Solar PV guidelines and checklists

About a year ago I posted about a “five minute guide” I wrote while still at Arup in Cape Town.  This aims to flag some of the key technical things to consider if you, as a building owner or manager, are considering installing solar PV on your roof.

I came across another resource today; a checklist produced by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, in the US.  This list aims to provide consumers in America with a series of questions or items to check when going ahead with a solar installation.  The aim is to have informed customers, asking the right questions and entering into a contract with a good basis of understanding.  This will hopefully result in service providers being held to an acceptable standard, and a reduction in the number of complaints being made against industry parties.

It’s quite a long list, and may be quite complicated for a layman.  It also suggests asking the installer for various bits of documentation; and it’s quite possible that the average homeowner may receive such documentation and not know if it’s adequate.   But it may be quite a good resource for larger consumers to implement, particularly where both PPA and leasing options are available.  You can find the checklist here.


Health impacts of coal mining and power stations on local communities

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on environmental justice, as I had been listening to an Energy Gang podcast on the subject.  In this, I looked at a report commissioned in the US, called Coal Blooded.  This week, I came across another similar report, entitled Health and Social Harms of Coal Mining in Local Communities, commissioned in 2012 by Beyond Zero Energy, an Australian based NGO.  This looks at the effect that coal mining and coal fired power stations have, with a particular focus on the Hunter Region, near Sydney in New South Wales (NWS).

Biloela coal mine, Queensland, Australia
Biloela coal mine, Queensland, Australia

Four questions are posed in the report:

  1. What specific diseases or other health problems are associated with coal mining in local communities?
  2. Are there clusters of these diseases or other health problems in the Hunter Region of NSW?
  3. Is social injustice associated with coal mining in local communities?
  4. Is there an association between coal mining and social injustice in the Hunter Region of NSW?

The findings in response to the first question are  not surprising, but are terrible nevertheless, particularly for children and infants.  The report looks at studies carried out in the US for their literature review, and there is likely to be an overlap between the sources sited in this study, and those used in the Coal Blooded report.

Health harms associated with coal mining

Adults in coal mining communities have been found to have:

  • Higher rates of mortality from lung cancer, chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases
  • Higher rates cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases, hypertension, kidney disease, heart attack and stroke, and asthma
  • Increased probability of a hospitalisation for COPD (by 1% for each 1,462 tons of coal mined), and for hypertension (by 1% for each 1,873 tons of coal mined).
  • Poorer self‐rated health and reduced quality of life

Children and infants in coal mining communities have been found to have:

  • Increased respiratory symptoms including wheeze, cough and absence from school with respiratory symptoms ‐ however, not all studies reported this effect
  • High blood levels of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium
  • Higher incidence of neural tube deficits, a high prevalence rate of any birth defect, and a greater chance of being of low birth weight (a risk factor for future obesity, diabetes and heart disease).

Health harms associated with coal combusting power stations

Adults (and whole population) in communities near coal‐fired power stations and coal combustion facilities have been found to have:

  • Increased risk of death from lung, laryngeal and bladder cancer ‐ particularly if living close to the plant
  • Increased risk of skin cancer (other than melanoma) possibly due to exposure to arsenic
  • Increased asthma rates and respiratory symptoms due to air pollutants and particulate matter

Children, infants, and foetal outcomes in communities near coal‐fired power stations and coal combustion facilities have been found to have:

  • Oxidative DNA damage possibly due to exposure to carcinogenic chromium and arsenic from coal combustion
  • Higher rates of preterm birth, low birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths associated with products of coal combustion, specifically sulphur dioxide
  • Reduced foetal and child growth and neurological development associated with elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, of which power stations are a significant source
  • Increased asthma rates and respiratory symptoms due to air pollutants and particulate matter.

When looking at question 2, focusing on specific health issues in the Hunter Region, there were mixed results, with some studies indicating an added health burden on communities closer to coal related infrastructure, and another indicating that there was no real increase in health issues.

