participating towns, cities and regions throughout the world. Most members, both new and experienced, relate strongly to the double incentive associated with freecycling. First, you know that any items you now have that are still too valuable to discard will bring benefit or happiness to others. And, in addition, by checking freecycling site postings in your area, you can easily locate high quality used items you may want or need. Suddenly, cleaning out drawers, closets, basements, attics, garages and offices becomes much easier—and sometimes even pleasurable.

Popularity and Diversity of Freecycling

Both the concept and practice of freecycling of goods are constantly growing in the U.S. and around the world. In Australia, OzRecycle (www.ozrecycle.com) provides the free exchange of goods for the Australian Recyclers Community. Its members, along with the membership of Freecycle.org, heartily agree that “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

Some of the items most often donated and requested through freecycling services and Web sites are: clothing, appliances, books, CDs, DVDs, computers, software, cars, kayaks, sports gear, furniture, home decorating accessories, and all goods for children.

Remember that even items somewhat damaged can be easily and inexpensively renovated for use. Bicycle tires can be replaced, and old laptops can be reprogrammed and updated. An easy chair or loveseat with tattered upholstery can be made over with couch slipcovers. Children’s clothing and toys can be made like new again with some creative sewing techniques or a coat of paint. And, some goods which people freecycle have never been used, so they are truly like new merchandise.

Without doubt, freecycling is an extremely beneficial concept and practice to all citizens of the world and to the global environment. For, by giving and receiving recycled goods free of cost, we contribute to worldwide benefits such as:

* Lessening wastes deposited to community landfill sites, thus alleviating damage to the environment.

* Decreasing costs to local and global governments for refuse collection and elimination.

* Renovating reusable products and decreasing the need for manufacturing of new goods, thus lessening CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants from production plants and factories.

* Eliminating excess clutter in our homes and offices while we improve our personal spending budgets and those of others.

* Providing a healthy outlet for sharing, thus promoting communal good spirits, dedication and involvement.

Freecycling, is a powerful concept and reality that will continue to bring vital and empowering benefits to local and global ecologies and economies as it promotes the wellbeing of people and the environment around the world.

Many thanks Caroline! If you’d like to guest post here on Treading Lighter, please get in touch via the contact form.

Costa’s Complete Compost Compendium

OK, I’ve no idea if you would really class this as a compendium, but with “Costa” & “Compost” to be used in the same title, I had to come up with something!

I hope you’ve been catching up with Costa’s Garden Odyssey on SBS of late. This guy’s characterful enthusiasm really makes this the best gardening / environment show on TV by a long shot. If you’ve missed the episodes, you can watch them online direct from the SBS TV website.

On one of the recent shows, Costa showed, with the help of horticulturist and teacher Ali Rutherford how to make the perfect compost. As you might have worked out from my Goals Update post, I like compost, so any information I can find about how to make a better compost is always welcome.

Fortunately, if you’re not able to see the show, or absorb information better in the printed form (or on screen form), Costa’s website has a fact sheet with all the relevant info. You can find it here: Costa’s Compost 101. (Hey, maybe that would’ve been a better title?!)

Well, good luck with your composting efforts, I’m off to give mine a bit of a stir… why not let me know how yours is going in the comments?

Why no posts?

While my blogging frequency here on Treading Lighter wasn’t anything to write home about; I feel that there’s been a sufficient absence of new posts that probably deserves an explanation and apology.

My apologies firstly to any of you who may have been checking back here to see if there were any updates, the explanation is this…

About 4 months ago, I made a conscious decision to stop watching the news. Mostly due to the fact that the lack of action on environmental issues displayed by our esteemed national and international leaders was frustrating me to the point that I’d be shouting at the TV when they started sprouting their latest piece of face-saving spin. And with an impressionable 3yr old in the house – that’s not a good look for Daddy!

Of course, what I didn’t realise at the time was that in making that decision – my passion for writing about these things also ebbed away, and so the resulting cessation of posting.

On the flip side, I have discovered my new outlet, and much like my previous post saying we should just get on with it, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

You may remember in my Goals Update around May this year I mentioned we now had some space to grow our own veggies. Well I’m happy to report, we’re now up to some 20 varieties of fruit & veg around the house (and I’m scouting for areas to put more as move into the summer months.)

So to wrap up, I hope to be bringing you (at least) slightly more frequent updates on the Treading Lighter lifestyle, but if nothing’s happening – nothing’s happening! Now stop reading and go and plant something…

Zucchini, Baby Carrots, Lettuce, Broccoli, Basil, Spinach & Strawberries
(Zucchini, Baby Carrots, Lettuce, Broccoli, Basil, Spinach & Strawberries)

Queensland’s ClimateSmart Home Service Review

I’m very excited to say it’s time to welcome Treading Lighter’s first ever guest post, coming to us today from Greg Howell. Greg is well-known in my local area for his involvement with Surfrider Foundation, which being a surfer is also a cause close to my own heart. Also a pretty good surfing instructor, Greg has a great passion for all things environmental. Here he reviews the Queensland Government’s ClimateSmart Home Service Scheme. Take it away Greg…

NoOneThe Queensland Government ClimateSmart Home Service, which started on 1st of January 2009, aims to improve energy efficiency in your household. The service operates in a similar manner to that of the successful Home WaterWise Service.

