News

9 Dec 2021

Listen Here: Time To Switch On, Off And Over

by Andy Stewart

Has anyone in the audio industry ever stopped to consider where their power comes from? I’m sure many of us in audio have a far better general understanding of power delivery than the average Joe on the street, but I’m not sure we’re any better at using it more wisely, let alone generating it ourselves. Should that change?

When I look out the window of my studio on days like today when the sun is shining and the wind howling, renewable energy seems almost limitless. The Southern Ocean is a true powerhouse; a force to be reckoned with, of inexhaustible wind energy that very few of us manage to harness directly.

Indeed, Mother Nature provides too much of it sometimes, for free no less (though not always with a smile). The other day she took out a mature cypress tree right outside my studio door, which thankfully fell away from the building rather than towards it. If it had fallen on the studio’s roof, I hate to think how much the disaster would have set me back in time and lost income.

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Blowin’ In The Wind

It got me thinking… how much power (if I could convert it into kilowatt hours) was required to knock that tree over, and if I could add that figure to my next electricity bill, how much would I have been charged in dollars and cents? Moreover, given that the tree acquiesced to a single gust in about ten seconds flat, how much power (again, measured in kilowatt hours) swept through here that night?

And more importantly, why aren’t I capturing some of that power to help mitigate, or otherwise eliminate, my extortionate electricity bill, which is only set to grow in 2022 with the installation of my new 56-channel K-Series SSL console?

So, I made some enquires.

What I gleaned was that domestic wind turbines remain far more costly than solar panels, both in terms of an up-front investment and ongoing maintenance costs. I also learned, somewhat disturbingly, from a neighbour that a blade had recently flown off one of their turbines in a storm, sliced clean through the roof of their house, and lodged like a giant dagger half in and out of their lounge room ceiling! Yikes…

I think wind will remain unharnessed up here, for now at least.

Giant flying daggers aside, I still plan to generate more power by 2022 onwards than my studio, The Mill, requires. If wind remains too costly and difficult still to harness, more solar panels are the only other option – a new 13-kilowatt system has already been discussed with my local supplier to augment the 4.5-kilowatt system I currently have on the roof of our house.

Given how much utility companies charge for peak power these days, it’s fair to say that the more money my business can make (or at least not spend) by harnessing the sun’s rays that shine directly on the studio’s roof, the more economically viable I will remain over time. Think of it this way… imagine the sun’s rays were dollar coins. Would you harvest them then?

I learnt years ago that a passive solar system could be viewed more accurately as a passive income for my business. It ticks over year in year out, and once the initial investment is paid for, it’s effectively a form of untaxable income for my bottom line. Based on my rate of electricity consumption back in 2008, I calculated that a 4.5KW system would pay for itself in about 18 months to two years. In 2021 this has meant that the system has now paid for itself about six times over (not including inflation). By my calculation, that’s about 35 grand… for doing zip.

It’s the easiest form of income your business could ever receive. All you have to do every day is convince the sun to rise. It’s like an employee that you never have to pay, and from whom there is never a single complaint. It’s a total no-brainer. Any Australian business that hasn’t considered where their power comes from, how they might use less or generate at least some of it themselves via a renewable energy system – most likely solar power – is frankly, missing out financially.

Not only that, but it’s also vastly better for the environment.

2022 Hindsight

This year (and last) was a time for forced reflection for many of us about who we are, how we live, and how we managed to park ourselves at the nexus between Global Warming and Covid-19, both of which directly threaten our livelihoods (at best) and our very lives (at worst). We’ve all been through the wringer to some degree or other in the last two years; coming out the other side it would be a great pity if we squandered the wisdom this involuntary sabbatical has provided us.

Planet Earth has given us a wake-up call – on that I think we can all probably agree. For my part I’ve come to realise that I’ve done nowhere near enough to mitigate Global Warming and preserve the planet for future generations. That must change immediately.

I still pay a power company to burn coal 100 miles to the East on my behalf. I drive a twin-cab diesel ute that uses a different type of fossil fuel to the household (but which is every bit as destructive to the atmosphere) and my family consumes enough plastic to build a small island in the Pacific. We recycle it as much as possible, but where does it end up? If I’m honest I have no idea.

And I consider myself a bit of a leftie…

The point I’m trying to make here is that although the solar system I’ve had on my roof here at The Mill has helped pay the bills and save me money over time, more insidiously, it has subconsciously convinced me that I’ve been doing my bit for the planet, when in truth I haven’t been doing nearly enough.

A 4.5KW system barely supplies my greedy house and studio setup with one third of the electricity it requires, nor can it supply any at all once the sun goes down!

And with the arrival of my 2004-manufactured K Series SSL console, which is infamous for its power consumption specs, that percentage is about to drop like a rock! It’s hard to pin down specifically what the SSL’s consumption figure will precisely be until I run it for a few months, but you know you’re in for a fright on your next power bill when, in the interim, you’ve had to install a new 40 Amp circuit just to run one item in the studio.

It’s as if my brain is somehow incapable of maintaining the causal link between my personal actions and the wider problems we collectively face. If I’m typical of this disconnect, which is like a form of environmental disobedience in some respects, then we’re collectively in real trouble.

My neighbour recently joked that when I turn on the new console it will dim the lights in the town down the road. It was funny at the time, but now I can see how crazy running a giant analogue console is, particularly if I choose to do nothing to offset my consumption.

The bottom line is this – I must.

It’s high time I accepted that what I do personally ultimately affects the whole planet. It’s no longer good enough for me to argue that what I do individually can’t hope to influence the outcome of Global Warming either way in a sea of nine billion. That’s rubbish – always was.

By that same logic, why would I vote, or bother fighting any more fires in the summer? Why would any of us bother recycling or driving more fuel-efficient cars? Frankly, why would anyone bother doing anything for the greater good? Because if we all contribute something to turn the tide, we succeed.

For my part in this crazy point in history, I’m committed to changing what I drive, I’m adding 13KWs of solar panels to the roof of the studio and making every effort from now on to use only as much power as I generate on the property. The new system will be made up of about thirty-three 390W panels, and the system will have a 5KW export ceiling for supplying excess power back into the grid.

It’s going to be hard to pull off, and a significant financial outlay at first, but I can’t in all conscience have a picture in a magazine of me sitting in front of a power-hungry recording console ever again if I can’t at least say that it’s powered by the sun (and the moon in the evenings until I can install a battery system).

I’m probably going to have to sell a few things to pay for it, unfortunately. First cab off the rank will be my pristine Yamaha CS-60 synthesiser (sorry Jason), followed by my Neve 5014 console, and a couple of other valuable pieces of outboard gear, including a Fairchild 600. Oh well, I can’t have everything. I have too much already…

I still like the idea of harnessing the power of the wind down here too, but not if it comes at the cost of a 10-foot dagger through the studio roof when I least expect it.

What is your business doing about its power in 2022? I’d love to hear from you about any plans you might have.

‘til then.

Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill studio in Victoria, a world-class production, mixing and mastering facility. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for pro audio help… contact him at: andy@themill.net.au or visit: www.themillstudio.com.au

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