Solar Powered Air Conditioning

June 28 2016     by  Philip Northeast

This month the CSIRO unveiled an air conditioning system powered by the sun for cooling commercial buildings.

The new system is on top of Stockland’s Wendouree Shopping centre in Ballarat Victoria and uses the sun’s heat to help keep the building cool.

The CSIRO solar system makes the inside of the building feel more comfortable by controlling the air’s humidity. It is a closed system that uses desiccants to absorb moisture from the air and then heat dries the desiccant.  Large curved mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays and the heat is stored in a thermal oil tank. There is also a low temperature desiccant system.

curved mirrors

The curved mirrors concentrate the sun (pic CSIRO)

CSIRO Energy Director Peter Mayfield is extremely pleased with the early results.

“CSIRO’s energy research is driving down costs of renewable technologies, accelerating the transition to a lower-emissions future,” Dr Mayfield said.

“We are pioneering new technologies and this project is a world-first demonstration of a desiccant air-conditioning system using roof mounted concentrating solar thermal collectors.”

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provided $520,000 to support the $1.2 million project, jointly managed by CSIRO with Stockland Group and NEP Solar.

The CSIRO said that the solar air-conditioning technology occupies up to 40 per cent less roof space than existing single stage desiccant systems.

on the roof

The rooftop system in Ballarat (pic: CSIRO)

The system reduces  the high energy consumption of large shopping centres and hotels that use large amounts of energy for heating and cooling – around 60 per cent of total energy use.

The CSIRO will monitor the technology for the next 12 months to provide information for establishing long-term commercial operations and further investment as part of CSIRO’s commitment to creating a low emissions future for Australia.


The role of climate change in eastern Australia’s wild storms

June 7 2016     by  The Conversation

flood water

Acacia Pepler, UNSW Australia

Australia’s east coast is recovering from a weekend of wild winds, waves and flooding, caused by a weather pattern known as an East Coast Low. Tragically, several people have died in flooding.

Parts of New South Wales have received more than 400mm of rain since Friday morning. Some places such as Canberra and Forster recorded their wettest June day on record. Waves have also caused severe coastal erosion and damaged property.

East Coast Lows are a type of low-pressure system or cyclone that occur on the Australian east coast. They are not uncommon, with about seven to eight lows a year causing widespread rainfall along the east coast, particularly during late autumn and winter. An East Coast Low in April last year caused similar damage. (more…)


Raised Garden Beds 

September 16 2015     by  Philip Northeast

raised garden bed

Elevating a garden bed  improves the drainage, makes it easier to access and simplifies keeping it neat around the edges.

Creating a raised garden bed system includes the opportunity to fill it with a new soil mixture. New soil is advisable where the history of possible contamination of the existing soil  is unknown. Local garden nurseries often include a soil mix as part of the package for a new raised garden bed.

If the project is modifying an existing garden bed, it is still an opportunity to improve the soil.  My raised beds are based on the current beds that have been in use for about thirty years. This means the soil is suitable after years of adding compost, animal manure and organic mulch.

Even so I still added some coarse sand to open up the structure of my clay based soil. The type of sand is important, fine sand particles will still compact making it hard for water to percolate through the soil.  Bricklayer’s sand has a high clay content which defeats the purpose of adding  sand to open a sticky clay soil.

The main aim of  my project was to contain the existing soil.  The main interest was experimenting with a variety of materials for the structures. (more…)


It is easy to bake bread at home

August 28 2015     by  Philip Northeast

If a novice can bake edible loaves of bread then anyone can.

Inspired by an expert’s television show that made baking bread look easy, I tried baking my own bread.  So far every loaf has been eaten, even the less than perfect loaves.

The practice of baking bread is widespread in a variety of conditions with varying techniques.  This indicates there is not a clear cut right or wrong way to make bread, just many adaptions to suit local conditions and ingredients.  I regard my basic method as a starting point on the bread making road. It may not answer  all your questions about bread making, but it should give a  basis for knowing what questions to ask. Once you have adapted my method for your own conditions and ingredients then the fun really starts with baking different types of bread. (more…)


Winter is coming, but don't hold out for future snows

July 14 2015     by  The Conversation

Sonya Fiddes, University of Melbourne

This weekend is predicted to be the coldest of the year and perhaps the coldest we have had in Australia for a few.

Much of central and eastern Australia is bracing itself for temperatures 3-7C below average, with the four-day cold spell likely to bring rain, hail, cold winds and frosts across the country.

Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales are expected to see the majority of the rainfall and minimum temperatures below zero for large parts of south eastern Australia.

This is great news for our ski resorts, where a much needed dump will establish their snow base. The Bureau of Meteorology is expecting large amounts of snow to fall across Victoria and New South Wales this weekend, with freezing levels dropping to as low as 700m by Sunday.

Future snows will mostly happen in big falls. Alan Lam/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Future snows will mostly happen in big falls. Alan Lam/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Predictions from Mountain Watch are expecting a total of 70 cm by Tuesday and Jane’s Weather is even suggesting we could get as much as 120 cm by Friday next week.


Satellite image showing the cold fronts lining up across southern Australia Bureau of Meteorology, CC BY


A slow beginning

July 1 this year passed by with New South Wales’ Spencers Creek snow depth observations recording just 1 cm of snow. The last time we had so little at this station, which sits at 1830 m, was 0 cm in 1957, as you can see in the chart below. Victorian resorts have had a similar fate this year, relying almost entirely on snow-making to open just a few runs. (more…)