The world is quickly abandoning coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But that’s not the end of the road for coal mines—in many countries they’re coming back to life as solar farms. Over the weekend, the world’s biggest floating solar project began operating in the eastern Chinese city of Huainan, which accounted for nearly 20%…
Category Archives: Climate Change
As a long time fan of renewable energy, the latest news about Elon Musk fills me with glee. He bet that he could install a megabattery in South Australia in 100 days, and he’s come in ahead of schedule!
The story began last year when South Australia suffered a massive storm that destroyed infrastructure meant to allow Australian states to ‘share’ energy on a huge network. Due to some market manipulation on pricing, and a toothless watchdog asleep at its post [yes, AEMO I’m looking at you] South Australia suffered crippling blackouts, off and on, for weeks.
As the South Australia government is Labor and had invested heavily in wind farms, the Liberals in the national government went on a renewable energy bashing spree without offering up one, single practical solution. And then Elon Musk spoke up and shamed them all. He said that he could create a mammoth battery capable of storing the energy from the wind farms until needed. Then he bet the cost of the battery – $50 million dollars – that he could make good on his promise in 100 days. If he lost, he would carry the cost of the project.
Well guess what? -big grin- South Australia has a $50 million dollar bill to pay!
More importantly, all the dinosaurs in our government advocating for dirty coal power stations have been silenced, at least for a while.
You can read the whole story here:
Today really has been a good day. Thank you, Elon Musk. 🙂
Sitting here with the aircon turned on, and a hot north wind blowing outside, it’s hard not to be afraid, especially after seeing this graph:
The graph charts temperatures over the last 100 years – from 1910 to 2010. Not surprisingly, blue represents years of below average cold and red represents years of above average heat. And no, it wasn’t your imagination – summers really have been getting hotter.
My growing up years [1950s to 1970s] were mild. We did get the odd hot day in Melbourne. We even experienced the odd heatwave, but they were unusual events. I know, because we did not even own a fan back then! Now, I can’t imagine living without an air-conditioner.
Unfortunately, heat is not the only thing that’s changed. Nor will it be the only thing that gets worse. I highly recommend reading the complete report from the Climate Council:
You can also read an abbreviated, ‘highlights of’ article about the report here:
Now think about these facts – every year for the last three years has been the hottest on record. That means since we’ve been measuring and recording temperature.
According to the Climate Change deniers and skeptics, what we’re experiencing is just another ‘cycle’ in the earth’s climate history. We’ve had ice ages, now we’re having a period of heat. The one thing they’re not ‘having’ is that this period of heat might be caused by humans rather than natural fluctuations.
So let’s take that perspective to its natural conclusion: the world may be getting hotter and climate may be getting more extreme, but it’s not our fault so there’s nothing we can do about it except ‘suck it up’ [and hope we all survive].
To me, that is the most terrifying, defeatist outlook possible. Yes, it does allow for ‘business as usual’, but only because disaster is inevitable so we may as well make money while we can.
By contrast, almost all of the actual climate change scientists say that this distopian outlook is not inevitable. It will take a lot of work, and things will get worse before they get better, but there’s a good chance that we’ll survive…if we clean up the mess we’ve made.
As one of the canaries in the coal mine, I much prefer the optimistic outlook, don’t you?
But why do I imply that Australians are canaries in the coal mine? Isn’t that fate reserved for the island nations of the Pacific?
Um, no, actually. Australia has quite a delicate climate. Yes, I know, how can deserts and bushfires be delicate? What I mean is that we already experience extremes thanks to our geography which means that climate change will have less work to do to make extreme turn into unbearable.
But it is the Australia inhabited by this generation’s grandchildren, 2090, where the heat will really be on, if greenhouse gas emissions worldwide fail to meet current reduction targets.
By that year the report predicts Darwin will have a staggering 265 days each year above 35C.
That quote was taken from the news.com.au article, but the data comes from the Climate Council report [linked above].
