Science and fiction: can a robot become a top writer?

A hallmark of civilisation has been the drive to create unique stories that explore the human condition. Now robots are learning to write fiction. Is nothing sacred?
南京夜网

No computer has yet written the Great Australian Novel because they have some of the same handicaps that afflict human writers. Writing is hard. Although computers can work unhindered by free will, alcohol or divorce, such advantages are outweighed by a lack of life experience or emotions.

Computers are quietly elbowing their way into the workplace. They’re flying planes, driving cars, selecting job candidates and writing news stories. The Associated Press employs a company called Automated Insights to create short news reports from raw data. More advanced software is working on longer pieces. To be able to write fiction, a machine does not have to think like us but it must “understand” patterns of human experience. While not discounting the life of the mind, computers are being fed millions of novels and short stories to “teach” them character, pace and plot.

This is the goal of the What-If Machine (WHIM) project, a venture involving teams at five universities across Europe. WHIM analyses databases of human prose and then inverts or twists what it has learned to introduce a new idea as a premise for a story. Knowing what is typical is the first step in generating atypical stories.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been working for four years on a program called Scheherazade, which analyses crowd-sourced human anecdotes and then produces plausible short stories.

The program writes convincing sentences: “You entered the movie theatre … you find the seats allocated on your ticket.”Stories generated by Scheherazade about everyday situations are nearly indistinguishable from human-written short stories. Using code, they are taught to learn from their mistakes.

I was the former head of the creative writing programs at a large university in Melbourne, where students were taught the difficult art of writing fiction. The majority of the themes involved young women living in the inner suburbs who had gotten themselves involved in drugs, prostitution, a gender change or domestic violence. I never realised things were so grim in Fitzroy and Newtown.

Could a computer write those plots? Absolutely. The reason is they are programmatic. It’s innovative and unique writing that computers have trouble with. Could they write like James Joyce or Ursula Le Gunn? Forget it.

The philosopher Leibniz speculated that humans wrote, uttered words and phrases that were derived from individual emotions and perceptions. Behind this was an important supposition. Humans are not only knowable but predictable (sort of).

If our thinking and how we express our thoughts in language can be expressed in an equation or by a “middlebrow algorithm”, then we can also model the product of that thinking. That means a computer can write novels and poetry.

I know what you’re thinking. Computers aren’t alive. Their “writing”is flat and lifeless. There’s no surprises, nothing that rises up off the page and goes for your throat or heart. But such criticism may be premature.

It’s intriguing that human beings, whose very consciousness is born from experience, may relate in some way to stories that have no experiential grounding. That truly would be science fiction.

Malcolm King works in generational change and is an Adelaide writer.

What if?: Can a computer master the art of writing fiction.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Port Stephens Council sounds out sale of landmark block in Raymond Terrace CBD

OPEN TO OFFERS: The main site opposite the Raymond Terrace police station, and the second smaller site, both highlighted in red. Picture: Supplied.
南京夜网

Unit blocks up to five storeys high could be constructed at thegateway to theRaymond Terrace town centre if Port Stephens council pushes ahead with the sale of alandmark site.

The council has begun an expressions of interest processfor the 11,167 square metre parcel, which is opposite the police station and bounded by William, Adelaide and Sturgeon streets.

It is currently occupied by a large car park, the YMCA andseveral shop fronts, including a Kip McGrath education centre and Bamboo Terrace takeaway.

The leases return revenue of $347,000 a year to council and the land is zoned commercial core.

Howevercouncil’s land acquisition and development manager Sean Fox said the zoning also allowed for medium-density housing to be developed on the site.

“We know there’s generally a shortage of accommodation close to the CBD and we see it as a great opportunity to try and provide some of that accommodation.

Vacant land on the site.

“It might be suited to people who are a bit older and want to downsize and be close to town.We also see it as important to have people in the town centre supporting the existing local businesses,” he said.

However Mr Fox said the EOI process was about “teasing out” a range of options for the site, which has a 15 metre height limit.

