How solar and EVs will save us

A 'one small step' mentality is seeping through Australia's collective consciousness and the growth of solar PV and potential of electric vehicles highlight that change is coming.

On the tail end of whirlwind tour around the country to present at EcoGen MasterClasses, I had my own little epiphany around some of the issues that our industry faces today.

I remembered the principle of taking just one step.

Almost 25 years ago, I was working in a car factory making automotive parts and was invited to see a leading environmentalist speak at a dinner. (I think it was Amory Lovins, but can’t recall exactly). Climate change was new to the majority, I was only vaguely aware because I was in Europe not long after Chernobyl, so was pretty upset about nukes at the time and how they spoiled the Tomatoes on my trip (true!).

I listened with great interest to that speech and then thought “Christ; it’s me, I am the problem! I make cars during the day, fix motorbikes in the evening and race motorcycles for fun on weekends.” Shattered and disheartened, at the end I asked a question:

“I accept what you are saying but I only know what I know; I have to make a living. We still need cars and I’m passionate about motorbikes. What hope is there, what on earth can I do, or for that matter what can anyone do?”

In a stroke of genius, he responded simply; “Do one thing Nigel. Just go home and do one thing differently, take a small step. Start there. When it’s normal and happens unconsciously, take another step and just keep going. Imagine if everyone in the world took just one step, together, today. The world would shift on its axis.”

I went home and started recycling as my first step. Then I realised I could afford a more efficient soaking hose and knew how to fix taps, so I fixed a leak and bought a  better hose and saved water. I had three steps down in 24 hours and was away.

This simple statement is still my ethos. I’m not a purist; I’ve stopped looking for perfectionism and am far from perfect. I call myself an environmental realist. But every time I can take one step, I do. In 25 years, I’ve taken thousands of steps and they are now all normal in my day to day life. A few weeks ago I took a leap and started commuting on my electric motorcycle. And so the process continues.

This experience, and the ‘take one step’ theory has a lot of merit in the solar PV industry too.

During the classes this week, I heard from hundreds of companies from across the industry. Universally, the entire market, it seems, is battling a Goliath in the form of network companies and stakeholders who are faced with diminishing returns as a result of PV. I believe they will come around, but in the meantime life is hard if you want to connect commercial PV.

“How do you respond and deal with this?” was a common question. One client rang me this week with an increasingly common story, “100kW system ready to go in, network company says okay, but we need $78,000 to put some frequency control gear in, just in case.” At 25 per cent or so of the project cost that is utterly ridiculous, probably unwarranted and quite possibly already being paid for through standing charges anyway. But being a monopoly, you have to lump it.

But my enterprising client ‘took one step’. He thought outside the box, got the specification, got an alternative quote and will be able to do it for perhaps a third of the cost of what the network company thought was reasonable.

Next time, his path will be easier.

And if it works, the network company might even take a step too. It might realise it was uncalled for and excessive and adjust its policy; a little bit of something being better than nothing. And the process continues.

Solar systems have long been lauded as being great at prompting these simple, behavioural step changes too. As a solar owner understanding energy consumption, tariffs and conservation in general starts to become intrinsic; I’ve seen it time and time again. Maybe we need bumper stickers that say “solar owners are smarter”.

And this week I realised it applies to EV’s as well.

Commuting to work I came across the mandatory octogenarian, struggling to see over the wheel and navigate the slightest bump or turn in the road. Thirty kilometres/hour is all that is needed, thank you very much.

Now my normal reaction would be a deft overtaking maneuver, dispensing said octogenarian into a cloud of my ‘I’m-off-to-work-to-save-the-world-don’t-you-know’ exhaust fumes, but on this particular day, on my Zero Electric motorcycle, something happened.

It struck me that if I sat behind them, I’d get a tow from the draft of the car. If I gunned it, I’d sap precious energy. I had a choice to make. I could preserve my (now all too apparently) precious energy reserves and go further on a single charge. By psychologically limiting the energy available to me this damn EV was changing my behaviour.

Sure I could refill, but it’s not so easy as a tank full of ULP. And there’s the challenge of ‘how far can I get this thing to go’, which just doesn’t seem to apply when fuel is in seemingly limitless supply and so readily available as a consumer.

That I realised, is exactly the same thing that happens with solar system ownership.

So instead, I sat back, enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet and coasted all the way along Manly Beach at 20-30km/hr.  I realised I had consumed as good as zero energy to do the same trip that would have normally taken a good gulp of ULP and had taken another small step.

I’ve said many times before, I’m an optimist; it’s true.

I just can’t help thinking that while it won’t be a smooth ride all the way, the ‘one small step’ theory has to be slowly but surely building in Australia’s collective consciousness; be it from solar ownership, ease of access to more efficient products, tension between installers and networks or owning electric motorcycles.

I reckon, just quietly, the world is actually changing around us, and we might not even be able to see it.

Nigel Morris is the Director of Solar Business Services.

This article was originally published by SolarBusinessServices. Republished with permission.