Fixing SA’s power network

There’s a lot of buzz at the moment about a Twitter conversation between Elon Musk and Mike Cannon-Brookes about fixing South Australia’s power issues.

Elon says he can fix the issue in 100 days by providing 100+MW of battery storage. Mike Cannon-Brookes says he can find the money and deal with the politics.

As a member of both the Repower Pt Augusta alliance and also an avid Entrepreneur I’m torn.

The short of it is that battery storage is a decent but reasonably expensive short term fix, although Solar Thermal is a cheaper better long term option.

Backstory :
I was a part of the group who got Beyond Zero Emissions to come out to SA and helped with the historic meeting where we (well Mark Ogge who was the director of BZE) explained how Australia can get to 100% renewable energy within 10 years using a combination of Solar Thermal and wind power.

Solar Thermal being a large power plant that uses mirrors to concentrate the suns energy at a tower where it heats a molten salt to about 560°C the hot liquid is stored in an insulated tank and when you need power you put the molten salt near water, the water turns to steam and the steam turns turbines, just like a standard coal or gas power plant. What’s great is it’s renewable but also because of the storage it can work at night or ramp up/down do deal with the changes in demand and variable energy supply from wind and solar pv.

This was all many years ago. We did a big Walk for Solar back in 2012 and I filmed most of it. That’s over half a decade ago now that we’ve known that the Nothern power station was going to close down, that the domestic gas contracts were going to be linked to the International energy market and the blackout issues we are seeing today would come about if nothing was done.

5+ years of campaigning. The community is behind the idea and why shouldn’t they be, the creation of Solar Thermal power plant also means the creation of a new manufacturing industry and lots of jobs, plus stable electricity prices as well as stable power.

We wouldn’t be in this mess if even just 2 or so years ago the Government or energy companies took up the call and we’d started building. Solar Reserve and other such solar thermal companies have had people willing to provide the investment for years, but they need a buyer of the energy.
Unfortunately a lack of long term thinking and I suspect some wilful ignorance has lead us to the point that there’s been some very disruptive blackouts.

The entrepreneur in me wants to see Tesla battery storage happen here. even just the chance that Elon might visit SA gives me tingles and I remember walking past Atlassian and going to some startup drinks events in Sydney hoping to see Mike Cannon-Brookes who’s definitely the Aussie Entrepreneurial superstar. But I also recognise that there’s other options here in Australia like Zen Energy or RedFlow which has Simon Hackett behind it and even just the reduced transport would probably make it worth it.

I should note that CORENA, the Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia, of which I’m a board member currently doesn’t fund battery storage, only Solar PV installations and energy efficiency measures as those are what reduce CO2 emissions the most effectively.

Of course any of the battery options is going to be a better short term fix then one suggested option of building yet another Gas plant. South Australia already has enough gas generation to power all of SA but as I mentioned over the last few years the commercial gas contracts have been linked to the International energy market, especially Japan. As such the gas companies find it more profitable to sell the gas to Japan then burn it here and sell the Electricity.

If you follow the scent the gas option has the smell of lobbying from the fossil fuel industry. They are trying to get fracking to happen here in SA so they can sell even more gas, but will destroy large areas of land, especially farmland, in doing so.

To me it comes down to this :

  • We have enough variable wind and solar that we need storage.
  • Solar Thermal is awesome as the price of renewables goes down over time whilst also providing both energy generation and storage.
  • Batteries are a bit of a zero sum game. They help smooth things out, but don’t help us transition to cheaper, renewable energy. They can however be installed fairly fast.
  • Gas is a negative sum game. The prices go up over time as it’s harder to extract finite fossil fuels and the prices wildly fluctuate in the mean time.

This means that batteries could create a great one, two punch when followed up with Solar Thermal.

As a side note there’s another option that could be done with the battery storage. Microgrids. Instead of connecting the 100MW of power to a couple of substations you could setup a shipping container sized setup in each block or so that can have the energy of that block or even suburb connect to it, you’d have storage, but in a distributed way that would allow more community connection. SolarPV owners could be charging their local microgrid which with enough Solar PV could make it self-sufficient. But in our privatised energy market this seems like a pipe dream.

