Renewables and battery storage have become mainstream topics in the last few years, and everyone knows about lithium ion batteries. Correction: everyone owns at least one, in their smartphones. But those batteries do have a number of downsides, including the fact that they can start fires .
On a more global scale, the concern is cost, so finding cheaper, safer forms of large scale storage is critical if we want to transition away from fossil fuels before we all turn into shish kebabs. Given the corporate obsession with profit at any cost, ‘cheap’ and ‘change’ seem to be joined at the hip, so I hope these new-old technologies become mainstream soon.
The video below describes one of the oldest and cheapest contenders for large scale battery storage:
I put solar panels on my roof soon after I built this house because I was trying to plan for my retirement. That makes me one of the lucky ones, but what about those who are renting? Or simply can’t afford to put solar panels on their roofs?
Given the soaring cost of energy, this article by Citizen Mum, an Aussie blogger, really hit the nail on the head:
‘The concept of a solar garden is new in Australia, and is being developed by Pingala, a citizen led co-operative focused on developing people-centred and socially just energy solutions. At its core the concept is very simple and based along the lines of a community garden, in that cooperative members have the opportunity to purchase plots (panels) in the solar garden and have the energy that is generated from the plot credited to their power bill. It is ideal for people in rental accommodation, apartments or homes that are not suitable for rooftop solar.’
To give a little context to that quote, Citizen Mum is talking about ‘mid-scale solar arrays’. These are like the solar panels we’re used to seeing when we see photos of solar farms – fields and fields of solar panels almost as far as the eye can see:
Yeah, like those but smaller, much, much smaller. Mid scale solar arrays are big enough to provide a decent amount of solar energy, but small enough to be ‘owned’ by a small town. Or as the quote suggests, owned by the individuals of that town.
If you’re interested in mitigating climate change, and perhaps saving yourselves some money long term, I strongly suggest you read the whole article on Citizen Mum’s blog.
Hydrogen has become something of a buzz word lately, but is it really a magic bullet for solving our energy problems? The answer is a qualified ‘yes’.
But first, what is hydrogen?
Hydrogen is the ‘H’ in H2O.
What is H2O? Why it’s good old fashioned water, that’s what!
About 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, so if we can find a cheap, easy way to extract hydrogen from water we’ll be half way there to our renewable magic bullet.
We can already use electrolysis to split water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen, but the process requires both energy AND catalysts like platinum and iridium. If we use solar or wind power to extract the hydrogen then we’re still left with the problem of the platinum and iridium, neither of which is cheap.
Luckily, a lot of research is being directed at the extraction process. One team, headed by Dr Alexey Ganin of the University of Glasgow, is working on ‘pulsing electric current through a layered catalyst’ in order to extract the hydrogen. With this discovery, the pulse is the key.
Another team, from Stanford University, ‘developed a low-voltage, single-catalyst water splitter that continuously generates hydrogen and oxygen for more than 200 hours’. The beauty of this discovery is that the catalyst used is nickel-iron oxide. Not platinum or some other rare earth.
Clearly then, the extraction process is being improved in leaps and bounds, but what of the other side of the equation, the use of hydrogen as an energy source?
At the moment, hydrogen ‘…can be physically stored as either a gas or a liquid. Storage as a gas typically requires high-pressure tanks (5000–10,000 psi tank pressure). Storage of hydrogen as a liquid requires cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one atmosphere pressure is -252.8°C’ [Hydrogen Storage – Basics].
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d like to be anywhere near a hydrogen car if/when it collides with a truck and goes boooom!
To be a true magic bullet, hydrogen has to be both cheap and easy to produce and cheap and easy to store [and then use]. It also has to be safe. This is where new research is really powering ahead. Recently, not one, but two, separate research teams have come up with novel ways to store and transport hydrogen.
I’m very pleased to say that a team from Deakin University, right here in Australia, has come up with ‘a super-efficient way to mechanochemically trap and hold gases in powders’. Powders!!!
The neat little gif below [not mine] illustrates the process:
The steel balls pounding away in the cylinder separate the gases and then bind one of them to the boron nitride. That’s why it’s called a mechano + chemical process. The resultant powder can be stored safely at room temperature. To release the gas, you simply heat the powder.
Hot on the heels of that discovery comes another, this time from a Hong Kong based company EPRO Advance Technology (EAT). They’ve made a silicon based powder that doesn’t contain hydrogen – it makes hydrogen… when you add water.
‘The Si+ powder can be made using a (preferably renewable) energy source, as well as metallurgical-grade silicon – which itself can be made from sand, or from crushed-up recycled solar panels and electronics. EAT’s process results in a porous silicon powder that’s completely safe and easy to transport.’