“You could have apartments with some ground floor parking and aretail component,” he said.

Mr Fox downplayed concerns about a loss of parking in the CBD, saying the developer would have to make a provision for parking in any plans lodged.

A second smaller parcel–the car park next to the old squash courts on Port Stephens street–has also been listed in the EOI process, for sale either separately or as a joint venture with the main site.Covering just over 2,000 square metres, it is zoned for low density residential.

Expressions of interest for both sites will close on February 24.

Mr Fox admitted the main block was in a‘prominent’ position with the potential tochange the landscape of the town centre.

“We know it is a gateway site and we’re obviously looking to get a good design outcome,” he said.


Student slams Gillian Triggs’ Human Rights Commission over handling of 18C race hate case

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs says there has been misinformation about the QUT case. Photo: Andrew Meares “A shambles”: QUT student Calum Thwaites took aim at the Human Rights Commission and its president Gillian Triggs.
南京夜网

Liberal senator James Paterson said Calum Thwaites’ testimony “deserves to be taken very seriously”. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The student at the centre of a racial vilification lawsuit that sparked fresh debate about free speech laws has accused the Australian Human Rights Commission of causing chaos and distress in its “poor” handling of the complaint against him.

Queensland University of Technology law student Calum Thwaites told a parliamentary inquiry the commission had consistently failed to contact him or the other students accused of causing insult or offence under controversial section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He also complained the case was primarily handled by a “junior staff member” – whom he conceded was an approved investigator – rather than directly by the commission’s president, Gillian Triggs, or one of her close aides.

“Neither the president nor a staff member with delegated powers had a hand in the process in the slightest,” he wrote. “[The commission’s] handling of the [complaint] can only be described as, at best, a shambles or, at worst, a breach of statutory duty.”

Mr Thwaites was among a group of students accused of making offensive remarks in a Facebook group after being ejected from an Indigenous-only computer lab. The case eventually made it to court but was thrown out, with the judge deeming there was no case to answer.

In particular, the court accepted Mr Thwaites was not responsible for a post made in his name using the phrase: “ITT niggers.”

But Coalition MPs pushing to weaken or axe section 18C seized on the case and its three-year duration. Under pressure from the backbench, Attorney-General George Brandis established an inquiry, which in a submission from Thwaites heard the commission had presided over a “shambles” that brought “distress and chaos” to the 25-year-old and his family.

He accused the commission of making “no attempt to get any facts beyond those asserted within the complaint”, either through the university or the other students originally caught up in the saga.

“Had there been even the shallowest level of inquiry, in a situation where the student respondents had been appropriately informed about the complaint and allowed to participate in the process, the factual inconsistences of the [case] could have been ventilated,” Mr Thwaites told the inquiry.

A spokesman for Professor Triggs declined to comment as the case is subject to ongoing court action. But last month, Professor Triggs told a Senate hearing there had been a “high level of misinformation” about the QUT case and it would be “very important ultimately for the public to understand this case if and when it becomes possible to discuss the details”.

It comes as the Turnbull government eyes up replacements for Professor Triggs, whose controversial reign ends in July and who will not be reappointed.

Liberal senator James Paterson said Mr Thwaites’ testimony “deserves to be taken very seriously” and called for reform of not only section 18C but the commission itself. “No one who says they believe in justice can read it and fail to recognise change is needed,” he told Fairfax Media.

Mr Thwaites also complained of the difficulty in obtaining legal aid. He was ultimately represented pro bono by prominent Queensland barrister Anthony Morris.

Follow us on Facebook

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Cost of hiring tradespeople in NSW increasing, with plumbers most pricey

A plumber in NSW will charge an average of $78.84 an hour, according to serviceseeking南京夜网419论坛. Photo: Phil Carrick “The building boom has a little bit further to run in NSW:” HIA chief economist Harley Dale.
南京夜网

 If you are considering having your pipes checked for the first time in a while, be warned: plumbers are now the most expensive tradie to call in NSW.