For more information check out :
http://www.repowerportaugusta.org/ – Repower Port Augusta. The campaign to get Solar Thermal built in South Australia.

http://corenafund.org.au/ – CORENA A revolving funding model applied to Solar PV and other renewables and energy efficiency. I’m on the board.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-10/tesla-boss-elon-musk-pledges-to-fix-sas-electricity-woes/8344084 – The first article I read about this.

Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts and are not necessarily representative of the organisations that I’m associated with.

Starting with Why

Teach with Reach

The core value of Teach with Reach is “To foster a life long passion for learning“.

 

This is something I came up with a while ago but only recently updated the website to reflect. The previous driver that I had was of “fostering paradigm changes in Education” which  is really just part of the How, not the What or the Why.

For those of you who don’t know, Teach with Reach is the education startup I technically started last year but won’t be working on it full time until next year.

Start with Why

I’ve seen Simon Sinek TED talk and a few other videos on Starting with Why , but it wasn’t until I started listening to the audiobook of “Start with Why : How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” that I realised I haven’t explained why we need to foster students (of all ages) to have a life long passion for learning.

Firstly what do I mean by a life long passion for learning? By that I mean a passion, a hunger, a thirst for knowledge. But it is more than that. It is wisdom that we want, for wisdom is both knowing something and acting upon that knowledge. Just because I know I shouldn’t eat bad foods, does not mean I act upon that knowledge. So both knowing and action are important.

Trends

There are a number of important trends of interest.

The Internet

If you go back to the start of the universal school system there was very few books. It was highly likely that each school might only have a single text book on a subject (e.g Maths). So the teachers would write up parts of the book onto the blackboard and get the students to copy them down. New theories and concepts developed so slowly that the knowledge gained through school would still be relevant by the time the worker had died. These days we have had an information access explosion. We are producing information at an astounding rate and have access to such an incredible wealth of it. But the majority of people have not been given the tools needed to deal with filtering this information. Whilst text books are usually carefully fact checked and the truth is considered paramount, blog posts and adverts are often the exact opposite and a large amount of the ‘information’ we have access to is designed to distort the truth or be false. To filter out the crap we need to grow up with a strong grounding in critical thinking. To be able to apply the baloney detection kit. To understand that we want to believe, but that it is better to have understandings than a belief.

Knowledge Worker

Go back 10,000+ years and humans were hunter gathers, which was actually pretty easy going with only a few hours of work a day needed to survive, as long as you didn’t mind travelling to where the animals were. Obviously some people didn’t like the travelling especially having been forced out of Africa with only a few thousand humans who had survived the arduous trek towards the equator during the ice age at the time so as the weather warmed humans started agriculture.  The toiling of soil, controlling of water and animals and storage of grain required a LOT of work. 80% of the population needed to be working exhausting sunrise to sunset days just to produce enough food for everyone. Think about that when you see an old movie about knights and castles with peasants working. The people in the castle or city was barely 20% of the population.

The discovery of coal and later oil helped start the industrial era with the Watt steam engine taking shape in the late 1770s. What started as an engine to help pump water out of coal mines also started a revolution that saw the number of people agriculture go from about 60% at the time to barely 2% by the 1920’s, with people instead working in factories.  It should be noted that this transition also saw the rise of the nearly universal school system which is still in use today and which was designed for and has become incredibly good at creating factory workers. The Industrial era faded away with the advent of robotics and was replaced with the service sector, however the Internet and computers are starting to see that fade away with the new wave being the knowledge worker. Think about it, when did you have to go into a bank to ask a teller for cash? I’m guessing that you’ve used an ATM many many times more. We thankfully did away with people who manually operate elevators and now have elevators without buttons inside them. Ohh and taxi’s and bus drivers? Make way for self-driving cars.

The type of jobs we need in the future aren’t ones where humans perform repetitive tasks, those that can have a workflow and people can be motivated to do better just by paying them more. No, the types of work we will do in the future won’t be considered a job for it will be primarily powered by intrinsic motivation, will require lots of creativity and you will measured it by how much you are in the Flow/in the zone. The freshman Uni students of today are learning content that will likely be out of date before they have finished their degree and will be getting a job that probably doesn’t even exist yet. How can our society cope if people grow up with the idea of 20/40/20. 20 years learning, 40 years working, 20 years retired. No, we need people who are love to and are always learning new skills, new knowledge, and creating new connections.