For question 3, looking at how the benefits and burdens of coal related works are distributed, the study found the following injustices were applicable around the world:

Environmental damage and perceptions of damage and health impacts

  • slurry (fly ash) spills
  • lack of community awareness of damage
  • distress resulting from concerns and uncertainties about the health impacts of mining related pollution

Water quality and human occupations (activities)

  • The impact of water pollution on securing safe water for drinking, producing food, swimming and fishing

Social and economic costs

  • the cost of environmental damage to communities and society
  • inability of the community to capture economic benefits
  • social changes inhibiting the generation of alternative means of economic capital to mining
  • socio‐demographic changes resulting in labour shortages in other industries; reduced access to and affordability of accommodation; increased road traffic accidents
  • increased pressure on local emergency services
  • increases in criminal and other anti‐social behaviours.

And lastly, the study found that the following social injustice concerns were present for the Hunter Region in particular:

  • Social distress and environmental injustice including concerns over the cumulative health impacts of mining, social divisions and inequalities, feelings of loss and disempowerment, pollution/poor air quality, environmental damage and the potential to impact negatively on future generations
  • Asymmetry of power and influence including access to information, contestation over natural resources, and political conflicts of interest
  • Water access and rights including changes to the NSW water grading system favouring the coal mining industry
  • Failure to protect ‐ specifically, the failure of government and the mining industry to exercise the precautionary principle and protect local communities from potential or actual harms.

Coal and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef


Last year I had some unbeatable diving experiences.  As what will undoubtedly go down as some of the most memorable experiences in my life, my husband and I went snorkelling off the Whitsunday Islands, we did a five day live-aboard trip which went from Lizard Island out to the Osprey Reef (far out into the big blue, it’s an underground volcano, with a 1km drop off the reef), and then we got to do some incredible diving in the Philippines.


The live-aboard experience in particular was amazing.  The Great Barrier Reef is magnificent, and worth all of the hype.  We spent time swimming with sharks, potato cods and turtles.  But the smaller life, the damsel fish (think Nemo), the cleaning wrasse and the angel fish, swimming around the soft and hard coral; it was all spectacular.  The whole ecosystem is amazing, and I feel a sense of sadness that I am not currently in the water, watching them all go about their business.


I have not dived enough to know what insidious damage to the coral looks like, but I have dived in places that have shown me the marvel of the reef when it is healthy and swelling with life.  I saw obvious signs of coral damage in the Philippines, close to the harbours, and near to where the massive tour groups descend.  But slow and creeping bleaching, taking over bit by bit, that I would not have had the experience to spot.


What’s come up a few times in the media since I’ve moved to Australia is the large (massive) scale damage to the Reef that has been observed by science teams recently.  In the Northern section of Australia in particular, which is where we launched from last year.

People have picked up on the extent of the damage to one of their most beloved natural resources, and are making lots of noise about protecting it from further damage.

In the spotlight is the Adani Carmichael coal mine.  “The Carmichael Mine, owned by the Indian conglomerate Adani, will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney harbour.  When the A$16bn (£9.9bn; $16bn) project is developed, the plan is to export 60 million tonnes of coal each year to India, for 60 years.” [BBC]  One of the major concerns is the infrastructure along the coast that will need to be expanded to accommodate this massive increase in coal exports.  That infrastructure will be along the section of Australia closest to the Reef.

It’s incredibly sad.  Not only from a climate change mitigation perspective, but coal mines are notoriously dirty, and the operators are not known for their observation of environmental rules, regs or even best practice.

While walking in Camberwell, Melbourne last week I walked past the office of Josh Frydenberg, who is the is the Liberal member for Kooyong and Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia (@JoshFrydenberg).  All along the ground where messages written in chalk for Frydenberg, and I must have missed a protest by a matter of hours.  The message is clear: the prioritisation of the coral reef, and Australia’s natural resources, over coal.




I’ll be keeping an ear open for what happens on this issue.  My hope is that Australia listens carefully to very real and relevant concerns; because I shouldn’t be amongst the last to see what a thriving coral reef looks like.


Women in Renewables – Melbourne breakfast meeting

As part of the Wind Industry Forum, held in Melbourne this week, the Clean Energy Council organised a “Women in Renewables” breakfast / networking event.  There are a number of these type of events and organisations being set up around the world, to address the clear weighting of jobs (particularly leadership or tech jobs) towards men.  And while we’re at it, white men.

