Category: Ramblings

The posts below are the result of my experiences and observations from working on energy projects, from travelling through various countries and from meeting with people in the energy sector. With them, I aim to share knowledge and learnings, and they provide me with a platform for discussion and opinion on energy related matters.

A test ride of Brisbane’s Lime Scooters

The Last Mile problem (not to be confused with the Three-Body Problem, but possibly as hard to solve) is the struggle that transport planners have in getting commuters to use public transport if they have to walk the first or last stretch.  Transport infrastructure may be fantastic for the most part, but if a passenger needs to walk for twenty minutes after hopping off their train, they may look to take a car instead.

Bicycles make a lot of sense, as they can chew up the distance from the station to home or the office, but they are mostly cumbersome to have on the train, especially during rush hour.  In Melbourne, I’d often get passed by people on skateboards while walking from Flinders Street station to the South Bank.  This is not a bad option, as skateboards can be popped onto the back of a backpack and carry pretty well, but they’re not for everyone.  The few times in my life that I’ve been on a skateboard I’ve feared for my knees, elbows and life.

So this weekend, my little family tried out the Lime scooters which are being rolled out (pun intended) in Brisbane.  These surprisingly tall and heavy electric scooters are found scattered around the CBD, and along the side of the river.

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They cost AUD1 to unlock, then AUD0.30 per minute to ride.  We had a fun time up and down the river’s edge, dropping a smooth AUD11 for our little half hour adventure.  You download the app, locate a nearby scooter and scan its QR code.  Then it’s unlocked and you can take it for a ride.  The app will show how much distance is left in the scooter’s battery.

It’s hard to say how many scooters are dotted around Brisbane, but the app shows that they are fairly ubiquitous in the CBD.  And people are using them.  Everywhere you walk people pass you on them.  They are quiet, very quick and easily accessible.

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One of the problems with bike rentals is finding a drop off point, which can make them inconvenient.  When you’re finished with the scooters you just tap out, and leave them on the side of the road.  Ready for the next eager scooterer to hop on.

And when they start getting low on juice?

“Our Lime-S electric scooters are monitored remotely by both local staff and an independent team of Lime Juicers. When a scooter is running low on power, our Juicers will pick it up, charge the battery and then redeploy the Lime-S out in the community.” – Lime

Many of the scooters have helmets hanging off of them, but there are many people cruising around without one.  My conscientious husband asked a passing policeman if they were mandatory (apparently they are).  It was also pointed out that only one person was allowed on at a time.  Pictures below reflect compliance…

Our son enjoyed it and I was surprised at the oomph provided by the little motor.  A great overall experience.

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Photos: Parkes Solar Farm, NSW, Australia

It feels like just yesterday, but five months ago I moved from Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast.  On the way up decided we’d take a leisurely drive up through central New South Wales.  The main aim was to visit the Parkes radio telescope and Dubbo zoo. But at the back of my mind I knew that there were a few solar farms in the region, and while it was a bit of a whistle stop tour, we did manage to swing past Parkes Solar Farm.

Parkes is a lovely town – bigger than we expected.  We had spent the evening before watching The Dish so we were ready for the telescope itself.  It’s really impressive.  An incredible piece of engineering, a significant part of astronomical history and just a generally interesting place to visit.

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I have a bit of background knowledge on the Parkes facility, having been aware of some of the comings and goings during construction, through work, and it was good to see it in person.  The developer of the project is a French owned company called Neoen.  Some takeaway stats from the project’s site:

  • Installed capacity: 66MW
  • Expected annual generation: 138,000MWh
  • Land size: 210 Hectares
  • Commencement of full operation reached March 2018

General layout:

Source: Parkes Solar Farm
Source: Parkes Solar Farm

All of these nuggets of info are out there in the public domain, so the main point of this post is to show off pics from a drone that was sent up outside the site.  Behold, Parkes Solar Farm.

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Neoen has a few other projects in NSW, and I have worked briefly on some of these in various capacities.  I’d done a site visit to Griffith Solar Farm before at the end of construction, and had a hand in Coleambally Solar Farm in the lead up to Financial Close and during construction (the project reached commercial operation recently, which was impressive, given the short construction timeframe and the ambitious size of the project).  Neoen also have Dubbo Solar Hub in NSW, made up of Dubbo and Narromine Solar Farms.  I was within spitting distance of the Narromine farm, but we just didn’t have time to get there.