Ageless

Something that Aubrey de Grey explains well is that medical technology is advancing at such a rate that (plus or minus a generation) we will be increasing life expectancy more than a year per year. So some who is 20 and has a life expectancy of 80 might see a life expectancy of 300 by the time they are 60 and they could live for over 1,000 years.

If you talk with enough people you find that like their bones and ligaments start to get stiff and lose their adaptability, their brains seem to calcify over time. Their ability to adapt to new information and change their understanding seems to end up more like a belief about how the world works which becomes very hard to change. Notice how in general it seems the older people get the less computer literate they seem to be, the harder it is to learn new languages and the more conservative  their views seem to be. What is interesting is that this doesn’t always happen. I know 70 year olds who are better at web development than many of my friends who are under 30, yet I also have friends that are barely 20 years old who seem to already be very set in their ways.  If humans are going to be able to live for 1,000 years then they are going to have to overturn many MANY current assumptions about how the world works. We will need to be able to change the core of what we consider is our identity.

Just like we are going to have to prevent our joints from seizing up as we get older, we are going to have to prevent our minds from seizing up.

I can’t tell you what the future will be like, but if the past and current trends are anything to go by it will be a very different type of world and I want to ensure we all have the ability to cope and adapt.

Videos

Some of the links in the content above are to videos. I find that I learn very well through videos and thought I might embed some of the really good ones in case you also love them.

 

My story

I myself got my thirst for knowledge after reading the book Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder when I was in Year 7. I still remember going up to the teacher and explaining how I knew about the concept of Atoms. However I didn’t learn it from reading a high school text book as they probably thought, but from the philosophical concept of indivisible particles which Democritus had put forth during the classical Greek era.

Update : I’m 108% busy

In the theme of openness and transparency and just generally updating my blog :

  • I’m currently working 9-5 at the Adelaide Festival and the very busy Festival period is starting.
  • I’m developing a web platform for an education startup called Teacher Time.
  • I’m the founder of the South Australian Zeitgeist Movement chapter and would like more time to help organise ZDay and work on a presentation for it (but send an amazing amount of thanks to Kari and David for doing most of the work so far!)
  • I’m an active member of Occupy Adelaide and pretty much run the website.
  • I have recently started helping the Climate Emergency Action Network of South Australia (CLEANSA) run a campaign to convert some coal fired power stations to Concentrating Solar Thermal, which would be the first installed in Australia. An amazing opportunity. I’ll also need to help fix their website.
  • I occasionally do photography and a little film work for a local non-profit news media outfit called Our World Today which is helping re-define journalism.
  • As such I’m pretty much running at 108% capacity, at least until the 18th of March.
  • I’m also in about $9,500 Credit Card debt as I tried getting Films on the Fly off the ground last year and went to Sydney for about 10 weeks. Unfortunately I’m a social programmer, I need to bounce ideas off people and by the time I built the networks which could help me I ended up running out of money (hence the debt).
  • I worked at 2moro mobile when I got back to Adelaide. Was doing web development and Linux system admin, but they unexpectedly got liquidated and I lost $4k in wages I was owed.
  • My general aim for the future is to get out of debt, and when there is enough traction with Teacher Time (and hopefully some investment), go work full time with Michael Imsteph, Jesse Black, Silvio and the others on a full time basis to help scale the service up and out and add new features and pivot and everything else required.

Week 3 of Sydney

Well, it’s week 3 of me being in Sydney and I’ve been going through the dip. The part between when everything is new and novel to when you actually get something worth showing.

Seth Godin's Book - The Dip

Talking about something worth showing. Here’s a manually placed version of the RaVis explorer tree view which we are using for the Films on the Fly Nodemap viewer. In this case it’s my version of what I’d like to see. What I call a ‘Story Timeline’ view. Unfortunately the software doesn’t work that way. Yet.

FotF Orthoganol Tree View (RaVis)
FotF - Orthogonal Tree View

The first week in Sydney was about finding my feet, the second was getting over my cold/hayfeaver and moving into David’s place whilst transitioning to my natural state. That of being a night owl.

