Category: Energy & Water Sustainability

Small Businesses Struggle for Renewable Energy

Despina Giotis and Sophia Wilhelm-Demekas

Australia, as an island near the equator with vast diversity in landscape, is indisputably well-equipped for being hydro-, solar-, wind-, and even geothermally-powered. In solar energy alone, some of the world’s largest solar radiation levels (over 6.00 kWh/m2/day) are found in Northern Australia. (Campbell) As visible in the figure on the right, th

e entirety of Australia’s energy needs could be met from just one solar-powered station the size of a cattle farm. Despite this, Australia’s per capita emissions of CO2 in 2015 was 18.6 tons per person, higher than that of the US and China. (EDGAR) In order to understand the current state of renewable energy in Australia and why reducing carbon emissions has been such a complicated task, an understanding of its political and legislative history is essential.


In July of 2012, the Australian Labor Party implemented a new legislative motion to incentivize lower carbon emissions, naming it the “Carbon Pricing Mechanism”. The objective was to make people pay the price of the energy they’re using and make it cost effective for businesses to switch to renewable alternatives to carbon. Their strategy was to target organizations that emitted over 25,000 tons of emissions by making them pay an additional tax. This was significant because this group of organizations covered approximately 60% of Australia’s carbon emissions. The plan of action was methodical and made transparent to the public. For the first three years, the price of carbon pollution would be fixed – the first year at $23/ton, the second year at $24.15/ton and the third year at $25.45/ton. (Ross McLennan) After three years, the price would be determined by the international market. In addition, assisted industry and household changes were put in place to encourage industry to invest in cleaner technology and to support families that would inevitably be impacted by higher prices for household items. For example, scientists projected that the plan would result in families paying $9.90 more per week so the taxable threshold was raised from an income of $6,000 to one of $18,200 in order to incentivize people to get a part-time job. (Ross McLennan)


Although the mechanism was approved and passed, only a bit over a year later in September 2013, Australia had a Federal Election and the Australian Liberty Party was elected after promising to abolish the Carbon Pricing Mechanism. They accused it of being a poorly disguised “carbon tax”, which they claimed was unfair and hit the lower-income, working class the hardest. In its place, they introduced a new bill which they called the Emission Reductions Fund (ERF). Compared to the Carbon Pricing Mechanism, this bill was vague and unquantifiable – so much so that the media didn’t even report on it. The goal made in the bill was to “reduce carbon levels to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020” (Ross McLennan) which they aimed to do with a budget of $2.55 billion invested in the most cost-effective carbon abatement projects determined by auctions. As a result, it made it easy for people to take advantage of the fund by simply proposing projects they were already doing (controlled burning on their properties, for example) and collecting money they didn’t need.

Although the Carbon Pricing Mechanism clearly wasn’t a perfect solution considering the large-scale opposition it harbored, the bill currently in place is definitely no better. On the bright side, there is a general consensus among Australians that man-made carbon emissions are affecting the world climate, they simply disagree on how to act to change this. There is also a growing movement among small, independent businesses to switch over to renewable energy as opposed to using carbon or diesel as their main energy source.

