The revolution will not be televised

29 September 2011 – Here’s a area that’s moving faster than most people expected: electric cars.

According to electric car charging supplier Better Place by next year there will be five electric vehicles or EVs to choose from. Within five years  every existing and emerging car manufacturer you can think of will have an EV model on its books.

And China has made it plain that EVs will be its priority in vehicle manufacturer. A logical choice.

Equally logical is an EV solution for Australia where Better Place’s Alison Terry says large numbers of people every week consume $80 or $100 in petrol. Her company’s offering is to undercut that expense at today’s prices. In the future the savings margin will only grow as petrol increases in price and alternative energy gets cheaper. (Better Place promises its energy will be clean energy.)

Now what does this mean for urban planning? It’s a minefield of a question given that a big reason that the suburbs are unsustainable is their isolation from the commodities of the inner areas. Of course there’s also a lot of embodied energy in the manufacture of cars. And even clean cars won’t solve the time and hassle of congestion.

The speed of renewable energy

Alan Pears has to be the unlikely poster child for the sustainability revolution, at least when it comes to energy. Unlikely because he is so unassuming in his manner. But a “has to be” for his devastating body of knowledge and the way he can bring it to the mainstream.

Take this: In a recent article Pears outlines the speed ways conventional energy sector is being squeezed.

The impending carbon price, he says, is the least of its problems.

On one hand, if it is to deliver reliable energy, it has to invest massively, leading to large increases in energy prices, says Pears.

“On the other hand, it faces a wave of non-traditional competitors that can be rolled out rapidly and which attack the most profitable areas of revenue.

“In 2010 384MW of additional photovoltaic capacity was installed, tripling Australia’s total capacity… By the end of 2011, that figure will be 1000MW. This operates well on hot days and undermines the most profitable operating times for power stations.”

Wait till LEDs hit the supermarkets, he says.

“On the demand side we are just reaching the tipping point where LED and compact fluorescent lamps can provide enough light of good enough quality at an affordable price”

The result? Lower demand, less cooling needed to offset the heat generated by conventional lighting.

So how fast exactly is the sustainability revolution moving?

From The New York Times this week came the fascinating question that probably niggled away at most of us as we ponder how cheap our consumer goods are getting. Last summer it was an electric fan that cost only $12.

It’s the issue that has to date not dared speak its name: hidden slavery in the manufacture of products we consume or the materials that go into their production. In the world of instant information you will soon be able to download an app that will tell you how many slaves were used to make a particular item you are contemplating to buy.


In a way most developed countries probably never gave slavery away. They just covered it up a little. In the US it’s now called illegal immigrant labor (pay them whatever you can get away with) in other parts of the world it’s called imports or a competitive marketplace. So who thought you could box up sustainability and keep it neatly corralled in a middle class context? See our post

Farrelly online

If you miss Elizabeth Farrelly’s always provocative columns in the Sydney Morning Herald on architecture, design and other dilemmas of modern living, you can now go to her new website.

Farrelly’s is a rich critical voice. And all too rare.

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