There are Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) or similarly named entities in California, Hawaii and Scotland, with projects and programmes taking place in other countries to try to address the gender imbalance in the sector.

The meeting hosted by the CEC yesterday was a very good event, with a very interesting speaker.  Melanie Robertson has been the site manager for Waubra Wind Farm in Victoria, Australia, for the last four years.  She shared some of her experiences from her time there and I thought that some of her experiences, and the discussion that followed, were interesting.

[Pic credit: CEC]

General leadership challenges

The challenges Melanie faced at the start of her role were many and varied, and would have been difficult without any additional complexities that come with adding female leadership in a male dominated team to the mix.  There were problems with team work, productivity, facility performance, motivation and accountability, and niggling safety issues.   Melanie faced a myriad of issues, requiring small, incremental steps and which took her two years to get on top of.  She said it took her six months to try to figure out what was even going on, and which stories were true, and which team members were being quite toxic (my word, not hers).

This type of discussion around leadership styles is an interesting one, which sits outside of the gender conversation and spans all sectors.  It’s one that focuses on how to get the best out of a team, how to listen, how to motivate, how to engender trust.  Another talk I went to recently, hosted by the Centre for Workplace Leadership, had Paul Levy, who was previously in charge of the running of a hospital in USA, delving into these types of leadership challenges.  And the role that leadership has in instilling a culture of teamwork, accountability and learning.   It looked at just this kind of topic: identifying and addressing organisational issues, and how the leader needed to accomplish a sustained culture change to avoid or mitigate against internally and externally caused disasters.  Not easy, not necessarily cheap, but with massive long term benefits.

Another fantastic resource on this is a ten minute video by Inno-Versity, which animates a talk by David Marquet, a captain of a US submarine, who transformed how his crew operated, and moved decision making and responsibilities to the place where the capabilities and information lie.  Very interesting, fun and worth a watch.

Something I raised, and which I’ve also heard or seen come up a few times in discussions on leadership and organisational habits (see also The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg) is that listening to team members, addressing concerns raised, instilling a sense of responsibility and accountability leads to improvements in safety on site.  Melanie mentioned that there were small incidents that were increasing in frequency and had the potential to turn into more serious incidents.  She also mentioned that her workforce was older than on renewables facilities in Europe (with an average age of 47 years) and that they were struggling with health concerns that manifest at this age.  Focusing on small issues, addressing individual concerns, paying attention to the individual and team’s health (including providing pilates classes) has helped to reduce the number of incidents drastically.

Enough on that though.  Back onto gender related discussions.

The male dominated environment

The discussion turned, at one point, to how Melanie managed the heavily male dominated environment, particularly when the tone of conversation got a bit rough.  She said that this needs to be handled carefully, and that sometimes she’d need to be careful about when she decided to sit with the guys.  And if the topic got too rough, she’d take guys aside to talk to them individually – asking if they’d be happy to say that in front of their wife, mother, sister.  It’s repeated, and consistent messaging that starts to get things to change; without playing the fishwife.  She also just let them be if they were just having a harmless laugh around the lunch table or perhaps chose to have her lunch separately.

A lady in the audience raised a question around whether or not she had any concerns about hiring women who were not in a leadership position, but were rather peers with the men on the team.  Would she be concerned about them getting respect.  I had a chat about this afterwards with the lady who raised the point, and I think this is a very interesting topic.  It is one thing to be a female leader, with legitimate influence and authority to expect a certain behaviour.  It is another to be on the floor with the guys, out in the field all day.  Melanie seemed confident that her team would handle this well, and she’d be totally comfortable with it, but it did give me pause for thought.  A very good question.

Unexpected benefits

Something lovely that came out was over how her team members started talking to her about things that probably wouldn’t have told a male manager.  Expressing concerns, frustrations or grievances.  It’s not something that I’ve thought about, but empathy is a great female strength, often undervalued and possibly not recognised adequately as an asset.

It was a lovely morning and the women that I met were interesting, empowered and driven.  Well done to the CEC for organising it, and I hope that this type of forum becomes more frequent.