Two completely different approaches to the storage, transport, and use of hydrogen. Will either one become our magic bullet? I have no idea, but breakthroughs like these give me hope that we will be able to stop climate change before it stops us. 🙂
I wasn’t going to write a bushfire post this year  because I thought there was no need, not with the devastating fires in NSW and QLD to focus everyone’s thoughts. But I’ve just been on Twitter and seen some of the misconceptions about bushfires.
So…here are some basics:
Fire needs just two things to burn: fuel and oxygen. However the size of that fire depends on many things:
Dry fuel – makes a fire burn harder and faster. Fuel is made of up dry grass, leaves, small twigs and fallen branches that build up on the ground over time.
Low humidity – i.e. moisture in the air and soil – makes a fire burn harder and faster.
Strong winds – provide the oxygen to make a fire burn harder and faster. They also transport embers ahead of the main fire.
Embers – land on dry fuel and start spot fires.
Spot fires act like pre-ignition for the main fire.
So far, these conditions could apply to any fire, in any country of the world. In Australia though, things are a little different. As well as all of the above, we also have to contend with native vegetation that evolved with fire. Some native plants developed ways to keep the species going after a fire. In fact, the seeds of many of our natives need fire to germinate.
In a nutshell, most Australian natives evolved to burn. This includes gum trees [eucalypts].
Gum leaves contain eucalyptus oils.
When these oils heat up enough, they turn into a volatile gas.
Add a spark and this gas goes ‘boom’. It’s an accelerant – like throwing petrol onto a camp fire.
Lightning strikes from ‘dry storms’ provide the spark that starts hundreds of fires every year.
So let’s look at a couple of what-ifs. Let’s say a lightning strike starts a fire. If the humidity is high and the fuel is wet – e.g. winter – the fire doesn’t go very far.
But this is what happens in summer:
Lightning [or human stupidity via an angle grinder creating a spark, an over-heated car starting to burn, a camp-fire left unattended, blah blah blah] starts a fire in grassland.
The grass fire spreads into scrub land.
The scrub land fire spreads into native forest.
The scrub at the base of the gum trees burns hotter and hotter.
The eucalyptus oil in the gum leaves heats up.
The volatile oil in the gum leaves becomes a gas and suddenly the whole tree is on fire.
As more and more trees burn, and the wind pushes the embers and superheated air ahead of it, the conditions for a ‘crown fire’ emerge.
A crown fire is when the fire jumps from tree top to tree top. This is a fire that nothing can stop – no amount of water bombers, no amount of fire fighters, no amount of chemical retardants. In fact, water bombers can’t even get near this kind of fire because it creates its own weather, crazy weather that makes flying virtually impossible.
In 2009, south eastern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium drought and an El Nino weather event. For those who don’t know, during an El Nino period, south eastern Australia goes through an extended ‘dry’ spell with much less rain than normal.
In February 2009, an extended heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures, extremely low humidity, high fuel loads and a ferocious north wind [bringing even more heat from the Centre] combined to create Black Saturday, the worst bushfire event in modern Australian history. 173 people died.
Now, ten short years later, NSW is likely to have another perfect storm of fire conditions…tomorrow…at the very beginning of summer…with the worst of the fire season still to come.
I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Conditions here in Victoria are cool and wet, for now, but the worst is yet to come. How will Warrandyte fare once the grass browns off and the damp fuel load turns into dry kindling? And even if we squeak through this fire season, what about next year and the one after that?
Some years ago I attend a Climate Change rally in Melbourne, and one of the speakers [from the CFA*] said something I’ll never forget. He said words to the effect that there are no climate change deniers at the end of a fire hose.
Climate Change is not causing bushfires, it’s making them bigger and more frequent. Exactly as the climate scientists predict.
Climate Change is also extending the length of the fire season. When I was a kid, January and February were the bad months. In years to come, fire season may extend from the beginning of Spring [September] through to the end of Autumn [May].
Three people have died in NSW already. How many more have to die before we stop ‘praying’ and start doing something useful?
I hope with all my heart that the legacy of Black Saturday means that Victorians remember how helpless we all felt, and act accordingly. We’ve been there. We know. The only thing we can control, even a little, is the fuel load. Reducing the fuel load won’t stop a fire from starting, and it won’t stop a fire from spreading, but it may reduce the severity of that fire by stopping it from becoming a crown fire. Harm reduction. The life it saves could be your own.
