Renewable Energy in Australia

Renewable Energy in Australia

Australia has it all

Australia is the lucky country for renewable resources. The fact is that Australia is very well positioned for harnessing solar power. The only continent that is better positioned than Australia in this regard is Africa.

The west coast of the southern states, including WA have some of the best wind regimes in the world. This is because the southern hemisphere generally has better wind than the northern hemisphere because there is more ocean and less land mass in the southern hemisphere. Those southern areas of Australia that I referred to are at those latitudes where they have prevailing westerly winds that sailors referred to as the roaring forties. The only land masses that lie this far south are New Zealand and South America. Africa does not extend this far south.

The third renewable energy resource that Australia has at its disposal, particularly for the eastern states, is geothermal. We have large underground reserves of very hot granite. This granite is kept at these very high temperatures due to the presence of small amounts of radioactive isotopes. There is enough hot rock in Australia to meet all of our energy requirements and can often be found directly below existing coal-fired power stations such as those in the Hunter valley in NSW. So rather than Australia arguing in favour of us increasing our greenhouse gas emissions we could have set the long term goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions. This would then entail switching over to electric vehicles using our own vanadium redoxide batteries recharged by our renewable energy resources.

Power to the People

What I would like to propose here is that private individuals take the initiative where the governments fail us. If you ask why the federal and state governments in Australia have been so disinterested in promoting renewable energy resources you only need to ask the question as to what is presently Australia's largest export. Yes, the answer is coal, and that combined with the argument of protecting jobs keeps us fixed to a high greenhouse gas emission policies. The unfortunate outcome of this, apart from Australia having a very poor reputation in the eyes of the international community is that there is no future in the coal export industry.

Although we do export a lot of coal, the coal industry is generally struggling with coal mines closing down and coal workers not getting their entitlements. The truth is that there is no future for the coal industry with renewable energy being generally regarded as the energy form of the new millennium. Where Australia was a leader in renewable energy research, we are constantly losing ground because we don't take renewables as seriously as Europe, Japan and USA.

Ultimately we get the government that we deserve and once in power they behave like dictators until the next election constantly arguing that they have the mandate to do whatever they want. If you look carefully at community attitudes you will find that the majority of the population believe that we should be actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy.

The main impediments are the cost of solar power, the lack of a carbon tax for power stations and cross subsidisation of grid power. Few people seem to realise the cost the infrastructure required to transmit power around the state. There is the cost of the hardware; power poles, power lines, transformers, substations etc and there is the cost of transmission loss due to electrical resistance of the conductors and the spurious losses associated with AC transmission. Every domestic consumer of electricity connected to the NSW power distribution network pays the same dollar per kilowatt-hour for the power they use regardless of transmission losses.

The consumers at the extremities of this network require more power to be produced at the power station to perform the same task as the consumers located closer to the power stations. The consumers at the extremities also receive the poorest quality power with frequent brown-outs and black-outs. 75% of the power lines in NSW service 3% of the population who consume 5% of the power. Renewable energy, on the other hand, can be placed anywhere in the grid and can thus be used to help ‘decentralise' the power grid and thereby reduce grid losses through transmission lines and improve the quality of the power at the grid extremities. Grid interactive solar power can be placed on household rooftops, an area that would otherwise be ‘wasted real-estate'.

The NSW government through the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) has introduced a couple of initiatives. The first is the GreenPower Scheme whereby consumers can elect to pay a little more for their power usage and that revenue would then be used for installing large photovoltaic arrays (solar farms) and wind farms around the state. One problem that I see with this initiative is that the solar farms seem to get placed in centralised locations where I would have thought it would make a lot more sense to be more decentralised where you could help reduce transmission costs and improve on the quality of the power in these locations. The second initiative is the Australian Greenhouse Office Subsidy where SEDA helps pay for solar modules used to provide power in remote locations or supplement power for those already connected to the grid.

The Future

The power technology for the next millennium will be from renewable sources, there really is no choice. The Australian Government is supporting the technology of the 20th Century which is causing us to lose so much ground in research and development for renewable energy technologies that we will end up importing the equipment when we need it. Renewable technology should have been a major export industry for Australia. If Australia had developed our Renewable Energy industry to a greater extent over the past decades we could have sustained our position as world leader in renewable energy technology. Instead, the Federal Government has removed all funding for research and development of the renewable energy industry.

Setting an Example

The Rainbow Power Company is about setting the right example and raising environmental awareness through the use of renewable energy. We use a dry composting toilet system, collect our own rainwater and produce our own power. We have 100 solar panels on the roof producing about 7 kilowatts and a wind turbine capable of producing another 1.5 kilowatts. This produces more than sufficient power for all the requirements of the Rainbow Power Company.

All our surplus power is sold to Country Energy and if the weather is overcast and there is no wind we can buy the power back from Country Energy. The battery bank in our system allows the system to behave like a giant UPS (Un-interruptible Power Supply), such that if there is a blackout in the area, the power supply at Rainbow Power Company remains unaffected. You can consider all the roofs of all the homes and factories around Australia as wasted real estate that could be paying its way by harnessing solar energy.

If more homes and industries around Australia followed the example set by Rainbow Power Company, we could more effectively demonstrate how to bring about positive change, make our government sit up and take notice, and move towards reducing our dependence on coal. Instead of worrying about losing jobs in the coal industry, which is inevitable, we should help create more jobs in the renewable energy industry, which should be a growth industry ultimately employing more people than the coal industry ever would. I know what line of work I'd rather be doing. Remember that electricity commercials on TV some years ago proclaiming that electricity was clean energy? What utter rubbish! Go talk to the people living next door to the power stations and see what they think.

Electricity certainly can become clean energy, but it needs a lot more enthusiastic support for renewable energy infrastructure from people like yourselves. At this point of time we are not talking about a worthwhile financial investment, we are talking about becoming more independent and helping to save the planet. This is a feel-good exercise that has a great deal of urgency associated with it.

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