TEDxAdelaide – bigger isn’t better

Giving a TEDx talk was a wonderful experience. The speakers were so well supported by the Adelaide team and they really do put together a great show. My thanks and gratitude to everyone who was involved. I fluffed a few lines, which I’ve corrected in the Transcript below. If you didn’t make it on the day, please enjoy and I’d love if you feel inspired to share the talk with others #TEDxAdelaide 2017.

(my blog is full of posts about decentralised energy and reforming our energy system – here is a starting point on the case for community energy)


Together, we are racing towards a clean energy future. Renewable energy is now cheaper than coal, oil and gas. On an enormous scale, we are building some of the biggest wind and solar systems in the country

But I see roadblocks ahead

At the other end of the spectrum, we have solar panels on the rooves of millions of homes. The cost of solar energy and battery systems is falling fast

I see roadblocks over here too

And as we’ve been tugged between big energy and small energy, we’ve all experienced some of those roadblocks haven’t we?

  • We’ve had blackouts
  • We’ve seen energy bills soar sky high
  • And we’ve been subjected to a confusion of political opinions

Bigger is not better when it comes to energy, tiny isn’t great either.

Here in the middle is a sweet spot. If we build energy at a local scale it can be cheaper, more reliable and fairer. Here in the middle is a sweet spot called community energy.


Last year I traveled the world looking at the changes in energy systems in America, Germany, Denmark, the UK (and Japan). South Australia is not the only place hitting roadblocks. Everyone is grappling with a transition from dirty energy to clean energy. I visited communities that are building better energy systems and communities that are demanding changes in the way our energy systems are owned and operated. We have more sunshine here in South Australia than most of the places I visited. We’re in such a great position to lead the way. Already half of our electricity comes from wind and solar and incredibly a third of our homes already have solar panels on their roof.

But we can’t lead the way unless we head to the right spot, unless we head to the right sized system. (we need to head for the sweet spot of energy at the local scale.)

Let me show you why

Community energy can be more reliable.

With big energy systems, we have enormous power stations that transport their energy a long way to the end user. A few critical faults in the system and we have what we had last year, the whole state went black. And if you had a solar panel on your roof at home, you couldn’t use it because of the black grid. Maybe you had a battery or a backup power system but you couldn’t share that energy with your neighbours.

I imagine our electricity system of the future as a network of community energy systems. An energy internet if you will. Because networks provide different ways to get around a fault when it occurs. (Emergency supplies can be local or maybe come from your neighbouring suburb. Either way, we share the cost of the backup across the whole neighbourhood and manage our essential needs when the time comes.)

This is what they are looking at building in New York, a series of microgrids. Because New York had its wake up call when Superstorm Sandy hit. And some of their inner city suburbs, some of their poorest suburbs, were without power for two weeks. (New York set about solving the problem by building microgrids,) And they realised that the best way to reduce the vulnerability of those communities was to give them some energy self sufficiency. The cheapest way to improve the reliability was to invest locally.

Now it’s not just our emergency supplies that we need to share. We can share our energy assets on a day to day basis and be far more efficient. Because we are the ones that pay for inefficiency. And in the big energy model and the small energy model, there’s plenty of inefficiency.

Big energy has always chased economies of scale, promising you cheaper prices, if they build bigger power stations. But they’ve had to build power stations and networks, poles and wires, to meet our peak capacity on that one hottest day in the middle of summer.

Half of that capacity lies idle most of the time. (and on top of that we lose almost 10% of our electricity transporting it from where it is produced to where it is used.)

Small energy is not much better. They’ve chased the economies of mass production. The more solar panels and batteries we produce, the cheaper they can become. But to serve our needs all year round we have to overinvest in the capacity here. So once again, some of that capacity lies idle.

Here in the middle at a local energy scale we can best match the energy we have with the energy we use and we can make the whole system more efficient.

Samso island in Denmark provides a nice little example. They wanted to roll out a renewable heating scheme to an entire village. But they said to every house on the scheme, “we won’t connect you until you’ve improved your energy efficiency by 25%” Then the system they built could be smaller. And the resource, the local straw, could go further.

Finally, the most important thing to get right, is making our system fair. And at the moment, its growing more unfair.

Big energy has become accustomed to sucking value out of our communities, off to head office and back to shareholders. Australia’s first community owned energy supplier has estimated that, of the $300 million dollars spent in their community, they can keep $80 million dollars circulating locally, simply because they are owned and operated in the community.

Small energy, is not much better. And I’m part of the problem too. I own solar panels and the more I use my solar energy, the less I contribute to the operation of the poles and wires that connect our system together. The people paying the most towards our electricity system are those who wholly rely on it. People on low income, renters and other people who can’t afford (install) solar; The businesses and industries that provide our jobs and local services that don’t have space or capital to build their own power station.

