2020 Smart Energy Virtual Conference: A Review

2020 Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition review

I just flew back from a virtual conference and, boy, are my virtual arms tired.  I attended the 2020 Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition by sitting at my desk — a huge improvement over hauling my arse and other body components to Melbourne as I normally do.

For a start, the coffee was a lot cheaper.  My daughter only charges $4 a cup instead of the $4.50 I’d have to pay in Seasonal Disorder City.  (If I was a good person I’d probably stop paying my daughter $4 for every cup of coffee she drinks before returning her to my ex-wife.)

One interesting thing I learned is how South Australia Power Networks (SAPN) intends to increase the amount of energy from rooftop solar that can be exported to the grid.  I’ll tell you all about it in another article because what works in the Festival State will be copied across the country and later the world.

I may write articles on what I learned at the virtual conference, but whether or not I’ll have the time depends on Elon Musk.  If he smashes any more windows with his balls it may keep me busy for the rest of the month.

I haven’t really finished attending the virtual convention as there are still presentations I haven’t seen yet.  They’ll be available online for the next couple of weeks  If you want to see them for yourself, you can sign up here.

In this short post, I’ll give you are run down on the pros and cons of the Virtual Smart Energy Conference because I think they’re a great way to reduce emissions by eliminating unnecessary travel.  Also, it should reduce the number of luxury sports cars on the road, as I’ll no longer be supporting the extravagant lifestyle of whoever owns the Conference Centre vending machines that charge $5 for a bottle of Pepsi.

Virtual Conferences — Green & Disease Free

The reason why this conference was virtual is that there’s a horrible plague on the loose in Melbourne.  According to rumours spread by my Rockhampton friend, spending too much time there can result in the following symptoms:

  • A belief that four seasons in one day is fine.
  • The delusion that avocados are something you should actually pay for, as opposed to simply putting your hand out the window and catching the avocado rain that falls from Queensland backyard trees.
  • An inexplicable fear of spiders wider than your hand or reptiles more than one metre in length.

I sure hope my nephew who lives in Melbourne doesn’t come down with any of that, even though I have to admit it would be pretty funny to watch a big guy like him jump back in fear if I shoved a just a small crocodile in his face.

Fortunately, the Melbourne Lurgy is now in its final stages thanks to the large majority of people following precautions.  With luck, it won’t crop up anywhere else and will soon be eliminated from the country.

Virtual Conference Pros

Compared to physically going to a convention centre, virtual conferences save three things:

  • The planet
  • Money, and…
  • Time

In these plague-ridden days, they can also save…

  •  Your health and the lives of the elderly and sometimes not so elderly.

But the greatest benefit of all, even more important than staying alive…

  • There’s no need to wear pants.

The Planet:  In 2016 Australian domestic flight burned 4 billion litres of kerosene and caused 9.9 million tonnes of direct CO2 emissions1.  Obviously, not taking a flight reduces emissions.

One figure I have is 134 grams of CO2 are emitted per passenger kilometre by domestic aviation in Australia.  This seems about right given what I know of aircraft fuel efficiency, but it’s hard to be certain when even expensive-looking reports on aviation emissions don’t bother to provide an estimate.  If I add 15% to allow for emissions from producing and transporting fuel, it comes to 154 grams per passenger kilometre.  This means not taking one round trip flight to Melbourne from Adelaide avoids the release of 200 kg of CO2. That’s equal to emissions from around 3 weeks driving by the average passenger car or running a typical Australian home off coal power for 2 weeks.

The environmental benefit from avoiding a flight is actually greater than it seems as aviation causes additional warming that may multiply the effect of greenhouse gases by 1.3 to 2.9 times, but most of this is temporary and would cease if we stopped flying jets, while CO2 hangs around long term.

Using the internet to attend a virtual conference does result in some emissions, but they are minuscule compared to taking a plane.  I have seen articles that say every internet search emits several grams of CO2, but I think they must be exaggerated otherwise the internet habits of 14-year-olds would have turned the Earth into another Venus by now.

Money:  Not having to pay for a plane ticket saves money, as well as not having to pay for transport to and from the airport.  I’m also more likely to eat in a restaurant if I go to Melbourne rather than get free food out of one of those large metal boxes behind restaurants.  Hotels in Melbourne would also be a major expense if Finn didn’t always issue us with a comfy cardboard box made of recycled materials whenever we go to conferences.

Time:  Traveling wastes a lot of time, but if I stay at home and attend a virtual conference I can waste time in entirely different ways.  For example, today I spent two hours reading Shakespeare.  That may seem like a lot of time spent on just one word, but I feel I have a much better appreciation of Shakespeare now.  Especially the superfluous “e” on the end.

Pants:  For all you know, I could be writing this completely pants free.

Virtual Conference Cons

The two main drawbacks of attending a virtual conference are:

  • A lack of human interaction
  • Problems with the presentation recordings

Human Interaction:  Virtual conferences lack the personal touch.  I think this is a good thing because I don’t like being touched.  When I was young, my parents taught me the skin is the devil’s playground, so I’ve been keeping mine pristine for him.2

But for most people, the whole point of attending conferences is to meet people and get into random conversations.  The virtual conference experience could do a lot better job of catering to freaks who actually enjoy talking to people.

Presentation Recordings:  Recordings of the conference presentations are available online but only for 30 days from the end of the conference.  I have no idea why there’s a time limit.  Did server space suddenly become really expensive when I wasn’t looking or are fashions changing so rapidly the presenters may feel embarrassed after only a month — despite the fact we can’t even tell if they’re wearing pants?

The recordings are also let down by not having a way to speed them up as youtube videos do.  You have to play them at normal pace which is really boring.  It’s also wasteful.  If one thousand people who value their time at $30 an hour save just 20 minutes each by speeding up the videos, it saves $10,000 worth of time.  I’m sure a tiny fraction of that amount would pay for hosting that allows fast playback.  Reducing the amount of time I have to stare at the word “Shakespeare” is basically stabbing the Australian economy in the back.

On the plus side, it’s now really easy to screenshot graphics that would be projected on a screen at a real conference.  Sure, you could try taking photos, but they wouldn’t always turn out.  Some presenters would make their images available on the internet, but being able to steal what you want at one convenient location is great.


  1. or over 11 million tonnes when emissions from extraction, refining, and transport are included
  2. Every time I get married and go on a honeymoon my wife says, “I’m so glad we waited!” and I say, “Waited for what?”
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

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