Monday, December 05, 2022

The Energy Minister's timetable for solar panel and giant wind turbine installation has collided with the roadblock of cold, hard reality

The good news is that the green jobs revolution we were promised in Labor’s Powering Australia plan has begun. The bad news is that most of the new jobs are in China, where a third of a million workers are employed manufacturing panels alone.

China controls 95 per cent of global photovoltaic panel production and its grip on the market is increasing. Manufacturing clean-energy units is a dirty business requiring a lot of energy, 60 per cent of which comes from coal. The International Energy Authority estimates that global production of solar panels is responsible for 51 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, some 60 per cent more than Australia’s entire industrial manufacturing sector.

Four out of 10 solar panels are manufactured in Xinjiang, the home of the Uighur ethnic minority, an estimated million of whom live in concentration camps. The US Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which came into force this year, creates a presumption that anything made in Xinjiang uses modern slave labour and cannot be imported into the US without clear and compelling evidence to the contrary.

That ugly debate has barely surfaced in Australia where the virtue of Labor’s legislated targets is simply assumed. Energy Minister Chris Bowen has faced next to no scrutiny from the gallery about his failure to deliver cheaper electricity or the wisdom of relying on brutish communist China for our future energy security.

Buried in the fine print of last week’s first annual progress report to parliament by the Climate Change Authority is a warning that our dependence on China for renewable energy infrastructure leaves us vulnerable to a geopolitical shock not unlike that European nations now face because of reliance on Russian gas and coal.

High commodity prices and supply chain challenges have increased the price of solar panels by 20 per cent in a year. There are similar rises in the price of batteries and, while Australia might benefit in the short term as one of the world’s largest sources of lithium, most of it is processed in China.

Bowen said last week that the Climate Change Authority’s warning will “need to be an ongoing focus”, which is some way short of saying he is taking it particularly seriously.

The authority’s statement to parliament exposes the modelling Labor relied upon for its Powering the Nation plan as worthless. A year ago, Anthony Albanese claimed the Reputex modelling was “the most comprehensive modelling ever done for any policy by any opposition in Australia’s history since Federation”. Now we learn its key objective, a 43 per cent emissions cut by 2030, won’t be achieved with the current settings.

The forecast of a $275 decrease in household energy bills in Labor’s first term went out the window long ago. Treasury forecasts energy bills will rise by 56 per cent in the next two years.

The promise of green jobs will be partly fulfilled, but it seems highly unlikely there will be anywhere near the 600,000 Labor promised or that many of them will continue beyond the construction phase.

Our reliance on the Saudi Arabia of solar panels is only one of the risks that makes the fulfilment of Labor’s grand plan highly improbable. The authority notes community acceptance, or social licence, cannot be taken for granted.

Australians may be in favour of clean energy in theory but they don’t want a wind or solar mega-plant in their backyard. Nor do they welcome the new transmission lines that connect them. Opposition is growing in regional and rural communities from Tasmania to Townsville.

In summary, Bowen’s timetable of installing 670,000 solar panels and 40 giant wind turbines every month from now until the end of the decade has collided with the roadblock of cold, hard reality. The only way to make the grid accommodate 82 per cent of greenish energy in the mix will be to hasten the exit of coal and gas and shut down heavy industry.

Rather than admit its pre-election modelling was wrong or bow to the economic reality that the huge capital investment in wind, solar, storage and transmission will push up the cost of energy, the government is resorting to coercion. If the markets won’t conform to the government’s perfect plan, they must be forced to do so.

Placing a ceiling on the price of coal and gas is one of the crudest forms of economic interventions known to humankind. Rather than address the shortage of supply, the government plans to add another disincentive to new investment.

Milton Friedman said the surest way to turn tomatoes into scarce commodities was to pass a law to prevent them being sold for more than two cents per pound. “Instantly you’ll have a tomato shortage,” he said in 1978. “It’s the same with oil or gas.”

Rising coal and gas prices are not the fault of Vladimir Putin, greedy energy company boards or a shortage of investment in wind, solar and batteries. They are the predictable consequence of placing unreasonable financial and regulatory burdens on the investment of capital in new and expanded resource extraction.

The distortions are already apparent. Woodside Energy is threatening to withhold new gas investment on Australia’s east coast, where the shortage of gas is most keenly felt. Who can blame it if the size of the return on its capital will be determined by political decisions made in Canberra.

Bowen, sadly, is not the kind of person to reach for a plan B, even if he had one. Those who have dealt with the minister say he does not welcome contrary advice. Just ask Paul Broad, the former chief executive of Snowy Hydro, who resigned after falling out with Bowen over the technological readiness of so-called green hydrogen.

Friedrich Hayek could have been thinking of Bowen when he described the mindset of the central planner: “The man of system … so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.”

The Prime Minister would do well to use his Christmas break to consider an early cabinet reshuffle.