In Germany, communities are buying back their electricity grids from the energy corporates, and they’re demanding that those systems answer to community priorities. In Scotland, communities are investing in renewable energy because they know it helps their local economy flourish as industries spring up around this new opportunity.

I said at the beginning that it was economics driving the pace of change towards a clean energy future. We can harness the economics of local energy. We can draw big energy back towards the centre, we can help small energy share and participate in our communities.

When we build our clean energy system from our neighbourhoods out, we will get a system that is cheaper, more reliable and fairer. We will generate numerous local benefits. We will put energy back into service for our jobs, our lifestyles in our cities and our towns.

Our clean energy future will arrive faster than any of us dare to predict. But we need to listen to our roadblocks. Those roadblocks are telling us that now is a critical time. They’re telling us that now is the time for us to find our sweet spot. They’re telling us that this is the most important time for us to unlock the benefits of community energy.


Posted in churchill, Community energy, energy transition, Talks | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Energy, South Australia, 2018

pexels-photo-156451.jpegThe barrage of announcements from various politicians reminds me daily that an election is nigh. Labor, Liberal and Xenophon have all read the public mood and remained pro-renewables. (The Greens have always been pro-renewables of course) The party energy policies differ, but will all contribute to increasing renewable energy in this state.

Timely, therefore, for a view of the future and hopes for the coming year as we continue barreling along, challenging our old traditional energy system to keep up with the changes.

Where we find ourselves:

2018 will have strong uptake of big wind and big solar. A number of key projects have started construction, attained planning approval or announced contractual milestones. Bungala, Whyalla, Aurora solar thermal, Riverland and Port Augusta Energy Park – just to name a few. AEMO update their data every six months and you can see the project graph from December. The Orange runs our state at the moment. The light blue shows what could be possible. Many of these projects will be built with large storage as well because that is now a criteria for approval.Picture1

Strong uptake of rooftop solar will continue. 2017 was the biggest year yet and broke records all over the place. In SA we breezed past our 50% renewables target early and have solar on over a third of all homes. Even if the residential market saturates, the commercial and industrial market is only just taking off.

There is plenty of interest in household batteries and prices will fall. As the early adopters enter the market to experiment, so do the utilities – with SA Power Networks and AGL both subsidising a number of household trials so they can see the effect on their businesses and look for customer/company win-wins.

Around the corner are a number of challenges we haven’t grappled with. We already waste surplus wind power at times and we will have surplus solar before we know it starting with a mild, sunny Sunday in October (not 2018 but soon enough). A counter to this trend will be the arrival of transport and heat into the electricity mix. These are huge sectors and will become, in time, great loads for balancing out surplus electricity.

Finally, the energy industries are only transforming slowly – too slowly – and the entrenched interests are dragging their heels on change altogether.

What’s missing?

  • Local scale energy systems are a sweet spot that we need to develop. They promise to be cheaper, more reliable and fairer – we should at least be testing this idea.
  • People are missing. They’ve been insulted by energy politics and outrageous prices. We won’t get a better energy system unless we bring voters on this journey and support them along the way to make the decisions that change their own energy equation.
  • There is no apolitical energy conversation that can develop thoughtful energy policy in this state.
  • Putting a value on community benefits, and local economic benefits. After all, energy is meant to be in service to us. It is the reason we invested in this essential service as a public asset originally.
  • Fairness is missing. The economists in the energy sector argue that ‘fair’ means everyone gets the same price. They ignore the widening gap between the haves and have-nots as those who can’t own solar are disproportionately paying for rising prices and are often the people who can afford it least.
  • Innovation is missing and the system has not articulated how the utilities should do the learning and experimentation that they must if they are to steward the system to a completely different state.
  • Business models and tariffs need to change to change the incentive regime for the energy majors. We’ve left the system in pieces so the incentives often don’t line up between each part of the system and the customer who must pay them all.
  • Finally, customers are missing. They are placed in a far less powerful position than the companies, even while 800MW of rooftop solar is the biggest generator in the state at times. Flexible load is cheaper than batteries and energy efficiency can always be beneficial to the customer. Making customer participation and benefits a high priority should be in every energy policy.


Our Energy Future

I imagine our energy system could be a network of local scale micro-grids. Each micro-grid would be smart, balancing local loads and supply whenever necessary. And each would have enough self sufficiency to provide essential needs at times when the main grid is unavailable. These local networks would play happily on the market, making the most of cheap surplus renewable energy, offering up capacity when the price was high and building a local economy around readily available energy resources.

