« profile & posts archive

This author has written 782 posts for Larvatus Prodeo.

Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

230 responses to “Thermal solar with storage”

  1. Durutticolumn

    Of course this sort of stuff never makes it into the mainstream media so we instead have idiots like Andrew Bolt freely spruiking nuclear power on the Insiders and claiming that renewable energy means we have to have wind turbines stretching from the east coast of Australia to the west and even then we won’t have enough power. . That is the standard of debate in Australia. My worry is that Rudd and his mob aren’t intellectually committed to renewables or even climate change. That is why the policies are aimed at appeasing polluters and doing nothing to encourage renewables. The Govt and opposition are being held by the nuts by the fossil fuel industry. New energy will unleash a whole new wave of thinking on solutions. Unless we are up at the forefront we will have to watch it developed overseas and then buy it in. Why aren’t we funding similar power stations to those in Spain?Even as just experiments. We give the coal industry millions to pursue carbon sequestration which no-one believes will work and yet new sources solar hot rocks etc have to fund themselves.

  2. KeIthY

    What is this abandonment of reservations except for wind??? That makes it sound ominously like it is being set up to fail for Solar Thermal…?!?

  3. Grendel

    To maximise efficiency I wonder if it is possible to use an old-tech’burnt carbon’ method to heat the salt at night – maintaining productions and core temperature but still at less cost in burnt fuel than a coal/gas/oil fired facility alone.

  4. KeIThY

    Interview with Mark Diesendorf transcript


    We got to request interviews with certain people on this forum ( The Environment Site ) and I requested an interview with Dr Mark Diesendorf and they arranged it. I got 4 questions asked and the first one is mine…. I forget the others(one about if Australia really was the best place to bury Nuclear Waste and he said he wasn’t qualified to answer!) but here it is just for kicks!

  5. Peter

    At 17MW (with 2,500 mirrors) this power station would have to be 50 times bigger to to match just one nuke. Also, 15 hours without sun sounds great but really, that’s only overnight.

  6. KeIThY

    Is Peter forgetting the size of the Big Brother associated with the world, let alone Australia, going Nuclear??? Simply to channel this blind wave of treasure is it really worth you losing everyone elses freedom and dignity???

  7. Peter

    Actually it’s worse than that. The thing only produces 110GWh/yr. A 1GW nuke would produce about 8000GWh/yr or 70 times as much. And I bet the ‘approximately 110GWh/yr’ figure is fudged – as they always are for these types of projects.

  8. KeIThY

    Peter, are you infact Big Brother himself???

  9. John D

    Interesting post Robert, particularly the cost and technical data for the the Andasol 1 plant and other useful links. One of the most interesting things was the low cost of thermal storage @ $US50m/gWh.

    The problem I see with RET is that it sets a renewables target without a clear plan to get there and lot’s of complications to protect those with effective lobbyists. At this stage it would make more sense to:
    1. Set a target for the rate of increase in clean electricty capacity (In gWh/yr, not nominal output)
    2. Use competive tendering to set up the series contracts for the supply of clean electricity required to meet these targets. (Separate price formulae should be negotiated for each contract to provide price certainity for investors while allowing advantage to be taken of future technical developments.) Note that the price guarantees may only apply for a limited amount of time or output.
    3. Provide sales guarantees to investors by regulating that clean electricty will used in preference to dirty electricity under normal circumstances.

    This approach does not reuire any increase in the price of dirty electricity to work. For this reason the average price of electricity will only need to ramp up slowly as the proportion of clean electricity increases. This approach gives clear outcomes while avoiding the need for sudden price increases. It may make sense to broaden the effort by contracting for an annual reduction in net carbon emissions as the result of investment in new installations and/or modifications to existing installations.

    We certainly should be considering the replacement of coal with natural gas as a transition arrangement. We may be able to get rapid gains at low cost. However, it does need to be understood that the long term aim is to stop using fossil fuels for the generation of electricty. For tjhis reason, investment in very clean electricity should continue.

  10. Elise

    Totally agree with you DC “Unless we are up at the forefront we will have to watch it developed overseas and then buy it in. Why aren’t we funding similar power stations to those in Spain?Even as just experiments. We give the coal industry millions to pursue carbon sequestration which no-one believes will work and yet new sources solar hot rocks etc have to fund themselves.”

    At a slight tangent, our household has been looking at what we could do to reduce our carbon and water footprint, as a household contribution to the cause.

    We have concluded that it is possible to achieve a 50% reduction in consumption without major hardship, for electricity, gas, water, and fuel.

    50% reduction sounds like a lot, but it wasn’t all that hard once we started. Not trying to show off, but just to say what actions are possible and what the result was…rather to our surprise, I must say.

    We managed to cut our electricity consumption in half (also now half of average Aussie household consumption), by:
    – installing 6 solar panels, grid-connected
    – replacing all globes with energy savers
    – installing an evaporative air conditioner for the main living areas (very low power consumption compared with refrigerative systems) and only using small reverse-cycle aircon for “trim adjustment” of temperature in the bedroom and study.
    – putting the heated towel rail on a timer (only 2 hours/day in winter)
    – only using the bar fridge for BBQ’s and switching it off most of the time

    Incidentally, also switching to “smart power” (very low cost off-peak), and getting paid a feed-in tariff for our excess solar power during the day (at peak rates!), meant that our power bill for January was only about 25% of last year’s bill.

    We cut our gas consumption by:
    – reducing the setpoint on the hot water thermostat in summer, spring and autumn
    – replacing the old gas oven with an electric oven
    – using the gas heater less, by closing doors more on cold days and wearing warmer clothing inside in winter

    We plan to replace the gas water heater with either instantaneous gas or solar, when funds permit, which should drop the gas consumption even further.

    We cut our fuel bill by using the bus, and multitasking more on grocery and hardware expeditions. It will go down even more when we get our new car, which will have an average fuel consumption of 5.4 L/100km, compared with the current Aussie average of 11.2 L/100km.

    The water consumption has about halved also, due to:
    – X-ing the lawn
    – replanting with Aussie natives
    – cutting the reticulation cycle time
    – replacing the toilet, shower roses and taps with water-savers.

    If Rudd was wanting Aussies to cut emissions by 50% by 2050, then I guess we can rest on our laurels for the next 4 decades? :)

  11. Peter

    KeIThY @ 6.

    Newer nuke technologies (eg check out Thorium), while also experimental, have none of the waste and proliferation problems of the older nuke technology, and offer far more potential for reliable power. You have to remember that most nuke technology in use today came straight out of the A bomb program.

    I also used to oppose nuclear power but I have since realized that there are in fact many, many ways to generate power from nuclear material. A number of these processes are fail safe in that they have a negative coefficient of reactivity ( the hotter they get the less reactive they become), can consume current waste ( you are aware I hope that current nuke technology is less than 1% efficient – the waste actually being valuable fuel?) and generate tiny amounts of their own waste that is dangerous for only a few decades rather than millennia.

    There is a *lot* of misinformation about nukes. I really recommend you investigate further. Thorium, as a virtually inexhaustible, safe and reliable source, is particularly worth watching. Quite fascinating really.

  12. Elise

    Peter @11, when will your proposed first “clean nuke” be ready for use?

    I seem to recall seeing figures of 10-15 years, optimistically speaking.

    Those old coal-fired power stations are on their last legs. They won’t hold out that long. Even less so, if we are to meet our Copenhagen target.

    An open-cycle gas power station can be built in 6 – 12 months. Combined cycle may take twice as long, since extra infrastructure is required. The solar thermal arrays seem to take a year or two.

    We could turn our power industry around in a COUPLE of years, not a decade, if we had the political will to do it.

    Where is our “man on the moon” motivating mission statement from our fearless leaders?

  13. Peter

    Elise, the problem is household energy use is only a fraction of the total energy ‘budget’. I’m sorry but you have reduced your energy consumption by way less than 50% – more like 10%.

  14. Elise

    Peter, 10%? Prove it!

    Have a look at the sites where you can calculate your carbon footprint, and tell me why you are right and they are wrong.

    I’m certainly aware that household consumption is only part of the story. However, sitting there arguing a hypothetical case for nukes in the distant future (after the tipping point may have been reached) is hardly making useful progress.

  15. adrian

    Well said Elis and DC. The standard of debate in Australia is indeed appalling. Even the small sections of the MSM that were once interested in this issue have decided that people are bored with it and have effectively given up. Thinking of the ABC and Fairfax in particular.

  16. derrida derider

    KeiThy’s reaction is depressing, but all too common. Peter points out, correctly, that this experimental solar plant is truly tiny compared with serious power stations, and KeIThY’s only answer is to accuse him of wanting to sell us all into slavery.

    Wishful thinking won’t cut it folks – people have been mucking about with solar for decades, and its still not looking viable. It’ll be decades more before it can replace coal (if it ever can) and that will be far, far too late.

    If we want to stop the seas rising nuclear is the only way we can get the quantities of electricity we need (even with strict conservation, which we should certainly do) in the timeframe we need. By all means keep tinkering with solar, tidal, wind, hot rocks, carbon sequestration, etc but we need action to phase out those coal stations now – and nuclear is the only proven technology to do it.

  17. Fran Barlow

    I have mixed feelings about nuclear.

    The principal problem I see with nuclear is not its technical feasibility, or even its cost feasibility but rather its pol;itical feasibility. Evern if one regards the case for including nuclear in the mix as made out, the hard reality is that the issue is a serious wedge opportunity against either of the major parties. Even if pollls showed that 60% favoured resort to nuclear power in Australia (and as yet I see nothing that positive) there are enough people supporting both sides who’d see this as a decisive issue to switch votes and ruin the party proposing it. It’s most unlikely coalition voters would switch to the ALP on this issue but we may be sure that a lot of ALP voters would desert to opponents of nuclear if the ALP proposed it, and vice versa. The coalition in opposition would never support this either. And if one or more governments tried pushing this through, one can be sure that the legal proceedings alone would deny the first sod being turned for five years or so. And if people think windfarms are an occasion for the NIMBY factor, proposed nuclear plants would open their eyes to what a real NIMBY campaign would look like

    So in practice it can’t happen and having the debate can only distract from pursuing the many other feasible sources of energy generation available to us in the here and now.

    In many ways this is a shame, because there are good arguments for nuclear power, even in countries like Australia which do have many other viable options. As Peter notes, thorium is an excellent low proliferation potential source of power that Australia happens to have a lot of and which is currently treated as a waste product from harvest of mineral sands, and which can be used in plants set up to degrade the most proliferation-ready fissile materials. The IFR (integrated fast reactor) can also run on current radioactive waste and is many times more efficient than existing reactors. They don’t require reprocessing of uranium. They do not and cannot ‘melt down’. One could use the waste heat from these plants to do flash distillation of water and their pollution footprint is a tiny fraction of that of coal or fossil NG. Potentially, we could run whole fleets of electric vehicles from power sources like this, store the power overnight in pumped hydro storage and cut our emissions from stationary energy and transport energy supply to near zero — and at a fraction of the installed cost per KwH of solar panels or wind or solar thermal, and if a proper price is ever put on coal waste, then a fraction of that too.

    At the same time, I am a realist. Whatever we do, we pretty much have to do it right now and if the Australian public isn’t right now ready to include nuclear in the mix, then I see only negative value in arguing the toss for the next decade. Let us settle on something coal-free that pretty much everyone can live with right now and then if attitudes change ten years from now — whatever we say nuclear technology will continue to develop — then we can revisit the question.

  18. joe2

    Good on you Elise. While I also realise this is a bit O/T, to follow up on what may be done at an individual level- even if some just love to poo-poo such efforts – do not forget that Home Sustainability Assessments are now available free of charge. One may also be eligible for a Green Loan of up to 10 grand.


  19. Elise

    DD @ 16, you are forgetting that we have “the Saudi Arabia of gas” on our NW Shelf, coal seam methane on the east coast, and gas from Bass Strait.

    We have the means to replace the coal stations with much more efficient gas turbines, in a very short timeframe.

    Nuclear is NOT the “only proven technology” DD. Don’t overstate your case.

    Nuclear energy has a footprint too, just not a carbon one. The nuclear waste footprint is rather more permanent and irretrievable, once it is produced.

  20. Peter


    If you want to sit there and believe that your only energy use is household, then be my guest.

    As for solar, we would be broke before we got anywhere enough solar power built to provide reliable power. I *really* wish it wasn’t true, having followed solar power for 40 years, but wishing won’t change that reality.

    If it really was just a matter of putting 6 solar panels on everyones roof do you seriously think anyone would be opposed? I’d do it in a flash.

    We also changed virtually all our bulbs to (ugly) cfl and haven’t noticed *any* change in our consumption.

  21. Elise

    Peter @20, “If it really was just a matter of putting 6 solar panels on everyones roof do you seriously think anyone would be opposed? I’d do it in a flash.

    We also changed virtually all our bulbs to (ugly) cfl and haven’t noticed *any* change in our consumption.”

    I would suggest that you haven’t really been trying all that hard.

    “…we would be broke before we got anywhere enough solar power…”

    Speaking for the minute about household consumption and solar power, we started out with an electricity consumption of about 16 – 18 kWh/day. After our various efficiency efforts it was down to about 12 – 14 kWh/day.

    Then we installed the 6 solar panels. They generated 6 – 9 kWh/day (winter and summer figures). Over the period of one year, our nett electricity imported is 6 kWh/day average. The rest is generated by those 6 little panels.

    If we had another 6 panels, Synergy might not make any money from us at all? :)

  22. Tim Macknay

    As pointed out, indirectly, by Elise above, the most effective way to reduce emissions immediately and in the short term is through efficiency. Contra Peter, there is scope for very signficant savings across the economy because Australian industry, by and large, has not adopted efficiency measures even where they are economically beneficial(see the Howard Govt’s 2004 energy white paper). The ongoing emission reductions that can be achieved through an efficiency drive, coupled with a short-to-medium term replacement of coal with gas for electricity generation (as well as an increase in renewables), means that it is likely to be at least a decade before we need to reconsider whether to adopt the nuclear option.

    The idea that nuclear energy can be a short-term option for emissions reduction is utter rubbish, as has been pointed out many times on LP and elsewhere.

    And as for this – “people have been mucking about with solar for decades, and it’s still not looking viable” – surely you can raise the standard of discussion above that, DD. Excrable.

  23. Elise

    Fran @17: “Potentially, we could run whole fleets of electric vehicles from power sources like this, store the power overnight in pumped hydro storage and cut our emissions from stationary energy and transport energy supply to near zero…”

    You lost me there, Fran. Why would we need pumped hydro storage, if we had nukes?

  24. Tim Macknay

    I crossed over the last few comments.

    Elise, what’s your source of home heating? We have a wood-fired heater, which makes a huge difference to our winter electricity consumption. I get the fuel from pruning pickups around my suburb, mostly. Since space and water heating are the biggest domestic energy gobblers, with a wood heater and solar hot water system you might be able to get your imported electricity down to zero without those extra panels. :)

  25. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Why would we need pumped hydro storage, if we had nukes?

    We could make even better use of the surplus power, have fewer nukes, so it would cost us less.

    Also, pumped hydro storage enables us to use all energy in the system morfe efficiently by acting as a “bank” for intermittents and oether capacity such as coal, which will be about for some time, given that it would take some time to build IFRs and LFTRs even if we started tomorrow. We could almost immediately start cutting emissions, so this meets the right now standard.

    The pumped storage could be built alongside local water treatment, so we get dual functionality and require water to be pumped shorter distances, saving energy.