Hidden Valley is a good example of this movement because it was the first resort in Australia to be run entirely off of sustainable energy. The northern location of Hidden Valley within the wet tropics makes the area conducive to solar power due to its proximity to the equator, but not conducive to wind power due to its distance from the coast. In December 2007, the McLennan’s, decided to install an 11.7 kW system consisting of 90 130 kW panels as can be seen in the photo.  At the time of installation each panel was priced at $1,300, making the total cost $180,00; however, the government provided a 50% rebate at the time of installation, meaning the McLennan’s only paid $75,000 and the payback time was just two years. Additionally, Hidden Valley was able to prevent 624 tons of carbon/year from entering the atmosphere and was able to save $320,000/year by cutting diesel consumption from 26,000 L/year to approximately 100 L/year. The rate of efficiency of the solar panels at Hidden Valley is 17%, whereas the rate of efficiency of new solar panels has increased to about 23%. As mentioned the price of one of the solar panels that was installed into Hidden Valley was $1,300, whereas now a single solar panel costs about $200. Hidden Valley installed an oversized array in order to prevent having to install moving parts. Although solar panels with moving parts cost more initially, they have a 15% greater efficiency rate than stable solar panels. The solar panels at Hidden Valley are linked in a series of 10, meaning they all must capture their quota of energy in order to reach a certain threshold so that energy can be transferred to the batteries. The down side of this is that one shaded panel could hinder the whole series of ten and cause the threshold to not be met. New technology has prevented this issue by programming a micro inverter for each panel, which prevents one shaded panel from causing a collateral loss.  Due to the remote location of Hidden Valley the solar system is stand alone, meaning it is not connected to the grid. The energy from the solar panels is used to charge a battery bank, which is backed up by a diesel generator.  The battery bank, as can be seen in the photo, consists of 60 deep cycle lead acid batteries that charge during the day and discharge over large periods of time at night. The batteries only discharge about 20% of the stored energy and contain approximately 4 tons of lead. At the time of installation the batteries cost $60,000, but now they would cost around $40,000. New Tesla batteries are more expensive, but are able to discharge 80-90% of the stored energy. Unfortunately, the Tesla batteries are not compatible with the system in place at Hidden Valley, so old batteries will have to be replaced with the original type of batteries that were installed.  Hidden Valley acts as an inspiration for all of Australia and the potential that solar power can provide.

Photo: Solar panels at Hidden Valley Cabins. Released with permission from Ross McLennan.

Photo: 60 batteries at Hidden Valley Cabins. Released with permission from Ross McLennan.




Campbell, Andrew, Andrew Blakers, and Stuart Blanch. “North Australia’s Electrifying Future: Powering Asia with Renewables.”RenewEconomy. 21 Aug. 2013. Web.


“CO2 Time Series 1990-2015 per Capita for World Countries.” EDGAR – GHG (CO2, CH4, N2O, F-gases) Emission Time Series 1990-2012 per Region/country – European Commission, 11 Nov. 2016. Web.


Ross McLennan. Hidden Valley Cabins. Interview.

Townsville Works Towards Water Sustainability using Behavioral Science Approach

        As a community in the dry tropics where temperatures can often skyrocket during the summer, Townsville has some of the highest water usage in Australia. With household water usage at 544 kL/year/household, Townsville set out to look for cheap solutions to the problem at hand. Working in the Townsville City Council, Jason Lange is experienced in environmental project and water management and has a unique perspective in how improve resource consumption. Lange believes that it is more important to look at behavioral science and impact the way that people think and act in terms of their water usage compared to making infrastructure changes. In order to solve the Townsville water overuse adopting behavioral science approach, the city has enacted the Dry Tropics water smart residential outdoor water conservation program. After conducting research with the University of Adelaide, the results led to the observation that behavior programs to reduce water use must be made specifically for the location in which the program will be enacted. After understanding this, Townsville decided to take on a different method to convince people on changing water behavior. Instead of launching an information based campaign in which residents would have simply been told to change their behavior, Townsville decided to involve residents in the decision-making through Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM). Through this procedure, actual residents of Townsville were called together so they could discuss their personal preferences of water use for further research on behavior identification and target behavior selection. After listening to the residents of Townsville, the implementers of the project were able identify 64 outdoor water behaviors which could be changed in order to reduce outdoor water usage. These behaviors were then narrowed down by using the CBSM research and analyzing how effective they would be and the likeliness of the behavior changes actually being performed by residents. Two behaviors were found to have the potential of reducing outdoor water usage by 20%. Simply by adding organic matter to the soil to improve moisture and nutrient capacity and having the residents adjust their watering schedule to correspond to with the seasonal water and landscape, a tremendous amount of water could be saved. Furthermore, residents were surveyed and asked about what they believe the benefits and barriers of changing their behavior were. The results are below: 


As seen, 46% of residents believed that there were no barriers to adjusting their behavior and 71% of residents thought that the behavior changes would allow for saving more water. Ten more behaviors were used to inform the community on saving water for outdoor use. By providing specific behavior and asking the residents for what they believe are barriers, individual accountability among the individuals were increased. The behaviors are now listed and benefits of using them such as a reduction in time spent watering, lower water bills, and an increase in the health of gardens are used to convince people on the Townsville water sustainability page.

