Melbourne Meltdown

This morning’s paper is calling it the Melbourne Meltdown. Four consecutive days of 40-plus temperatures (and the previous one in the high 30’s).

It hasn’t been pleasant. I don’t have air conditioning. The trees in the bush section of the property do a marvellous job of cooling the atmosphere, though. I’ve been working in a friend’s garden nearby and there is mostly lawn and no vegetation higher than the boundary fence. Even on mild days, with temperatures in the mid 20’s, I’m amazed at how hot it gets out in the open, compared to my place.

There are some interesting comments and articles in the morning’s paper.

Electricity network and economic specialists say the security of Victoria’s energy supply will depend on what people are prepared to pay for power. They always throw this cost thing at us while they’re putting up prices. Maybe it’s true. I’m not an energy expert, but I did learn some interesting facts.

Peak demand occurred on Thursday at 10,300 megawatts. Typical weekday demand at this time of year is about 6600 megawatts. Pretty much all of that increase, I’m thinking, would be from air conditioners. If demand exceeds supply, parts of the system will be turned off. No power, no air conditioners. It’s nicely self-limiting, except that those of us without air conditioners have to suffer, too.

It’s too much of a leap to say that using an air conditioner is irresponsible (some of my best friends have air conditioners after all), but when you’re lucky enough to have one, and you don’t have solar to run it, using it wisely is, well….wise. That applies especially to businesses as well as individuals.

Someone on the letters page complained about unwise use. He went to the Australian Open (tennis) and some of the foyers in the areas were airconditioned to arctic temperatures, yet had their doors open. Dumber than dumb! Mt Franklin, one of the many sponsors, had erected an inflatable air-conditioned dome in an outdoor space. Not responsible. If I was a buyer of their mineral water (I’m not), I would stop buying it and write and tell them why.

He also overheard one fellow tennis-goer saying he had left the aircon going at home just for the dog. That is truly irresponsible and stupid and ignorant. I hope he told the dog-owner so.

Someone else on the letters page asked how much longer will local councils allow people to build houses without eaves, cross-ventilation and sufficient garden space to grow shady trees. Amen to that. I can remember seeing whole estates of new homes going up; all the houses without eaves. In a climate like ours, totally stupid.

There was something about solar use as well. South Australia is not in such a position of power failures because it has proportionally more rooftop solar. It’s estimated they’re meeting 7-8% of total demand. In Victoria, it’s much less, only about 2%. In 2012, the Victorian government cut payments for solar energy (feed-in tariffs), from 25 cents per kWh to 8 cents—which reduces the incentive to go solar. In my view, this doesn’t matter; it’s what you save by NOT drawing from the grid that makes it profitable. There’s a huge feel-good factor, too.

In another article the wholesale price of electricity was quoted as $60 per megawatt hour. That’s 6 cents per kWh. It’s what the retailers pay the generators to provide the power. It’s set by the balance between supply and demand; when demand goes up the price goes up. I’ve seen elsewhere, in defence of the current low feed-in tariff, that the tariff is set by that wholesale price. So 8 cents per kWh gives them a profit of 2 cents. OK as far as it goes, but they’re selling it on at 20-30 cents per kWh and hitting the consumer with a supply charge as well.

There was another article about the heat-island effect. Melbourne City Council has found temperature variation of up to 4 degrees between the city centre and suburbs. Cities pull in the heat because of the prevalence of heat-absorbing materials such as dark-coloured pavements and roofs, concrete, and a lack of shade and green space. Cities don’t cool down overnight either; they trap and store heat. There’s a thermal image of a large tree at the corner of a city intersection on a day when the maximum daily temperature was 32 degrees. Under the tree, the temp was 38; out on the roadway it was nearly 81 (ouch).

A sustainable cities expert from the University of SA says we need to increase urban green spaces by 20% by 2020. Roof gardens, green walls and building materials that reflect heat. I’m all for that!

Melbourne has the highest number of heat-related deaths of any of the capital cities according to the federal government’s 2013 report State of Australian Cities, estimated at 200 per year. By contrast the state’s 2013 road toll was 242. The greatest number of deaths occurred in those over 75. The number of heat-related deaths is expected to double by 2030. It didn’t say whether this figure has been adjusted for population increase.

Anyway, after I’d finished reading the paper I went shopping. What a joy to drive whilst being blasted with cold air! I momentarily thought of pootling round the countryside all day with the car aircon on, but of course I wouldn’t do it. The shopping centre wasn’t as cool as I’d hoped it would be, so maybe the management sensibly thought to ramp up the aircon temp a bit. More credit to them if so. It was so pleasant around the usually cooler meat section in the supermarket. I wondered what they’d think if I took a chair and a book and spent the day there? I might have done it if I could have taken the chooks there, too.

Speaking of which, the poor Girls have been suffering mightily these past days. Their secure run has always had a tarp over it to keep out the rain (remember rain?), and I’ve thrown a heavy ex-curtain over their playground which I hose down every hour. I’ve put a barrow load of leaves, which I keep wet, into the run and they’ve been spending some time sitting on them in the shade. On Tuesday, I thought I would lose them, they were so stressed, panting like dogs. The two that were still laying stopped a week ago, and now Molly is moulting, like the sensible girl that she is. If you’re wearing a hot coat, take it off. Lady hasn’t laid for over two months and has been poorly, with downcast tail and lethargic habit. Since none of them have ever let me pick them up, I can’t even begin to find out what’s wrong with her. She’s still eating and drinking, loves her treats, puts herself to bed early and looks at me sadly when I ask what’s wrong. It could be an impacted egg mass or a tumour or something else entirely. Cheeky is still, well…Cheeky. Eating like a horse, not laying, not liking the heat, but having a whale of a time otherwise. I’ve promised them this will be the last day of heat.