While Neoen has extensive experience in NSW, they have also been making inroads into other states.  I had been involved on Numurkah Solar Farm prior to Financial Close – this VRET project is currently under construction in Victoria.  They also have development approvals in Queensland, and I know that they are actively pursuing various other options.

The complex world of Japanese waste management

I recently got back from a two week holiday in Japan.  The first week was spent snowboarding up north and the second week was in the madness that is Tokyo.  In both, I encountered confusing, and strangely strict, recycling rules that were difficult to follow and seemed to change from region to region.

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In the house that a big group of us had rented at the snow, we were asked to separate our recycling into cans, bottles, food waste and other.  Simple enough.  Around the ski resort bins were separated into ‘combustible’ and ‘other’.  And then when we got down to Tokyo, we had four pages of instructions in the AirBnB welcome pack about what needs to be separated and how to do it.  Rubbish was collected on our street every day, but I couldn’t see any difference in the trucks driving around and they all seemed to lump rubbish bags together without any apparent distinction between bags.  Other than crates of cans and bottles that were loaded up separately.  Who knows where those crates came from.  It was incredibly confusing.

There are a lot of articles out there which go into the complicated nature of recycling in Japan in much more depth than I would be able to having been there for just one week.  I found this one interesting.

But it’s an important topic.  Because there are vending machines dotted (spray-painted) all around the streets of Tokyo.  Everything comes in plastic.  Individually wrapped goodies are ubiquitous, and when you buy a single plasticked thing, it gets placed in a plastic bag.  And having seen what I’ve seen in the Philippines, this was naturally a bit distressing.

The Rockefeller Foundation has two Japanese cities within its 100 Resilient Cities programme; Kyoto and Toyama.  I didn’t visit either, but the Toyama Resilience Strategy is probably reflective of other Japanese city priorities.  They celebrate their existing waste management practices, and point out that individuals take ownership of their role in keeping the city clean.  But from a municipal level they also discuss grander plans and highlight the importance of the development of the city’s waste to energy industry.   “With city incentives, seven different companies now turn “waste” into usable products at the EcoTown Industrial Park, started in 2002. An extensive waste recycling education center increases citizen awareness of the methods and importance of waste recycling.” [Source] . They also point out the importance of incorporating waste reduction and recycling principles into education programmes and messaging.

Layout of Toyama Eco-Town [Source: Toyama Resilience Strategy]
Layout of Toyama Eco-Town [Source: Toyama Resilience Strategy]
What they don’t seem to do is look at reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place.  It all seems to focus on waste management, recycling, combustion, landfill.  There doesn’t seem to be any emphasis on rethinking packaging of products in Japan.  Talking to manufacturers.  Rethinking the need for wrapping up Pocky chocolate sticks (yum) into two separate packets within one single box.

We felt plastic sick by the time we got home.  And considering how much work each individual is expected to do in their day to day household recycling, and the social pressure that seems to be experienced at this domestic level, it’s not clear if any of that pressure is being directed upwards.  Both at the regulators and at the suppliers.

Asia has a lot to answer for with plastic consumption.  And Japan has enough resources to find a suitable response.

Back in the business – the Australian energy business

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I am coming up for air after a crazy and intense year of maternity leave.  Thanks to all who have kept in touch and apologies to those who were expecting the newsletters to continue.

My big news is that four months ago I started working for an engineering firm in Melbourne, in their renewable energy team.  I am back in the world of consulting, working as technical advisor on a number of solar projects around Australia.  It’s very similar to the work I was doing back in South Africa so it’s familiar ground.

This market is booming at the moment, and there are a lot of little interesting topics floating around that could use a bit of discussion.  What’s of clear interest to me is the number of South Africans moving over here with experience in renewables.  The slow down of the REIPPP programme in SA has had many people looking further afield for work.  Not including myself I can think of five people who were consulting in Cape Town while I was there, who are now based in Australia.  And that’s just within consulting.  There will be a whole heap more working for the other project players.

I’m slowly getting my head around the grid connection space.  It’s complicated, with uncertainties that seem to be driving developers around the bend.  Marginal and Distributed Loss Factors deserve their own youtube channel, and the Generator Performance Standards are tying people in knots.

Each state has its own planning rules.  The country is enormous with long tentacled electrical infrastructure.  The politics is political and the leaders love to leave.

It’s a big mish mash and a bit wishy washy.  And it’s a lot to get your head around.

So watch this space.  Perhaps all that I can promise is that you learn along the way with me.