Melbourne won’t fare so badly in terms of temperature, but we’ll have other worries – such as increased droughts and a great many more bushfires. If we continue with business as usual, life will be close to unbearable for our children and their children. This is not some dystopian, science fiction plot line I’ve come up with to give you all a good scare. This is real, my friends, and becoming harder to fix with every day we procrastinate.
Back in 2009, eight years ago now, Malcolm Turnbull lost the leadership of the Liberal Party because he supported the Rudd, Labor government, in its attempts to get a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme up and running. Many Australians honoured Turnbull for that, seeing him as a politician of integrity. Many Australians supported his return to the leadship of the Liberal party for the same reason. I know I did. 😦
But where is Turnbull now? Shackled to the idiology of the ultra Right, that’s where. These Conservatives do not believe in human induced climate change. As a result, they fight tooth and nail to keep Australia from shifting to a low or neutral carbon economy [read renewables instead of coal]. If Turnbull wants to stay in power, he has to appease these deniers and skeptics.
Well guess what? Turnbull has been appeasing these deniers and skeptics. The latest ‘clean’ coal proposals are the greatest betrayal possible because Turnbull must know that the holy grail of clean coal will never be achieved. Even with the most stringest technologies currently available [which would make electricity from coal more expensive not less], coal fired power plants would still produce more emissions than gas fired power plants. Yes, gas. Not solar, not wind, not wave or geothermal, but gas.
I no longer believe that Malcolm Turnbull is a man of integrity. He has what he wanted all along – the Prime Ministership – and he’ll betray everything he believes in to keep it. Thanks, Malcolm. I hope your stay at Kirribilli House is short.
Baseload is a word that’s bandied around a lot when proponents of fossil fuel energy plants talk about green energy. Essentially, the argument states that modern, technological states require reliable energy to thrive. This, they say, cannot be provided by green energy sources such as solar and wind because neither is available all the time.
There is some truth to that argument, and until reliable green energy storage becomes available – e.g. massive batteries of some kind – we will need some form of regular energy production. But…that regular energy production need not be from coal or nuclear. Geothermal has been around for a while but while it’s reliable, it isn’t necessarily cheap. This is where wave power could provide the magic bullet that finally weans us away from fossil fuels.
Wave power technology harnesses the constant rise and fall of ocean waves to turn the generators that actually create the energy we need. The technology is not free, but once in place, the driving force behind it is. Better still, that driving force – ocean waves – is constant. Some days may see more energy generation than others, but the waves never completely stop. And that’s important because that minimum level of power generation can be calculated and used.
The new wavepower plant built in Gibraltar [read the Gizmag article for full details] may be small, but it’s cost effective now and can be added to in the future.
Congratulations to Gibraltar for taking a small step towards greening the planet. Hopefully one day, all countries with access to an ocean will harness wavepower for their own energy needs.
North Africa and the Middle East too hot for human life?
Yes, that is the upshot from this article from Quartz.
If you care about how your children will be living in 50 years time, I highly recommend reading the whole article.
If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing I’ll boil it down to this:
- climate change will push the populations of North Africa and the Middle East out of North Africa and the Middle East,
- those populations will become refugees
- where will those refugees go?
The article ends with this:
The last couple years have shown that the world is pretty bad at managing large-scale migration, but that may turn out to be a mere trial-run for things to come.
As an Australian living half a world away from North Africa and the Middle East, I should be immune to the problems of that area, right?
If climate change makes North Africa and the Middle East unlivable, it will do the same in the Pacific area…in my own backyard.
There are island nations in the Pacific – e.g. Tuvalu – which are already close to being submerged. What happens to the populations of these island nations when their homes are finally covered by the sea?
I can tell you they will not wait around to go down with the ship. They will become refugees too.
Where will they go? I think Australia is a pretty safe bet.
Now multiply these two examples with the number of low-lying countries in the world, and you can see why we have to come up with some effective, efficient and equitable way of helping people move out of harm’s way.