For a $50 service fee, a qualified trades person will visit your home to conduct an energy audit, provide energy advice, install energy saving tools such as a household energy monitor and a water efficient shower head, and also supply 15 compact fluorescent light globes.

When the friendly installer arrived, I told him that as we’d previously taken advantage of the local council’s Waterwise service, we already had a water saving shower head and compact fluorescent light globes. I did ask him if he had some of the softer warm lights though, as the Waterwise representative had run out, leaving us only with the harsh colder version, and in this he was happy to oblige. As I discovered though you’re better off getting him to replace them, so you don’t forget how many screw in and how many bayonet fixings you have!

I allowed him to launch into his spiel (which he was very good at), and he explained how the service worked. Unfortunately I was disappointed with the energy audit, this part of the service in my circumstance was poor and I was left with many questions unanswered. Looking back, I should have pulled him up during his pitch or written down the questions I wanted to ask for later.

climatesmart_monitorHe then proceeded in setting up the wireless energy monitor (this is the toy I was really interested in). The reader device is attached to the meter box and comes with a wireless LCD display that you can move around the house. I have found the monitor useful in changing the habits of household members, because you can’t argue with the facts! The numbers are right there in dollars and cents or tons of greenhouse gases.

As far as the customised Energy and Water Efficiency Plan being sent to us, we haven’t seen it yet. And also the My ClimateSmart Home, a customised online resource for more energy and water savings  hadn’t materialised either. Following up, I rang the department, only to be told the system had crashed, and they were not sure when access would be available. Unfortunately I’m still waiting – over 6 months later.

It might sound like I had a negative experience, and that the service is flawed, but even though I found the whole package was wanting, it doesn’t take away how important it is to make these small changes.

So in the big picture does this service make any difference? Well to me, it is a change I can manage, therefore I must! My tip to those about to get the service? Write down your questions and stop the installer when you need something explained.

Treading Lighter 2009 Goals Update

Well, we’re nearly half way through this year already, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to get up to date on how I’m going with the sustainable living goals I set at the beginning of the year. You may remember that I decided to make them ones I could actually achieve.

Growing Veggies

I’m happy to say that this has so far been going well – definitely aided by the fact that we moved house about 6 weeks ago. Aided in the sense that we actually now have a garden, as opposed to what is euphemistically known as a “nature strip”

(Yes, what you see in the two pictures here constituted the entire green space at our previous house!)

naturestripfirstplantings

And this is what we have now:

hpgarden2

hotchiliActually we have cheated a bit in that the previous owners of the house were fans of home grown themselves – we’ve got oranges, lemons, passion fruit, paw-paw, chili’s and pineapples growing about the place. So far we’ve added the obligatory tomatoes & basil, which will be followed by some more herbs and some strawberries a bit later this afternoon. (We’ve also noticed that the neighbour’s mango tree has a bit of an ..ahem.. overhang…) There’ll be more posts on how this is all going over the coming months.

Building a Compost

I have to say for me, one of the biggest revelations so far has been the compost bin. Composting is a concept that I’ve not been around since my age was well in single figures, so to watch a pile of something previously destined for landfill slowly become a useful product is simply amazing! And therein lies the secondary reward of building your own compost heap – I would comfortably say that we’ve halved our landfill bound output since introducing the compost – imagine if everyone could do that! I’m going to feature some more articles on composting in general in the next few months, but my recommendation for now is that if you don’t yet have a compost or compost bin, you owe it to yourself to get one.

Use Less Chemical Products

This one has been a bit of a winner for me also. Since picking up a few random books from the library on natural cleaners, remedies and the like and discovering just how easy (not to mention cheaper) it is to replace multitudes of harmful chemicals in the household, I’ve been on constant look out for replacements.

(My caveat here is that while seasoned ecologists may say it’s been this way for years, I’m approaching this from the point of view of a product being commercially available. The average modern day consumer is not going to go out of their way to get an environmentally product if there’s a chemical alternative already sitting on the shelf in front of them.)

So far I’ve replaced shower gel, shampoo & shaving gel for my bathroom products; washing powder, washing up liquid, dishwash powder and kitchen handwash in the rest of the house. I’m quite confident this list will expand through the second half of the year, and my ultimate goal will be to make chemical products the second or even third choice for any situation I may have previously used them.

Using Car Less (Get a bike, use public transport, walk)

I’m going to call this one a grey area! Due to the house move, I feel I am actually using the car less – e.g. I now walk to the beach for a surf, or to the shop for some milk, whereas previously I would have driven. And as far as surfing is concerned, this is augmented further in that I now live in the village that I would have more than likely driven too before getting in the ocean.

Of course, the flipside of this is that I’m now further away from my workplace, and in factors of distance that it’s now impractical for me to consider riding a bike or catching public transport. But the cloud hath a silver lining: as a much greater percentage of my driving is now on the highway, my average fuel efficiency has improved by some 2 – 2.5L/100KMS, which personally I think is a pretty good achievement!

I’d love to know how you are going with your own goals, so please let me know in the comments.