This approach focusing on an individual level and giving the residents a voice in decision-making is attempting to turn Townsville into a city with much lower water usage using a method that is much cheaper than the usual infrastructure change. By using this unique behavioral science perspective, Townsville is aiming to transform into a more water sustainable city.

Bright Ideas in the Sunshine State: Sustainable Energy in Townsville

Townsville, Queensland, also known as the sunshine state, has become IBM’s first smart city in Australia, making major leaps in sustainable energy ideas and practices. A major goal of the Townsville City Council Sustainability initiatives is decreasing energy use through biomimicry and reusable tools. We learned that while many people immediately think of large industry as the main culprit of excess energy consumption, that the majority actually comes from local households and buildings. The city of Townsville collects data through tracking energy use by time of day and season, analyzing the conditions in which people consume the most energy and using that information to produce sustainable alternatives. Additionally, there’s a strong focus on facilitating change through the use of behavioral psychology. By identifying behaviors that people can change to reduce their energy consumption, the council can then specifically target those behaviors and help people make informed sustainability decisions. Because of the overwhelming amount of changes that could be made, the council does some cost-benefit analysis – looking at which changes will be the easiest to make with regard to maintaining a normal lifestyle, which will require the least personal expenses, and most importantly, which will have the greatest magnitude of effect.

The City’s Sustainability Officer who spoke to us, Dylan Furnell, explained that the three easiest, most effective changes locals can make to reduce their energy consumption is switching to a more sustainable air conditioning system, painting the roof of their house white to decrease heat absorption, and planting shade trees on the western wall of their houses to further help the house be naturally cooled with no energy/electricity use. All of these changes focus largely on sustainable housing – the fundamental center of the town’s energy reduction initiative. The town’s website provides extensive information on how to incorporate energy saving aspects into homes that lessen environmental impact and are ultimately more cost-effective for the owner. Some examples include the manipulation of sun angles and breeze direction, harnessing the power of natural air flow, shading out the heat with plants, and the use of landscaping, building materials, and insulation to help cool your home without the use of electricity. Further, the town website  provides Case Studies (such as Home Renovation, the Patterson House, and Echlin Street Terrace Apartments) as models of exemplary sustainable housing in the tropics, providing valuable evidence that this kind of environmentally friendly housing is not only possible and affordable, but can often even increase the beauty of a building or home through aspects like natural light and fresh air. During a walking tour led by Dylan, we got the opportunity to explore an office building in the city that utilizes some of this technology: Federation Place. Originally featuring a poor use of energy and air conditioning, the new owners took advantage of natural air flow, using spill air technology (where air ‘pours’ from the ceiling) and the thermodynamic rule that hotter air rises, to make the building almost akin to a human lung, breathing air in and out as a natural temperature control system. The ‘greening’ of this building also includes upgrading power distribution and solar power technology, and remains an admirable example of Townsville’s ‘smart city’ sustainability initiatives.


We climbed a local hiking trail on a mountain called Castle Hill and could clearly see that the use of white roofs as an energy-saving tool is extensive throughout the town.


The statue on top of the Federation Place notably depicts the Australian coat of arms: An emu and a kangaroo on either side of a shield. These animals were chosen because they are both incapable of moving backwards – a symbolic characteristic for the future of Australia.

(Note: the Australian coat of arms now has the emu and kangaroo on opposite sides of the shield).

Townsville: A Queen’s Land for Sustainability

                Townsville, Queensland is one of the leading cities in facing climate change. The city has completed several different sustainability projects and have some current ongoing projects to reduce energy use and increase water conservation. But what makes this small city with a population of 190,000 unique to tackle one of the world’s biggest problems?

