On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American to the moon and back before the end of the decade. No one had any idea if it was even possible. The technology needed had yet to be invented. Now that’s what I call visionary leadership.
Next month will be the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. What a stark contrast JFK is to the current crop of pollies in Australia (and most of the world for that matter).
If we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change in our children’s lifetimes we desperately need a politician or two with JFK’s vision to take charge.
Can you imagine Tony Abbott making this speech:
We choose to go 90% renewable by 2020. We choose to transition to clean, renewable energy in this decade, not because it will be easy, but because it will be hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win!
PM Tony Abbot, October 10, 2013, at CSIRO Renewable Energy Labs, Sydney, Australia (Yes, I’m Dreaming!)
Tragically, the thought of an Aussie pollie making such an amazing speech in 2013 is quite literally laughable. You and I both know it ain’t gonna happen. Our current PM is too busy scrapping the Carbon Tax (although it is working), scrapping the science portfolio and getting some unemployed youth to plant a few trees. What a visionary! Our kids will be reading about those great achievements in the history books for centuries to come!
If Tony had the balls to really try and lead the world to averting a climate disaster, then he may be surprised to know that a few very credible and pragmatic engineers have knocked their heads together and worked out a plan, using existing technology, that would make this lucky country of ours 90% renewable.
Some of the brightest minds in the Australian engineering community believe it is perfectly feasible. And these aren’t your greenie hippies who have concocted an airy-fairy plan after smoking too much weed, these are established and eminent scientists and engineers.
My favourite example of a plan for an almost totally renewable Australia comes from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Energy Institute. Dr Peter Seligman put it together in 2010, and it would provide 90% of Australia’s energy needs with renewables, with current technology at a reasonable cost.
Here are Peter’s contenders for powering Australia with 90% renewable Energy:
- Hydro 3%
- Geothermal 26%
- Wave 0.4%
- Solar 35%
- Wind 35%
To put the amount of solar needed into perspective, it is the equivalent of a solar farm 70km x 70km using today’s technology.
The number of wind turbines that you would need to build would fit in a 100km square.
Now this is where your local renewable energy nark looks at the pie chart and says smugly:
“Hey! One of the facts that you can’t get away from is that all renewable energy is intermittent. When the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow, you’re screwed! So let’s all go back to coal and gas and forget about this renewable energy bullshit!”
Yes – that is a fact – the generation of most large-scale renewables is intermittent.
But all that means is that we need energy storage.
A lot of energy storage. And no – I’m not talking batteries.
Peter’s solution is a huge “pond” on top of a cliff in the Nullabor (which is of course National Park – but we can worry about that later!). He envisages a 7km diameter by 20m deep pond that stores seawater 90 above sea level. When electricity is needed the water is released back to sea. When there is excess energy, the water is pumped back up the cliff. Simple technology. We already have established renewable energy companies like Snowy Hydro that could design, build and operate such a scheme. In fact it should be easier to build than the monumental Snowy Hydro scheme.
The whole scheme, i.e. the solar, wind, geothermal, wave and pumped storage, and high voltage interconnects costs about $250 billion. Which is a lot of money.
But as Peter points out, you could fund it for $1.40 per person a day. Peter compares this with the average daily expenditure per person on gambling in NSW, which is $3.70.
But unfortunately, our politicians aren’t engineers and the current crop seem to actively distrust science. The new government have bought into the anti renewables propaganda peddled by their paymasters, and haven’t got the will or discipline to actually look at the numbers or the physics of renewable energy. So we are stuck with a policy driven by the sale of renewable energy certificates that aims to only get us up to a lowly 20% penetration of renewable energy by 2020.
Let’s be honest 20% renewables is piss poor for a 21st century energy supply system. The best way to decarbonize the world’s energy systems is for a plucky little economy like Australia to actually do it. Let’s show the world that it really is possible. Hey – perhaps it isn’t! But we’ll never know unless we give it a go.
Yes – it’s risky – all big projects are, but, honestly what is the worst that can happen. Worst-case scenario is that we all lose the grand total of less than $2 per day (before tax!) for the next 10 years. Boo hoo! I don’t care if you don’t even accept the facts on global warming. A renewable based economy that requires almost no fossil fuels is good news for everyone (except perhaps a handful of billionaires).
The fact that Australia, the US and the rest of the World just sit on our collective arse and declare it all too difficult, too expensive and too risky is a crying shame. JFK must be turning in his grave.