I imagine us making the system more affordable by positioning ourselves to welcome an era of cheap renewables. We would need to reduce the cost of our network, as we reduce the need for centralised and poorly utilised assets and fill our capacity up with flexible loads, local supplies and good load balancing. The arrival of transport and heat into the electricity mix might really help with the economics. The support for householders and unlocking of energy efficiency and demand management benefits needs to be relentless.

After the technical and financial dimension, there is the all-important social dimension. I imagine enough robust local ownership to shift the understanding about community priorities. Even if only a few communities transform the governance of their local energy systems, these will serve as a strong demonstration of modern values and needs. I anticipate that community energy will transform our system to 100% renewable energy faster than the NEM.

Therefore, in 2018, I’d really like to see…

  1. Co-design and better conversations, jointly transforming our understanding of tariffs, serving the low income sector, our overall vision and the role of micro-grids.
  2. Support for community energy and unlocking the economic development opportunities. Firstly through a strong focus on local resources and local benefits. Secondly with a strategic approach to the new energy sector – building exportable capacity, skills, products and services by supporting a sector to develop new energy systems, to innovate and to collaborate (competitively).
  3. Financial support for the not-for-profit sector to deliver customer advisory services, energy efficiency and demand management. These are the institutions that will be trusted in the long term to create the collective good in communities and support individuals to share their energy assets in the best way.
Posted in Community energy, energy transition, Policy Ideas, Solar Energy | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Future energy – People want in

I gave a Western Australian audience a whirlwind tour of community energy last week. My talk below was actually much shorter, but these are all the things I wanted to say.

Most importantly, I wanted to be sensitive to the feelings of a coal mining and coal power station based town, Collie. The Shire is trying hard to start a conversation about alternative economic activities, but the reality is a town that powers 50% of the SW of WA has relied on its centralised dollop of energy to produce wealth and in the renewable future, the energy wealth will be spread around more. I suspect the 10-15 year life of the coal assets would be much shorter if the renewables juggernaut has its way. Time will tell if anyone in the community or government has the courage to prepare for this possibility.

Western Australia is a strange market. The government has attempted to introduce competition but many constraints, corporate power (govt. is the shareholder) and government decisions are slowing down the investment in renewable energy.

My biggest takeaway was that consumers want to be part of the energy future. Horizon, Western power and Synergy all acknowledge this, as do the state and local governments. It causes both friction and hope.

You can find my powerpoint here. Please enjoy the speech below.


What a lot is changing in our energy system at the moment.

Its ‘game on’ for renewable energy. Prices are falling, every time the cost-effectiveness of projects change, new opportunities emerge.
It’s ‘game on’ for distributed energy too. We are staring with so many rooftop solar system and if you think of solar and batteries as the technologies of this decade and they both work well at a small scale, distributed amongst the energy consumers.

And I think its ‘game on’ for communities as well because most of us are not feeling comfortable about the shape our energy transition is taking. And for me, community involvement is the defining feature of community energy.

Let me do a quick poll – who here would say that things are moving too fast? not fast enough? And finally – who is worried about where we might end up?

I’ve been looking at community energy around the world – here is where I went on my Churchill Fellowship. I wanted to know whether all these great towns and cities – some achieving 100% renewable energy, some battling their local politicians and energy corporations for more renewable energy. I wanted to know if they were knitted in to the system, if their changes were part of the larger energy transition.

And I’ve been looking at the emergence of community energy here as well. Australia now has over 100 community energy groups and 70 community energy projects in most parts of the country.

together we are going to take a journey through some of the stories these communities tell.

Because stories are a theme. Every community has them. Every place has an energy story to tell. Next time you come to somewhere for the first time, ask yourself why the place is there… and look around for the signs that it has been shaped by its energy story. I traveled to many regional towns whose wealth and prosperity had been premised on agriculture – in an era when energy resources were distributed. At the beginning of the 20th century Australia might have been the most urbanised country on earth – our centralised cities and big dollops of centralised energy go hand in hand. But this renewable revolution represents something quite novel for our regional towns, distributed energy can give our places new stories.

And each story is unique. The resources we access, the challenges we face – they all differ from place to place. Importantly, how we go about solving them differs hugely as well and I don’t know if its a good or bad thing that many of our communities in the sector seem to be starting from scratch. I like to think of it as a sign that we are in the entrepreneurial phase and there is plenty of innovation because there needs to be.