  26. Danny

    Elise (12) “Where is our “man on the moon” motivating mission statement from our fearless leaders?” …

    Christine Milne is the closest we’ve got. (Video of Press Club speech 17/06/09) …

    “This is a cultural problem… It is the values that we bring to bear, what we think is good for us, our religious underpinnings, our view of power and opportunity, of what is possible in the world and Australia’s place in it. All these value judgements stop us from embracing change. Machiavelli understood human nature when in the 15th Century, he said ‘It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things …. ‘

    Twenty years ago, when I first ran for Parliament in Tasmania, I was the only candidate to have a mobile phone and it took up half my car! It was only in the second half of the 1990s that mobiles and email really took hold, with Australian early adopters leading the charge. Our lives have been utterly reshaped by these technologies. Ten years from infancy to such ubiquity that we can scarcely remember what it was like before they ruled our lives!

    In 1961 as an eight year old girl, I remember sitting by the wireless on a dairy farm in north west Tasmania, listening to President Kennedy promise that, within a decade, America would put a man on the moon and bring him home safely. Kennedy said:
    ‘I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to ensure their fulfilment. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon – if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.’

    Kennedy didn’t promise to get halfway to the moon, let alone 5 to 25% of the way there. He didn’t promise to put a man on the moon if the economic modelling looked okay. Instead he captured the imagination, and drove the creativity and innovative spirit of not only his own country, but of a whole generation who came to believe that anything is possible. And, sure enough, I remember as a16 year old at boarding school in Hobart watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. The belief that anything was possible was a gift to my generation.

    A self interested failure of imagination, courage and leadership characterises the political and business establishment in this country. So, it is the job of those who are currently lukewarm defenders of the future, to get over fear or timidity and to move to red hot advocacy; to get behind the community and the Greens in changing the culture, in selling the dream.

  27. Tim Macknay

    Fran, pretty much the whole of Australia’s hydroelectric potential is already developed, apart from a couple of rivers in Southwest Tasmania – good luck damming those. If you’re talking about offshore pumped hydro, and I’m not convinced the economics of offshore schemes stack up.

  28. Tim Macknay

    That should read ‘unless’ you’re talking about offshore pumped hydro. Sorry.

  29. Peter

    Well Elise, you must live where the sun always shines. I got a quote earlier this year for a 1Kw system – including a 1 hour consultation , to take advantage of the various incentives on offer. For Canberra, it was a joke. The $15000 1Kw system would provide, on average, 4Kw hours of electricity per day. At retail that is 60cents worth – about $200 per year. The whole thing was such a mind boggling doonboggle that I didn’t have the heart to rip my fellow taxpayer off for the $9000 subsidy I would have got.

    It got worse, because I would have been able to sell the power to my fellow citizens at 4 times the retail rate, probably 8 times the wholesale rate, and guaranteed for 20 years, to boot. This is the ‘viability’ that Tim is talking about I guess.

    And if you think I’m wrong, there is a small 55Kw solar farm in nearby Queanbeyan. Its average power is 13% rated capacity. Sometimes it gets down to 0.2% (and yes, that decimal point is correct).

  30. Tim Macknay

    Presumably it gets down to 0.2% at night, Peter. Funnily enough, the post is about thermal storage for solar power stations, designed to rectify that kind of problem.

    As for “viable”, of course the intermittency of solar power is a major obstacle to its widespread adoption, which is why technological developments such as the one’s referenced in Robert’s post are so important.

    And the discussion of the costs is a red herring – the fact that solar is much more expensive than coal is hardly a revelation. All low-emission energy technologies, including nuclear, are much more expesnive than coal. That’s why we’re still using so much coal.

    Nuclear may well be required as a part of Australia’s energy mix in the future, but in my view it’s too early to tell. Whatever happens, nuclear won’t be a part of our short-term emissions reduction strategy, because it will take at least a decade for the first power reactors to be built, and that is assuming there are no hickups with skills shortages, etc. A lot can happen in a decade – for example, solar thermal with storage could become economically viable. Given the scale of investments in California, it would be foolish to dismiss that possibility out of hand.

  31. Elise

    Tim @24, we have a gas heater in the living area, and small reverse-cycle, split-system aircons in the bedroom and study.

    Yep the hot water system is the next item after replacing our 17 year old car with an “ECO car”. Still an ICE engine (not many alternatives yet), but it will be a very light, small car with a lot of space for possible retrofitting with lithium batteries.

    We are hedging our bets for a possibility that the day comes when oil is in such short supply that it is stinking expensive (like $10/L) &/or rationed for government and military purposes.

    There is a wonderful new magazine called ECOCAR, which compares the efficiency of virtually all cars with 8 L/100km or less, together with a lot of driving reviews.

    The Red Book online and the Green Car Guide, have also been a really useful source of comparisons, in our hunt for something that will get us through the coming oil shortage, and until electric cars or Plug-In Hybrids with reasonable performance are available.

    I reckon we are collectively about to enter really “interesting times”, in the chinese meaning of the word.

    Most of us here will probably last to 2050 or close enough. If you think about it, by 2050 or before, we may well see the end of the oil era, the end of internal combustion engines, serious climate change, and massive changes in lifetime practices with energy production and consumption?

    We will hardly recognise the place by 2050! We will probably annoy the young’uns in 2050 with gratuitous comments about “back in my day…lived in a shoebox…” Monty Python style. 😉

  32. Robert Merkel

    dd, this isn’t your grandfather’s solar power plant.

    For one thing, it’s solar thermal not solar PV like we’ve been dicking around with for decades. There’s only been a couple of spurts of serious interest in solar thermal.

    For another, the energy storage technology is new (in that it’s never been deployed at anything like this scale before). Energy storage is the game-changer for renewable energy. In this case, it’s also cheap, a major advantage, and technically simple, another one.

    The further thing to note is that nuclear plants aren’t something you can call up Areva or Westinghouse and get installed overnight either. Even assuming we use existing technology, the things take, optimistically, 3 or 4 years to build, and the regulatory infrastructure to build the things would take several years to assemble even before you could start the approval process. Throw in another few years to deal with the political battles and 15 years have gone by.

    Small, factory-built modular nuclear plants would compress this timeline considerably, but as Huggybunny takes considerable pleasure in reminding me you can’t buy them, and you won’t be able to buy them for another 5-10 years.

    Realistically, if these solar plants work as planned – and the economics works when you build them ten times the size – there’s no reason why they couldn’t start constructing them in five years time.

    Even as somebody who thinks nuclear power gets a bad rap, and that we can’t rule out the need for it, solar thermal is a very promising technology that might be a realistic alternative in some cases, particularly in places like Australia with a huge amount of suitable, sun-drenched land for them.

  33. Peter

    Presumably it gets down to 0.2% at night, Peter

    No, its rated power for the day. It only happened a few times. Actually, from the graph it’s 0.8%, 4 times as much – whew!

  34. Tim Macknay

    Word, Robert.

  35. Elise

    Fran @25, I still don’t see what you are trying to achieve.

    Why would you use energy, with attendant losses, for pumped storage “…acting as a “bank” for intermittents and oether capacity such as coal, which will be about for some time”?

    It sounds like you have been listening to some nuclear lobby type who is trying to make a hybrid story to include a few renewables (as a sop to the Greens), while making their point that renewables are intermittent and nukes are baseload.

    Why build and operate a pumped storage facility, with attendant capex and opex, and inefficiencies, to run renewables alongside nukes?

    Either you buy the BS that nukes are the answer to our low carbon prayers or you don’t. If nukes are the answer, then renewables (solar, wind, etc) are obsolete. If nukes aren’t the answer, then don’t bloody bother with them in the first place.

  36. KeiThy

    RE: ‘Where is our “man on the moon” motivating mission statement from our fearless leaders?’,

    Elise @ 12: Al Gore did a speech circa 1 year ago mentioning that exactly this type of motivation was needed. His challenge was ten years! I forget the details!

  37. Tim Macknay

    0.8% is pretty unfortunate, Peter, I’ll grant you that.

    But in any case, I think Robert’s put it better than I did why solar thermal shouldn’t be written off.

  38. KeIThy

    derrida derider @ 16: Your only need would appear to be continuing to chase a blind wave of treasure! How important is it, really, to look more fashionable than the third world? Absolutely pathetic stuff from the Mc’free’ Mcmarket Mcliars pushing their McNuclear McPowered Mcneeds! Wake up the sheeple: the real terrorists are amongst us!

  39. Peter

    The graph I used to show the capacity factor of the Queanbeyan solar farm is here (Fig 7). It’s interesting to note that while the average capacity is about 14% of rated capacity, it can vary from under 1% to about 25% per day. Problem is there were a number of periods where capacity was down to 4% (<1/3 of average) for several days. There was also one period where there looks to be a number of consecutive 10 day periods where capacity drops to 1/2 of the average, at 6%.

    There is no way you can run an economy with that sort of reliability. How is a 15 hour backup going to cope with 10 day periods of half average power?

  40. KeIThy

    Peter, you have the right to question but if you try and shove an opinion down my countrys throat again you will eat dust everytime! Turnbull picked up very early that he would never be Prime Minister of Australia by harping on about the disingenious need for McNuclear McPower/McWaste whilst simultaneously running the line about Australia only being responsible for less than 2% of GHG emissions.

    You see….it’s a dead end pushing that barrow! [Bye Bye!]

  41. Elise

    Peter @ 29: “Well Elise, you must live where the sun always shines.”

    We live in Perth.

    You may find this insolation (sunshine kWh/m2/day) chart useful: http://www.apricus.com/html/insolation_levels_asiap.htm

    Unfortunately Canberra is not listed – they have the other capitals near the top of the chart. However, you could do a rough interpolation of insolation figures between Sydney and Melbourne. It should be around 4.5 kWh/m2/day yearly average, whereas Perth is 5.2 kWh/m2/day yearly average. You would have to install a 15% larger system I guess to get the same results, i.e. 7 panels instead of our 6 panels.

    Incidentally, that was a LOUSY quote you got for a 1 kW system.

    We installed 1.3 kW system, 6 of the highest efficiency panels on the market (SunPower), together with a high performance inverter (Fronius) rated for a future 12 panels, with uprated wiring and switches for a future 12 panels, and it only cost us $5,500 after the rebates.

  42. Peter

    joe2 @ 18

    do not forget that Home Sustainability Assessments are now available free of charge. One may also be eligible for a Green Loan of up to 10 grand.

    Can I ask a simple question? Why are so many people comfortable with idea of using scarce tax money to make themselves feel and look good at everyone else’s expense? The idea that these are ‘free’ is a joke.

    Elise @ 19

    Nuclear energy has a footprint too, just not a carbon one. The nuclear waste footprint is rather more permanent and irretrievable, once it is produced.

    This is plain wrong. Most nuke waste is no such thing. It is a valuable resource, containing over 99% of its original energy.

    As an aside: If we were smart we should offer OZ as a ‘dumping ground’ for all this so called waste. In 20 or 30 years we could sell it off as fuel. It will be worth incredibly serious money.

  43. Tim Macknay

    Peter, I just read your paper. I was a little disappointed in the total lack of references for your emissions figures.

  44. Elise

    Peter @42: “As an aside: If we were smart we should offer OZ as a ‘dumping ground’ for all this so called waste. In 20 or 30 years we could sell it off as fuel. It will be worth incredibly serious money.”

    If it was such a bloody good idea, then we would have a market of countries bidding for the right to store nuclear waste, wouldn’t we? From what I read, countries are desperate to get rid of it, by whatever means.

    So, umm, let me guess, you are the only really bright spark that has thought of this wonderful money-making opportunity?

    There is no point arguing further with you about solar energy. I told you the specs of the system we installed, and I told you the actual results we got from it. You want to cherry-pick solar data to suit your nuclear argument. So be it.

    Bottom line is that a 1.3 kW system cut our consumption of coal-fired electricity by about 50%.

    It has cut the actual electricity bills by even more than 50% thanks to “smart power” and feed-in rebate for solar @ peak rates.

    Costs come down as a function of cumulative production, whether you are talking about Model T Fords, PC’s, or solar panels:

    file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/HP_Owner/Local%20Settings/Temporary%20Internet%20Files/Content.IE5/OPWLLCT2/Sunpower%5B1%5D.ppt#290,4,Industry Overview

  45. Fran Barlow

    Tim [email protected]

    1. Australia’s pumped hydro potential is scarcely tapped. It’s true we have tapped most of the run of the river hydro (OK Ord River isn’t really tapped but no matter), but we haven’t retrofitted pumped storage to much of it.

    2. I was considering the possibility of building dedicated urban-based storage units as part of complexes to capture and use storm water and residential-commercial waste water, treat it and resupply it on demand while using the reserves to balance load. That way the infrastructure cost can be spread across water and power supply.

    For example …

    Based on pumped storage in Sydney being able provide on-demand capacity for a slew of about 5% for two hours in NSW (or the likely slew in any intermittent capacity, whichever was the greater) i.e. enough time to allow thermal capacity such as NG to be brought online and/or demand management to be implemented.

    Taking a figure for NSW of 15GW*0.05 = 150MW *2 hours = 300MwH …

    The Sydney area, for example comprises about 1600Km2. Assuming the creation of five pumped storage facilities each supplying treated water and/or power to the grid as required implies servicing an area each of about 320Km2 — an area covered roughly by a circle with a 10km radius. Given average population densities of about 30 persons per Ha each area would service somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million people. Note: These densities are much lower than ideal. While Hong Kong is much too densely populated at about 300 persons per Ha to be desirable, somewhere between 75 and 100 would probably be viable for low cost infrastructure … but I digress.

    Although you would, ideally choose locations as high as possible on stable ground in the relevant locality, given that you are going to need a low reservoir, one could simply achieve the difference in height one wanted by excavation. Assuming a 100 metre differential you’d need about 1.2 Gl of water stored or about 240ML capacity in each of the five locations. Each reservoir (upper and lower) would have to have a capacity of around 240,000m3. You could store a little more than that amount of water in a cylindrical vessel with a diameter of 86 metres and a height of 43 metres. Assuming the lower band of 800,000 people in a district and 2.4 per household that’s 333,000 households. Assuming usage of about 200Kl each per annum that’s 66,600,000kl or 66.6Gl per annum or 182.4Ml per day — which would be about 75% of the capacity of the reservoir to be pumped in a day. Given the elevation and the nature of the sites, it would probably make sense to locate wind turbines at these points. Given the likely strong winds, VAWT might well be apt.

    I should add that IMO the system should not merely or even mainly be reliant on the outflux of sub-potable water from households that have ultimately sourced that water from places like Warragamba. Instead, what I’d prefer to see is localised water collection from the rooves of residential, commercial and industrial buildings. At the moment, every serious rainstorm causes water to flood stormwater drains with debris and other plastic waste that either winds up in creeks or causes road hazards. Collecting this on rooves, doing basic primary filtration for PM locally, and then pumping that water to the local reservoir would not only massively reduce the call on the major dams, and abate environmental nuisance and road hazards but reduce the distance every cubic metre of supplied water was pumped, both at input to consumers and at outflow. We could radically cut effluent at ocean outfalls and save power and make it part of a system of localised power supply and storage that could lower the emissions intensity of our power grid. And of course, at higher densities and higher relative elevations, it would work even better.

    Of course, I haven’t included other locations in NSW where the same thing could be done. One could perhaps have them in the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Hunter Valley, Wollongong too. I wonder what use could be made of Bulli Pass? There’s an impressive elevation!

    Given that pumping and treating water is an essential function, the marginal cost is really only those portions that aren’t directly germane to supplying water service and effluent treatment. So the marginal cost of using a simple technology to store power at about 80% round trip efficiency would actually be pretty low. Placing them in coastal areas where rainfall is higher, improves practical output because precipitation adds to the upper reservoirs.

  46. carbonsink

    Rob @ 32:

    Most sensible thing you’ve said about nukes. Ever.

    Yes they make sense technically, but they’re politically impossible for the foreseeable future, so its pointless having the argument. We need to get on with promising renewables now, because (hopefully) no-one’s going to be marching in the streets against more renewable energy.

    Elise: From memory household energy use is about 20% of the total. By comparison, Alcoa’s two smelters in Victoria use 25% of the state’s generating capacity. Heavily subsidised by the state govt natch.