And Warrandyte? If you haven’t cleared your block yet, what the effing hell are you waiting for? NSW and QLD may be the canaries in the coal mine this year, but make no mistake, we’re in that bloody coal mine too.
To EllaD and the GO in Taylors Arms – stay safe.
*CFA – Country Fire Authority, the volunteer fire fighting organisation in Victoria.
Australia’s current Federal government has been flogging the dead horse of ‘national security’ for a long time now, yet when it comes to Climate Change, they’re incapable of seeing the potential for true national security impacts.
Answer: the refugee crisis looming amongst low-lying pacific nations.
As sea levels rise, many of these small, island nations will either cease to exist altogether, or they will lose so much land mass that their populations will be squeezed past tolerable levels. One of the first to go will be Tuvalu:
Click the photo to be taken to Alltop10.org
As the largest, and emptiest land mass in the region, Australia will have to take responsibility for its share of displaced people. These Refugees won’t be from the other side of the world, they’ll be on our doorstep, and we will have a moral obligation to help.
In the Innerscape trilogy, I forecast that Australia would accept its responsibilities in the region, albeit grudgingly. The way things are going, however, I’m no longer sure we will. But what if we don’t?
If Australia’s government continues denying the impacts of Climate Change, we’re going to be caught without a paddle when reality proves the deniers wrong. There will be refugees, and if we refuse to accept them, our poorer neighbours will not be able to cope. That’s when they will look at our large landmass and tiny population and say “this isn’t right”, “they shouldn’t be allowed to shirk their duty”, “they’re letting us suffer while they live selfish, greedy lives”.
Guess what happens then?
Haven’t we, and our Western allies invaded other countries for similar, ‘humanitarian’ reasons?
For a more detailed analysis of the impacts, please read the article by Chris Barrie on the Conversation Room. [Chris Barrie is Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University]
We have to stop thinking of Climate Change as a ‘choice’. It isn’t. We’re going to be hit from all sides in the not-so-distant future, and only a concerted, united effort withour neighbours will save us.
If the military can see that Climate Change is a problem for national security, why can’t the Liberal National Party?
What shocked me was the realisation that much of the precious water going into the reservoir would soon begin to evaporate. Even as it was being pumped in, it was starting to evaporate out. And all of Australia’s dams and reservoirs are like that – open to the air, the wind, the sun and the heat. Water wasted by the gigalitre.
Open reservoirs were the only way water could be stored in the past. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It would take money, a terrifying amount of money, and a political will that has not been seen since World War II, but those outdated, primitive reservoirs could be updated into underground water storage units.
It is possible. If we can build concrete swimming pools, and massive damns like the Snowy Hydro scheme, we can build concrete reservoirs for the most threatened, inland towns of Australia. Or perhaps we wouldn’t use concrete at all. Maybe we could repurpose all that plastic waste and use it to line those underground water storage reservoirs.
We could also stop giving away the life blood of our rivers to mates with deep pockets. Our food security relies on irrigation. The water for that irrigation comes from our river systems. But instead of protecting those river systems, we’ve allowed them to be plundered for cash crops like cotton:
Part of why cotton takes up so many nutrients from the soil is its extensive root system. In order for the roots to develop enough to obtain those nutrients, lots of moisture is needed, especially early on.
Could someone explain to me why cotton is being grown [by huge agribusinesses] in an arid country like Australia? Without massive irrigation, taken largely from our rivers and flood plain harvesting, cotton could not possibly survive in inland Australia. Yet it’s happening, and it’s generating huge profits for multinational businesses such as CS Agriculture Pty Ltd:
“….(which owns Cubbie Station) in Australia. Shandong Ruyi is the ultimate shareholder of this new Australian group…”
Australia needs foreign investment, but as one of the most arid countries on Earth, exporting cotton via Shandong Ruyi is akin to exporting our water. In my not-so-humble opinion, that is insane. Allowing this to continue when said export is destroying land and communities in the rest of Australia is…criminal.
Every Australian needs to understand that the flood plains of a river are vitally important to the river and the land, both above and below:
‘The layered sediments of many flood plains can create important aquifers. Clay, sand, and gravel filter water as it seeps downward.’
When you harvest the water of a flood plain, you starve the river and the land. You also starve the towns that historically relied on that river for their water. One such town is Broken Hill.
Broken Hill is not some small country town with a pub and not much else. Broken Hill is a major inland centre, and it too is running out of water. It used to supplement its water from the Darling river, but the Darling is almost dead so a ‘hurry-hurry’ pipeline is being built to the Murray river:
“The Wentworth-Broken Hill pipeline will fix things for Broken Hill, which can no longer rely on the Darling for its water supply. It will also ensure secure water supply for two new mines, Perilya Mines and Hawsons Iron Project.”