So, of course, at the heart of these unique stories we find heroes, champions, community leaders

Let me introduce you to Lisa, Matt, Margaret, Chris and Alison. They would all hasten to add that they are only part of the story. They would credit all of the people who have worked hard with them.
People like these guys are the gold behind community energy – they’ve stepped up to make good things happen and it is their stories that inspire others. If you are looking for heroes in your story – think about these descriptions

The far seeing people. Some people can sense the future much sooner than those around them.
The people with lousy timing, in many ways the early adopters of solar should have waited, things would have been much cheaper – but where would we be now if they hadn’t been out there advocating for solar 20 years ago?
The guards of the drawer, because the difference between communities that made great strides and those that had plans but hadn’t acted on them was the action plans and targets were allowed to be parked in the bottom drawer. The guards of the drawer stopped this.
chris weir bendigo sgAnd Chris Weir from Bendigo sustainability group likes to talk about his Ninja team. He says the best groups have a small group of hardworkers at the heart and they cover four main skill sets – project management, finance, technical and comms.
Chris and his group have been active for a decade and they’ve just become a community energy hub with some funding from the state government – Chris really hopes this will give them some dedicated capacity to ramp up their activities.

Lisa Lumsden repower pt augustaI thought I would start with a story of a community for whom the energy transition was moving too fast. When Lisa Lumsden tells this story she says, “but first I must go back to the beginning” because outsiders don’t understand what it is like to live in a town where the work generated by two coal fired power stations and a coal mine have dominated the town for over 50 years. And the relationship was not all one way, Port Augusta’s fierce mayor, Joy Balusch had fought for years to hold the power stations to account and improve the pollution coming into town. So when Lisa sat down at a town meeting to hear about solar thermal in 2011, it was with an open mind. The town knew that the power stations and mine would close in 2017 unless major investment could be justified and here was a proposal that created baseload power to replace a coal fired power station and it created jobs – because making mirrors could be an industry where much of the value stayed in South Australia.
Lisa slowly got drawn into the campaign. She had the hard conversations with people about the eventual loss of the power stations and the need for the town to take the future into its own hands. She remained perpetually surprised by the amount of support they got from around the country for the work of Repower Port Augusta. For a long time there seemed to be little political support. They had managed to get interest from all around the world and solar thermal suppliers from Spain, from the USA were visiting Port Augusta and checking it out, but little help from state or federal government. The power stations closed suddenly, a year early and no transition plan was in place. In early 2016, these were dark days. All their hopes seemed to hinge on a single opportunity for Government to include solar thermal in its own contract for buying electricity.
And finally, with an election in sight, an infamous blackout behind it, rallies and billboard advertising in Adelaide, the state government announced what many thought would never happen. Port Augusta will get its solar thermal power station, and at a reasonable price – 7.8c/kWh. The Premier at the time went to Port Augusta to acknowledge that this was a community victory. The local member for Port Augusta is our new Energy minister.

Now, if you look at the region of Port Augusta there is an absolute hub of activity. They will have employment for years if all the proposed projects come to fruition. None of it is community owned energy but the leadership shown by the town ticks my box for changing the outcomes. How much of this would have occurred anyway? Well there is no doubt that the infrastructure from the old coal fired power stations is the main reason the developers are here but Repower Port Augusta gave this town the profile it needed across the globe and without that movement, the welcome mat would not have been laid out for developers.

For Margaret and Matt – the energy transition is not happening fast enough.
margaret hender corenaIn 2012, Margaret was one of those not-from-port-augusta folks who did the 200km walk for solar from port augusta to adelaide to demand a faster transition. And with time on their hands, they talked about how to make it easy for everyone to make a practical contribution to reducing emissions. This is the birth of Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia, CORENA – an organisation that puts solar on the roofs of community buildings by offering technical support and interest free loans.

When you look at the community energy sector, many groups have yet to build their first project. Some have one or two. But two organisations have Over 20. CORENA and clearsky solar. CORENA is a donation model. They have built up a fund of over $150,000 in donations. Because loans get repaid and the money can be lent over and over, they have now lent over 287,000 to solar and energy efficiency projects. Clearsky is an investment model. They find the project and call for investors, with returns typically offered in the range of 5-8%. Their investments sell out quickly, sometimes in less than 24hrs – and one of the things that pleases them is that they are making solar appealing to people from all backgrounds and all political persuasions.
Both of these models are speeding change with community funds and technical support.

matt CJ TRYMatt was one of CORENAs earliest customers. He helped get solar panels funded for Beechworth’s Montessori School but his real passion was in Yackandandah. The local petrol station in Yack is community owned. When the petrol station threatened to close in 2002, there were plenty who didn’t want to drive 40minutes just to fill up a tank. Matt convinced the Yackandanadah community development company to put solar panels on the roof of the petrol station and from that core group that rescued the petrol station came a conversation about their energy future. Soon they had a goal to be totally renewable by 2022 and TRY was born.

They’ve engaged the whole town. The local hospital also received a CORENA loan. It and the local water treatment plant both have solar panels and they’ve been running energy audits throughout town and awarding Golden Yaks to their best performers.

