Community Owned Wind Farms in Australia

This research by Paul Fleckney explores the seriously cool idea of community owned renewable energy sources - that is, where a community works together to build, own and control a renewable energy facility (such as a wind farm).

Community Renewable Energy (CRE) has heaps of benefits, such as:
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increased awareness of energy issues and greater acceptance of renewables
  • Local income generation
  • Job creation, and regional/rural investment
  • Cost savings through improved load management, deferred infrastructure upgrades and educed transmission losses when compared to centralised fossil fuel based power generation
  • Increased social cohesivenesscommunity participation and empowerment thanks to the participatory approach
There are many examples of successful CRE projects in Europe, Japan and USA, but there's very few examples in Australia - Hepburn Wind in Leonards Hill (near Daylesford, Victoria) is one of them. Hepburn is a 4.1MV windfarm. It has over 1900 members, most of whom are local. All members have a stake (and a say) in the company.

Given, the benefits, why aren't there more CRE initiatives? Well, that's exactly what Fleckney explored.  Ultimately, the research showed that economic viability was the most significant barrier to CRE.  Effective policies and incentives are required to encourage investment in renewables, and discourage the use of fossil fuels.  Other issues such as network interconnection, grid operation, planning and local opposition and community capacity were also found to constrain CRE in Australia.

However, despite these barriers, CRE can really work.  The Hepburn wind farm CRE project is successful; it has been operating for over 2 years, generates enough energy to provide for the local area and then some - which is sold to Red Energy, who then sell this energy on as related product, to anyone in Victoria.  The Hepburn CRE program has even won the World Wind Energy Award.

It's research like this that has the potential to change the way we source our energy.  Overcoming barriers to CRE will enable this as a possibility to address GHG emissions, with strong economic and social benefits as well.  I'm keen to see how CRE projects develop in Australia, and how various kinds of policies can help along the way.

Read Paul's blog 'Community Renewables' containing his research here, and hit up this link to learn more about Hepburn Wind.

Paul Fleckney is a Senior Consultant at Urbis, and undertook this research whilst at the University of Melbourne in the faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.

Melbourne Fails at Street Food

What's not to love about street food, including food trucks? The ones that can be found in Melbourne (such as Taco Truck) are hugely popular as the massive lines waiting will attest to.

According to an earlier article by Chris Berg, food trucks (and street food more generally) can foster innovation, giving folk a chance to experiment without investing in ultra-expensive infrastructure.  They add vibrancy to streets and can help build social capital. 

So, why aren't there more?

Well, according to Alan Davies, we can blame existing traditional food retailers, and regulations:
"The reason food stalls are non-existent and food trucks few and far between in Melbourne is down to existing food retailers seeking to stifle competition. The City of Melbourne has approved space for only nine food trucks and, moreover, none of them are in the CBD.  The adjoining municipality of Yarra requires food trucks to keep at least 100 metres from existing takeaway businesses"
This is just one small example of how local regulations can discourage 'lighter, quicker, cheaper' initiatives that have been shown to improve public space.

Davies' post says it's not planner's business to protect local retailers by regulating against food trucks - but where the balance is between managing health and safety regulations and economics with 'lighter,quicker, cheaper' initiatives is definitely a tough one.  How can we get the best of everything in a safe and fair way? Hmm.

Read Berg's article here, and Alan Davies post on The Urbanist here.  Read more on 'lighter, quicker, cheaper' here.

Transport Trends in Melbourne

Today's newspapers were headlining traffic woes in Melbourne. CityLink has slowed to 20km/hour and so on, so on etc etc.  Aside from the usual lament about freeways, I think the article raised some interesting statistics about transport in Melbourne, and how it's changed over time.

Image from The Age

The data shows that public transport use increased by 4.5% in 2011-2012 compared to the previous year, and the increases have particularly come from increased bus use (up by 16%, whereas trams were up 4.5% and train use actually declined by 3.3%).

It's also great to see that bike use has increased by 33% since 2007 (6% per year on average).  This is especially interesting in light of a recent piece by futurist Syd Mead, who reckons that bikes should not actually be taken seriously as a mode of transport for commutes.

"Today there is an almost messianic insistence that bicycles should be a part of the urban transit mix", which he describes as 'specious folly' (really misleading).

However, Bicycle Network Victoria's Jason den Hollander stated that ''Bikes compete well for commuting in terms of time, parking and cost".  

Despite these increases in bike travel and public transport, in 2012, Melbourne showed an 80% modal split to private car use.  It's also clear that addressing road infrastructure comes first:

''The Napthine government will spend more than $8 billion part-constructing the east-west link, leaving little to no money to spend on improving other major arterial or regional roads, let alone being able to fund public transport improvements, which are desperately needed''

Why are we so concerned with making it easier for cars? I went through the Plantastic archives and dug up Rupe's post 'Irritate Drivers - Create Great Cities?'.  

"While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation."
Irritating motorists is clearly something our politicians are not game enough to do.

For more the bike-dissing futurist, check out the Urbanist Post, or straight to Mead's article.

Also, this link provides a useful comparison of modal share for Australian and international cities.

Train-Plane the Future of Air Travel?

When you think of future air travel, does it involve a train that can fly? And if this dream could be made a reality, would it even be a feasible option?

Apparently so.

EPFL Techincal University in Lausanne has created a model for a new type of flying device called 'Clip-Air.' The model produced shows a single flying wing that can be clipped onto interchangeable 'capsules' such as train compartments.

The model, which has capacity to hold 3 capsules each carrying 150 passengers was recently shown off at the Paris Air Show by its Swiss inventors. This is the equivalent of three A320 planes but with half the engines.

As well as economical savings, the capsules could fit into airports of today and can be compatible with rail tracks, allowing planes to leave out of a city centre and integrate with industry.

The EPFL has stated that 'it is more than a new type of flying device, its innovative concept could revolutionise the airports of the future.'

Scientists are also looking for alternative sources of fuel to make it more efficient.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that Clip-Air would appeal to you?

To see footage of the design concept click here.

This article by Kathryn Cuddihy (David Lock Associates)

Private Companies' Private Spaces

Big tech companies often like their buildings and operations to form a closed circuit 'bubble' for their staff (some more literally than others), where staff have everything they need within the premises, which is separated from the outside world.  However, this idea is being criticized for its 'isolationist' bent and the effect such buildings have on the public realm, and on the city as a whole.

An article describes how architecture is used to encourage encounter within the building, but shuns interaction with what is outside.  It uses the computer parts manufacturer NVIDIAs new building in the USA as an example - though Apple is also criticized.
"The idea is to increase spontaneous run-ins between workers—but on the outside, the building turns away from its neighbors, shielded from the surrounding streetscape by a thin, faceted hillocks"
The article implies that this kind of architecture results in a poor outcome for the public realm, and isolates staff from the rest of the city.  

It's also not just building design that can affect the city (for better or worse).  For instance, some business provide private bus services to their staff - which is a good idea to get cars off the road.  However, interestingly, the article states that:
"A strict segregation between public and private transit is emerging. You have a private bus where you can get work done, and then you go to your private office park, and we see that it has a trickle down effect in the larger urban form. And that’s when it starts to be really problematic, and kind of undemocratic.”
"The interest of companies have always driven new growth. Except these days, companies aren't just constructing buildings—they're acting as designers, planners, and policy-makers of entire neighborhoods, too."

What do you think? Is the 'closed-circuit' nature of big tech hubs an essential enabler of innovation? To what extent do you think they are they 'undemocratic intrusions of public life'? 

Thanks to Rupert Dance for sending me this link. Read more at Gizmodo.