With an average hourly rate of $78.84, plumbers came out on top of the quarterly Tradie Price Index, released by jobs website ServiceSeeking南京夜网419论坛.

The index, which compared a sample of 52,000 quotes submitted online between October and December last year, found that the cost of hiring a tradesperson increased 9 per cent in NSW since the previous quarter, taking the average hourly rate to $64.46.

Building and construction, carpentry, electricity, landscaping, painting, plastering, plumbing and tiling were among the trades surveyed by the index.

Victoria has the most affordable tradie rates, at an average of $57.90 an hour, while hourly rates increase sharply in Queensland ($69.93) and Western Australia ($73.08).

Nationally the average hourly rate across all of the eight surveyed trades is $66.18.

While plumbers are the most expensive groups of tradespeople in NSW, they are followed closely by electricians ($75.43 an hour), landscapers ($70.46) and painters ($50.49).

“Housing affordability in NSW is becoming increasingly dire and we’re seeing less and less properties on the market,” said Jeremy Levitt, chief executive of the Service Seeking job site.

“It only makes sense that people are choosing to renovate rather than upsize to a new place.”

In its most recent quarterly Trades Report, HIA, Australia’s peak body for residential building, renovation and development, found persistent shortages of skilled workers had led to upward pressures on trade prices, with severe shortages most evident in the east coast markets.

“There are areas of the industry where there is a shortage of workers, bricklayers are a prominent example, as are ceramic tilers,” said HIA chief economist Harley Dale.

“In the case of bricklayers, it’s an ageing workforce and those retiring out of the industry are not being sufficiently replaced, which places an upward pressure on rates.”

Mr Dale said HIA figures show NSW trade prices increasing at around six to seven per cent per annum, as a result of the “booming residential production market”.

“Industry has gone from building less than 30,000 homes a year, to building well over 50,000 a year,” he said.”We were helped by the fact that as the NSW housing boom started…the resources boom was coming to an end, so we had a migration of skilled tradespeople away from the resources parts of the country back into NSW.”

Mr Dale said prices for tradespeople would likely increase throughout the year.

“The building boom has a little bit further to run in NSW, so there will be further pressure on availability of trades, but I think most of the growth spurt in building has come and gone.” Interact with us on Facebook – Savvy ConsumerLatest consumer news

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Woodlock burning bright with new sound

AGAINST THE GRAIN: Woodlock have embraced electronic beats on their new single Something Broke That Day. WOODLOCK have spent countless hours busking on Bourke Street, hoping to convince office workers to stopmomentarily throughtheir sweet harmonies and acoustic tunes.
南京夜网

Unsurprisingly the horror which unfolded in Melbourne’s CBD last Friday shook the indie-folk three-piece to their core. One madman’s rampage in his vehicle claimed the lives of five pedestriansand injured more than 30, causing an outpouring of grief.

“We found out about that while it was happening,” Woodlock vocalistEzeWalters said.“We’re partof a busking forum, so all of us buskers on Bourke Street can work together and organise times.

“When we were driving to Adelaide and my brother [Zech] was like,‘Dude check out what’s going on’. There was all this messaging on the page from people checking if everyone was OK. It’s weird because things like that don’t happen in Australia.

“We felt really bad. At our Adelaide and Melbourne shows we made everyone quiet and had a bit of a prayer for the families and people affected because it’s just horrible and you don’t expect that.”

Woodlock – Something Broke That DayWoodlock aren’tyour typical indie band. The Walters brothers are devout christians who grew up in New Zealand travelling around due to their father’s work as a pastor. The brothers were home-schooled until they were 16 and have completedmission work in Uganda.

Their songs also originate from unique sources.The latest single Something Broke That Day was inspired by the comic The Sandman. In the storytheSandman’s obsession and anger towards an unrequitedlove, causes him tobanish herto hell.