  47. Peter

    Elise @ 41:

    You do realize, I hope, that 4.5Kw per day for a 1Kw system is worth what?, about 30 *cents* wholesale, per day. Retail I would save at the most 70 cents per day. About $250 per year. At the hugely subsidized rate of $5000 that you paid, that would be a 5% return. Now take in depreciation. The panels last about 20 years. Say 5% per year. 5% return minus 5% depreciation = 0. And that is at a *huge* subsidy.

    As for the quotes. I got two, one for $15,000 and the other was $17,000. All for 70 cents per day. I am sorry, but I call that a serious waste of money. If it makes you feel good, then fine. But at least do the math. And don’t forget to add the (what) 4 x power that you ‘use’ outside your home, that you conveniently forget to add in your ‘I cut my energy use by 50%’ bit.

    If you think you can run an economy with this sort of nonsense, well what can I say.

  48. Peter

    Elise @ 44:

    Other have suggested it ( sorry no link ). And I did say ‘if we were smart’.

    Re the attitudes to nukes here – just saying, but I sometimes reckon so called progressives are the most conservative people around. Your loss.

  49. Peter

    Tim @ 43:

    I agree – I tried to find the original but no luck. I presume Fig. 7 isn’t just made up though.

  50. Tim Macknay

    Peter, I’ve seen other comparisons that are broadly similar, at least regarding the comparisons between coal/coal with CCS and nuclear/wind/solar. There are others where the nuclear emissions profile is comparable to that of natural gas, and significantly higher than the renewables. I think nuclear’s emissions profile is very dependent on whether you include decommissioning and waste disposal emissions in the calculation. If you leave them out it looks a lot better.

    FWIW, I haven’t seen anyone on this thread claim that the economy could be run using solar PV alone.

    Fran, pumped storage systems require dedicated upper and lower reservoirs. Existing hydro schemes can’t all just be retrofitted and converted into storage systems. I don’t really understand the basis for your claim that run-of-river hydro is highly developed in Australia – as far as I’m aware, its use is confined to very small scale off-grid domestic applications.

    And maybe it’s the way you’ve described it, but I can’t quite see how the pumped storage system you propose for Sydney could work. How would the wastewater flows and windy periods be coordinated to ensure that the reservoirs are always full when the excess power is required? I just can’t see it, I’m afraid.

  51. steveh

    Robert – Beautifully stated!
    It really comes down to two things:
    1) Simplification (as they have done already)
    2) Scalability (distributed array vs large scale single unit)
    I’m still unsure about Nuke power – sorry peoples but it’s not just about negative reaction coefficients (void generated or otherwise) – still gotta deal with the residual heat…
    When it comes down to it stored energy is probably a large technical challenge we will have to face up to sooner or later. Better to grasp the nettle now…

  52. Elise

    Peter @47, how much did your car cost? How much does it cost to run? Would it be cheaper to get from A to B another way? What is the incremental return on the cost of your car versus driving something cheaper or riding a bike? What is the payback period? What cost base did you use, todays figures or those of the future? Have you made an attempt at a DCF calculation for the car? Is it a losing proposition?

    It amazes me that people who argue endlessly about making a good return on solar often spend vast sums on cars, stereo systems, kitchen renovations etc. I never hear the same investment arguments trotted out for these consumer goods.

    Carbonsink @46, Obviously we have some industries that are seriously heavy consumers of electricity. Perhaps we should all do nothing until these guys have pulled their weight?

    Come to think of it, China and the US are heavy emitters, so we should do nothing until they pull their weight too. Chinese households and businesses say that our households and businesses are heavier emitters, on a per capita basis, so they think we should pull our weight first. Oh great, I can see real progress here!

    There are several grounds for justifying household solar PV systems, which include: the expected cost of power for the next 20 years, the desire to limit any further expansion of coal-fired power due to capacity constraints, the desire to test and support the development of new technology, and the desire not to pollute the environment. The early Model T Ford was not a particularly cost-effective option either, but people were still willing to buy them.

  53. Salient Green

    In regards to the Queanbeyan solar PV farm, there are obviously some basic design problems there and it shouldn’t be used as any sort of standard for denigrating solar PV. For instance, what’s a solar farm doing next to a bloody great beautiful tree? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Queabeyan_Solar_Farm.jpg

    Are the panels suited for an area with more cloud, or more shade? (some types of PV work better in partial shade then others) Are the angles correct and can they be adjusted for different times of the year?

    Was the nameplate output used for bignoting the farm without regard to efficiency losses in the initial exposure to sun, (some panels lose a lot of efficiency initially before settling down) and losses to inverters, meters, wiring etc?

    While I think it’s important to encourage PV, household subsidies seem to have been a less effective way of doing that. And expensive. With 20/20 hindsight, a feedin tariff would have done a much better job, including the encouragement of solar thermal.

    Which brings us to the subject of this blog. Solar thermal has enormous potential which the two major parties have not supported in the most intelligent way they could have, even allowing for much of it being outside most people’s experience.

    I think that we could very soon be cooling our homes (and businesses) and chilling our food with solar thermal via Absorption Chilling technology, with some political will.

  54. philip travers

    After a number of years now of visiting any number of not well known speculative technologies on the Web,and there are a number of them,it is sort of silly of me to have overlooked much that hasn’t improved in Australia as basic electricity related infrastructure.I don’t mind people laughing at my ideas,I can only hope ,however they creep up on you when they seem totally removed from concentrated thought.I go past the standard electric power pole in the paddock every day,almost.I have a little book on making transformers.I have heard about the still operating telephony system of copper and waxed paper in the country areas of Australia..laugh I do.I see endless paper thrown away,I have seen copper wire used in transformers thrown away,I have laid on the grass looking up the length of the electric power pole.I have had a battery in my hand whilst doing so.Australians have some unique ceramic experts,,I have mentioned the Baghdad Battery of ancient Egyptian times,I laugh at my self.I see the electric power pole turning into storage batteries,and transformer capacitator,or more likely condensors…modern.But not even a usually game electronics expert here,takes the bloody hint.What is the capacity of the landline telephony system as continuous powering,volt wise,across what distance!?The advantage of the electric power pole being an elaborate form of storage of electricity is because ,even dogs cannot miss them.Come on someone think! What is really required to store useful electricity,if,the only option was to transform the power pole!? The first answer is theory,rather than necessity,then materials both still cheap plentiful,and a expertise to pack enough bite in where it is required.The poles remain both the strength and weakness of the grid system.Like humanity,they are getting old. I need someone to take a journey through limited necessity,give it to maybe students, to frighten themselves,with what really makes a practical design.Dear old limitation by necessity.And what does it take to wind copper wire around waxed paper in layers along the length of a whole erect power pole and finally cover it with a practical ceramic material cover!? Ok! A crazy schemozzle without technical details,but,if some of you knew your stuff,it isn’t a laughing matter,unless by sheer joy,you said ,yeah,let’s do it…even as art.Or you could talk to that Tesla fellow from W.A. whom seems not to fear much,except not achieving what he set out to do by some simple oversight.Well!Go and have a look at a power pole,and forget it could catch on fire..that is a non issue.

  55. Fran Barlow

    At the moment Tim we have to keep our baseload units going all night because it’s not schedule feasible to shut them down — so we hand out cheap off peak power when we should be selling at the actual cost. We could use pumped storage to suck up this excess and stop handing out cheap power at night, for example.

    I was looking at covering only 5% slews because I was only wanting to cover intermittents and standard redundancy, but you could obviously build them a lot larger. With greater population density and better rooftop capture you could grab a lot of storm water. If anything I rather suspect we’d have too much water to hold rather than too little

  56. Salient Green

    Distilled Phillip Travers #54, mostly self indulgent musings but also, necessity is the mother of invention which we must never forget.
    Also, what to do with all those power poles? He is suggesting some sort of storage device, which has merit, and I have seen an idea for wind turbines on every pole.

    Hey Phillip, what’s your occupation and age if it’s not too much too ask?

  57. Bingo Bango Boingo

    “Unless we are up at the forefront we will have to watch it developed overseas and then buy it in.”

    Is this really a problem? It is far more important to have an economy set up to implement and embed the best technology rather to have an economy that is able to invent it, as we Australians have learnt over the course of the ICT revolution.


  58. Fran Barlow

    We ought to be progressively undergrounding power poles, SG

  59. Fran Barlow

    Forgive me … forgot Poe’s Law …

    undergrounding the power cables (and data)

  60. nasking

    Useful post Robert. The Spanish solar ventures are well worth looking into.

    As for nuke plants, I think we Aussies might want to think very very carefully about introducing more potential toxins & such into this country considering the amount of people whose health has been devestated by asbestos (see 7:30 Report last two nights).

    There are those who will put profits & share ownership as their top priority when considering energy innovation…and the long-term health of the nation, including environment, comes a sorry second or less.

    As for wood-fired heaters, I love ’em…but unfortunately another problematic source of heat considering how many people have breathing problems in close & more than close proximity. Neighbours can feel like they’re being asphyxiated on a nightly basis. The cost to our healthcare departments must be enormous.

    Plenty of people choking, coughing in this country.

    Good points too Elise. And useful link from joe2 at comment #18.


  61. John D

    [email protected]: thanks for the solar insolation data. Just reinforces the idea that solar makes more sense the further north and inland you get. The figures are striking. Supports the logic of using solar thermal augmentation of existing Qld power stations. It has the attraction of using existing generators, power stations that are not too far away from gas lines and low variation in insolation with time of year.

    In the short term, storage is not an overwhelming issue since there will be plenty of surplus dirty electricity to fill in the gaps. Clean power sources with predictable outputs will have a better fit with existing dirty power sources.

    Storage is part of the answer to variability but a lot can also be acheived by manipulating power draw. There is potential to manipulate the power draw for fidges, freezers, heating, cooling etc particularly if we make sensible use of thermal inertia. Ditto for many industrial processes including aluminium production.

    Rooftop solar is going to get much cheaper over time. A key advantage of rooftop is that it is a robust source of power that does not depend on long power lines. Just about impossible for a bomb to wipe out the power supply.

  62. jane

    Elise @10, congratulations. If every household in the country did as yours has, even if it only amounted to 10% as Peter argues, it would still have a considerable impact on our footprint. Better a small reduction than none at all.

  63. Brian

    We last did nukes just over a month ago. Right at the end, about 10 days ago, there was an interesting comment by Luke Weston who seemed to know more than the average bloke about the subject.

    But let’s face it, it’s on the outer in Oz though in resurgence just about everywhere else, and would take a long time to realise.

    I recall in Christine Milne’s vision she said that all of Australia’s needs could be supplied by 25km squared of concentrated solar. But you do get cloudy days, sometimes in multiples, even in a desert, so you’d need to think carefully about backup, presumably gas for easier firing up. And that would cost.

    I also recall Huggy saying that new photovoltaic materials were going to be a game changer (see also John D above). One advantage is that you can still get something out of it without direct sunlight.

  64. carbonsink

    Barry Brook, James Hansen, and Lovelock are all nuclear converts. That’s pretty hard to ignore. That said, the political impossibility of getting a nuke approved in Australia remains, in the near term at least.

  65. steve from brisbane

    I have a question someone here might know the answer to. There are from time to time reports of newly efficient ways to create hydrogen from solar power, but none of them are commercial yet. These articles usually talk of the hydrogen being used for transport purposes (perhaps in fuel cell powered vehicles.) However, I don’t recall reading the suggestion that solar power stations could make and store their own hydrogen to burn when the sun is not shining. (Maybe molten salts alone is OK for your average night, but if you have many overcast days, something has to keep the salts melted.) Is there a reason using on-site created hydrogen that way would never work. Eg does the amount you would need to burn to generate enough temperature just mean it would never be viable? Just wondering…

  66. nasking

    Brian, useful links…I’m no Luddite when it comes to energy sources, i’m more concerned about a rush to build reactors early in the piece when we might wait on more intensive tests of the existing fast reactors. I’m not too sold on the researchers coming outa the Bush era if ya get what I mean. Considering the BS we got from Global Warming critics & the Iraq War…sure, I know there are many researchers w/ integrity…but I’m hoping for a more INTENSE public debate & investigation by doco-makers etc.

    Surely we can afford to wait for the bringing on-line of the Generation IV reactors. Considering the potential of other alternative sources in this country.

    And focus on what it will actually entail to build nuke reactors, including availability and safety of minerals etc. used to construct them.

    I guess this goes for solar panels as well…re: aluminium and so on.

    Certainly the expansion of coal mining is problematic from a toxin-related perspective…I’m all for nuclear reactors down the road if it reduces exposure to toxic minerals related to intensive coal mining…but will it? Or does the MINING of uranium add other problematics including those toxins involved w/ extraction processes and leaching etc.

    I noticed someone mentioned Thorium. I’m sure some Lib was going on about such on Lateline lately. Have you discussed this?

    Having watched so many nations bullied into swallowing toxic goods by shareholders/corporate aristocrats & their enabling media, I guess i’d like to see the energy debate focus as much on toxicity levels and the cost to health, including the long-term cost to health departments and individuals…as well as the energy benefits. Security of resources & their availability long-term are also important.

    Knowing you lot on here you’ve already delved into such tho…:)


  67. Brian

    nasking, I tend to agree with you about 4G nuclear, but I’m not all that technically literate, so I wouldn’t take too much notice of me!

  68. nasking

    Sorry, meant Robert.

    I might add Brian, I find reading thru yours & robert’s posts and other posts/comments on this blog certainly makes things clearer for me. Sometimes I think politicians & the mainstream media go out of their way to make issues foggy.


  69. Fran Barlow

    Steve from Brisbane said:

    However, I don’t recall reading the suggestion that solar power stations could make and store their own hydrogen to burn when the sun is not shining. (Maybe molten salts alone is OK for your average night, but if you have many overcast days, something has to keep the salts melted.) Is there a reason using on-site created hydrogen that way would never work.

    There are a couple of feasibility issues

    1. technical

    Storing H2 is hard because it is the slippriest of all the elements and can penetrate the tiniest of spaces, so the containment must be very robust (and thus expensive)

    It also embrittles metals

    It requires lots of energy to electrolyse water. Electrolysing somthing like urea would be a lot less energy intensive but how do you get enough urea (or water near where there is a CSP? Maybe if you had one connected to a sewage plant?

    How much surplus is there anyway?

    2. Cost benefit

    Hydrogen powered generators would add a lot to the expense — not as much as high temperature fuel cells of course, but still a lot.

    Overall, not the silliest of ideas, but not a gimme either.

  70. Peter

    Brian @ 63:

    I think you will find Milne actually said 50Km x 50km which is 2500 Km squared. That seems rather high as does your figure seem a bit low.

    Going by the Torresol figures my back of the envelope calculation comes out to:

    2 Km2 per 25000 homes (from Torresol) or roughly 50,000 people. This comes to about 800Km2. (20M/50,000 * 2Km2).

    This is of course for household use only. Which is 20% (roughly) of actual use.

    It is also over 1 million heliostats.

    Do we really want to go there?

  71. Peter

    Jane @ 62:

    Elise @10, congratulations. If every household in the country did as yours has, even if it only amounted to 10% as Peter argues, it would still have a considerable impact on our footprint. Better a small reduction than none at all.

    No it wouldn’t. 8 million homes x $10,000 ( and I am being very generous here) is 80 Billion. This is to provide 50% – again I am being generous – of household power. Which is only a small fraction of total power used. And it is totally unreliable, to boot.

    If it was so great people would install it without a subsidy, and if everyone did it, what is the point of the subsidy?

  72. Fran Barlow

    Nasking above said:

    Certainly the expansion of coal mining is problematic from a toxin-related perspective…I’m all for nuclear reactors down the road if it reduces exposure to toxic minerals related to intensive coal mining…but will it? Or does the MINING of uranium add other problematics including those toxins involved w/ extraction processes and leaching etc.