Night Owl
Night Owl

 

During the past week at least 3 of the nights I’ve not gone to bed until 7am. The earliest night being about 3am.

I’m also developing callouses on my hand from carrying my briefcase around everywhere. If it’s not that then I’m walking around with plastic shopping bags.

Sydney is weird. Well, it’s at least different in a number of ways from Adelaide. Their bins being the most obvious difference, but their transport system is more subtly different. It’s certainly not as well integrated as the one in S.A. No Google Maps integration, very few bus timetables you can take with you and basically no train timetables (but they usually come within 10mins).

Instead of having multi-trip ticket where you can use the bus or train up to ten times and when you use the ticket you can re-use it on any other public transport within 2 hours, in Sydney you need different tickets for the train (which are split into a number of zones) and also different tickets for the bus service, which also has different zones. This leaves me with 3 multi-use tickets. A train and two bus tickets. 

The annoying bit is that the train tickets are multi-day passes, not multi-trip passes. Whilst the bus tickets are multi-trip tickets and you can use them up to 10 times, I had a 1 week train ticket. This caused me lots of confusion as when the ticket expired and it wouldn’t let me through the turnstile. The turnstile machine simply said there was an error and to see the attendant. I went to see the attendant, but as I was holding a briefcase and a bag and they man the wide berth laneway, when I waved my ticket at them they just nodded and pushed me through, with 2 mothers pushing prams and a guy with a musical instrument behind me.

The next time my ticket failed I had to almost forcefully explain that my ticket doesn’t work. Only after repeated prodding from me did the attendant lady actually try it a couple of times, look at the ticket, then point out it was expired. Suddenly a light went on in my head. I didn’t have a ticket capable of ‘10 train trips‘, instead it was capable of 7 days worth of travel. Doh!

SA vs NSW tickets
SA vs NSW tickets

Did I mention I’ve already been having days where I feel burnt out? I woke up the other day after it had been raining for nearly 3 days straight and I had been having sneezing fits (usually sneezing up to 5 times in a row). I felt burnt out. I’ve been trying to work on the data structures for the Tree view page. How does the Javascript or HTML/CSS use it?  As a JSON array). How does the Server send it to the browser? JSON or XML.. I haven’t implemented XML yet. Also, using  the jQuery data type in the page construction, or via an AJAX call (I’ve implemented both)  I’ve not yet worked out the best way for the back end MySQL database to store the data.
Anyway because of all this it’s not really worth showing to anyone yet. Which means I can’t get excited by people looking at it and going ‘ah ha’ with understanding.

Also, whenever I try and work, I end up getting very distracted. After working on something for a while I’ll need a break, as does anyone. But I’ll jump onto Facebook, open up a bunch of links, start watching an hour long video and 5 hours later I’ll feel bad because I’m not working. Either that or it’s now time to go.Angry Birds

It’s not like I’m playing Angry Birds. Although, at one point I did watch a video about the making of Angry Birds. I also tried out the Angry Birds Chrome Web App. It’s kinda cool that they could make a game like Angry Birds that runs in the browser. It shows that Javascript and HTML5 have come a long way. Thank you Google Chrome and Firefox for making the Internet awesome.

I’ve also been watching a lot of the Google IO 2011 content. So far about 10 hours out of the ~45hrs worth that I’ve downloaded.

 

So. One of my greatest strengths is my greatest weakness. My hunger for knowledge, my passion for learning means that it is very hard for me to not want to watch something informative. Hence why I like documentaries but hate the news. I particularly love TED talks. I’ve watched over 500 of them and agree; they are Ideas Worth Spreading.

There I was again, getting distracted. Setting up something on the other laptop, waiting for my food to cook and missing my girlfriend.
I was feeling, not depressed, but burnt out and exhausted. But, I ate dinner, called my girlfriend and now I’m starting to feel better. To feel happier. Despite it being night, cloudy and dark, I feel like the world is brighter. Like the screen brightness has just been turned up.