“I didn’t realise how weird our upbringing was until I was 16 years old and I did my last few years in a normal school,” Walters said. “The good part about it was my mum was a musician and she wrote her own album when we were kids, so our whole family is very musical and it’s our whole way of hanging out together.

“It was an awesome upbringing, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Since the release of their first EP Lemons in 2013, Woodlock have slowly built their fan base through the album Labour Of Love (2014) and EP Sirens(2015). Something Broke That Day signals a move away from their traditional acoustic sound for more electronic beats and greater production.

Walters said fans can expect that stylistic change on their forthcoming second album later this year.

“We’re been experimenting with lots of different noises and sounds and ideas and Something That Broke That Day is something we’re really proud of and we’ll continue writing stuff like that,” he said.“Maybe not so dark, but around that sort of style.”

Woodlock play the Small Ballroom on February 4.


Now that Trump is US president, world braces for Trumpnomics

Rex Tillerson, former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp and now US secretary of state nominee, for president-elect Donald Trump. Photo: Kevin DietschIf Australia does indeed catch a cold when the US sneezes, should we be preparing for a crippling dose of influenza when Trumpnomics takes hold?
南京夜网

In the months following the end of the US presidential campaign, the rhetoric of Donald Trump moved from boisterous statements on (mostly undoable) plans to build walls and ban Muslims to more practical announcements about economic policy.

This rhetoric reflects Trump’s understanding that the way to make America great again is through economic prosperity. Hence the need to articulate an economic plan, which, with this weekend’s inauguration, will soon become reality.

So what does this plan look like and what effects will it produce?  How are we in Australia going to be affected by the new course of US economic policy?

Mission impossible: saving manufacturing

On the basis of what we know, the centrepiece of Trumpnomics is a restriction of international trade to protect domestic manufacturing (and possibly some other declining industries and sectors).

President Trump is threatening to implement a policy of import substitution, whereby tariffs and/or quotas will be imposed on imports of manufacturing goods produced abroad, even if by US corporates.

Import substitution is not a new idea. In the past, it has been used in many countries to drive industrialisation. While the circumstances and practical implementation of this policy significantly differed across countries, one thing was common: import substitution did not work.

In the countries that tried it, domestic industries failed to develop and the government (read: taxpayers) had to pick up the tab of what turned out to be a very costly experiment.

In principle, import substitution could work if manufacturing was suffering from a temporary loss of competitiveness. In this case, targeted protection would provide the sector with the necessary time to adjust to the new environment (or to respond to whichever shock caused the initial loss of competitiveness) and regain competitiveness.

But in the US (and in most other advanced economies), manufacturing is now structurally uncompetitive; it is a declining sector that tariffs and quotas would keep artificially alive for some time, but at the cost of higher domestic prices on manufactured goods.

Furthermore, if tariffs and quotas were accompanied by some sort of subsidisation of the manufacturing sector (eg tax discounts, direct payment of subsidies and transfers), the import substitution policy would also place a heavy toll on the federal budget.

Actions and reactions

Another undesirable effect of Trump’s import substitution plan is that it will trigger responses from other countries.

Here of course the mind immediately turns to China and the rest of east Asia. One option for China and other US creditors (possibly including Japan) would be to stop financing the US debt.

This could potentially lead to a financial crisis that would significantly reduce the long-term growth potential of the US economy.

However, this is not likely to happen because China and other countries hold large volumes of US debt. There is no rational reason why creditors would want to dump a good investment.

A more likely option would be for China to return to a policy of systematic devaluation of the renminbi.

This would make Chinese goods cheaper and offset to some extent the effect of the tariffs imposed by the US. If China devalued its currency, one would expect other emerging countries to do the same, with the risk that the global economy might be shaken by a domino of competitive devaluations.

The devaluation of the renminbi in response to Trump’s actions would be good news for Australian consumers but bad news for Australian exports. Consumers would enjoy cheaper goods from China and other countries whose currency loses value relative to the Australian dollar. Exports would become less competitive on international markets.