Climate change is not going away. Refugees are not going away. This problem is not going away because, apart from the rhetoric, our governments have chosen to do nothing about climate change. It’s too hard. It’ll cost too much money. Voters won’t like it. So let’s do nothing and hope the problem goes away [see pic at the beginning of this post].
But in real life, you make a choice, even when you choose to do nothing. It’s called the default option. For us, that means ‘adaptation’.
Do you know what adaptation means? It means dealing with a disaster after it happens and living, or dying, with the consequences. It ain’t pretty and one of the inevitable consequences will be mass migrations, the likes of which we cannot even imagine.
I probably won’t be around to suffer too much, but what about the Offspring? Or your offspring?
And for those who do not believe that ‘we’ could possibly have an impact on the Earth’s climate, have a look at this:
This is the US of A, photographed at night, from space. See all those bright lights? Those are cities filled with people eating, sleeping, driving their cars, working. Those people are creating carbon dioxide [and other] pollutants just by living their lives. And the US is just one developed country.
As individuals, we are like individual sticks – easily broken. But put us all together and even a giant can’t break us. That is my version of the old Aesops fable.
But that story has a darker, more modern version as well, and it goes something like this – as individuals, we are powerless to destroy the Earth, but put all 8 billion of us together and the Earth doesn’t stand a chance.
Climate change >> refugees >> a problem we cannot ignore.
The key concept in the following video is that cities can become food producers instead of just food consumers…via vertical farming. But what is vertical farming? Is it the kind of inner city, urban farming that happened in Havana [Cuba]? Or is it ‘just’ hydroponics farming? Or is it something more?
The examples of vertical farming begin at about 11 minutes into this 13 minute video. Well worth the investment in time.
My thanks to A.C. Stark for introducing me to both the video and the concept of vertical farming. A.C. Stark’s site is full of interesting posts that range from politics to climate change.
I first read about floating solar power plants in Quartz, and just had to share. Here are a couple of amazing video clips that prove this is not sci-fi!
The second video clip is not as slick as the first and has no sound at all. BUT. It shows time lapse photography of the plant being put together in a week!
And just in case you think these are just weird one-offs, here’s one from India. 🙂
The thing I like most about this concept is that it is cheap. So cheap, in fact, that it puts clean, green energy within the grasp of the poorest countries. With it, they can embrace technology and make a better life for their people without having to go the dirty-fossil-fuels path.
I predict that these countries will be leading the way in clean energy within 30 years while my own country will still be talking about waiting for the rest of the world ‘to do something’ about climate change…
I believe the attitudes of society change one individual at a time. That is why we should ALL buy one of these. We need to see – in real time – what we’re doing to the world…and ourselves. Read on:
Like you, I assume that the environment I am sitting in right now is pretty safe. I mean, I don’t see anything dangerous, feel uncomfortable, or smell anything that I should be worried about. Yet I may be filling my lungs with harmful elements that my cognitive sensory abilities are incapable of noticing.
The current Liberal government tries hard to sell it’s Direct Action policy on Climate Change, but apparently all that Direct we-give-you-money-to-create-less-carbon rhetoric only applies to big corporations. Incentives for small scale solar, wind and thermal brought in by the previous Labor government have been slashed, perhaps because they worked too well.
The history of small scale energy generation began in 2009 when Labor used a kind of small ‘d’ direct action policy to encourage private individuals, community groups and business to go ‘green’. Not only would we receive a generous rebate for the cost of the energy generation systems we installed, those systems would then be connected to the grid and the excess energy they generated would be sold to electricity retailers! Win-win.
This description of the Premium Feed-in Tariff is taken from the Victorian government’s own website:
The Premium Feed-in Tariff (PFIT) started in late 2009 and closed to new applicants at the end of 2011.
The scheme offered eligible households, businesses and community organisations with small-scale solar systems of five kilowatts or less a credit of at least 60 cents per kilowatt hour for excess electricity fed back into the grid.
More than 88,000 Victorian households, small businesses and community groups are now benefiting from the PFIT.