So I finish off my call out for a Graphic/Web designer and some other emails, but as I didn’t go to sleep last night until after the sun came up, and I didn’t get to the office until 6pm, it’s now past half past Midnight. I race to the train station for no use. The trains stopped a while ago. Thankfully there’s a late night bus service. I spend 15mins walking to Town Hall, realise I have to wait on the other side of the road, next to the smallest, crappiest bus stop sign I’ve seen. The bus finally comes at 1:30am. I try to do some programming but the bus driver doesn’t know anything about gliding. They are either accelerating, braking, or going around corners. I start to feel sick and have to pack the laptop away. Thankfully I made it to Turramurra and found a taxi driver to drive me to David’s place as I didn’t want to spend 45mins walking home with my dark brown leather suitcase and blue hat (with white chequered stripe).

 

Portrait of Michael Kubler
Portrait of Michael Kubler - Showing off 'The Hat'

2 days pass since I did the graphic designer callout and I still haven’t received a response. I’m contemplating making up a poster and plastering it around UTS (University of Technology, Sydney). Alternatively when David Zwolski’s got some spare time I’ll utilise his skills.
It’s not that I can’t do design work, it’s that I know it’s not my strength, it’s hard to switch between programming and design, but importantly, it’s because I want to bring someone else into the project. Get their perspective. Look at their face as they realise all the possibilities and opportunities. Because of the information intense nature of the work I need someone I can physically meet with and spend time with so we can brainstorm various iterations.

MDKs Office Desk in Sydney
Michael's Office Desk in Sydney

I am putting $1,000 of my own money towards the project. $500 for a designer, who’ll hopefully help me create some example layouts for some of the Multipath, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and also the RPG style interactive video interfaces that I have in mind. If there’s time I’d also like some illustrations to help explain the concepts during demo day. Assuming the platform will actually be ready for pitching to potential investors/the public.

The other $500 goes towards Google Adwords advertising and some of the other stuff (like MailChimp mailing lists) for testing the landing pages.

The idea is to try and determine what people are most likely to be interested in and which features to aim for first to gain traction. To achieve a great product-market-fit.

The Startup Triangle
The Startup Triangle

The problem with doing the above is that I’m already stretching my financial resources pretty thin. I’ve got maybe $5.5K to last me the entire 3 months I’m in Sydney. This includes food, rent/utilities, transport and those annoying things like paying mobile phone bill, minimum credit card repayment costs, server costs and all that jazz.

That $5.5K is made up of my measly personal savings (I’ve been pumping pretty much everything I can into the company for the last 2 years); my last payment from ANAT, which was basically double my normal pay as it included my accrued annual leave (so ~$2k); plus up to $3K I can take out in a new credit card I recently received (just before I stopped working at ANAT).

I’m trying to use lean startup techniques. But even then, I’m trying to do something that even web startup incubators like  Pollenizer wouldn’t expect to do for less than $150K.

When I get back to Adelaide I’m going to have pretty much no money, but hopefully enough of a platform that we can show it off to people so they understand what it is and get them excited about all the possibilities of what it could be.

FOCUS

The reason why focus is important (and I need more of it) is because otherwise I’ll fail. It’s pretty much my whole reason for coming to Sydney (I’ve got a nice office back in Adelaide, but when there, I make films, not program). Certain types of failures are good, you learn from them. But failing because I was watching YouTube video’s is not the type of failure we are talking about.

Who’s talking about it? Mick Liubinskas of POLLENIZER he’s pretty much the reason I came to Sydney, so if you’ve read this far please watch his short presentation.

Mick Liubinskas – POLLENIZER

First week in Sydney

Well, I’ve been in Sydney for about a week so far. The first week out of ~12.

It seems to have gone so fast, but also agonisingly slow.

It’s over a week since I saw my girlfriend. Since I got to hold her in my arms and kiss her.

It’s over a week since my last day at ANAT. Since I started the running jump which will likely end in Films on the Fly taking off, or myself falling flat on my face, without money, without a job and without dignity.

So far this week I’ve done some PHP coding on the Multipath platform. Not much, but just enough to get frustrated at my lack of Flex programming skills and also enough to remember that I’M CRAZY! What was I thinking? I don’t work alone very well, and I know this.
I need to be around people. I need to be working with people, bouncing ideas off them. Seeing them work and feeding off it, multiplying it and returning it back ten fold. But I can’t really afford to pay anyone.