Service (including education) and tourism would suffer the most. To prevent that, Australia could also engage in some form of exchange rate management to devalue the Australian dollar. But this could lead to inflationary pressures at home.

Neglecting fundamental issues

Certainly, the jobs that are being lost in US manufacturing and other declining sectors are a matter of concern. However, rather than trying to save these jobs through a costly import substitution policy destined to fail, President Trump should think of more structural and dynamically efficient interventions.

As an entrepreneur, he should know that while some sectors and activities decline, others emerge. Workers who lose their jobs should be helped to move to the new, emerging sectors of the economy.

To this end, active labour market policies that support the requalification and upgrade of workers’ skills ought to be implemented via the federal budget. Unfortunately, there has been no mention of such policies in President Trump’s rhetoric.

The other big item in Trumpnomics is a combination of corporate tax cuts and investment in infrastructure. This package is becoming more and more popular across many governments.

Yet President Trump’s belief that more infrastructure and lower corporate taxes will stimulate private sector activity and economic growth is questionable.

Economic growth is essentially a process of innovation that leads to productivity gains and to the emergence of new sectors and industries. Infrastructure and tax cuts across the board do not automatically facilitate innovation and hence do not guarantee growth.

However, they do require to be financed. The most likely candidates for a cut in the federal budget are social welfare and public health and/or education. This in turn will increase disparities and inequality in income distribution.

As inequality increases, innovation becomes less likely because its main source (the “middle class”) progressively disappears. At that point, Trumpnomics will have achieved the opposite of what it was meant to achieve: less innovation and slower long-term growth.

In conclusion, Trumpnomics is more than likely to damage the US economy; and if the US economy is hurting the rest of the world is destined to feel the pain.

Professor Fabrizio Carmignani is Head of Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Griffith Business School.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Sydney lights up with Lunar New Year festivities

Sydney prepares to welcome the Year of the Rooster with lion dancers. Photo: Edwina Pickles Lord mayor Clover Moore beats the drum for Sydney’s Chinese New Year festivities. Photo: Edwina Pickles
南京夜网

Sydney will celebrate a multicultural Australia over 17 days as the Lunar New Year makes way for the Year of the Rooster.

The city’s Lunar New Year festival will celebrate its 21st anniversary as the biggest outside of Asia.

“The Chinese New Year will be colourful, it will be noisy, it will be a lively celebration, and I hope Sydney will join us in this wonderful celebration,” Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said.

The annual celebration will bring together residents and visitors to the “sights, sounds and tastes of Asia”. The festivities will begin on January 23 and conclude February 12.

“It celebrates not only our citizens of Chinese heritage but also Vietnamese, Thai and Korean,” Councillor Moore said. “So many Sydneysiders have that Asian heritage.”

The famed lanterns, representing the 12 Chinese zodiac signs and the rooster, will line the foreshore from the Sydney Opera House to Dawes Point during the festival.

“This year there will be an illuminated park,” the lord mayor said. “Tall, larger-than-life lunar lanterns around our harbour in celebration.”

The program of events will include dragon boat races, community performances, workshops, and red lights on the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Town Hall.

Chinese New Year festival curator Claudia Chan Shaw said the event would be a “spectacular display of shimmering lanterns”, with a focus on the Rooster across the foreshore.

“You can not miss them. They are absolutely huge,” Ms Chan Shaw said. “Displaying true Rooster traits of power and love of the limelight, the rooster lantern will be displayed here at the Opera house.”

In addition to the lights, the festival program offers 80 events across the city with a focus on Dixon Street and Chinatown, as well as Pitt Street Mall and Martin Place.

Chinese New Year festival advisory group chair Robert Kok said the upcoming festival and performances will showcase how “Sydney embraces Chinese New Year”.