And their hard work has been rewarded with growing support from councils, governments and energy companies. They are currently in the midst of a minigrid roll out with their distributor – Ausnet services. They have been putting solar and batteries throughout a newish suburb with some control over the batteries, for energy reliability purposes, handed back to Ausnet. Finding a way for the energy company and the community to benefit is a Nirvana and that leads us to….

My final story and my favourite. We’ve seen that the drivers that get communities passionate can be quite different, from the energy transition going too fast, to it going too slow. And we’ve seen that the strongest community leadership often forms in response to a crisis. But my last story is about the importance of listening – because when you listen to what your community needs, you get the richest response.

alison crook enovaMeet Alison. Alison comes from the Northern Rivers region of NSW, a region that was appalled by fracking and successfully shut it out of the region. Alison, like many others, felt that while it was important to oppose fossil fuel development, it was also important to be part of the solution – so a group of them all trooped off to the first Community Energy Congress in 2014 and came home all inspired, ready to build a big community owned solar power station. But the more they investigated what this project would look like, the more people told them, we can build the power station but what we really need is a friendly retailer.
You probably need rocks in your head to even contemplate building a brand new energy company in the competitive, ‘big boys’ landscape of energy retailers, but these are competent, determined people, not afraid of a few headaches along the way so creating Australia’s first community energy retailer is what they set out to do.

And here are some of the things I love about ENOVA
– they are a company, not an NGO. But to make sure they remain democratically controlled, the most votes anyone can have is 3 – even though some shareholders own much more than 3 shares
– they told their shareholders during the original share offer (where they raised $3m) that everyone would get half the normal dividends and half would be reserved for a not-for-profit, Enova Community which would help everyone in the community reduce their energy costs with energy advice and other helpful energy services.
– they worked out that if their region spends $300m in electricity charges, they could help keep $80m in the region. For a start all the retail charges convert into local jobs because ENOVA has located its entire business operations in the Northern Rivers. And by buying locally generated energy, by helping customers keep their energy use and energy charges low, all these elements contribute to a locally owned and operated system that genuinely services its community.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what we want? An energy system in service to its customers, towns and regions.

That is what Enova’s story is about. It is what you get when a community is concerned that the energy transition isn’t quite going in the right direction and they stand up to correct it.

So I hope the stories I’ve told help you understand what community energy can be for you. I hope you are already thinking about the unique assets and challenges your community has and pinpointing a few potential community leaders. Unless your community is completely complacent about the changes going on in our energy system – there are plenty of concerns to kick start a conversation about what the energy future looks like.

And everyone who is paying attention will notice that I slipped in a 7th theme there – public good! What I mean by that is there are opportunities in this energy transition to deliver benefits that a market struggles to provide and governments aren’t paying enough attention to. There are public benefits, for example ways we could share our rooftop solar or our emergency battery capacity? Ways we could help lower the bills on our community buildings, ways we could look after the most vulnerable members of our society, many of whom risk falling into energy poverty. We can already see in the examples of Yackandandah and Enova that community groups are choosing to unlock these benefits and I believe the best model for unlocking these benefits is Government funding and community delivery.


So as we watch our energy transition play out and as we watch significant financial and political resources lurch our systems toward change, we have to ask the question – can communities’ and their limited resources even influence this?

I believe they can and I believe community energy plays an essential role in nudging our energy system toward better outcomes.


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Who supports community energy?

CE election.pngLast week 7 community energy organisations wrote to the key political parties about community energy.

Everyone is making announcements in the energy policy space but do they really understand how excellent a community energy policy could be? It is not enough to throw money at individuals or big corporates without working on the collective challenges that we face at a local level. Working with communities to make our energy systems better would be a win-win-win, as I’ve written in numerous places on this blog[1][2][3].

We got replies.

The Greens are an excellent bunch. Mark Parnell read the letter, the blog and agreed to use their balance of power position in the Upper House to influence the decision makers of the next term and advance community energy. They’ve also signed up to the Repower agenda on community and renewable energy proposed by Environment groups and a public benefit electricity retailer has been Green party policy for some time.

I have plenty of time for the Dignity Party.  They have recognised that working through community would align with their agenda of tackling disadvantage and they have written back thoughtfully and supportively. Their energy and climate policies recognise that vulnerable South Australians are further disadvantaged unless we embrace an energy transition that works for everyone.

SA Best provided a disappointing, standard reply along with their energy and environment policies which are both pretty good. They have made headlines with their community benefit retailer proposal, which will help raise the profile of the idea with the major parties and they have agreed with much of the Repower agenda. They have emphasised the importance of energy efficiency, which you can do well via community. They also have an interesting group of candidates – I have plenty of time for folk with a track record of working in community and/or advancing renewable energy.

Labor were the only other party that replied. They have a bad habit of not answering questions and promoting their own agenda. I am not convinced the community energy message has been heard in the inner Labor circles, despite our repeated attempts. While I approve of much of the Labor party energy policy, I despair for the lack of attention to issues that are harder work, like energy efficiency, like supply/demand balancing, like community work.

While the Liberals didn’t reply, they gave positive responses to some of the Repower proposals and they have modelled their energy policy on the Finkel Review – which has much to commend it. I was pleased to see demand management explicitly mentioned.

I can’t recommend Australian Conservatives because they haven’t taken the effort to clarify their position. Curtailing renewables feels like an ideological position and at odds with the stated aim of reducing energy costs. I was hopeful that provision in partnership with community would appeal – improving energy independence and empowering regional communities could both align well with a conservative agenda.

I’ve pulled together the party policies as they apply to the 11 areas of community energy support we advocated for last week.

Please peruse, please use your vote wisely, please tell candidates that they should advocate for a community energy policy within their party and I’ll see you on the other side of March 17!

PS Please share. If you would like to keep informed about community energy progress in SA, you can sign up to keep up to date with South Australian energy news and/or join our Facebook conversation at Community Energy Action SA.
[1] Why parties should support community energy
[2] The case for community energy
[3] A community energy program for resilient hills and coasts


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Deep Work – can I summon it?

deepwork2 I understand the value of deep work, the opportunity to truly focus and to create the space to do so. But I’m not sure I could give it the priority Cal Newport does.

That’s the point though, isn’t it? Deep work isn’t something you can do part time, and so this book leaves me with somewhat of a dilemma.

Newport does offer a number of models though – His own involves effective blocking out of time where no distractions are allowed; going to a retreat may be useful for those whose day-to-day will never be distraction free; and separating the pattern of the year so that interacting activities (eg teaching) are only for part of the year is also an option.

At the start is a very insightful story about how Newport trained himself. Building the habit to sink into deep work is another challenge many of us have because distractions feed the gratification monkey as we try to push ourselves over the initial hurdles and into the state of flow and concentration. Newport describes a building design that an architect once described to him. Two preparatory chambers allow users to firstly socialise and discuss the work ahead, then gather all the necessary resources from an uber-library before finding oneself in an inner sanctum of silence, motivation and time. I want one!

Deep work is valuable, rare and meaningful. You don’t need to sell me on this but I appreciated the first half of the book for comprehensively making the case. The challenge is there, for all of us – if deep work is so good, how much of our lives should we spend on it?

This remains my key question. Newport’s assertion about how much he got done when he really focused is impressive and he acknowledges that maybe he pushed a little too hard and the year was quite exhausting.

He celebrates the boundaries – coming home and reading in the evening, finding time to relax and be with this family. If you’ve read CEO of Me, then you’ll know that folk suit different styles in the life/work blend. He actively acknowledges family as an important element to the thinking about deep work and where to fit it, and made me question whether it was fair to accuse him of having no idea what it is like to be the ‘on call’ parent.

And I wonder about the rules, because they made me think – what is life for?

  1. #work deeply
  2. #embrace boredom
  3. #quit social media
  4. #drain the shallows

But I won’t dismiss the concepts straight away because I acknowledge that there is a need for deep work in my life – if not at the extremes practiced by Newport.





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A hopeful vision of new politics

out-of-the-wreckageWhat an excellent piece of work by George Monbiot! This book adds a number of important layers to our understanding of what it will take to change our path.

Monbiot’s key message is that the story we tell needs to change. The two narratives of the 20th century still survive today – the social-democratic story and that of neo-liberalism.

Those stories have their flaws, failed at some points and so we can’t look backwards for a replacement story – we need something new. We need a new narrative, one of togetherness and belonging.

We need to insist on the values we hold as social creatures who have evolved to live in pro-social societies, because if the dominant narrative is one of rationality, individualism and selfishness then our values slowly but surely shift toward that.

We need a set of principles and Monbiot proposes a long aspirational list for us to consider.

The book looks at our forward path from the perspective of community. For this is Monbiot’s main prescription of what we need to build, he looks at the alienation within modern society and why we’ve lost the togetherness we once had.

And so he explores belonging – belonging with, belonging to and belonging in. He looks at initiatives springing up in societies around the world that bring back our sense of community and help form our identity – and indeed our politics. The Clarion clubs of the UK in the late 19th century were formed to help groups share time together and to create shared political values – who knew?

Monbiot talks about communities taking back control while warning against the withdrawal of resources that the Big Society initiative came to be associated with. He highlights the benefits of building a participatory culture, and quotes a Lambeth study that expects 10% participation within 3 years as a tipping point to building the types of thick networks that can make communities resilient and vibrant. Genuinely creating the belonging that we need and love.

And in communities the wealth is shared in public spaces and amenities – private sufficiency, public luxury. So the commons becomes a key part of the discussion, rather than one ignored by our modern economic paradigms.

The other key planks to the path of change are the dual tasks of reframing the economy and changing our politics. Monbiot takes his economic lead from Kate Raworth – and her new book is well worth the read.

He takes heart from the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US and believes that the radical trust model is desperately needed for organisers to unlock widespread movements. He has instructions for organisers about inviting participation and criticises the march and speeches model, precisely because it doesn’t give marchers easy instructions for getting involved and building something together.

This is all music to my ears. I’ve been reading widely about this, and I’ve been harbouring a secret desire for a universal basic income and all the time in the world to volunteer and do things we care about. I’m experimenting with online community building and I recommend this one as a book to read.

Have you read it? what did you think?




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Why should parties support community energy?

C4CE congressSouth Australians spend over $2bn per year on electricity. Households and small business account for approximately 60% of that expenditure and are increasingly recognising that they can generate the same amount as their electricity needs each year by installing rooftop solar energy. In other words, we all live close to a local energy source that is extremely affordable compared to grid energy.

In addition to our expenditure on electricity, we spend a similar amount on transport and heating energy – and there are increasing opportunities to electrify these two energy needs.

How much of this expenditure could be returned to energy consumers – with a system that is cheap to run? with good use of the energy assets we have invested in? with further help to reduce consumption and to use energy at the cheapest times?

How much of this expenditure could be returned to communities – with investments made by local investors rather than remote shareholders? With expenditure supporting local jobs?

Some estimates suggest 30%. All parties are focused on reducing energy costs but none have really explained how they will get the system operating in the most effective manner. They offer pieces of the puzzle – a community owned electricity retailer for the low income sector, integration of demand management and storage into market operations, a distributed virtual power plant.

With a potential prize to South Australians of over $500m – community energy deserves stronger consideration.

There is an opportunity for each party to spend some time exploring the ramifications of locally scaled energy – its impact on affordability and local economics, its improvement to local energy security, resilience and energy self-sufficiency.

There is an opportunity to support communities to develop their own solutions, increasing the likelihood that fairness, local jobs and local investments will become priorities.

There is a clear case for government support. Communities cannot mobilise resources at the pace of the private sector and so are the poor cousins in the race to profit from renewable energy. Communities are concerned with delivering public goods, the unprofitable benefits that come from pursuing affordability for all, local employment and skills enhancement.

What support does community energy need?

  1. Funding to get started. Initial funding can bring communities together to plan and provide seed capital for projects. It can leverage 20x or more in capital from small investors and leverage enormous amounts of productive community volunteer time.
  2. Community-based institutions such as community energy hubs.
  3. A retailer focused on delivering customer and public benefit in order to set a standard for the whole market and to provide a strong collaborator for community projects.
  4. Trials and examples that prove the cost-effectiveness of the local energy model and demonstrate the necessity of rules changes in the market. Championship for such rule changes.
  5. Local price signals and incentives to support investments and behaviours that improve the utilisation of local energy assets and improve energy security.
  6. Unbiased advisory services that help consumers reduce bills, navigate the complexity of new products and shifting markets and identify community-benefit initiatives. …used to build skills, knowledge and capacity within each community.
  7. Commitments to deliver local community benefits for every new energy project and fair democratic processes to empower community voice and provide opportunities for local control of energy resources.
  8. Opportunities for local investors and small investors to invest in new energy projects.
  9. Flexibility in rule making and design to support communities in the myriad of ways they might choose to implement fairer systems and support to the most vulnerable members in their community.
  10. Subsidies at the community level to re-engineer local systems for improved energy security – with a focus on those communities most poorly served at the moment.
  11. A focus on skills and training to enable local businesses to participate in the energy transition and local procurement policies to ensure a substantial proportion of investment is captured locally.

We have an election coming up in less than 10 days and our emerging community energy sector has co-signed a letter to each of the major parties asking for stronger consideration of community energy.

This blog will publish some of the comparisons between parties, published policies, political promises and from the responses we receive, so please check in before you head to the polls on March 17.

You can view our letters here:

Australian Conservatives

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Power, and its careless use

the powerWhat would the world look like if women suddenly had the power?

Something I love about a work of fiction is the shadow it leaves in your thoughts for days to come.

Naomi Alderman left me with a chuckle and plenty to ponder.

She creates a world where teenage girls are suddenly given the power to kill, maim and control with fear. Well that makes me smile. Teenage girls already represent a pinnacle of female power. Before the world tells them what they can’t do, they have a confidence often missing in older women. They don’t yet know about the systems lined up against them that give them slightly less than boys, and that socialise them to accept, to prioritise caring, to avoid pushing themselves ahead of others.