Makes you wonder whether the pipeline is actually for the town or the mines…
The biggest problem with the Broken Hill pipeline, however, is that the water it takes from the Murray will impact all the communities south from there, in Victoria. Victorian communities rely on the Murray too, as does South Australia. Allowing the Darling to be destroyed up north in Queensland and northern NSW will have a knock-on effect all the way down the line, with each ‘fix’ creating problems further south.
There is one ‘fix’ I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s desalination. We built a desalination plant here in Victoria, after the Millennium Drought. That desal plant may stop Melbourne from running dry, but what of the inland?
Australia currently has six desalination plants – one for South-East Queensland, two in Western Australia near Perth, one near Sydney [NSW], one for Melbourne [Victoria] and one for Adelaide [South Australia]. All of these desalination plants are on the coast…dah…because they make fresh water out of seawater. All of the communities supplied by those desalination plants are on the coast as well.
Now imagine how much it would cost to pump water inland from those desalination plants…
All of Australia’s water problems are of our own making, and could be fixed properly, but it would take serious nation building by a succession of Federal governments. It hasn’t happened.
Now ask yourself this: if we can’t fix the problems we created, what are we going to do when climate change truly starts to bite?
Sadly, the answer to that question appears to be ‘nothing’. Successive governments have sat on their hands, denying that we’re destroying the rivers, denying that climate is changing, denying that anything needs to be done. And we, the voting public have allowed them to get away with it because we’re scared our cushy lifestyles will become a little less cushy.
I truly hope I’m no longer around when life stops being ‘cushy’ and becomes a fight for survival.
One of the very first posts I ever published on Meeka’s Mind was this one. It hit the internet on December 29, 2011 and received two likes and two comments.
In that post I wrote:
‘…ordinary people like you and me are at the top of the list. We don’t understand the science – no surprise there – so we only know what the media choose to tell us, and the media are having a field day playing both sides against the middle.’
Absolutely nothing has changed since 2011. In fact, things have gone from bad to worse with idiots in the Federal government professing their undying love of coal on the floor of parliament:
As for the mainstream media, it continues to capitalise on the confusion by giving climate change deniers equal air time with genuine scientists. Sadly, even when the scientists do get to put their case to the general public, they lack the communication skills to present the data in a way non-scientists can understand. That’s why some deniers can get away with saying:
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just natural cycles.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just sun spots.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but humans aren’t to blame.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but technology will fix it.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s an act of God or Nature, and there’s nothing we can do.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s the fault of industry and there’s nothing I can do about it.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but trying to fix it is too hard and we’ll all give up our comforts, so let’s just pray for a miracle.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s just the UN spruiking for more funding.’
‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just scientists scrambling for more research grants.’
I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Like all forms of manipulation, the most effective denials are the ones based on a tiny kernel of truth. Sifting the truth from the lie, however, requires the skills of a people person, someone who knows what they’re talking about but can communicate it in an easy to understand way.
One such communicator is my friend, Yorgos. We met on Twitter [@YorgosKC] but he also has a blog on WordPress and publishes novels on Wattpad. As an Indie author, Yorgos really does know how to communicate, but perhaps the most amazing thing about him is that English is not his mother tongue. I wish I could write as well in a second language!
Anyway, Yorgos commented on my recent reblog about climate change, busting climate change myths left, right and centre. The chart he refers to is on the original post which you can find here. Yorgos’ reply was so good I simply had to reproduce it here:
‘I got scared about it [climate change] a few years ago when I was in uni, studying physics and in “physics of atmosphere” we’ve been learning (to write it at exams to pass the lesson, mind you!) “We currently burn a year as much oxygen as earth created in a thousand years, which is not alarming, at all”. This, to me, was alarming. To save you the maths, it actually means, even if we forget this oxygen turns into carbon dioxide (which cause the global warming), human’s future is bound to be shorter than human’s past. And we were thought to consider that as “not alarming”. If “we”, the “specialists” think that, try to convince the ones that don’t know any better.
Now, to make a few things clear, if I may, global warming would have happened even if humans had never existed. But, as the chart shows, in a much slower pace. Also, the Sun’s regular 11-year circle raise of activity affects Earth’s temperature. But right now, Sun’s activity is at its lowest. Therefore, 2019 – if the Sun was the reason – would have been one of the coolest years of this decade. So, no, don’t blame the Sun. If you don’t believe me, check SOHO’s photos and you’ll see there are no spots on the Sun (the more the spots the hotter the Sun is). I’m mentioning this, because I’ve heard more than a few saying, “it’s the Sun. We can’t do anything!” It’s not! Furthermore, immigration to Mars (or anywhere, if that matters) is something that is not feasible, and won’t be feasible for centuries, but let’s say, 50 years. So, no, this isn’t a solution.