“These community celebrations are always at the heart and soul of our Chinese New Year festival,” Mr Kok said. “It brings the community together to celebrate our multicultural society.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Canberra man dies after being swept off rocks at Tathra – as locals aid in rescue of four others

Emergency crews were called to Tathra after a group of Canberra fishermen were swept off the rocks. Photo: Jacob McMasterA fishing trip ended in tragedy when a Canberra man died after being swept off rocks at Tathra.
南京夜网

The incident occurred around 1.10pm on Saturday, when the 54-year-old and four other men were dragged into the water by dangerous seas while rock fishing near Kianinny Bay

Chief Inspector Tony Moodie of Bega Police said the men came from the ACT as a group.

Two of the town’s locals, Shane Babington and Bill Aliendi, were instrumental in the ocean rescue.

Commercial fisherman Mr Babington heard cries for help from his house and ran down to the rocks to get a look.

He saw four people in the water and while one made it back up the rocks on his own, there were still three left in the water with one life jacket between them.

He then dashed up back up to the house to ring 000 before calling out to his neighbour Mr Aliendi.

The pair hitched up the boat and made a dash to the Kianinny boat ramp, where they were able to pick up two of the men from the water.

“It took us only a couple of minutes to get in the water and by the time we got there we could see two people in the water so we picked them up,” he said.

“They told me there was another person in the water.”

The Far South Coast Local Area Command, Marine Area Command, Tathra Surf Life Saving Club and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter all searched for the remaining man, but later found the 54-year-old unconscious.

The lifesavers and paramedics provided CPR to the man, but he could not be revived.

CPR was also performed on a second man.

A dangerous surf warning for deceptively powerful surf was in place for Saturday.

Neither the deceased man nor the other man requiring CPR were wearing a lifejacket at the time they were washed into the water, but one man pulled from the water uninjured did have one on.

Three of the men were taken to the South East Regional Hospital, but all were discharged on the day with minor injuries. One man required stitches.

Mr Babington said he could not have made the rescue without his neighbour’s help.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without Bill,” he said.

Bega District News

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


James Cameron returning to Terminator franchise in ‘godfather’ role

Director James Cameron is reportedly returning to The Terminator franchise. Photo: Paul Archuleta Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
南京夜网

The Terminator franchise has spawned five films and even a TV series.

He’s back. Well, sort of.

James Cameron is reportedly returning to the Terminator franchise after stepping back from the Hollywood blockbuster that catapulted both himself and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the spotlight.

Cameron hasn’t been directly involved in the time-travelling, post-apocalyptic universe he brought to life since directing Terminator 2 in the early ’90s.

Since then, there’s been another three Terminator films and even a TV spin-off. None of these have been considered a massive success, though.

But the franchise’s fortunes could be about to change, with Deadlinereporting that Cameron is in early talks with Deadpool director Tim Miller to direct a possible sixth film.

If it goes ahead, this means Cameron will be “godfathering” the project instead of sitting in the director’s chair.

It’s unclear at this stage whether the talks relate to just a sixth film to conclude the franchise, an entire reboot, or both.

Whatever happens, there’s no denying the curious timing. After all, Cameron regains certain rights to The Terminator in 2019.

Usually, rights-holders simply have to ensure their claim to a film remains ‘alive’ in order to ensure the rights don’t return to the original owners (hence why there are so many Spider Man films).

But it appears Cameron managed to strike a specific deal when he stepped away from the Terminator franchise that saw the rights revert to him after a set period of time.

If this new project goes ahead and is a commercial success – think of Titanic or Avatar – then Cameron is about to get a whole lot richer. And that’s not even considering potential game spin-offs and other merchandise.

But devoting time and energy to a new sci-fi project would be a momentous task, given Cameron is currently working on shooting not one but four Avatar sequels, tentatively scheduled for release through till 2023.