    As noted, thorium is a possible alternative to uranium but even in the case of uranium, the primary purpose of Olympic Dam is to get copper — with uranium as a valuable bonus. managing tailings is a serious issue, but as with all pollution the question always is — to what extent are toxics kept away from us humans. It’s much harder to keep coal combustion toxics away from humans than uranium oxide toxics. Coal mining also shortens the lives of coal miners whereas uranium mining (being open cut) is far safer for coal miners. Nuclear is also a lot easier on CO2 as well. The IFR burns existing waste so it doesn’t require more uranium mining.

    So while nuclear has some serious issues to deal with, I would say that all things considered it’s way ahead of coal, most of the time. Given that there is a limited amount of demand for energy, and the serious upfront cost of building nukes, any nuke plant is going to have to displace other plants of equal output — and in Australia these are mainly coal plants.

    Of course coal will still be needed for steel making and Australia will continue to export the stuff, but overall, this will be true.

  73. Elise

    Peter @70, you don’t say what assumptions you used for your “back of envelope” calculation. How do you arrive at 2 km2 for 25,000 homes?

    If we assume insolation of 5 kWh/m2/day, about 15 kWh/day household consumption, and 20% efficiency for the solar panels, then my back of the envelope calculation for 25,000 homes is 0.375 km2.

    That is a HUGE difference from your figure of 2 km2. Did I miss something?

  74. Peter

    Elise @ 73:

    Yes you did. The Terresol website says 185 hectares (1.8Km2) for 25,000 homes. I imagine the difference is you are using PV (and your calcs look to be correct) while they are using concentrating solar.

  75. Fran Barlow

    This story about small scale nuclear power units was on late Night Live with Philip Adams last night.

    Here are some links to discussion over the Integral Fast Reactors at Barry Brook’s site.

    Again, as I said above, I think discussion of nuclear in an Australian context is moot on political grounds, but it is interesting and we might as well know what it is that is not feasible here.

  76. Peter


  77. Peter


    If you are interested in Thorium, I thoroughly recommend the Energy From Thorium blog. As an example check out his comparison between thorium and the Cameron LNG Terminal. 600,000 cubic meters of LNG vs 140Kg of thorium (size of basketball). Or as a commenter pointed out 53 million dollars worth of LNG vs 16 thousand dollars.

    When you think about how much fuel an individual uses in a lifetime, their share of that basketball is going to be pretty small. My back of envelope calc works out (for household only) at:

    Say $1000 per person per year for electricity = $80,000 per lifetime.
    53 million / 80,000 = 1/600 of that LNG supply over a lifetime.
    = 1/600 of that 140Kg of thorium per lifetime.
    = roughly 1/4 kilo of waste (assuming that 140Kg was all turned to waste which of course it isnt).

  78. kEITHY

    Carbon Sink @ 64: …but do they say that Australia needs it? Big difference between what the overpopulated need and Australia- with more sunlight per capita than most- needs! The metrosexual ex-John-Howard Party voters will never tell you that and it gets them everytime: they get so angry and you can see the self-hate that the average Labor vote previously had! Markets exploit resources and if this just happens to be mass ignorance then the ‘free’ market liars will, of course, exploit it! DON’T GO TO SLEEP OR FREDDY, THE METROSEXUAL LIBERAL VOTER, (AND HIS DAD) WILL GET YOU!

  79. KeithY

    Steve @ 65: you should ask the people at Dr Karls Self Service Science Forum! You may get an answer or you may just get something to do with cricket!

  80. Peter

    So kEITHY,

    You’re quite happy with 800 Km2 ( highly optimistic ) of concentrating solar in OZ? For maybe 20% of our needs?

    Can’t see it happening myself.

  81. Fran Barlow


    I’ve been interested in thorium for a couple of years now and am familiar with a number of the thorium blogs, including this one. It seems to me that opposition to nuclear power using thorium in sub-critical reactors is even less well-founded than opposition to uranium as a fuel for nuclear power.

    OTOH I’d hate this to become a new ideological battleline in the way of development of near zero net CO2 energy. If most people/enough people don’t like nuclear, while I think that’s unfortunate (because it seems to me that this is almost certainly (after energy efficiency, avoiding wasteful energy usage) the lowest levelized cost per KwH solution way of reducing emissions of all pollutants) it’s not a deal breaker for me. It’s more important that we act now, even if for cultural reasons we decide to do it a harder way. I happen to think we should strongly advocate other suitable countries replace their coal fired with the best nuclear technology available, because if we do, that in itself will progressively undermine opposition here.

    So with that in mind, I too would be relaxed about having about 800km2 (or even 5 times that much and area) of CSPs around the country. The larger figure (4000Km2) is still only a square with 63km sides — about half the size of Sydney. Distributed about the country in 25 different locations you could have have circular arrays each with a radius of 7.13km. Not large and reduces the probability of cloudiness spoiling the total output. You could arrange them east to west to extend the time between the first collecting sunlight and the last stopping. These would have significant spin off benefits for regional employment.

  82. Martin B

    you should ask the people at Dr Karls Self Service Science Forum!

    No need, I’ll come to you 😉

    Is there a reason using on-site created hydrogen that way would never work.

    Actually there are some pilot projects looking at on-site hydrogen storage.

    But mainly it is just that Hydrogen storage is less efficient than other techniques. The advantage of Hydrogen is that it is portable, so potentially useful for transport. But this isn’t an issue with on-site systems so it’s generally better to go for a higher-efficiency storage system.

  83. Elise

    Peter @70, I really don’t see the point in using remote solar generation for households, rather than rooftop PV system.

    However, accepting the idea of solar thermal as per the Spanish model, then I would challenge your numbers. According to the 2008 Edition of The Economist “Pocket World in Figures” Spain has the same average number of people per household as Australia, namely 2.7. Incidentally, they have almost double the number of households @ 15.2 million compared with our 7.5 million.

    Therefore the number should be (7.5 M/25,000)*1.85km2 = 555 km2.

    Granted that it is still a large number, but that is a HUGE difference to 800 km2.

    Why is it that people who rubbish solar energy persist in shoddy calculations which exaggerate the cost and minimise the gains? Surely, if they had a water-tight case, then they would not need to resort to exaggeration and misrepresentation?

  84. Peter

    Well Fran, we’ll just have to disagree on the definition of ‘Not large’ I guess. I seriously doubt if we have the money, manpower or even industrial capacity to get anywhere near that amount in any reasonable time frame.

  85. Elise
  86. nasking

    Correction from #60: “devestated by asbestos” should be “devastated by asbestos”…crikey, the daily rags have come in useful for once.

    Thnx for the feedback & links Fran.

  87. Peter

    Oh come on Elise – I said back of envelope. If you want to be really picky I also rounded 1.85 Km2 up to 2 as well. Thats what a BOE calculation is, some things get rounded up and other things get rounded down so you can do the calculation in your head.

    As for roof top vs large field, simple economics will show you that if you really insist on going down this route the large field is much more efficient, if not just for the inverters.

    Since you are being so picky I should also point out that *your* calculation of .3Km2 per 25,000 people totally ignores access (if centralized).

  88. Elise

    Peter, it is amazing that your “roundings” always seem to result in worse outcomes, for both household solar PV systems and CSP solar thermal.

    Pure coincidence, I suppose?

  89. steve from brisbane

    Thanks for the comments on my previous question.

    Now on the politics raised here: I must say I am somewhat puzzled with the attitude that seems to be “sure, we know nuclear would be good, but we may as well forget it as we can’t get it through politically in the foreseeable future.”

    Seems a very defeatist attitude towards changing Labor Party policy from a bunch of people who are (I presume) Labor supporters! Of course, you’ll never get the Greens on side, but if you actually had Labor policy change you’re not going to have a problem with the conservative side of politics. That would then render Green control of the Senate irrelevant.

    So the crux of the matter is getting Labor to accept the inevitable sooner rather than later. What percentage of sensible Labor Party members do you need before they’ll have the temerity to challenge Labor policy on this?

  90. Elise

    Interesting summary of cost trends for solar energy:


    The last 2 paragraphs are interesting, and especially this comment:

    “Boston-based solar consultants Photon Consulting expects solar production in Spain, a key European solar energy market, to fall to 10 cents/kwh in 2010 — roughly the same as the cost of building a new coal-fired plant.”

  91. Fran Barlow

    I have to say [email protected] that I’m not a fan of PV. I just can’t see that most of the time it gives a sufficient bang for the buck. It’s also not useful for anyone (like me) who is renting and if we are talking public money (subsidy or feed-in tariff) I don’t agree that this is money well spent, most of the time.

    If you had $AUS8 billion of public money to spend on the capital cost of renewables (a million households * $8000 each) would you really want to spend much of it on PV? I don’t think so. You say it’s going to fall substantially in real terms in cost, but if that’s so, that’s an argument for paying later rather than now — and let’s not forget that much of the cost is going to be in installation and maintenance.

    I’d much sooner spend large bits of this money on supplying power to everyone regardless of whether they are tenants or householders or people manufacturing building materials. Even at your post rebate cost of $5500 for 1.3Kw this still works out at 2.5 times the installed cost per rated capacity of a typical commercial-scale wind turbine. Throw in the rebate and its even worse. And lets not forget that the wind turbines installed cost typically involves payments for easements on rural land — money that goes back into rural communities.

    There are some good applications for PV — isolated locations that aren’t close to the grid and where there’s not a lot of useful wind, but this is really a niche technology.

    That said, the stuff on CSP is encouraging.

  92. Fran Barlow

    If we have the money and manpower, [email protected], to spend 25-40 billion replacing a bunch of submarines (and let’s not forget all those displaced car workers) then I’d say we can afford 4000Km2 of CSPs, esepcially since this bolsters rural employment.

    I’m not actually suggesting this by the way. I’m sure there are better things (even excluding nuclear) to do with the resources implied. Geothermal is obviously something that needs work as well.

  93. KeithY

    Peter@ 80: Blood oath I am, it’s better than selling your soul to bury the worlds Nuclear Waste: who’s benefitting from that?!? If Thorium comes to the fore then it’s a different kettle of fish but that’s relatively hypothetical misdirection at it’s most insane. The whole reason the ‘conservatives’ are breaking apart is because they won’t stick to a subject and consequently only deliver garbled and unclear messages! If it sounds like snake oil………….

  94. Elise

    Fran @91, Would you be more of a fan of household PV if your landlord installed it on your building?

    What if it became part of the building code for all buildings, not just a select few as you have complained?

    Would people be in favour of negligible power bills for the next 20 years, regardless of rising carbon Tax/ETS charges? Especially once they are retired? 😉

    “let’s not forget that much of the cost is going to be in installation and maintenance.”

    I would have said that the curious characteristic of household PV is that it is all CAPEX, and no OPEX.

    There are no fuel costs, obviously, since noone owns the supply of sunlight. That is quite significant and unusual for power generation. A similar low-OPEX, long life characteristic may well apply to CSP (Solar Thermal) also.

    I doubt this characteristic would please the mining companies, since coal and uranium sales are nice little earners.

    When we are comparing power generation alternatives, the cost of coal-fired power and nukes must carry the lifecycle cost of their waste management. That is, respectively CCS for coal-fired power, and nuclear waste storage and decommissioning for nuclear power plants.

    At the moment, it appears that the coal and nuclear lobbies compare solar CAPEX costs against only their current OPEX costs, excluding depreciation/replacement costs and waste management costs. Given that the incumbent power plants are long in the tooth, I think that is not a reasonable basis, going forwards.

    Do you know of a decent comparison of all alternatives, which properly reflects the full costs?

  95. KeitHY

    “Free” market liars make for interesting times, eh?!?

  96. Peter

    Keithy @ 93: I know you are being wilfully unable to accept some simple facts, but I didn’t suggest we bury ‘it’. I suggested we get paid gobs of money to store it and then in 20 or 30 years resell it as very valuable fuel. Your comment over at the other nuke thread shows that you are completely unable to understand simple nuclear processes. To call this stuff waste after being informed that it can in fact be used as fuel is to show an ignorance and unwillingness to face even a simple truth.

    Now whether this should, or should not be done, is a different question but at least get your facts right.

  97. Peter

    KeitHY @ 95:

    You *are* aware that a market is nothing more than a convenient name for individuals acting in their own capacity as free agents, I hope? Judging by your other comments I suspect this is beyond you as well.

  98. KeitHY

    Yeh, Peter: whatever dood!

  99. John D

    My guess at this stage is that PV has far greater potential to reduce costs/kWh than solar thermal. The following two links talk about rooftop panels costing a tenth of what they are now. low cost PV1 and low cost PV solar thermal is not as likely to advance so dramatically but it does have the advantage of much lower cost energy storage unless there is a real breakthrough in electricty storage. (Yes Fran, know about pumped but there is a shortage of really good sites with plenty of water.)

    With nuclear we should be putting a low key effort into setting the regulations so we can move if gen 4 or thorium prove to live up to the claims.

  100. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Fran, Would you be more of a fan of household PV if your landlord installed it on your building? What if it became part of the building code for all buildings, not just a select few as you have complained?

    No, because this would either have to be subsidised by the state at great expense (and even the tax deduction is a great expense) and/or we would hear screaming from landlords that would make us beg for Rudd’s crappy CPRS. There’s no getting away from the installed cost Elise.

    Let’s not forget also that houses are regularly torn down and rebuilt and a good many would have to have trees removed to make the PV feasible. And what happens during any hail storm?

    You mention also the lifecycle waste costs of uranium, but what of the landfill from PV when it finally is retired? The sheer mass of that utterly dwarfs the amount of waste from uranium. You mention fuel beiung a ‘nice little earner’ but at least as far as uraniumj is concerned prices have stayed low and this has resulted in quite modest exploration — Red Book for the last five years has not exceeded 82% of projection IIRC, and if it was as nice an earner as that, it surely would have. The IFR would be good for those paying to store waste but it would do nothing for those trying to sell uranium either because it doesn’t demand new uranium.

    As to some sort of total costs of ownership comparison, site costs are so various that it’s hard to imagine there could be a robust one comparing all everywhere. If the nuclear industry can engineer a modular design that can be rolled out everywhere and built to spec on site (some say the AP1000 may be this) then the costs would obviously decline. But allowing rthe installed cost of nuclear power produced by Duke Energy of about $US2500 per Kw (which is almost certainly on the high side since the US government chips in …) you could get about 25*1GW plants for about $US62.5 billion (roughly $AUD80billion) Of course if you were building 25 they’d work out cheaper.

    Using your figures for PV and without the subsidy you could get a tiny fraction of that capacity for the same money — allowing $8000 and lower CF probably less than 10% of that

  101. Elise

    Fran, you are assuming that the entire Aussie household population will face today’s cost of installing solar PV and that the subsidy will be in place for the entire rollout.

    Check the trends, and the link provided by John D @99. The cost will reduce considerably over the next few years.

    The entire US population did not pay the initial cost price for Model T Fords. They dropped in price to one third of the initial price over a very short period of time.

  102. Peter

    Elise @ 101:

    From the quotes I was given, the panels themselves could actully have been free and it still wasn’t worth it. I know you won’t believe me but I got quite excited before the quotes, after, not so much. Now granted there would have been a fair bit of price escalation due to a rush to get the grant but I recall in both cases the installation and inverter and various other fees amounted to nearly $5000. We have a flat roof so there was a $700 extra charge for the frame it that. From memory we were told to expect about 4.5 Kwh per day from our 1Kw panels. The wholesale value of this power is what? 10 – 20 cents? Retail maybe 60. So the value of this power was somewhere between 50 cents and $3.00 per day. It almost made sense with all the guaranteed buyback of power etc. but it was pretty marginal considering we’ll probably move within 5 years.