Finally, Earth is not in any danger. This change that affects less than 32km ring (including Troposphere) of a 16,400km radius sphere (including the whole atmosphere) doesn’t bother Earth, at all. But! It affects nature and life on Earth. And this nature, indeed, has its ways of “reducing damage” but doesn’t care about a few species, like humans. It won’t protect us, by all costs. Cockroaches and plants are enough for it. Also, neither a God, nor an alien super-civilization cares to save us. So, we should not expect a miraculous solution.
So, then “It’s the governments”. Right. That’s true, I won’t deny that, but, it’s also in the hands of each of us. Do you leave your router on while sleeping? Do you leave other devices on stand-by, instead of turning them off? Do you leave lights on, when you don’t need them? Do you use your car, unnecessarily often? These and so many other things we do daily, without giving them a second thought, are translated in raise of carbon dioxide (why the electricity part? because of the factories creating it). And you may think, “what difference will it make if I don’t do that?” A small one, true. But if all people do that it will make a huge one. So, it’s a start. So, yes, the governments and the industries should adjust, but this isn’t in my hand, but there are things that are in my hand. And your hands, too, so, let’s do what we can do.
That’s all. Sorry for the long, boring reply. Thank you for the very interesting post. And let me correct a fact on the chart: There are still Pokemons in North America 😁’
The one thing I’d like to add to Yorgos’ comment is a little bit about the time factor. During the normal warming and cooling cycles of the the planet, change happens very slowly, literally over thousands of years. This slow pace of change allows life on Earth to adapt to the changing environment, but this adaptation isn’t a conscious thing. Animals don’t look up and go ‘Ut oh, things are getting colder/hotter, I’d better start growing a longer/short coat’.
No. Adaptation to change in the environment happens at the species level…if the particular species is lucky. That luck depends on two main things:
Firstly, individuals in the species have to be born with small mutations that make them better suited to the changing environment. For example, if it’s getting colder, a mutation that made an animal’s undercoat thicker would help it survive the cold better. If it survives better, there’s a chance it’ll have a better chance of reproducing and passing the helpful mutation to the next generation. As more individuals are born with this helpful mutation, they are more likely to meet and interbreed. If this happens, there is a chance that the mutation may become stronger. In time, there’s a chance that this new, helpful mutation will spread throughout the entire population, making the whole species better able to survive the cold.
But spreading a helpful mutation through an entire population requires time. This is why cockroaches [and insects in general] possess a huge advantage over mammals like homo sapiens. Unlike us, all insects reproduce very, very quickly.
The following article talks about the four main types of cockroaches found in North America – German, American, Oriental and brown-banded:
‘German cockroaches mature so fast that only a few weeks after hatching, they’re ready to make babies of their own. When you take all the different generations into consideration, one female can be the matriarch of up to 35,000 roaches.’
Now, let’s imagine that one of those German cockroaches is born with a mutation that makes it immune to cockroache bait. If it survives to adulthood and reproduces, it could make all the cockroaches in its area immune to the bait too. If we substitute ‘tolerance to CO2’ or ‘tolerance to heat’ for ‘tolerance to bait’, you can see how in a very short space of time, all the cockroaches could become better at surviving climate change.
Humans do adapt to environments too, but as it takes a minimum of 15 years for us to reproduce just once, spreading a helpful mutation through the entire population might take millions of years. When natural cycles happen very, very slowly, humans have a chance to adapt. When those same cycles happen quickly, as is happening now, we haven’t got a prayer of changing ourselves quickly enough to survive in the new environment. Genetically modified humans might survive, but they’ll be few and the modification may have unintended side effects that stop them from reproducing effectively.
Reading back over what I just wrote, I can see GM humans as the basis for an interesting sci-fi story, but that’s all it would be, a story. In the real world, technology will create domes and underground cities and all sorts of high-tech ways of adapting to the changes happening outside. But who will get to live in those rather large ‘bunkers’?
I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say that only the rich will get to survive climate change long term. For the rest of us, life will simply become more and more unbearable until one day it finally stops.
So… Do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend climate change is not happening? Do we pray for a ‘miracle’? Or do we pull up our big girl pants and do something?
Before you make up your mind, one way or the other, I’d like to leave you with a thought about the power of the ‘small’. The following quote comes from: