Evaluation of an Australian solar community : implications for education and training
Miller, Wendy F. (2011) Evaluation of an Australian solar community : implications for education and training. In Vajen, Klaus (Ed.) ISES Solar World Congress 2011 Proceedings, ISES, Kongress Palais Kassel, Kassel.
What is renewable energy education and training? A cursory exploration of the International Solar Energy Society website (www.ises.org) reveals numerous references to education and training, referring collectively to concepts of the transfer and exchange of information and good practices, awareness raising and skills development. The purposes of such education and training relate to changing policy, stimulating industry, improving quality control and promoting the wider use of renewable energy sources. The primary objective appears to be to accelerate a transition to a better world for everyone (ISEE), as the greater use of renewable energy is seen as key to climate recovery; world poverty alleviation; advances in energy security, access and equality; improved human and environmental health; and a stabilized society.
The Solar Cities project – Habitats of Tomorrow – aims at promoting the greater use of renewable energy within the context of long term planning for sustainable urban development. The focus is on cities or communities as complete systems; each one a unique laboratory allowing for the study of urban sustainability within the context of a low carbon lifestyle. The purpose of this paper is to report on an evaluation of a Solar Community in Australia, focusing specifically on the implications (i) for our understandings and practices in renewable energy education and training and (ii) for sustainability outcomes.
The physical context is a residential Ecovillage (a Solar Community) in sub-tropical Queensland, Australia (latitude 28o south). An extensive Architectural and Landscape Code (A&LC) ‘premised on the interconnectedness of all things’ and embracing ‘both local and global concerns’ governs the design and construction of housing in the estate: all houses are constructed off-ground (i.e. on stumps or stilts) and incorporate a hybrid approach to the building envelope (mixed use of thermal mass and light-weight materials). Passive solar design, gas boosted solar water heaters and a minimum 1kWp photovoltaic system (grid connected) are all mandatory, whilst high energy use appliances such as air conditioners and clothes driers are not permitted. Eight families participated in an extended case study that encompassed both quantitative and qualitative approaches to better understand sustainable housing (perceived as a single complex technology) through its phases of design, construction and occupation.
The results revealed that the level of sustainability (i.e. the performance outcomes in terms of a low-carbon lifestyle) was impacted on by numerous ‘players’ in the supply chain, such as architects, engineers and subcontractors, the housing market, the developer, product manufacturers / suppliers / installers and regulators. Three key factors were complicit in the level of success:
(i) systems thinking;
(ii) informed decision making; and
(iii) environmental ethics and business practices.
The experiences of these families bring into question our understandings and practices with regard to education and training. Whilst increasing and transferring knowledge and skills is essential, the results appear to indicate that there is a strong need for expanding our education efforts to incorporate foundational skills in complex systems and decision making processes, combined with an understanding of how our individual and collective values and beliefs impact on these systems and processes.
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