One only needs to look at George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels to see how revisiting an old favourite could all go wrong. Surely this time the new terminator movie will be good right? pic.twitter南京夜网/xvy9VX6qXo— Callys Caves 3 (@CallysCaves) January 22, 2017if there is going to be a new #Terminator film it should better be @Terminator Genisys sequel and please dont reboot pls pls— Kiran (@imKiranDuvvuri) January 22, 2017James Cameron and Tim Miller working on a new Terminator film seems like something from a weird drug induced dream— Leigh A. Jones (@whee_leigh) January 21, 2017

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Solar, battery demand set to surge as energy prices soar, survey finds

The times increasingly favour solar panels – and soon batteries, a survey finds. Photo: Mark MetcalfeSoaring prices of electricity and gas are prompting many more people to consider adding solar panels and batteries to give them greater control over costs, a consumer survey has found.
南京夜网

The study, involving almost 2500 households conducted by UMR Research for Energy Consumers Australia and KPMG, found about 34 per cent were considering adopting solar panels within the next five year compared with the 15 per cent now owing photovoltaics.

The interest jump for batteries was even greater, with 27 per cent examining adding batteries compared with just five per cent owning storage.

“Their overall assessment is that they are not happy with the value they are getting from energy prices and the energy sector,” Rosemary Sinclair, chief executive of ECA, said. “Consumers now have an option which is to take matters into their own hands, and invest in assets that give them independence.”

The survey should serve as a warning shot for energy companies that consumers aren’t willing to cop increasing fuel bill when tumbling prices for solar panels and now batteries offer them alternatives.

“Even Joe Blogs out there looking at ever-increasing energy bills is becoming less and less convinced by the conservative [argument] that we’ll get your energy prices down,” said Ben Larsson, a project manager who installed a 2-kilowatt solar PV unit in 2010 and added another 2.5 KW last year.

“People are getting the sense of ‘Right, I want to an option to have get some control over my energy consumption, and I’m starting to need to because it’s becoming that expensive,'” he said. Hip-pocket pressure

The ECA was set up two years ago by states and the federal government to give consumers a greater voice in an industry increasingly dominated by just three big generator-retailers: AGL, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy.

The survey found financial rather than environmental interests were the foremost drivers in consumers seeking solar PV. (See table below.)

The research was conducted last May before a series of grid issues, including the super storms that took out a major South Australian transmission line and triggered a state-wide blackout.

How those outages might contribute to greater consumer demand for solar and storage was “a very interesting question”, Ms Sinclair said.

While not among the top motivations for shifting to solar, consumers were aware of the environmental aspect of the change including the need to decarbonise the economy, she said.

“People understand that there is a transition underway and their concern is that the transition costs as little as necessary,” she said.  Just add batteries

Mr Larsson said his first panels, aided by a generous NSW feed-in tariff at 60 cents per kilowatt hour exported to the grid, paid themselves off in just “four and a bit years”.

Even with the voluntary feed-in tariffs now offered by retailers slashed to just 6-8.4 cents in NSW, the pay-off period for solar remains about five years. That’s because PV prices have dropped as much as 70 per cent since he bought his first panels, Mr Larsson said.

While batteries are not yet justified by financial criteria alone, even that mark could be crossed over the next 12-15 months as global competition in storage intensifies, the Randwick resident said.

(See survey responses for storage below.)

“People are starting to come to the conclusion we’re no longer helpless and at the whim of the three big retailers, and whatever they throw at [us] in terms of an energy rate,” he said.

Bruce Mountain, an energy economist with CME Australia, predicts consumers will switch to solar PV and batteries much faster than regulators predict.

He said Tesla’s new 13.5-kilowatt-hour Powerwall 2, costing about $8800 before installation, offered a lower battery price per capacity than the Australian Energy Market Operator had predicted for 2040.

That meant residents in cities such as Adelaide – where power prices have doubled in the past eight years – were now be better off with panels and storage. A similar result was likely for Sydney and Melbourne, he said.

The impact on demand for electricity from utilities could be significant since a household with solar PV typically cut power usage from the grid by about a third. Adding a battery, however, slashed grid purchases by about 95 per cent, he said.

Follow Peter Hannam on Twitter and Facebook.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….