A wrinkly ambassador -- and she's only 65

In the Biden administration, Caroline Kennedy is the ambassador to Australia.

65-year-old Caroline Kennedy — the daughter of JFK and Jackie Kennedy —has also sought to grab the political limelight. Now the ambassador to Australia, Caroline stepped into the political ring when she announced her bid for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s New York Senate seat in December 2008 after Clinton had been named Secretary of State. But Caroline quit the race two months later.

“When she found out what Democratic politics actually means, she bowed out,” said Leamer. “She didn’t want to have to answer questions or reveal her taxes. She behaved like a princess.”

Caroline went on to support Barack Obama’s campaigns for president, comparing the former president to her father in a New York Times opinion article in 2008.

“I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them,” she wrote. “But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president, not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.”

Caroline was named to Obama’s Vice-Presidential Search Committee and was one of the 35 national chairs of his 2012 re-election committee. A year later, Obama chose her to become ambassador to Japan, a position she occupied until 2017.


‘We changed everything’: How 56 schools transformed their teaching and boosted results

In Rebecca Brady’s kindergarten classroom students answer a string of rapid-fire questions about nouns and verbs as they hop between coloured hula-hoops splayed on the floor.

The energetic exchange means easily distracted six-year-olds barely have time to look away before Brady pulls their attention to the next exercise. They are captivated.

“It’s playful and fun, but the teacher is in control and leading the lesson,” she explains.

For the past two years, her school, St Bernard’s primary just south of Batemans Bay, has been in the midst of a classroom revolution.

“We’ve changed our whole approach to teaching. We use a lot of repetition, fast-paced learning and intense explicit instruction; behaviour is improving, and the children are so engaged. It’s been a huge turnaround. Kids don’t have time to disengage.”

Brady is one of hundreds of teachers across 56 Catholic schools in NSW and the ACT that have embraced “high-impact” explicit instruction, an approach partly embedded in old-school teaching methods. It shuns student-led and inquiry-based learning in favour of a direct, traditional instruction style.

Behind the teaching overhaul is Ross Fox, the head of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, who fours years ago decided stagnating academic results across his stable of schools required urgent attention. He called on Lorraine Hammond, an influential explicit teaching advocate from Edith Cowan University, who has implemented “high-impact instruction programs” at more than 50 schools in Western Australia and the Kimberley region.

“Any school that takes up a teacher-led approach to instruction will achieve outstanding results because learning to read, write and spell are not naturally occurring processes,” says Hammond.

Teachers and principals from the Canberra Goulburn archdiocese visited Western Australia to see how explicit teaching, regular assessment and phonics-based reading programs were being rolled out at a handful of schools there.

“I felt a huge moral imperative to turn things around. We had to think deeply about why what we were doing in the past wasn’t translating into improved results, particularly in reading,” Fox says.

“If you want students to know something, you tell them. We know there is a way the brain learns, a science behind it, and effective classroom instruction involves breaking down information into small chunks and then building on that, rather than letting the student lead their learning.

“This approach is one way we can try and close the equity gap in student outcomes,” he says.

The 56 schools are at the end of their second year adopting the explicit, evidence-based teaching approach, known as the Catalyst program, and internal analysis of NAPLAN results shows promising signs.

“Our primary schools are showing statistically significant improvement in NAPLAN reading between 2019 and 2022 for year 3 and year 5. And results have improved relative to NSW averages, particularly for reading,” Fox says.

At St Bernard’s, where a quarter of students are from a disadvantaged background, this year’s NAPLAN results are even more pronounced: 94 per cent of year 5 students achieved the top four bands for reading. In 2017, this was just 69 per cent.

Almost 90 per cent of students achieved in the top four bands for year 5 numeracy, compared to 73 per cent in 2017.

“Before we changed everything we were throwing too much information at the kids at once. Children can only process new information when broken down in pieces and then building on that. It’s how knowledge is moved to long-term memory,” Brady, who has been a teacher for a decade, says.

Fox believes one of the key changes has been improved co-operation across the schools, largely due to the common approach and schools and teachers are now learning from each other.

“Previously we had half of school cohorts in tutoring and intervention programs. Dramatically improving results was the only option,” he says.

All the classrooms across the system are simple: desks generally face the front of the room – rather than in huddled groups – and the teacher instructs from the front of the room.

“Quite a few of our schools have had to buy new furniture because a lot of it was designed to have pupils facing each other,” Fox says.

“Teachers need to keep control of students’ attention. You don’t want children looking and talking to their friends unnecessarily as part of the lesson. Desks are now lined in rows, student face the front, and they frequently use small whiteboards to answer teacher questions to demonstrate they’ve understood a concept.”

The changes adopted at Fox’s schools are aligned with the phonics-based approach taken in NSW primary schools, which is embedded in its new kindergarten to year 2 curriculum, after internal Department of Education research found balanced literacy to be less effective.

NSW students improved in primary school reading in the latest NAPLAN results, and are ranked in the top three jurisdictions by mean scores in all domains.

