Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts

Monday, August 20, 2012

Don't ask little of me - you might get it.

We are a lucky generation – we're living at the dynamic beginning of massive global transformation. It's a time to ask big things of ourselves and of each other – just as Winston Churchill did in a speech to the British people at the beginning of WWII.
We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history. ...  I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Winston Churchill

Nothing calls the human spirit to effort better than the promise of great difficulty. The comprehensive energy revolution that lies before us is a massive task and this is the critical decade.

This is the decade when Australia needs to make a serious start on a national plan to shift electricity generation from 8% renewables to 100% renewables.

Beyond Zero Emissions, a climate policy think tank, has produced a roadmap that shows how Australia can do this over just 10 years, at a cost of 3% of GDP. The Zero Carbon Australia plan involves approximately 6,400 wind generators (7.5 MW capacity) and nearly 200 Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) plants spread across Australia's best solar and wind regions. Here's how it looks.

The new CST plants and wind farms would be built in clusters and joined to the national grid that will be enhanced with additional HVAC lines as well as some HVDC lines for longer distances. HVDC power lines lose only 3% of power per 1,000 km.

The focus on two technologies, CST and onshore wind turbines, is a result of several factors.
  • CST and wind turbines are commercial off-the-shelf technologies so there is no delay in getting started.
  • Australia has excellent solar and wind resources (e.g. we have plenty of room for onshore wind turbines so we don't need any of the more expensive offshore wind farms).
  • Together, CST and wind can deliver reliable baseload power that is sufficiently flexible to dispatch power at short notice and cope with variability of demand and changing weather conditions. CST with salt storage delivers electricity 24 hours a day because the molten salt stores heat from the sun to keep the turbines turning through the night.

Australia is not alone in planning continent-wide electricity grids that rely on renewables. Desertec has done similar planning for a grid that encompasses Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Like Australia, deployment is at an embryonic stage. A CST plant has been commissioned in Tunisia while Saudi Arabia and UAE are rolling out ambitious programs for utility scale solar power. They are positioning themselves for the post-oil era so they can continue to be energy exporters.

In the US, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) demonstrates that the US (lower 48 states) could be 80% renewable by 2050.

The Australian government is comissioning its own study to show how Australia's electricity could transition to 100% renewables by 2030 or 2050.

So now the thought has been thought, it's hard to unthink it. We are at the beginning of an energy revolution. The transition to 100% renewables will be a battle, tooth and nail, with wealthy and powerful fossil fuel interests. They will oppose every step that reduces markets for their coal, oil and gas.

Churchill was lucky, the European theatre of war in WWII lasted only five years. In contrast, our battle with fossil fuel interests will last for decades. It will take toil, tears and sweat, and even blood. Plenty of blood has been spilt defending oil resources, and it is likely to happen again.

That's why I say we are a lucky generation. We live in times that ask a lot of us. Can we rise to the challenge?
Don't ask little of me, you might get it.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here are recent snippets.

Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and South Africa are building utility-scale solar generators using Concentrated Solar Thermal technology. Source: ConstructionWeek

Morocco maintains a national renewable energy and energy efficiency strategy that includes renewable energy sources meeting 42% of electricity demand by 2020. Source: Cleantechnica

Friday, June 29, 2012

The carrot, the stick and the map

The Can Do! attitude that harnessed the efforts of whole nations in an all-out war effort during WWII survives in the iconic figure of Rosie the Riveter. When men joined the armed forces, women filled their places in factories, transport, businesses and on farms. My Grandma Blanche saw out WWII as a transport driver for local military bases in the North of England, where her two daughters met and married improbably good looking airmen.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has given Can Do types a shot in the arm with the release of its report, Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) which outlines how the US can convert its electricity system to 80% renewables by 2050.

The detailed report proves the nay-sayers wrong by demonstrating that current technology is sufficient and that intermittent sources like solar and wind are no obstacle.

The report is a massive work in four volumes and covers the subject comprehensively. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and is a collaboration with more than 110 contributors from 35 organizations including national laboratories, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

I am very heartened to see responsible government agencies get on with the job of planning a pathway to the new low-carbon future. I'm afraid that Australia's Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism lacks the capacity, vision and leadership to produce useful work like this. They seem to be too much in the thrall of the coal and mining sectors.

A Can Do map is one of the three things needed for a fundamental shift in beliefs and practices. The other two requirements are: Awareness that the current system is unsustainable (the stick), and recognition of the benefits of change (the carrot).

The carrot, the stick and the pathway map are necessary preconditions for the transition from an ecosystem of denial to a culture of responsibility.

With a reason to act, confidence in the destination and an outline of what needs doing, millions of Rosies will roll up their sleeves and see that the job gets done.

H/T KC Golden.


New on the Transformation tab.

Ireland has signed a MOU with UK to provide renewable power. Irish businessman Eddie O’Connor, the CEO of Mainstream Renewables, has unveiled a plan to invest €12.5 billion to expand the country’s wind energy farms, and build links to supply the UK. Source: ReNewEconomy

Monday, June 11, 2012

Energy Slaves

You thought slavery was long gone? Well, not quite. When the energy used to sustain our lifestyles is converted to human power we find that the average American has 204 slaves, and even those egalitarian Australians have 130 each.

We don't notice our slaves and we sleep with easy consciences because our slaves are not human, they are 'energy slaves'—a term coined by American energy philosopher, Buckminster Fuller, in 1944.

The purpose behind the ‘energy slave’ concept is to understand how much human labour would be required to sustain a certain action, lifestyle, or culture in the absence of the highly concentrated fossil-­fuel energies available today.

For example, it would take 11 energy slaves peddling madly simply to power an ordinary toaster. In the absence of fossil fuels, the global economy in its entirety would need approximately 66 billion ‘energy slaves’ to sustain itself in its current form.

This makes us take a second look at our energy consumption and ask how sustainable it is. When coal, oil and gas are stranded assets, will human power replace some of the energy they produced for us? How well are we prepared for this? Will we cut back our overall energy consumption so we need less energy/fewer energy slaves, and will we have enough renewable energy in place so we don't have to default to human power for everything?

To illustrate energy slavery at work, the BBC program The Human Power Station powered a family home for a day entirely on bicycle power, using a rotating band of 100 cyclists to provide the energy.

Here is a wonderful 3-minute clip showing the mighty effort made by 80 cyclists to provide enough power while Dad took a shower.

The producers found that one of the biggest problems was feeding the cyclists. It appeared that you would use more energy feeding them than the energy they produced. Also, many of the cyclists were so exhausted that they were unable to walk for days.

If this was your household, you'd have a major incentive to use less power! Maybe you'd look at communities that live without electricity to find how they do it. Although the Amish use oil for tractors, they don't use electricity in their homes. Does our future hold a return to more human-powered work?

If you'd like to watch the whole The Human Power Station program (1 hour) it is here.


Here's the latest news on the Transformation tab.

In Europe, coal's share of electricity generation has declined from 39% to 26% over the past 20 years. Of the 120 coal fired power plants proposed in Europe in 2007, none have been brought to the construction stage. In 2011, clean energy accounted for 71% of the new electricity capacity in the European Union, while another 22% was natural gas-fired generation.  Source: Compass.