                Townsville has a diverse economy: it serves as a port city for importing and exporting goods within northern Queensland. An abundance of exclusive rainforests, beaches, and islands makes this city a unique tourism destination at a national and international scale. The coal industry, though heavily debated on its future as a key industry, has also played an extensive role in Queensland’s economic growth. But due to the warm climate, energy use for cooling has increased significantly. The population is also projected to double within the next 15 years. In addition, Cyclone Yasi in 2011 devastated the northern Queensland region, making sustainability a key goal for the road to recovery. The combination of Townsville’s growing economy, rapid population growth, and necessity for resilience after a natural disaster makes this city one of the leaders in pioneering sustainable methodologies through multifaceted approaches.

Fig 1. Townsville Sustainability Model.This model shows the flow of sustainability and approaches to reach a completely sustainable city. (Retrieved from the City of Townsville website)

                 From as early as 2001, the Sustainable Townsville Project was an umbrella that consisted of distinct project plans and initiatives to increase awareness of sustainable techniques. Figure 1 shows the Townsville Sustainability Model used to approach sustainability in Townsville. For example, one of the first projects was the Environmental Conservation Strategy for Townsville, which illustrated important areas for the city council to consider in promoting environmental conservation within the community. Other projects and proposals include the Townsville Bikeways, Managing Stormwater Quality, Townsville High School Renewable Energy Technology, and Community Natural Resources Management Plans. These initiatives taken by the city council makes Townsville appealing for partnerships and collaborations for promoting sustainability.

                One of the major initiatives Dylan mentioned was IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge. In this initiative, a team of six IBM Executives worked with Townsville in accelerating its progress toward a sustainable community. With a grant of half a million dollars, IBM accelerated Townsville’s progress in reaching a sustainable community. Major goals listed within Townsville’s submission include: 1) building on partnership with Ergon Energy, Solar Cities consortium, and local businesses and communities 2) Improve the National Broadband Network (NBN) for effective communication of data and employing new Smart Grid energy projects and 3) develop and apply behavioral change techniques such as Community-based Social Marketing (CBSM) through interactions with the community. IBM employed the use of open data and open applications approach along with guidelines and key performance indicators to improve environmental conservation in areas such as solar energy use and water conservation. Over the course of several years, IBM has taken specific initiatives stated in Townsville’s objectives in reaching an environmentally aware and sustainable community.

Fig 2. Annual Electricity Consumption in Townsville. There is a 1.6% reduction of electricity consumption within Townsville from 2011 to 2012. The decrease in annual electricity consumption is also visible within the previous years. (Retrieved from the City Solar 2012 Annual Report)

                Another major initiative was the Townsville Queensland Solar City Initiatives. The project was run over a course of 6 years from 2007 and had a budget of $30 million. The city council’s goal was to work with real estate and energy companies to reduce energy consumption through decreasing power usage and increasing the application of photovoltaic panels. Another goal was engaging the community in individual behavior change through assessing electricity consumption in households throughout the city. This initiative was effective in reducing the carbon footprint for the city of Townsville. In 2012, energy consumption was reduced by 1.6% compared to the past year, saving energy customers $1.784 million (Fig 2). This equates to 54,000 tons of carbon emissions, which equates to removing 1,700 cars off the road for up to seven years. In the same year, 415 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels were installed. They also did some work to introduce and maintain sustainability techniques on Magnetic Island as well.

                Townsville is truly a resilient city that came back from a devastating natural disaster. But during its recovery, sustainability was implemented through international collaborations, national partnerships, and community awareness in an effort to fulfill increasing energy and infrastructure needs. With the national plastic bag ban coming in July 2018, I cannot wait to see what is in store for this beautiful city and its pristine natural habitats.

More Resources:

The following links will lead to more information of the following subjects from the post:

Sustainable Townsville Project:

IBM’s Smarter City Challenge:

Townsville’s Smarter City Challenge Submission:

Townsville Smarter City Summary Report:

2012 Solar City Annual Report:

© 2022

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