60 cents per KWH. That’s more than twice what we were paying the retailers for electricity back then, and those lucky enough to join the scheme during this initial phase will continue to receive 60 cents per KWH until 2024.
Then, from December 2011 to December 2012, small scale generators were offered a reduced tariff of 28 cents per KWH. This was more or less on a par with the cost of electricity generated from coal.
But from January 2013, the FIT plummeted to 6.2 cents per KWH. Now have a look at this pricing schedule published by Origin Energy:
So let’s say you’re on the Residential 5-Day Time of Use plan. From 7:00am to 11:00pm, Monday to Friday, you will pay 39.732 cents for every KWH you use. But any electricity you generate and feed into the grid will only earn you 6.2 cents per KWH.
Yes, your eyes did not deceive you – your electricity created no carbon, but it is worth 6.4 times less than the dirty stuff produced in the La Trobe valley.
Proponents of coal-fired power say that solar, wind and thermal are no good because they do not provide baseload energy, but what exactly do they mean by that?
As I understand it, baseload energy is essentially the capacity to produce the minimum amount of energy required during a 24 hour period.
At the moment, baseload power is provided by coal fired power stations that are belching out carbon pollution at peak capacity, all the time, because:
- it takes so long to get them going, and
- it’s cheaper to run them full on, all the time
There are other energy production systems that are more flexible, but they tend to be more expensive to run. Here in Victoria I believe we rely almost exclusively on coal fired energy.
Now, while it is true that green energy is produced at the whim of the elements, and hence not completely predictable, it can reduce energy consumption at the local level. In fact, the installation of solar panels on roofs since 2009 has reduced demand for baseload energy. So why isn’t it being valued? And why aren’t governments bending over backwards to get more of it?
The problem, essentially, is a clash of cultures. At the moment, coal is king because the operators of coal fired power stations do not have to factor in the cost of the pollution created by that coal. If pollution became a cost like any other, a number of interesting things would happen:
- the price of energy would go up in the short term,
- everyone would scramble to minimize their use of this expensive energy source
- and new technologies would spring up to make other energy generation systems more cost efficient – this would include not only renewables but also batteries capable of storing energy produced from all sources, including coal. [Because coal fired power stations run at full capacity all the time, much of the power they produce is actually wasted].
Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen in the near term because we are still only paying lip service to the problem of Climate Change. Once the $hit hits the fan, things will change in a hurry, but it won’t be efficient change, and all the forecasts suggest it will be a LOT more expensive than voluntary change now.
So in terms of you and me, are solar panels worth doing any more? From a purely financial perspective, probably not. 😦 You will still save some money off your energy bills by using your own energy, but the truth is we all use more than we generate, and it often tends to be at times when solar is not available [e.g. at night]. So then you have to balance up the savings against the cost of the solar panels and their installation…
When I installed my solar panels and solar hot water, I hoped to have everything pay for itself in about five years years. Not gonna happen, folks. I started out getting the 60 cents per KWH then a strange administrative ‘blunder’ meant that the paperwork proving I’d joined in time disappeared. Now I’m on 28 cents per KWH but apparently that will only last until December 31, 2016. After that I’ll get next to nothing.
Am I bitter? Yes, I am. The Liberals are going to give large corporations lots of money for doing the wrong thing while I am going to lose money for doing the right thing. I really truly wish the Libs would throw some of that Direct Action loot in my direction for a change. 😦
“Apple announced Thursday that its China operations are now 100 percent powered by renewable energy, leaving it carbon neutral in the country. That brings them in line with its U.S. operations, which are likewise run off 100 percent renewable energy.
Worldwide, Apple says its operations are now 87 percent green…”
Read the rest of this Venturebeat article here:
I don’t particularly like Apple the company, or any of the Apple products. I don’t even like iTunes very much. But. I. Do. Like.Their. Position. On. Climate. Change.
I also admire the fact that one of the biggest, most popular companies in the world is putting its money where it’s mouth is. Now if only governments worldwide could do the same.
p.s. Would you believe this is my 700th post? I know. Me neither.