“At St Bernard’s there is a sense of order and rigour in their teaching. It has it transformed the academic lives of the students but changed the culture of the school too,” says Hammond


Vinyl in revival as young listeners splurge on old media

I seem to be "with it" for once. I still have all my old vinyl records and recently hooked up a turntable to play them

My setup

In Victor Milazzi’s aptly named Vinyl Revival store in Fitzroy, Melbourne, a record renaissance is underway.

While baby boomers long ago sold their extensive record collections for CDs, the twenty-something audience is rediscovering the joys of vinyl records, spurred by a quest for sound quality and a desire to support artists.

Milazzi was one of few who kept his record collection, initially selling records from an upstairs studio in North Carlton in 2010. While this retail operation still exists, it’s the hipsters browsing along Brunswick Street that are his main clientele.

The retailer not only sells records, but turntables, amplifiers and speakers. The store’s vinyl stash, all new and repressed, come in original cover designs including David Bowie’s Brilliant Adventure, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and The Cure’s Wild Mood Swings. And what would a cred record store have if it didn’t include INXS’ live recording from Wembley Studio or Duran Duran’s Future Past, complete with a couple of intertwined fluorescent figures on the front cover?

Priced from $45 to up to $100, there are also a number of contemporary artists in the mix such as Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish. When Milazzi first went into the business over 10 years ago, records were sold for considerably less, around $15 to $20.

“Of course, before vinyl took off, you could always find one or two records in second-hand stores for just a couple of dollars,” says Milazzi, whose selection of turntables ranges in price from $500 to up to $3000. “Whatever you hear on the radio or through streaming can be produced in record form.”

At the time of interviewing Milazzi, a young couple enter the store. They are upgrading their turntable (to a Project A1 priced around $700) and going through the records to add to their extensive collection.

“We got into vinyl about six years ago, listening to everything from jazz to Duran Duran and Queen,” says Oscar, 22. For Oscar and his partner, Grace, buying records is a good way of supporting artists. One of their most expensive records is by jazz musician Oscar Peterson, costing at the time $120. “It’s the quality of the sound you get from records that keeps me buying more. And it’s something that feels very tangible every time you move the needle across,” he adds.

Architect Jesse Linardi, design director of DKO Architecture, enjoys playing records on his SL 1200 in his kitchen while preparing a meal. A re-released 1970s design, his system comes with a magnetic touch plate that allows him to mix and scratch the sound he’s looking for.

“It’s a bit like driving a manual rather than an automatic,” says Linardi, who estimates the entire package including turntable, speakers and amplifiers can easily start north of $10,000. “It’s certainly the best way to listen to electronic music.”

For Milazzi, the popularity of vinyl could be attributed to nostalgia, reflecting the past. But it’s also about buying the complete ‘package’, which often includes the printed lyrics of the songs enclosed within the cover. He is also seeing vinyl as being a popular gift choice for special occasions such as weddings, where guests go in together to purchase a turntable and speakers, with individuals or couples buying records to help establish a record collection.

And while many baby boomers ditched their record collection, some are now reacquainting themselves with vinyl and enjoying the music they grew up with


Why Millennials have fallen in love with their grandparents’ furniture

I seemto be "with it in this too. In the last couple of years I have replaced about half of my furniture with the brown varnished items of the '30s and '40s. Example below

Millennials and Gen Z are driving soaring demand for secondhand and restored mid-century furniture, with brands beloved by their grandparents’ generation such as Parker, Chiswell and Wrightbuilt attracting shoppers.

Characterised by clean lines, pieces made from teak wood and vinyl plastic, with an overriding emphasis on comfort, styles from the 1950s to 1970s are hot property on social media and online marketplaces.

Mid-century’s influence was seen in recently published tours of the mansion homes of Gen Z influencer Emma Chamberlain (in Architectural Digest) and Millennial skincare mogul Zoe Foster Blake (in Vogue Australia), each showcasing retro-inspired rooms and pieces. But the style is also prized in more humble homes.

Jessica Cale has turned her maternity leave side hustle as a suburban mid-century reseller into a full-time gig.

“Our quintessential kind of client, they live in Marrickville [in Sydney’s inner west], they’ve got a bit of disposable income but not too much, they’re under 30,” she said.

She runs her business Retro Bay out of her home in Mortdale, in the city’s southern suburbs, with her husband, Joel. They sell the salvaged and restored pieces on Facebook Marketplace, where there was a 13 per cent increase in home furniture listings in Australia between 2020 and 2021.

Furniture and household items make up more than half of the secondhand platform’s 2 million vintage listings, data from parent company Meta shows.

Joel said younger people, who grew up in the height of flat-pack popularity, were looking for more environmentally friendly ways to furnish their home.

“Buying a second-hand piece of furniture of higher quality will keep two other pieces of lesser quality out of landfill,” he said.




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