Thankfully the reason I haven’t done as much coding as I’d like is because I’ve been networking and settling down. Meeting with people at the Push Start Mentors Live! event. Meeting with Peter at Fishburners (which is right next door… Like the exact next building). I met up with Katrin and Bart of Zero Mail, plus Marc and some other entrepreneurs at the Silicon Beach Drinks night.

I hung out with David Zwolski, Ziggy, Albert and other members of the Sydney Zeitgeist Movement chapter. I spent a lot of time on Skype and Team Speak talking to David, plus reading a lot of his emails and vice versa. But it was good to finally meet him. He’s a lot younger and taller than I expected. With his full length trench coat and long wavy hair he looked a bit like Neo from The Matrix.

He’s offered to let me crash at his place whilst I’m in Sydney. For the whole 3 months. The catch : It’s a 10min bus ride and 40min train trip from the Sydney CBD. I’m catching up with him tomorrow so will see what happens, although I’m still at the backpackers hostel for another week…. unless the Major General gets a little too ansy.

Dorm

In the hostel that I’m currently staying at is 3 other guys. The two young asians on the other bunk-bed are almost always on their laptops. One’s halfway through watching the entire 10 seasons of Friends. The guy in the bed below me is apparently a Major General in the Thailand Air Force. I’ll nick name him ‘KI’ for the moment.
He’s friendly…. too friendly. He somewhat creeps me out. It started with giving everyone a quick hug goodnight. The next night his daughter gave him too much food and as I was arriving late and just wanted something small I had a little of it to eat before he threw the rest out. It was nice general caring and sharing. He seemed to be a nice oldish guy that was culturally or personally a bit more touchy feely than what I’m used to.
The next night  he not only hugged me goodnight he kissed me on the cheek.
The night after he wanted me to kiss him goodnight (and brought his cheek right up to mine). I resisted, but not overly.
Thankfully I got in so late the next night that he was already asleep when I arrived.

Tonight, as I got into the room he was already lying in bed. I was taking off my jacket (having walked 3km from the office) and he said he wanted to see my body….

All that said, I don’t know if I’ll stay at the backpackers. Ask for a new dorm (and risk staying with people who are more likely to take my stuff), or if I’ll take up David’s offer early. In the mean time, there’s programming to be done!

BTW : Happy Rapture day!

OMG ink is expensive

Well,

As some of you might know, I run a photography studio/stall at the Port Adelaide Markets in South Australia.
I have a Canon ip9000, which is an AU$1,000 A3+ printer. However it takes the pitifully small CLI-8 ink tanks…. 8 of them.

I ordered 3 sets of ink tanks in October last year, and yesterday at the markets did an inventory check after having replaced almost all ink tanks on the one day. I was all out of some colours.
Well I just ordered replacements from printercartridges.com.au …. $400 worth.

Whilst I have been printing a number of photos myself, including a 24 page(?) display portfolio, a number of test prints, and 10x A3 sized prints of the Schoolyard Justice poster.
Still, it’s a lot of money when I only got $480 in my pay packet this week, instead of the usual amount (over double that). Then again that is also my faulty as I was in Sydney for the Google Developers conference.

ALF – The Audio Labourers Federation

Recently on the Digital Labourers Federation email discussion forum someone suggested creating a similar forum for audio people (while the DLF is for visual effects people).

 

As I run a dedicated server, it is reasonably cheap for me to host a site, and I was interested in setting up a mailing list anyway, this was right up my alley.

 

After some discussion about the domain I registered http://www.audiolabourersfederation.com/ then within 48 hours had the website up, and the mailing list (Mailman) configured.
It turns out that I misjudged just how much Ram was required, and had to get the virtual linux server upgraded from 128Mb of ram to 386MB, on the way giving me 12GB of HDD space, and a whopping 384GB of bandwidth.
Although it also increases my yearly web hosting bill from $120/yr to nearly $500/yr, but it gives me a lot more flexibility.

 

So if you want a website, mailing list, or anything of the sort, feel free to contact me, and I’ll see what I can do.