Teenagehood is powerful for both genders, (as much as it can also be disastrous and difficult), and it is definitely a time when children become adults and start to own and shape self. Physically, boys get to discover a physical strength – sometimes without the maturity about how to use that strength and Alderman’s 15 year old girls find themselves in exactly that boat. It’s no mistake that control of ‘the power’ gets a little tenuous when girls are angry.

In this book the Men’s Rights Activists come out of the woodwork. Of course in real life we might struggle to understand the trolling and the abuse and what drives it. In this book, it’s clear that men have suddenly lost their place in the hierarchy to women, to all women – big time. And they have plenty to be afraid about, rather than an imagined loss. Of course they want to wage war. This recognisable behaviour made me smile.

The story swaps powerful women for powerful men in a blatant and exaggerated role reversal but I wasn’t offended. Instead I was intrigued – to what extent do I tolerate this behaviour every day? To what extent to men take their authority for granted and see their ownership of power as totally appropriate and to be expected?

I remain intrigued by the blatant sexism in the epilogue. Who can’t imagine a man that claims to be respectful of women but just can’t see the structural disadvantage we face? Who hasn’t been mansplained? Who wouldn’t be listened to differently if they wrote as a man? So why does it feel so weird when the roles are reversed??

My main cause for reflection is the carelessness and gratuitous use of power in the book. Why should I believe that we will all sign up to ‘power with’ not ‘power over’ when there is so much evidence to the contrary. But I won’t spoil the story – this one is definitely worth enjoying yourself.

If you do read it, please let me know when I should encourage my teenage girls to have a read. Can we see this world clearly because we are older? Would it shine a light for my 13 year old before anybody gets in to chip at her confidence?

…and if you like this sort of future dystopia/exploration work. My recent favourites have been Walkaway by Cory Doctorow and The Circle. Let me know what you think.

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The Power of Onlyness

onlynessThe power of Onlyness – make your wild ideas mighty enough to dent the world….

The denting the world stuff is a very attractive concept to me. I enjoyed the Breaking Out book for the same reasons and tried to pursue John Butman’s ideas about identifying my fascination, creating a framework and breathing the idea with an audience.

In a sense Nilofer Merchant is making a framework for us all in this book and it is an inspiring read packed with case studies of minnows making their dent.

Onlyness is about identifying the thing that only you can be and only you can bring to the work we do together. To believe in this concept, you also need to believe that everyone you work with will be unique and offer useful and different contributions with different motivations – but that doesn’t mean we all need to work in isolation, or some ideas need to rise to the top. Merchant sets out to explore how people have made their dent, why each dent has motivated so deeply in them and to show us a structure for doing it ourselves.

Step 1 is about discovering your onlyness, the power of your own meaning. This is a combination of where you find yourself, your history and upbringing and what they gave you, and your particular passions. In contrast to John Butman, Merchant sees the whole as your uniqueness, not just the particular fascinations that have caused you to pursue ideas.

I have a sense that my onlyness is about South Australia. This is my home and I have made conscious decisions not to stay in other parts of the world, but to return here and entwine my pathway with its. Although my ideas and passions are about our energy transition, there are plenty of folk doing the same thinking as me – far fewer of them are concerned about how South Australia’s particular story pans out.

And Step 1 is not easy, it includes rejection and self doubt but at the end of the journey you know what matter and why. No one in the case studies found their onlyness easily and many found it difficult to accept that this was their work to do. At the end of the chapter she quotes J. Ruth Gendler,

Power made me a coat. For a long time, I kept it in the back of my closet…I didn’t like wearing it much, but I always took good care of it. When I first started wearing it again, it smelled like mothballs. As I wore it more, it started fitting better…

Finding your co-denters is step 2, the power of meaningful relationships. One of the best parts of this book (well for me at least) is the richness of references to studies on networks, leadership, followership and numerous other realms that help cast standard management studies into the theory of onlyness. The overarching message, though, is ‘only not lonely’. Good work is achieved together and working with the right peeps makes any project. You also need to understand how to work with people who don’t share your passion or beliefs as many different folk can be key to the changes you want to make in the world. Finally, building trust is a key to scale.

Part three is about making the dent, acting as one – meaningfully. Galvanising many to care, giving the commission to own it and allowing everyone to bring their onlyness. This section talks to the special type of leadership that people have shown in order to bring about changes that they care deeply about, because more people can usually make a bigger dent.

Overall, this book is inspiring for its instruction to everyone – to be unique and to use that uniqueness to make our own difference in the world. Read and enjoy.



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