CERES – Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies

Last weekend a friend took me to CERES, a community- based sustainability centre, located in Brunswick, Melbourne.  It’s located next to the Merri Creek, and was a place of cultural significance for thousands of years to the Wurundjeri people.  Then this little piece of paradise became a quarry, and then a dumping site (*insert slow clap here*).  CERES was established in 1982 to try to rehabilitate the site, and it’s now a beautiful and productive community project that was lovely to visit.

“We are a not-for-loss community business. We run extensive environmental education programs, urban agriculture projects, green technology demonstrations and a number of social enterprises including a market, grocery, café, community kitchen, organic online supermarket and a permaculture and bushfood nursery.” – ceres.org.au

There is a lot to it.  Most of the land that I saw was dedicated to urban farming initiatives and they run various farming, gardening, cooking and sustainability courses (including a permaculture training course that is supposed to be among the leading courses in Australia).  It’s beautifully done.  The vegetables are grown on site, and sold in the grocery store, also onsite. There is a nursery, a restaurant, various play areas, a pavilion, a place where they host festivals and parties and a dam.  There is also a bike shed where people donate bicycles and you can go and help yourself to parts and get some advice and assistance from people in the know on bike mechanics.

What really drew my attention, naturally, was all the onsite renewables.  There’s a lot of solar PV installed.  They have an EV or electric bike charging station, what looks like a (massive) solar cooker, and a range of different types of micro-wind turbines dotted around the place.

Wind turbine - CERES

Solar Thermal - CERES
Solar PV - CERES

In the bottom picture, you can see a series of boards with posters on them.  Visitors are invited to walk through this exercise which challenges them to consider the impact that their lifestyle choices have on Australia’s future.  It’s an empowering exercise, because it links consumer habits, transport habits and opinions on family size and migration policy (amongst other things) directly with various future scenarios.  Consumer habits are cross referenced with population impact values, and your future is determined on a small matrix.

Here are some (poorly taken) photos to show how the exercise works.


































Excuse the quality of the photos – I was in a bit of a rush.  The exercise has clearly been there for a while, and is showing signs of ageing.  But it’s an interest concept, and it is valuable to link individual decisions to a greater future vision.

It’s a lovely place to visit, and if you’re in the area I do recommend popping by.

Applying IT community practices to the energy sector

My husband is a software developer.  He has been working in the industry for years; he started up a consultancy in South Africa and is now building apps as we travel.  Last night he gave a presentation at a Saigon meetup and he’ll probably be attending another one next week.  The co-working spaces we’ve been frequenting in our travels have rows of people coding, doing web-design, the works.  You can’t swing a charger without hitting a mac.


The world is setup to welcome developers and programmers with open arms.  There may not be many people speaking English, but they speak ruby or javascript, python or C++.  He has walked past people in cafes and started up conversations just because he’s seen white text on a black background.  There is a community that extends past borders, and it has me feeling insanely jealous.

We left South Africa in June with the aim of integrating ourselves (for short periods of time) with communities as we travelled and meeting people who shared our passions; learning, teaching, talking, listening.  And I think he’s finding his feet.  But in energy, as with many industries who will learn from and mimic the IT sector, we are a way behind (or we’re already there and I just don’t have the magic password).

The big advantage that the development world has is that they develop and understand the systems being used to network people.  Small meet-ups are a familiar concept, where likeminded people might want to get together and discuss an issue, a technology, a solution.  These people don’t have to come from the same country, but they should share the same interests, and be willing to give some of their time in order to receive some new insight.  It’s not a sales pitch, but an opportunity to share, and to learn.  Someone takes the time to prepare a short talk about a small topic.  And the topic is explored.  People walk away a little bit richer, and the community as a whole is enriched.

In the energy sector we have periodic energy conferences, which cost a fortune, bring suited and booted people with briefcases together for three days.  For a small business owner, interested in sharing knowledge and helping others to spread their news, they are typically prohibitively expensive, and often filled with middle management folk who are looking to sell something to some other middle management folk.  They are not conducive to finding people of passion; the speakers who show energy onstage are swamped by others as soon as they step off of it, and there’s often a sense of snobbery during the lunch breaks that can feel nearly painful.  They feel like a tax deductible handshake.

What is missing, and this is something I have felt acutely in my travels, is the existence of little energy networks.  Of small clusters or pockets of people who have nothing to sell, but who are driven by this desire to learn and to share.  A presentation by someone who has been working on energy modelling and has encountered some difficulties in benchmarking uncertainties.  This presentation is given to ten or twenty people, who’ve come across the talk on a publicly accessible site (like meetup.com), and have thought, “yes, that’s something I’ve been struggling with.”  Then the speaker speaks, and works through his thinking, and the audience becomes part of a workshop of ideas and they suggest things that could help or they just learn.  And out of that?  More people in the industry are technically stronger, the industry is more resilient, and as people learn they start testing new concepts and ideas.

And maybe two people meet each other and decide that it would be good to do some work together in the future, but this is not the aim of the group.

Maybe this exists.  Maybe I’m travelling through the wrong countries for this.  But I know that I can’t think of this type of thing in South Africa.  Sure, industry associations and companies put on sponsored networking events where someone talks about a project for half an hour, and then there are ten questions from the audience of 200.  But where are the quick chats over coffee, the cheeky drink after work?  The call for people who do not have to have a membership in some organisation or association to be involved and engaged.

This is something I can look for while I travel, but I cannot set them up in the two weeks or month that I’m spending here or there.  It needs committed people who are based somewhere to help to establish a working culture shift, away from companies looking inwards, to individuals looking outward.  This absence of information or details on approachable people that I’m feeling makes me know that wherever I settle at the end of this trip it’s something I’ll be making an effort to establish.  Come and talk to me there, tell me about what’s frustrating you in your energy project and let’s see what looney ideas we can come up with to solve them.  Let’s see if there’s someone that someone knows who may have struggled with this too.  Let’s welcome foreigners who may be passing through; take them for all they have up in their brain attic.  Let’s share our stories and spread our good news.  Let’s support each other through the frustrations and help to inspire each other and keep our energy levels up.

Let’s speak the language of energy, wherever we are.  We need energy solutions way more than we need a new Twitter.  We should be showing them how it’s done.