I hope I’m right. In a future post I’ll tell what happened to the garden. It’s not pretty.

4 Responses to “Melbourne Meltdown”

  1. notsomethingelse Says:

    Thank you. A great story, well told. But I don’t think the day is quite over yet. Residents of around eight of Melbourne’ northern suburbs have been advised to evacuate due to fires along the Hume Freeway. One to watch. Living where I do, I’m monitoring the situation frequently over the last few days of extremes.


  2. rabidlittlehippy Says:

    Roof top gardens make sense economically. They keep the building temperatures down in Summer and provide themal insulation in Winter. A pleasant place to sit in Spring and Autumn, possible food growing areas if its an apartment building (rooftop allotments?) and they would surely increase property value too in the same way a house can add a few thousand in value with a pretty garden.

    I’ve hosed my hens down twice but I can’t leave my kids unattended to keep doing it. My goats hate me for life as they hated being hosed down but I realised as long as I hosed just their bodies they would tolerate it. They’re not panting so much. I can’t help the sheep in the same way though – they won’t come near me. 😦

    I’m watching the radar like a hawk to see when the cool change comes through. There’s a large area of rain over the Grampians at the moment which is a huge blessing given the fire situation there at the moment. We’re also keeping an eye on the Steiglitz fires which are not too far south of us. Far enough to not need to worry but close enough to want to keep an eye on.

    The greenhouse has been receiving a hose down too. I feel very wasteful hosing down the outside roof but the water is too hot to use anywhere else and the water on the roof all runs into the water butts hooked up there anyway so it’s not a waste at all really. Nothing else has died. The gardens are surviving too. I learned today that the baby beans with their first true leaves will close them up like butterfly wings to prevent excess evaporation. Clever hey.

    I think the main lesson learned here is that this is just the start of it. I’m planning to grow a few differently located choko vines and I’ll plant them this year if I can score some choko’s. Thye are perennial so at leaast they’ll have a few months to get rooted in this year. 2 to help cover the north face of the deck, 1 over the goat shed and 1 over the greenhouse. There’s a passionfruit growing over the water tank and chook pen which will help shade it out if it survives our frosty winters.

    This is, as you say, not going to get better. We are past that 400PPM of no return. It’s time to start learning to adjust and putting in place systems to protect our familes, gardens and livestock.


  3. Bek Says:

    Yes, its madness. I have an air con for the first time this year, and I’ve been very grateful I have as I know how incredibly uncomfortable it was in past years with a few high 30/low40 degree days. Though I think I’ve been sparing in its use; I use it to get the temperature down from ‘hellish’ to ‘just bearable’ and then run just the fan to circulate air. As soon as it was cooler outside than in in the evening all the windows were opened, and then the next day everything was shut up (blinds down, curtains closed) to let as little heat in as possible. I have planted a few trees on the sunny side of the house to provide shade, but they are still quite a few years away from being effective. I too have noticed the eave-less houses in new estates and thought “you fools”. I’d love to see more requirements around heat management – there are mandatory water tanks now, so surely its only a matter of time.
    I find it appalling that we have so many heat related deaths. As you point out, we make a big deal of the road toll and those preventable deaths, but heat related deaths are often older, less secure people (maybe pensioners and costs of cooling are an issue, or buying an air con is too costly) and its these more vulnerable members of the community that suffer with events like these. Its a travesty.
    My workplace has air con running at arctic temperatures all day long. We have frequently asked to have the temperature set higher, but then the idiots who insist on coming to work in long pants, long sleeves and heavy fabrics then complain. I’d love to introduce them to weather appropriate clothing. It’s SUMMER peoples!
    Like your chooks, my ducks have been sweltering. They’ve been dropping feathers too, and I’ve been frequently topping up there water supply and have added more shade cloth to the pen, but they still stood for most of the day in the shade panting. I apologised profusely on behalf of the idiots that collectively caused their discomfort, but it’s not like I can or would put an air con in their pen. I hope the wild animals were able to cope as well, finding shade and water in these crazy times. Thank god the cool change is here now.


  4. narf77 Says:

    No air con here but we are right on the river and get any breeze that the water temperature generates so I won’t complain. couple our stinking hot temperatures here with a complete lack of ozone layer protection and you get seering hot sun that melted our tarmac over the last week. The garden is holding up remarkably well but it has been feral and conditioned to be water wise for the last 23 years so it would take more than a week of hot weather to nobble this tough old mass of vegetation. Tasmanian’s are complete wusses. They are the first to crank up their air conditioners when the temperature gets over 25C and the first to whack on their heaters when it gets below 15C and the results are rolling outages (usually in the country areas) and brown outs that our local “clean green” electricity providers can be found whistling nonchalantly and ignoring completely “nothing to see here…move along folks!” Heat is going to be more and more of a problem here in Australia and the sooner there are real incentives to go solar/wind turbines etc. the better! My chooks get let out in the day and bugger off to dig themselves into the dust and wait out the heat under the trees and shrubs. I hose down their dust bath areas so that they can take advantage of the moist soil and aside from still getting eggs, they look like little amazon warriors covered in war paint 😉


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