Rhein on Energy and Climate

No other country-continent on earth enjoys such an abundance of renewable resources as Australia. It could easily supply its 22 million people with non-fossil, non-nuclear energy, provided governments muster the political will and give the necessary push for a long-term energy and climate strategy based on renewables and energy efficiency.

Australia has more than plenty of wind power along its 33.000 km coast line and could build any number of solar thermal and PV power stations across its huge desert areas. In addition, it could even continue to exploit its huge coal deposits provided it imposed carbon capture and storage on its power plants.

There will, of course, be difficulties to overcome. The two biggest ones are the need to build long-distance high-voltage direct current transmission lines connecting the widely spread generation sites with the consumption centres along the coast and financing the huge investments required to put in place such a revolutionary energy supply system. Financing would be facilitated if the government abolished the diesel subsidies in favour of the mining industry which cost the budget close to $ 5 billion annually.

It is doable only if the private sector and citizens will be fully on board and accept temporarily higher energy prices, which Australia can afford more easily than Europe considering its export structure geared to raw materials and agricultural products.

So far Australian citizens have not been very climate-conscious. Due to their lifestyle Australian citizens emit around 20 tons of C02 annually, twice the average EU emission level. It is therefore not surprising that it has taken the country until 2009 to accede to the Kyoto Convention.

Politically the country is split on energy and climate issues. Only the small Green Party defends an outspoken climate agenda. The Conservatives are too close to business and mining interests to support radical climate measures.

And the Labour Party, which will run a minority government with the support from four independent MPs, can ill afford to take any revolutionary energy measures.

The dream of a zero-emission Australia will therefore hardly come true in the next 20 years, though it would be feasible by building 12 huge thermal solar power plants with 24hour molten salt storage capacity and 23 large scale wind power plants with 6.500 turbines, according to the “Zero-Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan” published in August by Melbourne University and an engineering company.

Still, the country should be expected to pursue an active green policy reaching out for a 20 percent share of renewables in its energy mix by 2020, thanks also to its renewable energy legislation passed last June.

And considering its extraordinary solar and wind potential Australia will no doubt become a leading player in renewable technology and future climate negotiations. Rendez-vous at Cancun in December!

Brussels 08.09. 2010 Eberhard Rhein

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  1. Sir: Your comments are absolutely right and to the point. However I would like to offer a slightly different uptake on the issue of the phrase renewable energy.

    In most people’s minds they relate energy to the dry form principally electricity and heat. We should however be reminded that there are other forms of energy currently in use in Australia and across the World which should have been addressed in this same article – namely the use of fuels for transportation. Most Australians (like those in many other Countries) use a mixture of transport systems to move around the country and to go further afield, and for that they use – in the main – refined fossil fuels

    I suggest that your article may have missed addressing this issue by default. However all is not lost and there is an opportunity which I feel we could address here by extension of one of your aspiring solutions.

    In your comments you raised the tenure of addressing the capture of the sun’s direct energy through Photo-Voltaic and other systems. Let’s now consider what else can be done with such an immense source of energy. One which I feel would be of great assistance to Australia is the harnessing of this energy source to the photosynthesis of Phyto-Plankton as Farmed Macro-Algae and thence the use of this for transportation fuels. So far the emphasis in the development of Phyto-Plankton has been to look at Micro-Algae for the development of oil replacement. This is proving to be very useful but limited. In a recent series of trials and developments surrounding Macro-Algae there has been a break-through whereby it is now possible to grow Macro-Algae in shallow lagoons using brackish and saline and used (grey) water with the result that it is possible to produce the renewable fuels Ethanol or Butanol and the higher order Oxy-Carbon-Hydrogen compounds profitably and in sufficiently large quantities to off-set all of Australia’s Oil Needs (as Imports) as well as making a significant contribution to exports.

    You will know that Australia has a large expanse of desert and that much of this is in reach of the coastal zones. Using sea-water is one option for growing Macro-Algae under controlled conditions and it would have a significant benefit to the economic well-being of the country. It would provide the valued fuel which all Australians aspire to using in their personalised transport as well as all the fuel they would need for their rail shipping and international aircraft as well as that required for defence uses. Indeed within 10 years the country could become self-sufficient and within fifteen years a major exporter of such fuels as well.

    It will take drive and it will take imagination. It needs a Government that thinks beyond the normal 2 terms of Government thinking that has be dogged many other countries, but it can be done. It would also signal to the World that Australia believes that its actions can have an effect as much as many others when it comes to positioning itself in the acceptance of Climate Change and the influence of mankind to same.

    As a corollary though Mr Eberhard Rhein let’s not be too cloistered with the approach and the suggestion that it only fits Australia! That is far from the truth. This programme would be equally applicable to Namibia and the countries of North Africa fronting the Mediterranean and backing on to the Sahara (such as Morocco or Tunisia etc.) and beyond. But let it not be just limited to those countries that are assumed to be limited to immense exposure to the sun for it would be equally applicable to Portugal/Spain and Turkey or to Kazakhstan and China to Bolivia and Peru and many other countries including those in the EU. We have an opportunity here that cannot be missed and we also have a company based in Europe – Applied Biofuels Limited – registered in Malta that is prepared to work upon this issue for the benefit of the many countries that are struggling to cope with their increasing energy needs. It is part of the solution and a major part.

    So perhaps by agreement therefore widening your original blog from the original reference about Renewable Energy has been for the better. Pardon me therefore for addressing you in this manner.

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