  103. Wozza

    The main thing that stands out from this thread, to someone reviewing it having come in very late, is that Peter is producing figures which no-one has successfully challenged, and most others are producing rhetoric and pious hopes. On the basis of this debate, solar thermal loses by a knock out.

    As Robert made clear right at the beginning, these are demonstration scale plants, it will be years before their performance even in those terms can be judged, and their scaleability to commercial size and costs of commercial size plants are unknown. And some people want to leap on this technology and run with it now?

    Rather amusingly, some of those some people argue simultaneously as one part of their case against nuclear that it is a problem that fourth generation nuclear generators are not up and running yet. Guys, there isn’t even a first generation solar thermal/storage plant up and running yet.

    And on that, what BBB said back at 57. First mover advantage is almost always a myth. The first mover has all the problems and costs of eliminating bugs and getting the technology to a cost competitive stage. Many times they don’t. Far better to buy in when the technology is proven and de-bugged, and costs per plant have come down.

  104. nasking

    “From the quotes I was given, the panels themselves could actully have been free and it still wasn’t worth it”

    In case of a full scale war…or other full-bore tragic events…a form of energy independence is always worth it.


  105. Moz

    [email protected]: Peter’s numbers for the earning value of rooftop PV are solid, yes. But he is quietly comparing the cost of an installed, paid-for coal plant vs a brand new shiny PV system. That’s where retail power prices come from. But I think he’s using the wrong numbers anyway.

    Building new generation now (which is what buying a rooftop PV system is), is all about future costs. You can’t go back and sell the new electricity in last year’s market. So the relevant comparison is the capital cost of competing systems, including future liabilities. So you count the cost of recycling/disposing of the solar PV system, just as you count the cost of emission permits for the coal plant and the cost of waste disposal for the nuclear plant. You also have to count grid expansion for the non-local generators. This is where PV starts to come close to the competition. Not competitive, but closer. It’s only a partial solution, but a good partial solution. Even with a tiny battery (to run the fridge and 10W of lights overnight), if most houses had one we could use the existing grid even with a 25%-50% increase in population density. That’s a significant saving.

    Personally I’m going half way with Elise – we’ve cut our household consumption to the point where further cuts would be tricky, and we already have the most efficient transport we can get (bicycles, walking and PT) so buying an electric car would dramatically increase both the cost and environmental impact of our transport. If everyone followed our consumption patterns we’d be able to shut down the worst 10 coal plants and we’d have spare road space to run trams just about everywhere.

  106. Peter


    Most people don’t *want* to live like that, OK? At least be open and honest about the agenda of some of you here folks. There is no way most people will want to live with a battery and 10W light overnight. We don’t live in the third world and your insistence that we should will be met with derision.

    I am constantly amazed with environmental types who seem to be genuinely clueless re the requirements of a modern economy and the way people live. The absolute requirement for 100% reliable power, and vast gobs of it for a start. The idea that you can rearrange things on a whim to make them ‘more efficient’. That people can walk or ride a bike from A to B with the stuff they are shifting from A to B on their backs I presume. That people want to spend their entire lives taking 2 minute luke warm showers, with a bucket under their feet so they can then lug this water outside and water their organic veges. That *they* are better because they are more pious than the rest of us, having cut their energy use by 50% – by having their neighbour pay for most of it.

  107. Moz

    Peter, I’ve said before that we didn’t sit down in our mcmansion one night and decide to do everything at once. It wasn’t roast beef in front of the plasma tv on Sunday, vegan cooking with a good book from the library the next night.

    We started the way you and Elise did – getting free/subsidised CF lighting, turning things off, collecting greywater for the garden. Over time we’ve done more and more incrementally, and it’s only a shock to people who haven’t done it. The same shock we feel when we visit friends who do weird stuff like having two TVs on when no-one is watching them. Even just the noise is distracting if you’re not used to it. We actually flush our greywater down the toilet if that akes you happier – we carry it about 2m from the shower to the toilet. The second toilet runs off a rainwater tank just under the gutter next to it about 80% of the time. All you have to do is turn on the tap.

    With cars… I spent 20 years waiting for the time when I’d have enough spare money lying around to buy a car. It wasn’t poverty, I had purchased my third investment property by the time I realised that I would probably never feel that I needed a car enough to buy one. It’s much cheaper to get a taxi or hire car when I have to. Which I do, I spend about $50 or $60 a year on taxis. Riding a bicycle is actually … addictive? The convenience of going where I want to, when I want to and not paying through the nose every day is hard to switch away from. When I travel in cars I’m generally shocked and frustrated by the hassle of finding parking. With a bike I park right where I’m going (often locked to a parking meter :). And getting it repaired is a joke. A professional service once a year or whenever I have a problem is $200 at most, including parts and labour. What would that get a car driver? A quote?

    90% of the people I know could go quite happily with power for the fridge and a light overnight, but that would mean actually turning shit off when they’re not using it. Which is a bit of an effort. Too much of an effort when the money saved is utterly negligible as you keep pointing out with rooftop PV. But it adds up – many mcmansions pay $500/quarter for electricity, and that’s serious money.

    I’m not sure how our neighbours pay for most of this. Can you explain that one further?

  108. John D

    If you look at the Mauna Loa CO2 trends we might expect CO2 level to rise from about 390 ppm in 2010 to 470ppm if world greenhouse emissions stopped growing right now. This is over 50% above the historical peak CO2 levels of about 300ppm shown in the Vostock ice cores for the last 400,000 yrs. Pretty scary considering that the ice cores show temperature and CO2 levels rising and falling together over this period. (The figure drops to 450 ppm if CO2 level starts ramping down now to 50% of current emissions by 2050 – still pretty scary stuff.)

    The point I am making here is that we need to consider total emissions between now and 2050, not just 2050 emission levels. Right now we should be looking for low cost ways of obtaining a quick drop in emissions as well as the technologies that we may have to use to reach 2050 targets.
    My guess is that the lowest cost way of reducing electricity generation emissions in the short term would be to convert at least some coal fired generators to natural gas where this is practical. If we did this for all coal fired power stations our total emissions would drop by about 25% (Electricty accounts for approx 50% of the ccurrent total.) In the long term, natural gas would have to be replaced by something cleaner but I suspect that the present worth cost of electricty cleanup may work out lower by starting with the natural gas option.
    We may also get some low cost cleanup by using solar thermal augmentation of existing power stations. In this case the cost of generators, switchyards and power lines that would be part of independant solar thermal are avoided. Thermal storage migh tbe used to extend the % of heating coming from solar while the natural gas ensures stable output.

  109. Fran Barlow

    Most commendable [email protected]

    I think it unfortunate that some people react defensively when you explain that living with a lower environmental footprint is possible without being a consistent cynic (in the original sense). Plainly, you are not inisting that others make your choices, but merely observing that if quite a few did, the results would be measurable.

    Each of us should be conscious of our choices, whatever we choose, rather than merely fall into patterns and observe them even though they may contradict our values or even our immediate interests.

  110. Elise

    Moz @107, you are a hero! You have gone way further than we have, in terms of changing behaviour.

    Peter @106, in a way you are right. In the short term, most of us are reluctant to change ingrained habits, and we like our creature comforts. We need to be really pursuaded that a change is essential, before getting over the inertial resistance. In a way our household have cheated, achieving a lower footprint by resorting to better technology in most cases.

    Regarding your solar PV story @102, I am sorry that you concluded it wasn’t worth it. It seems that you, like many others, are assuming that energy prices will remain roughly constant. It is rear view mirror accounting. Did you try doing a DCF or NPV on the likelihood of higher prices over the next 20 years? We did it, just to satisfy ourselves that the cost was justifiable. It came out with a small positive Net Present Value, with the assumptions we used.

    Obviously noone knows what the future holds, which is where risk management concepts enter the picture. Basically we were looking at value at risk, against insurance against future energy costs. In simpler terms, how much money might we “lose” from buying the PV system, versus the probability of rises in energy pricing due to replacing old power stations and the impact of carbon Tax/ETS over the next 20 years.

    We also looked at more strategic issues of climate change and putting our money where our mouths were, as Fran @109 suggests. We also considered that someone has to go first in supporting new technology. Companies cannot survive and develop technology, if noone is willing to participate until it is cheap and readily available.

    Say what you like about first movers, Wozza @103, if noone is willing to go first, then no new technology would ever be developed. EVER. How smart is that position, then? 😉

  111. Tim Macknay

    Peter, while I agree with you that no-one wants to give up a modern lifestyle, most of your comment @106 is empty rhetoric. You seem to imply that all efforts to reduce environmental impact in the home or in our personal lifestyles results in a loss of quality. That’s just BS. I have reliable, piping hot showers, I stay cool in summer and toasty warm in winter, I watch TV, and use my computer the same way everyone else does. My rooms are lit with bright, warm lighting just like any other house.

    I also live in a house with all CFL lighting (I bought them at full price – they save money), controlled-combustion wood heating (it provides both ambience and low-greenhouse heating), power and water effient appliances and solar hot water. The house is also well insulated and has good passive solar characteristics. It has no aircon, only fans, because the insulation is good enough to keep it cool on 40+ degree days. Our annualised average daily power consumption is 4.5kwH (and that includes charging an electric scooter every night) and the water consumption is less than half the average for my suburb. We buy 100% greenpower and the electricity bills are still lower than they were in our previous place, a small apartment with electric water and space heating.

    One thing about the CFL lights – they have improved dramatically in the last few years, as have efficient appliances. When I first tried CFLs around 10 years ago, the light colour and quality was not up to scratch. Now you can’t tell the difference from an incandescent.

    Technology can and does improve.

  112. Peter

    Fran and Moz,

    No one is against conserving stuff, least of all me. We just don’t like it being shoved in our faces and being forced to do things. And if you don’t think that happens well look at Elises suggestion that solar PV be mandatory on houses. We already have mandatory EER ratings so to sell an older house you have to pay extra to get a rating. Why not gradually bring it in? A lot of new housing now have mandatory water tanks and all sorts of compulsory extras that greatly increase the price of a house. This will not affect me or my family (ever) so why should I care? But I do, because it makes housing less affordable for others, for very dubious benefit and great advantage to those making and installing these things.

    Moz blithely talks of ‘free’ cfl bulbs and then wonders why I suggest his neighbour is paying for it. Subsidies for cfl, PV roof top and solar water heaters, free pink bats et al, are all paid by your neighbor whether you like it or not.

    And yes I am slightly pissed off. I live in Canberra. My back and front lawn are now a weed infested mess after 30 years of loving care. We were encouraged to make our city beautiful, and our gardens bountiful. Then one day bang, sorry no water, not more expensive water, but *no* water, for lawns. I know people who paid thousands for turf only to have it die through lack of water 2 years later. It is obvious that this was through incompetence, not a drought, as engineers had warned about this for years and a dam in now being enlarged ‘to secure our water supply’. My in-ground sprinkler system is now being ripped up and junked and we are now spending even more money ( and pollution ) putting in pavers instead.

    Now, you will say that lawns in Aus are maybe a bad idea, and I would now agree, with reservations – a green lawn is a very soothing thing. However, to just cut off our water for existing lawns while the bogans in the next suburbs who never cared at all about their garden don’t feel any pain – except a slightly higher water bill, is unfair. The old guy down the road is heartbroken at what his property has been reduced to – all through government incompetence. And for me it is not the expense as I can afford it a 100 times over. But many can’t and lots of Canberra suburbs are a now a shadow of their former selves.

    To legally top up our pool we now require a $600 plastic cover. Not only is it ugly but needs replacing every 6 or 7 years and the old one goes straight into land fill. All for maybe $20 of water evaporation every year. Does it reduce chemicals? No! In theory yes, but because you can’t see the water easily it is dead easy for it to go off. Last autumn, after the swim season, ours went green and I secretly (ie I am now a criminal) had to drain 1/4 of our pool, chuck in heaps of chemicals and run the pump continuously for nearly a week. So much for saving the environment, and the power of unforeseen consequences – just wait for when Dengue, RRF or Malaria make a comeback from mosquitos breeding in compulsory, 20 year old, badly maintained water tanks!

    I guess you are wondering what this has to do with our electricity supply? Well everything really. I said our economy relies on reliable power, just like our city relies on RELIABLE water. An unreliable electricity supply will reduce this country to third world status in the blink of an eye, just like our unreliable water supply has reduced Canberra to a pretty second rate looking place in 6 years, with weed infested, abandoned ovals and shabby properties everywhere. And it is pretty darned sad that many people don’t care.

    Anyway, I have said enough. We can afford almost anything thrown at us, including a whopping generator ( more waste and pollution – or will they be banned as well?) if our electricity supply goes to the dog house. My business is such that we can live and work anywhere so we *could* take an ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude, and just pack up, but it is all a bit sad really.

  113. questions 'r' us

    Regarding Peter’s comments @ 112, it always amazes me how obviously privileged people can get so pissed off about relatively minor inconveniences.

    What will happen to these poor dears when the shit really hits the fan?
    Is this an Australian phenomenon, born of our relative isolation?
    Would a bit of world travel cure these people of their curiously unwarranted pissed offedness, or would they feel guilty the environmental cost of such travel?
    Would a quick trip to parts of central Australia help?
    Where does this sense of entitlementcome come from? We can’t blame Howard for everything.

    Answers in less than 50 words please.

  114. Elise

    Peter @112, it sounds like you are spiralling out of control and losing the plot.

    Why didn’t you install a rainwater tank to save your lawn? Because of the mozzies, and dengue fever in Canberra?? Come on man, that is just loony.

    And you are upset about the pool and forgetting the chemicals? Install a salt water system with an automatic chlorinator, then, and the pool hardly needs attention.

    And these things all add mightily to the cost of housing? What a load of BS! How much are houses these days? How much is a rainwater tank? What percentage of the purchase price? Give us a break!

    What else is bothering you? These small things hardly seem to be worth the aggro, especially if you are well-off as you suggest. They are too easily solved.

  115. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Personally, I wouldn’t have a pool or buy a house that had on at a price that would restrain me from ripping it out.

    Lovely green lawns are psychologically comforting, but these days I’d prefer something more ‘native garden’ with small beds of low growing grevillea and other natives and treated log slices to walk around. Ideally you’d have small sub- surface conduit that would leach grey water along its length from a grey water tank whenever a certain section fell below optimal soil moisture for a given section of the yard. Local small fauna proliferate. I see acacia filtering and scattering the sunlight on a spring afternoon to those of us sitting on a well placed seat … It doesn’t sound so bad …

  116. Peter


    You again show your ignorance, by ‘just….’

    You can’t just swap many in ground pools from chlorine to salt. I’ll leave it you you to research why.

    As for the lawn, it was dead in a month. It was a special blend – same as new parliament house and needed a bit more water than most. Within a month the more sensitive blend had died off leaving gaping holes in the rest.

    A water tank of any size wouldn’t work on our property. The only place we could put a tank is in front of our bedroom window and the roof slopes the wrong way. It would be a fairly complex job to plumb it all up and a small water tank wouldn’t do the job.

    Your attitude is pretty arrogant I must say. You seem to assume that these things are always easy when everyones circumstances are different – and ours isn’t a lack of money.

    The token water tanks that often appear on new houses are a joke. They are about 1500 – 2000 dollars to hold $2 worth of water. They may be suitable for a token lawn but not a (previously) nice large one.

    You also seem to forget that there is already a rainwater collection system – its called the storm water system. It all ends up in a nice central spot or two where it could be treated and recycled. Instead you advocate an expensive unreliable token system, just like your PV system, for something that was once taken as a mark of civilization. You are obviously clueless that not so long ago water tanks were removed from many cities precisely because of the risk of mosquito born disease – you now brush it off as a joke.

    I reckon you are just pissed off because I burst your little bubble about your supposed energy usage and the fact that it is largely paid for by others.

  117. Peter

    Elise @ 114:

    What else is bothering you? These small things hardly seem to be worth the aggro, especially if you are well-off as you suggest. They are too easily solved.

    I am mainly concerned about others and the effect on them. In your mind, just throw – other peoples – money at the problem and it goes away.

    Indeed many these problems are easily solved. I pointed out nukes, but you seem incapable of understanding that.

  118. nasking

    “As for the lawn, it was dead in a month. It was a special blend – same as new parliament house and needed a bit more water than most. Within a month the more sensitive blend had died off leaving gaping holes in the rest.”

    Peter, I’m surprised you weren’t thinking ahead. Why would you buy such precious turf? In a sunburnt country like this. Years ago my wife & I began replacing lawn w/ drought-resistant, bird attracting plants…& shade plants…& other suitable garden beds. You should’ve watched Gardening Australia. We’ve still got some hardy lawn…but we don’t water it & unless it’s a bucket or two of grey water. Sure, it’s irritating to see a lovely lawn die off…but we have to recognise we’re not living in Britain w/ all that drizzle.

    I griped in the past…but went out and bought a wee rainwater tank.

    We must ADAPT as best we can to the circumstances. Isn’t that how business works? Or is it all about a new form of socialism for the privileged these days?


  119. Peter

    Also, its not ‘aggro’, it’s scorn.

  120. Elise

    Peter, I am not being arrogant. I see it as a case of solving practical problems. Poor people certainly have fewer choices, but you say that is not your problem.

    I don’t need to research how to swap pools from liquid chlorine to salt. Already did it for a previous house, and we converted it easily. The cost is not extreme either, compared with the annual cost of pool maintenance and chemicals.

    We also installed a rainwater tank to protect our previous garden from droughts. It wasn’t a token tank, it was 7000 litres, and cost about what you said: the total price included installation, high pressure pump, plumbing and new downpipes.

    Peter, you talk about the tank and the cost of the water being held in it. You don’t talk about the cost of the lawn, or the replacement cost for a drought-tolerant one. How much is the lawn worth to you? Perhaps you should have factored in the emotional wear-&-tear on your feelings about the lawn?

    I do understand. We did the same analysis on how much we spent on setting up the garden, and how much time, effort and expense would be involved in replacing it, and also our feelings about all those lovely plants dying. The decision to get a tank was a lay-down mazaire, once we laid the options out… :)

  121. Peter


    I didn’t say *any* swimming pool, I said some swimming pools. Like ours. It has a paved coping unsuitable for salt water. Do you understand?

    I also said our lawn was ruined in a *month*, probably less. After spending several years of hand watering only – because that is all we were allowed. If I’d known that – through incompetence – the following year it would be wrecked, I wouldn’t have bothered. It’s all ancient history now anyway. That and heaps of ig watering stuff will be ripped up next week and tossed. And it isn’t about the money, though it may look that way, but we only became wealthy because we were prudent and ‘watched’ our money. I don’t like seeing it wasted and perfectly good stuff ending up junked. If it was a natural disaster, it would be like water off a ducks back, but this was done on purpose ( in the sense that hard decisions were put into the ‘too hard’ basket, for too long, and NIMBY).

    I only have an annoyance at all this because it was all so foreseeable ( not by me, by engineers) and avoidable. It was man made. When our power supply becomes shonky through unrealistic ways of generating it, it will be for the same reason, not ‘peak oil’ or some other such thing.

    Anyway, sorry about the snark.

  122. Peter

    Nas @ 118:

    I put the lawn in 20 odd years ago. Sure, hindsight is a nice thing! Most of the rest of our garden is native and is surviving OK, without any watering at all. There will now be *no* lawn.

    It’s not about privilege. I am fine with paying for the water I use, but some of us in our street had quite a bit of pride in our lawns and it is now fskd. This hasn’t just affected us, but affected the enjoyment of others as well and our city is now a dry, dusty, weed infested second rate city. Yet the people in the next suburb, who never gave a shit, haven’t suffered at all. I can also take a long shower if I like and use as much water as I like, as long as it is inside the house. I could in fact leave the tap on *all* day.

    I am also fine with covenants on water usage for new properties, etc. But wholesale banning of ‘one’ type of watering after many years of encouraging said usage is wrong. A breach of contract almost.

    All a bit OT, though.

  123. KEitHy

    “Beware of false profits!” : You can’t pretend you haven’t been warned!

  124. Elise

    Peter @121, apologies gratefully accepted! I understand that you are really, really fed up at the moment.

    To change the topic from gardens and lawns for a minute, I’d like to pick up on your comment “it will be for the same reason, not ‘peak oil’ or some other such thing”.

    This is going to be a crisis Peter, I am sure, and you could easily say in hindsight that it would have been avoidable. There are at least three separate aspects. If all coincide, it will be really bad news.

    The first is that peak oil is a real physical phenomenon – there will be a decline in global oil supplies, just as there already is in many former oil provinces. I used to work in this area, and I have been watching the data. We are talking about a matter of a couple of years.

    The second aspect, is that this will occur at the same time as demand is increasing rapidly, thanks to lots of Chinese and Indians driving large numbers of new cars. To summarise, there will be both a real decline in supply, coincident with an increase in underlying demand.

    The third aspect, is that until now, declining production from existing fields has been made up by continuously developing new fields and extensions/satellites to existing fields. Normally this is an ongoing process. Due to the GFC, funds were short and everyone battened down the hatches. Field development virtually stopped.

    Now, there will be a lag before these fields come online, and the shortfall from the declining fields will not be able to be plugged with new supplies. What’s more, Saudi Arabia used to have spare production capacity which could be brought online at short notice as a “swing producer” to maintain steady supply. They no longer have spare production capacity. They are running at full capacity. There is nothing spare to plug the gap.

    This “oil crunch” is man-made, if you like Peter, and abusing the oil companies and engineers when it happens, for not having foresight, won’t make our lives any easier.

    I would strongly urge you to lay out your options for dealing with it, and not count on the government or the dreaded engineers to do the right thing in time to avert the crisis.

    Don’t wait until fuel is unacceptably high. According to CSIRO fuel could go to $8/litre, while less pessimistic studies suggest about half that. It is still a lot of extra cost for transport.

    We should be collectively planning ahead for it as best we can, NOW. Public transport is still inadequate. There are not many electric cars or plug-in hybrids available yet, and they are expected to go into production ALMOST in time for the crunch. Maybe. If they don’t have any schedule delays.

    The most immediate answer, if you are in the market for a car, is to buy one with about half the current consumption, i.e. about 5.5 L/100km instead of the Aussie household average of 11.2 L/100km. The fuel bill will still be stinking high, but at least half as stinking as it might have been.

    Diesel electric hybrids could drop the consumption to about 2 L/100km, thus reducing the cost to a fifth of stinking. They are not available yet, except as prototypes.

    Since so few ultra-low-fuel alternatives will be available at the time of the likely “oil crunch”, we may be forced to convert our own cars to electric, if fuel is too expensive. As such, it might pay to look for a car which is small and light, but with a big engine bay for batteries and good build to take the weight. At least you will have hedged your bets against a man-made planning disaster in the making.

    Anyway, this household has laid out its transport options, and we are in the process of doing the car equivalent of buying our watertank before the drought. A miracle might happen, but we aren’t counting on it. 😉

  125. KeIThY

    Peter at 106 says,

    “Most people don’t *want* to live like that, OK?”

    –>ATTITUDE is a little thing that goes a long way. The reason criminals run riot is because of the ATTITUDE we have in dealing with them is to give them a slap on the wrist. The reason we have (alleged) AGW is because we previously didn’t really care about the waste products of burning carbon…. it’s all ATTITUDE dood and it is within our power to change it a little and come up with the solutions to this (alleged) problem. Who are you to speak for most people?!? (You’re just some dood called Peter aren’t you???)

  126. KeITHy

    Perhaps things could be summarised as we have become lazy and used to accepting whatever junk this consumer lifestyle (READ: EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF CARBON DIOXIDE) throws at our sense organs!(?!?) I, for one, say FIGHT! “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT…..!!!”

  127. KeITHy

    Ya know, the essence of Anarchy can be captured in the mantra: “BOYCOTT BOYCOTT BOYCOTT!!!”

  128. Peter


    Well I’m sure there are lots of Africans, currently sleeping with only a battery to run their fridge (if they’re lucky) at night, who would gladly change places with you. And I’m sure even if they didn’t have a battery powered fridge ( and 10 watt globe nearby ) they would happily provide you with one if you asked nicely.

    Elise @ 124:

    I don’t think I have the energy for a peak oil discussion! Except to say that I’m more in agreement with this guy. It’s an interesting read, even though I know you will disagree. Much of what he says is relevant to water and electricity supply also.

    A little point – I never blame oil companies or engineers. They almost always know what they are doing.

  129. Elise

    Peter @128, sorry I don’t buy the argument in your link, that companies/countries only build enough to meet their own needs for a set period of time. I worked in that industry remember.

    People of whatever affiliation develop whatever they find that is profitable. The more profitable it is, the more people pile in to make their fortune. 😉

    When the oil price goes up, oil companies drill like proverbial maniacs. When it goes down, as it did to $10/bbl back in the 90’s (hard to believe now, hey!), then all drilling and development work stops.

    When prices and profits are high, they don’t all say, “well heck I could make a lot of money, but I won’t because I don’t need to right now…” They aren’t some foreign species of humanity, with self-restraint and indifference to wealth as a characterising feature.

    The oil price used to swing wildly up and down for decades thanks to individual players (including OPEC nations) piling in when the price was high, and consequently flooding the market. The price collapsed, profits collapsed, and they pulled in their horns again. Until the next spike.

    The oil price has been WELL ABOVE $40/bbl for years. At that level, it should bring on extra production which would collapse the price. Everyone didn’t suddenly “get discipline” and collude enmasse to cheat the rest of us. Greed would have got the better of individual companies and countries by now, if they had the capacity.

    Occam’s Razor – what is the simplest explanation for the observed facts? They have run out of spare capacity and easy development targets. We are staring at the bottom of the barrel, chaps! 😉

  130. Fran Barlow

    One last shot on the question of nuclear power in Australia, Elise …

    I do think we should all realise that as each coal plant reaches the end of its useful life, there will be an expectation that the burden of demand it bears will need to be replaced with something else.

    I’d like to think that we would by then have ramped up our geothermal (plus the associated transmission infrastructure) and our other renewables enough by then to do this, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t think this will be so. Consequently, these dirty old coal plants will be replaced with new coal plants sold to us on the basis that they are “CC&S” ready. Maybe they will be IGCC. This will be an improvement over the old filthy ones, but we will be stuck with them for as long as the sunk cost recovery time — perhaps 40 years, and there will be nothing you or I or anyone who regards coal-fired power as dangerous filth can do about it.

    The Victorian government is already renewing brown-coal capacity. The age of Australia’s coal plants means that the next ten years should see about half of them replaced or at least commissions taken on replacing them.

    If we were doing nuclear now, we could rapidly phase out coal with something much cleaner. One suspects the most effective anti-nuclear lobby would probably be the coal miners.

  131. Peter


    I don’t think you read the same article as me somehow.

    Are you saying that 70% of the world oil production capacity is not in state oil hands?
    Are you saying that these state run oil companies are *not* corrupt/incompetent?

    Anyway, no need to explain peak oil. Most here would have read the stuff, regularly visit ‘theoildrum’ etc. Its a debate for another day I think.

  132. Peter

    Fran @ 130 has it exactly right.

    I submit that we will get less than 1% into that 800Km2, or whatever it is, construction of solar, realise what a whopping mistake we’ve made ( and time we’ve wasted ) and go nuke.

  133. Elise

    Fran @130, sorry Fran I don’t buy nuclear as a good substitute for coal.

    People tie themselves into pretzels over the various risks of nukes: economic, timing, environmental, military, long-term sustainability, “who should have it, and who shouldn’t”, policing supply chains, policing rogue states, etc.

    My personal guideline, is that when you feel an argument is getting too pretzel-like, then it doesn’t have a good case.

    Argument push with no logic pull.

    I forget which scientist or mathematician said it, but good answers are elegant, or beautiful (or somesuch). They need to feel intuitively good and right. Nukes don’t do that for me.

    Household solar PV feels small and beautiful; distributed power, fuel-free supply, low pollution. Hot rocks feel the same. Wind turbines the same.

    Combined-Cycle Gas turbines seems like an elegant large-scale solution for the interim, with a mix of combined and open cycle to make best use of the renewables. I don’t have a strong opinion yet on solar thermal, as I don’t know enough about it.

  134. moz

    Interestingly we also live in a “house-proud” street. The interesting part was that when we ripped up the front lawn and replaced it with a slightly wild-lloking vege garden we were worried that the neighbours would be unhappy. Instead we’ve only received praise and offers of help. Well, and a request for some of the mint that has taken refuge in the concrete down the side of the house. It’s all fed off about $1000 worth of water tanks and plumbing bits that I’ve put time into instead of money ($15 for a 200l second hand plastic drum is $75/kl instead of ~$300/kl for rotomolded plastic ones when we bought them about 12 months ago).

    Just take things one step at a time and always do the easy stuff first. The important thing is to be doing something positive.

  135. carbonsink

    Did someone say peak oil?

    I don’t think I have the energy for a peak oil discussion! Except to say that I’m more in agreement with this guy. It’s an interesting read, even though I know you will disagree. Much of what he says is relevant to water and electricity supply also

    So the Coyote guy blames it all on state-owned oil companies eh? The big problem there is, two of the most advanced countries on earth (the US and UK) where none of the oil infrastructure is state-owned, have peaked and declined. No amount of free market competition and advanced technology has reversed this trend.

    Now don’t tell me the US and UK want to import oil at these prices, so what gives?

  136. adrian

    Trying the logic line carbonsink. Good luck with that.

  137. Elise

    Moz @134, speaking of “house-proud” streets and gardens, our neighbours across the road started it and the rest of us followed suit. They ripped out all their front lawn and planted a stunning, home-beautiful style native garden.

    We were out mowing and weeding our lawn one day, and looked over at the stunning low-maintenance garden with the honey-eaters chattering away in the grevilleas. “Bugger this lawn caper, let’s do ours as a native garden too!” After that, we got carried away and redid the back garden and the side garden with natives as well. It was a sad day when there was no more room for more natives.

    Our neighbours on one side must have come to some similar conclusion, because they ripped up their lawn to plant a native garden. Now the neighbours on the other side as well. Our street is full of birds these days, just as the gardening book promised! :)

  138. adrian

    Natives are great, our garden is full of them, but beware – some of the bigger trees have highly invasive roots and can cause widespread cracking in your house.

  139. Elise

    Peter @131 and Adrian @136, just a big of info for you to chew on, and make of it what you will. I did an assignment in Venezuela for PDVESA (state-owned oil company) in 2001, nominally on knowledge management.

    It soon became apparent that their problem was declining oil production from many of their fields (many of which are old, by global standards). They thought that it could be solved by accelerating the implementation of ideas from their R&D department, hence the knowledge management assignment.

    Finally one day, I said in passing that some of the Norwegian oilfields had gone into decline also, and that we had been working on a range of concepts for accelerating the implementation of new production techniques. I asked them what problems in particular were causing the most difficulties with oil production?

    Now, I should point out, Venezuelans are vivacious chatty people. These senior technical people were very bright, highly educated, and were never short of a word or two.

    The question about declining production caused the colour to drain from their faces. A horrible silence ensued. Perhaps it was forbidden ground for discussions with outsiders? For the rest of my assignment there was an elephant in the room.

    Tell me those guys didn’t have a problem with declining production? Tell me they weren’t interested in finding a way of solving it? Tell me it is all a scam dreamed up by OPEC and Hugo Chavez to hold back production?

  140. Elise

    John D @61: “The figures are striking. Supports the logic of using solar thermal augmentation of existing Qld power stations. It has the attraction of using existing generators, power stations that are not too far away from gas lines and low variation in insolation with time of year.”

    Yes! Totally agree!

    Agree also with the comment about improving refrigeration technology.

    We have it already for camping/yachting fridges, but it hasn’t migrated into mainstream applications. Perhaps because power has been too cheap, due to no costing of handling “externalities” e.g. by CCS? Maybe this will all change in the near future, and we will see significant improvements in refrigeration technology?

  141. Fran Barlow

    Speaking of coal stations we’d like to see closed, Barry Brook had an article over at BNC on an idea of “cash for clunkers” in which we buy out the sunk cost reamining in old coal plants.

    Here’s a partial list of candidates:

    You could throw in Redbank at Singleton — more than 1.06 million tons of CO2 each year for only 151MW rated capacity. The 41 year old Lake Munmorah power station which now produces 5.56 million tons of CO2 each year for 660MW rated capacity sounds like a soft target too. Then there’s Vales Point Power Station — 9.32 million tons each year … total rated capacity 1320MW — built mainly in the early 1960s but added to in 1978. Wallerawang Power Station where the 1000MW is from units added in 1976 and 1980 — 7 million tons of CO2

    In Victoria we have the 40 year-old Anglesea Power Station which not only uses brown coal to emit 1.21 Million tons of CO2 producing just 160MW but draws water from an artesian bore to run an aluminium smelter. There’s Hazelwood of course, rated the world’s dirtiest power plant, which the Vic Government extended until 2031 — despite already being 45 years old. It produces 5% of Australia’s GHGs all on its won, and 9% of those associated with electricity

  142. Elise

    Fran @141, I like it a lot!!!

    “Trade in your daggy old coal plant for a shiny new gas plant, and we’ll even cart the clunker off to the scrap heap for you…”

    How could they refuse? :)

  143. Fran Barlow

    And if we could power the said gas plants from methane from anaerobic digesters operating at sewage treatement plants and landfill sites or syngas made by applying CSP to waste biomass, then the net emissions would be even lower.

  144. Elise

    Fran @143, certainly, why ever not?!!

    Coal seam methane as well, where appropriate.

    No point in venting methane if you can use it productively, especially since it is worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

  145. John D

    Fran @141: You have to be a bit careful about power plant hit lists. For example, quite a bit of the coal burnt at Redbank thas been recovered from material that would otherwise gone to waste. The carbon contained in the waste oxidizes over time without generating any power at all. You also have to think about what type of feed the plant is using. Some, such as Vales point? burn everything that comes out of an underground mine. Others burn fuel that has been washed. Washery reject contains carbon that may also oxidize over time. In addition, the overburden from some open cuts contains carbon that also oxidizes.
    There is also an issue of flexibility. Many of the older, less efficient power stations can be started up faster and have higher turndown ratios – both desirable features for power stations that have to fit in with the variable output from wind and solar. All these are reasons why I oppose something as simplistic as ETS. Makes more sense to understand the issues and design a system that takes account of these.

  146. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    In principle I agree, but in practice we could seal many of the mines, locking in the methane, so it’s really only those of the mines that were principally for export or perhaps for coking coal where this might apply

    Yallourne W is an interesting case of the way the footprint of a coal plant can work. In order to build it in 1969 they had to demolish an entire town. When the coal from East Field ran out in 2007 they had to source coal from Maryvale and that meant diverting the course of the Morwell River. That cost $122million dollars. That keeps the plant going until 2032. In 2007 subsidence in a mine wall resulted in it being flooded by the Latrobe River with more cost to remediate.

    Maybe they should have stopped it.

    NSW and Vic have heavy concentrations of older plant. Throw in Muja in Collie over your way (1966) which is also a heavy polluter and you could do quite a bit of tidying up right now.

  147. Fran Barlow

    John D says

    You have to be a bit careful about power plant hit lists. For example, quite a bit of the coal burnt at Redbank thas been recovered from material that would otherwise gone to waste.

    I fail to see the relevance. It is waste when it produces its combustion effluent and we could store it stably in some disused mine shaft and seal it permanently with some inert material (salt from desal? lime?)

    Close ’em all in a hurry and remediate the landscape ASAP I say. A good ETS is the way to accelerate this process, not the least because by pushing down the value of these monstrosities it should make them cheaper to acquire by the state and close.

  148. John D

    Fran @147: I did the study that recommended that the fuel for Redbank come from the treatment of slime tailings that would otherwise have gone to a tailings dam. The main topic of the study was what to do with the slime tailings – disposal in a mine shaft was not an option. Most of the old ones are filled with saline water and don’t have much space anyway.
    It will be a long time before the need for metallurgical coal disappears so it is logical to keep power stations going that burn carbon in washery rejects and byproduct thermal coal.
    The general point that I was trying to make is that decisions re cleaning up electricty need to take account of a whole range of issues, not just price and emissions/kWh. For more details about electricty issues see the relevant sections here

  149. Fran Barlow

    John [email protected]

    Even if disposal of slime tailings in old mine shafts is not feasible, there would surely be ways of disposing of them that rendered them stable. Perhaps building them into road base or the base of railway lines might work?

    Thanks for the link to the paper. The “MSA” approach seems like a collection of adhoc measures, none of which has been modelled well and in which one could have little but intuitive confidence. While some of the measures might seem reasonable, some of the outline of the faults of the rival schemes seems specious at best. The European trading scheme was designed to appear to be doing something without changing anything real in the market place. There’s also nothing in Davison’s proposals to deal with agricultural emissions or to drive stationary energy efficiency, or thermal efficiency in buildings.

    Were any government to follow this approach, the embryo of policy failure would be present, and indeed, that is probably the strongest reason for opponents of action on climate change to get behind it. Eventually the failure of these approaches as the parts were nobbled by sectional pleading would be held up as a reason why it was all too hard, with few recalling why they failed. That of course is the role of the first European ETS.

    I continue to believe a robust and ubiquitous ETS with a strong cap is the best tool, with daylight to a CTS as the second best option, and what Davison calls an MSA as last.

  150. Brian

    Just to throw another issue into the ring, I recently heard a revival of the idea of a rail connection between WA iron ore and Qld metallurgical coal, presumably to build steel smelters either in WA or Qld.

    This would save shipping both the coal and the iron ore to Asia.

    Obviously there would be cost and carbon produced in setting the whole thing up, but it seems to me you’d have to think about running the trains on solar (which could be built along the corridor) or nuclear, or a combination of the two.

    If it is rational for this to be done in the interests of the planet over the next 50-100 years, then it should be done.

    But given the shipping emissions aren’t counted, nor are emissions in Asian economies, whereas we are going to put weights into our own saddlebags and rule out the possibility of nuclear, I’d take almost any odds that it won’t happen.

  151. Fran Barlow

    You could run the train on biodiesel-electric of course. Still, if you’re going to build a railway, you might as well electrify it with underground cable — especially since if you were going to run solar (and across the top end and the middle is where you might put them), you have to connect them to the grid.

  152. KeiThy

    Is there any reason why trains can’t be run on solar, btw??? All trains or just some trains??? Could Australia be redesigned by making more use of trains that ran on solar????

  153. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    There’s obviously no reason in principle why a train can’t run on solar, but if you mean PV, then the weight and cost of the panels needed tends to be a limiting factor. Also, PV doesn’t work all that well in extreme heat, and there would be the risk of damage and so forth.

    Far better to have your PV (if that’s what you were using) in one place and ship the current to the train. But then, if you’re going to do that then CSPs are more
    effective and of course if you can take energy from anything supplying the grid then the cheapest cleanest source is best.

  154. Elise

    Further to John D’s comments about improving refrigeration technology, here is a link to an Aussie-designed eutectic fridge.


    At the moment, eutectic fridges and freezers are mainly used for marine/yachting or camping/caravanning use, where energy efficiency is critical.

    Does anyone know if kitchen-sized eutectic fridges are available yet?

  155. BilB

    That is a case of used to be but not any more. However there are some moves towards building sized airconditioning units see Broad airconditioners and a slightly different spin at Matteran Energy


    Stirling cycle engines fit in to this category of energy devices. My friend Bill K was telling me he has become interested in stirling engines. I was telling him of the one that we had in NG as kids left over from the war. So I looked up stirling cycle fans and lo and behold

    here is a guy who has made one for his log fire. Just brilliant. I have the same problem in my factory where I have a log fire but no fan, so the heat heads straight for the roof (very high).

    And here is one that is similar to the one from the war years

    I think that there is one in the Canberra war museum, a bit far for you to go to see.

  156. BilB


    I missread your post to be about kerosene fridges, so there is a post ahead of this one that will come out of moderation one day. On Eutectic fridges and freezers, Streets use eutectic freezers for their mobile carts. These freezers are made in Portugal, I used to have the name but it is buried deep in my coffee cart files. Phone Streets mobile sales for a lead.

  157. Ootz

    [email protected]
    Many moons ago, I did my apprenticeship on a electric mountain railway in Europe. The electrical engineering in powering these trains is unique. The equivalent of three full trains going downhill would power the equivalent of two full train loads going up. This is a century old technology, imagine what can be done today.

    Living In the Atherton Tablelands now, where in contrast it is sad to see what happened to the train system. It was the live blood of early settlement and played an enormous role in the development of this place also a century ago.

    Mind you, just today our local paper, the Tablelands Advertiser, is featuring not one but two renewable energy project developments in the region. First, a Windturbine project with up to 65 turbines (130 megawatts of renewable energy), in addition to the one near Ravenshoe with 20 turbines. The second is a project exploring prospects of geothermal energy around Innot Hot Springs and Chillago. Water surface temps are within range of using conventional binary geothermal power plant technology.
    Wow, we’ve got plenty of water and it looks like we will pedal under our own steam very soon too. For good measure trow in a few more hydro plants along the Barron.

  158. Adrian

    Of course we can have a solar trains if we want!
    What happened to the can-do attitude that made this country what it is today?

  159. KeIThy

    Something appropriately cool and solar-powered from our friend Treehugger:_

    Weird Solar Device of the Day – Cooladio Solar Cooler


  160. BilB

    I like that one, KeITHY.

  161. BilB

    Here is a piece of absolute genius

    a pocket sized collapsible wind generator that produces really useable levels of power. There are so many uses for this. Wow!!

  162. John D

    Fran @149: I have got no problem with someone doing the proper study to to come up with a logical plan for shutting down coal fired power as more clean power becomes available. However, the study has to consider more than emissions/kWh and price. Any carbonaceous tailings put in road or rail base will oxidise quickly. For burying to work the cover has to prevent oxygen getting to the waste over a long period of time which means generating extra emissions to cart and bury.

    Labelling the approach I favour as “adhoc measures” seems a bit dismissive since the two examples I gave you cover over 60% of our total emissions. (And a much larger % of the potential reductions for which there are already commercially available technologies available – In both cases reductions of over 90% are easily acheivable.) Given this importance and the fact that any realistic action plan must include electricity and the reduction of our exposusre to oil shocks it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that it is worth looking for the best way to deal with the issues associated with reducing emissions from both these sources instead of simply assuming the putting a price on carbon has to be the answer.

    Did you have any specific problems with what I was suggesting other than the idea that different approaches were suggested and that the approaches don’t depend on putting a price on carbon?

    My submission was aimed at demonstrating that there are at least two major sources of emissions that are better handled outside of emission trading (or any other comprehensive system that depends on putting a price on carbon). In terms of agriculture the top priority is feeding the world rather than reducing emissions. However, we certainly need to do our homework and include action on agricultural and other emissions if the homework demonstrates that there is something that can be done that is more cost effective than cleaning up elecricty.

    In terms of the efficency of new buildings the logical starting point are building codes. See for example the green building council submission to the senate climate committee. Regulation also seem to be a logical starting point for improving the efficiency of computors, washing machines etc. Subsidies and education may be logical approaches for encouraging retrofits and improvements in the way people use the buildings they live in.

    I guess I think that we should take the effrot to do our homework, include opportunities by exception in the action plan instead of using the CPRS exclude by exception apporoach and use artificial price increases as the last resort rather than the preferred answer.

  163. Fran Barlow

    John [email protected]

    Let me say that apart from the desire to achieve the necessary global emissions (and pollution) reductions as early as technically possible while augmenting the position of the socially disadvantaged on the planet, I don’t care how we go about this. My principal concern remains a pragmatic one — how likely is it that a given set of measures will work on a world scale? What Davison seems to be proposing doesn’t sound like anything that could do more than fiddle at the margins.

    Certainly, if one takes the most optimistic view, one in which all governments and stakeholders everywhere bring competence, honesty and goodwill to meeting the spirit of the measures, then it might work — but how likely is that? If every single measure depends on complex regulatory frameworks implemented across multiple jurisdictions in times where sectional interest will run across them then I see failure and tokenism as much the most likely outcome. Nothing that doesn’t put a serious and fairly ubiquitous price on carbon dioxide emissions can, in practice, found a policy of reducing CO2 emissions. Some of the other measures you suggest would dovetail nicely with such a plan, but a serious emissions price — one large enough to change behaviour — is the starting point.

    As a matter of practical politics an ETS is superior to a carbon tax because the ETS wedges business — the main body of people likely to try fudging and getting concessions, and because it can be made to work like a currency across national frontiers, rather like the CO2 we are trying to abate.

    As to agriculture and forestry — these account for about half of all world emissions and so leaving these out is pure madness, and doubly so since re-vegetating land is one obvious way of enlarging carbon sinks and putting a value on the work people in the developing world might do to protect and augment their forested land from rapacious developers — not only good for the environment and us, but an equity measure.

  164. BilB


    You start out nicely here

    Certainly, if one takes the most optimistic view, one in which all governments and stakeholders everywhere bring competence, honesty and goodwill to meeting the spirit of the measures, then it might work

    defining the real problem, then you hive off into the antithesis of the solution with

    As a matter of practical politics an ETS is superior to a carbon tax because the ETS wedges business

    , then, further, fly into the ultimate can of worms talking about agriculture, or matters of the land. The Europeans found out early that the land does not behave itself. It does not just sit there and nicely absorb carbon when it is told to. On a nice warm day it does the exact opposite. And Russia is starting to exude methane (natural gass) at a rate that will make all other efforts relatively meaningless. While at the same time they (the Russians) are selling every cu ft of methane (natural gas) that they can extract by drilling to the rest of Europe.

    You can tax or ets to your hearts content, but if it does not culminate in the complete clamp off of the consumption of fossil fuels (ultimately including gass) Then there is no point in doing anything at all.

    Your first statement was on the money, your second was a complete contradiction of the first.

    The probability of success is the exponential inverse of the complexity of the solution.

  165. John D

    Fran, I dont think reducing emissions from electricty and cars by over 90% should be dismissed “fiddling around the margins.” I also think that we can get things started a lot sooner by starting with a limited range of actions that mere mortals can understand. Selling CPRS is always going to be difficult because it is almost impossible to predict how it will affect individuals. It is a brilliant scheme if what you really want to do is spook the voters.
    It should be easy to sell a system for reducing the fuel consumption of cars that doesn’t require any increase in fuel costs. It should be easy to sell a system for cleaning up electricty that only ramps up average power costs in line with the increase in avergage generating costs. But if I had to sell CPRS I would be keen to push back the point where it really starts to bight beyond at least the next election.

  166. Brian

    Fran, those figures are way out. The IPCC AR4 gave 13.5% for agriculture and 17.5 net for land use, making a combined total of 31%. This wondrous diagram (2006) gives a result in the same ballpark. Stern was similar.

    But John D wasn’t talking about the world, he was talking about Australia. This graph is, I think, Oz in 2006, but the 2007 report (see Table 2.1) has quite a different outcome. I think the story is here. I don’t have time to nut it out, but it seems to have to do with grasslands, croplands, drought and wildfires.

    The 16% for agriculture in 2006 has, I think, to be considered against who the food is being produced for, and the majority ain’t us.

    So it’s not negligible but needs a longer look in a somewhat different context IMO.

    But what Davidson (not Davison, and it’s actually John D) is on about is pretty central, addressing 63% of emissions directly by the 2006 measure. Hardly “fiddling at the edges”.

  167. Brian

    John D @ 165:

    Selling CPRS is always going to be difficult because it is almost impossible to predict how it will affect individuals. It is a brilliant scheme if what you really want to do is spook the voters.

    Last week I think it was a cement factory in Rockhampton decided to close. They’ll now import from Asia. They gave the CPRS as the final straw.

    Barnaby Joyce, Ron Boswell et al have a plan to take every one of these stories and broadcast them around marginal provincial seats. The issue of the power industry’s access to investment finance isn’t resolved yet. From an article in BRW of July 23-29:

    The banks will not lend to electricity producers to build new production or refinance current operations unless they can accurately model electricty prices. [And they can’t with the CPRS]

    It is all pointing to a power-shortage debacle in the next decade.

    I don’t know the rights and wrongs of it, but to say, as has been said, that it is emotional blackmail from rent-seeking polluters is too easy and not based on any evidence.

    John D has been recommending a more orderly approach. If I can build him up a bit and make him blush, his work in the mining and construction industries “ranged from formal research through to design, commissioning and operations management”.

    Apart from being sensible and practical what he’s suggesting might even be good politics.

    I’ll bank the cheque now, John. :)

  168. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    I don’t share your view that an ETS is a good way to spook the voters. As is well known the coalition took an ETS to the 2007 election and were opposed by the ALP who wanted one too. Most people think the Rudd government’s ETS is a fair enough set of measures (I don’t of course and would prefer nothing to what they propose).

    I rather suspect though that if you propose an ETS that hardly bites anyone, most people will think it’s some sort of vapourware — and in practice they will be right. People need to have something that reminds them forcefully they are involved in fixing the problem. If it hurts a bit, they may be more robust in changing their patterns of behaviour and applying pressure to others to match them. I rather suspect that in this context, they’d like to hear from the government that Australia was at the front of the pack or at worst in the leading group of countries, in reducing emissions. That would be something in which to take pride.

    So far from wishing to push back the point at which the scheme ‘bites’ I’d want it to press down hard. This is like the war and we are all doing our bit to fight for the survival of the biosphere as we know it.

    [email protected]

    I’m not quite sure what you object to. Are you saying that agriculture and forestry should be exempted from emissions? If so, then that won’t work because all it means is that either we cut emissions less or the burden is shifted onto sectors that aren’t immune — and in practice probably both. We need to give those in charge of the land a reason to look after native vegetation and not to treat forests as sources of cheap resources.

  169. Fran Barlow


    The graph you point to is one I’ve seen before, but I feel sure I’;ve seen one that went a lot higher than the 31% — closer to 45% … no matter … still 31% is a lot. And yes, I am interested in something that could be applied across the planet.

    FWIW, whatever John’s proposal might do in theory I doubt it could do much more than fiddle at the margins if it costs us nothing/little in practice. It’s a patchwork quilt that could be dismantled piece by piece as the political winds shifted.

  170. moz

    [email protected]: the departure of industry for non-ETS countries is already being addressed, through the threat of tarrifs. Broadly, if an import doesn’t have offset certificates attached they will be purchased on arrival and the resulting cost paid by the importer. It’s one place where I think the economist fascination with the “extra cost of having a government bureaucrazy do things best done by the private sector” will really show up. Specifically, companies who choose (not) to purchase permits for imports will be voting with their dollars as to which approach is more efficient. Could be telling.

    With cement there are also less GHG intensive options, like magnesium carbonate instead of calcium carbonate, and those will become more attractive once a functional ETS is in place. Right now I fear The Greens have it right with their “Continue Polluting Regardless Scheme” moniker.

  171. Brian

    moz, Lovelock was talking about magnesium carbonate a few years ago and eventually that may be the answer.

    I don’t attempt to keep up with all the detail on ETS but my understanding is that the tariffs thing won’t apply for developing countries unless they accept targets under Copenhagen. It’s probably too complicated to go into here, but I don’t think we should be exporting our industries to places which will pollute CO2 as much or more than we do before there is a level playing field.

    The fact that the Nationals are saying this doesn’t automatically make it wrong!

    Fran, John D as I understand him is talking about proposals where we could make tangible and obvious progress without it costing an arm and a leg. What’s not to like about that?

    Anyway I’ve said my bit for a while.

  172. John D

    Thanks for the nice words Brian. Part of the world problem is that many countries are saying the ETS words but fudging like mad, making exceptions and generally doing as little as possible becuase they understand that ETS carries a lot of risks, unecessary price increases and uncertainities. CPRS as proposed is a classic example of this fudging and delaying.
    Australia may make a real contribution by demonstrating that we can cut through the waffle and make real reductions in emissions without wrecking our economy. The starting point is to challenge the mindsets that say that we must put a price on carbon and that we include all emissions unless a special exception is made.

  173. Brian

    Be my guest, John!

    Fran, on another thread you said, OK now that the CPRS has gone down the crapper, what can we do? And then reeled off a series of suggestions that made a fair bit of sense. Remember?

    On a thread way back, Mitchell Porter asked what do people think we should do?

    As I recall it there were heaps of suggestions and no-one suggested an ETS.

    Personally I think an ETS could be good further down the track when all countries are on board and we have an agreed target along the lines of ‘contraction and convergence’ which involves a global solution and contains principles of global equity. Short of that countries are going to play mercantilist games, as usual.

  174. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Fran, on another thread you said, OK now that the CPRS has gone down the crapper, what can we do? And then reeled off a series of suggestions that made a fair bit of sense. Remember?

    I do. I’m not ideological about this. I want something that will work, and quickly. What I proposed would work, I believe, but it would, like MSA, be exposed to political attack and subversion, and designing 173 different versions or whatever the number is … tough

  175. Fran Barlow

    I should add Biran, just for clarity, that the the post to which you refer wasn’t a complete scheme but only looked at transport and renewables. It was intended as foundational but it didn’t deal at all with concrete, agriculture and forestry or address the problem on a world scale.

    It was an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of the CPRS and to wedge business into supporting a robust CPRS by making the cost of the alternative at least as expensive in a way that would be politically difficult to resist.

  176. Brian

    Fran, just to lay it out, the IPCC divides up emissions this way:

    Energy supply 25.9

    Transport 13.1

    Residential and commercial buildings 7.9

    Industry 19.4

    Agriculture 13.5

    Forestry 17.4

    Waste and wastewater 2.8

    To clarify, they count the emissions where they are created. So in the buildings category the numbers refer to emissions created on site, eg oil burners for heating, not the power drawn from the grid.

    It seems to me we should have major programs to address each sector in its own terms here in Australia where we have control and responsibility, but also as it relates to the rest of the world in each case and in relation to the other sectors.

    There is no point, for example, in putting an impost on our beef exporters which will advantage the beef industry in Brazil when our production is 60% more efficient in GHG terms (because of better genetics and better grasses).

    Clearly the electricity supply industry is pivotal. We need urgently to decarbonise as cheaply as possible, which will means that consumers in industry, commerce and homes will automatically be responsible for less emissions. Also we can hang a lot of our transport strategies off a decarbonised electricity supply, which urgently needs to increase significantly in output.

    It seems to me that in view of the urgency and the monopolistic nature of the industry, interventionist strategies should be undertaken including regulation, sticks, carrots and even the direct action where appropriate. The irony is that we are actually doing this to some extent, including research into CCS, pilot solar projects, assistance for geothermal drilling etc.

    An overall price on carbon seems to confuse the issue, and produce unintended consequences all over the place internally. Externally I can see little point when nations have muddled and equivocal approaches to the whole problem and developing countries (some of them quite wealthy in per capita terms) have policies of actively increasing emissions.

    In one sense I’m saying that instead of having an ETS as our main strategy and an MRET as a safety net simultaneously, lets have a positive and aggressive MRET alone and come in with an ETS later when the transformations are well under way and our trading partners are seen to be doing their bit. And when there is some agreement about where we are all heading in the longer term in a scheme that includes all countries.

    And in this scheme there needs to be some accepted division of labour between countries. There needs to be concessions for food exporters, for example, if the world is going to eat, and clearly you can’t mine iron ore where there isn’t any.

    In forestry we need to go beyond paying people not to cut trees down to a point where there is alternative economic development that is more rewarding, so that the motivation to cut down trees disappears. I’m doubtful that a uniform price on carbon would ever produce that result.

    In Australia we should at least try to get net forestry emissions down to zero, if not negative. But turning a systematically and sustainably harvested cypress pine forest like Barakula (I’ll do a post on this some day) into a national park, so we get the timber from where? doesn’t make sense.

  177. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    My problem with not putting a serious price on emissions is the potential loopholes people will find. We could simply become bogged down in endless nitpicking over programs. I’d sooner deal with unintended consequences at the other end. If there really is a case for some service, then let that be delivered in kind with state support.

    It seems to me that your problem with fugitive emissions (Brazilian cattle for example) could be dealt with by tariff. If Brazil won’t accept an overall cap of sufficient size then let the WTO permit countries to impose tariffs to compensate and use these to bid for carbon credits, pushing up the price.

    Similarly with forests, if they really are sustainable they should be net zero emissions, but again. Let anyone who wants to buy timber pay the full carbon-emission price. If that means Barakula shuts, then so be it. Perhaps it’s more valuable as a sink? Why should the state choose?

  178. Brian

    Fran, Brazil is outside the tent and legally doesn’t need to restrict its emissions in any way whatsoever (while possibly protesting that they are). I understand that Treasury modelled the impact on export industries on the assumption that our competitors will soon be within the tent. Clearly they have every incentive to stay out and probably will at Copenhagen.

    The Nats and some Liberals are complaining about this and so far no-one has shown them to be wrong. It might be convenient to right them off as nutters, but it doesn’t resolve the issue.

    They are not all that poor at $10.1K per capita GDP, close to the world average. Countries similarly outside the tent but even better placed include Malaysia @ $15.8K and South Korea @ $26K.

    The WTO can’t and won’t do anything to disadvantage developing countries, because basically they’ve jacked up and the rules have to be changed by consensus, not majority vote.

    In the case of Barakula I seriously suspect we’d be better off emissions-wise with sustainable harvesting. But whether we have forests or national parks should never be determined by the price of carbon. There are trade-offs involved and we actually have to use our grey matter to resolve them.

  179. Fran Barlow

    Something uplifting I heard on the radio called “Denmark’s Energy Island”, Samsø see also Wind works. Listen here at One planet

    The story was about how a little island off the coast of Denmark is now effewctively energy self-sufficient on renewables. They are now talking about going totally organic. Great stuff.

    Well done them …

  180. Fran Barlow


    We need to get Brazil inside the tent by resort both to carrots and sticks.

    I do think we first worlders can and should be willing to chip in the 100 billion + that Gordon Brown has been talking about to smooth these negotiations. That’s less than the US alone has spent each year occupying Iraq.

  181. John D

    Brian: Have you a reference that gives a quotable breakdown of Australian/world emissions from fossil carbon? (Including carbon in limestone and other carbonates that ends up being released into the atmosphere.) The figures I have seen seem to be all aver the place and net emissions from biological sources add to the confusion.

    In terms of world agreements we may have a better chance of getting serious agreements for specific actions instead of emissions trading. We may be able to get something on the fuel consumption of new cars, emissions per kWh electricty, emsission standards for a range of equipment etc. We may also be able to get agreement acceptable emissions from new cement plants, steel mills etc.

  182. Fran Barlow

    Apparently David Mackay whose e-book “withouthotair” I’ve previously linked to from here is to take on a role with the UK government.

    A CAMBRIDGE academic who has suggested importing solar energy from the Sahara and using Scottish lakes as giant batteries is to be named the government’s scientific adviser on climate change.

    David MacKay, a professor at the famous Cavendish Laboratory, has been recruited by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary. His appointment is due to be announced in a few weeks.

    He’s an eminently sensible chap, and so this would seem to be a step forward

  183. Brian

    John D, the best I can find is this one which seems to be well-sourced.

    You can check out the Australian 2006 component here. Not sure whether that’s what you are after.

  184. Brian

    Fran @ 180, apart from numerous meetings sponsored by the UN, Brazil, China, India andd others have recently met at the G8, the G20 and the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate convened by the US. The developing countries are asking for a commitment to 40% reductions by 2020, up to 1% in aid and the transfer of intellectual property. The 1% is multiples of $100 billion.

    The US commitments for 2020 are strictly pathetic, Britain and Germany come closest.

    I think China are perhaps most interested in the intellectual property.

    India doesn’t just want commitments to targets, they want actual performance, (they’ve been dudded before by promises) and until they get it they won’t commit to anything except what is in the interests of their economy as they see it. They are strong on the legacy line. The advanced economies polluted their way to prosperity, so they also have the right so to do.

    Brazil will tag along, making helpful suggestions to try to broker a compromise.

    There is no agreement to date, so things are not promising but China and the US have agreed to keep talking.

    In agriculture any agreement is even further away, because the only countries considering including agriculture are Australia and New Zealand.

  185. Fran Barlow

    Brian, your summary is correct, and I certainly do accept the legacy argument. It really is unreasonable for those who have had little authorship of what is now a pressing problem to accept a disporortionate burden of ameliorating the problem. That burden should fall proportionately on thse responsible for the tort or their successor regimes.

    Now in practice, we have no alternative but to ask countries like China and India to avoid following our mistakes, so the real question is — how do we make it possible to do this without transferring this burden to them? Plainly, it has to be some combination of cash, goods and services and one large enough to reflect the cost of effecting mitigation, subject of course to our capacity to sustainably pay and of our political classes to sell the deal to our own populations.

    I have no doubt that if the offer is sweet enough, the developing world will buy it. We just have to bite the bullet on this and structure the arrangements so as to ensure that the payments really are tied to suitable progress on near zero emission infrastructure and global equity.

  186. Brian

    Fran, there are two questions. One is what should be done in light of the science and risk analysis, the other what is the best we can do if we start from here in light of the attitudes of the main players.

    There is a question as to whether the US will pass their bill through the Senate unless the Chinese et al come good with specific binding targets, which is a catch-22 in the real world. I think no-one wants Copenhagen to fail.

  187. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    I’m not so sure nobody wants Copenhagen to fail. I think quite a few would love it to fail if they could persuade themselves that people would not blame them for the failure.

    My onw view is that mopst of the players accept that they will have to cobble something together and each wants to avoid looking like they’ve been screwed. This goes especially for India and Brazil. They are holding out for a deal that they can take back to their people and show what hard bargainers they were.

  188. wilful

    Interesting thread, pity I’ve been too busy to more than skim it.

    Brian, you said:
    “In forestry we need to go beyond paying people not to cut trees down to a point where there is alternative economic development that is more rewarding, so that the motivation to cut down trees disappears. I’m doubtful that a uniform price on carbon would ever produce that result.

    In Australia we should at least try to get net forestry emissions down to zero, if not negative. But turning a systematically and sustainably harvested cypress pine forest like Barakula (I’ll do a post on this some day) into a national park, so we get the timber from where? doesn’t make sense.”

    I don’t know anything particularly about Barakula, but I know a bit about carbon in trees, and it seems clear enough to me from the science that if you look at the whole life-cycle of timber harvesting for sawlogs, you’re substamially in front by maintaining a sustainable (temperate forest) harvesting cycle. If the trees end up in buildings and furniture they’re likely to store carbon outside the atmosphere for decades to centuries, and every subfloor made out of hardwood is a concrete slab gone missing. If we don’t harvest trees in Australia we’ll either i) simply import them from the tropics, or ii) build things in concrete.

  189. Elise

    John D @181, totally agree with your suggestions here:

    “In terms of world agreements we may have a better chance of getting serious agreements for specific actions instead of emissions trading. We may be able to get something on the fuel consumption of new cars, emissions per kWh electricty, emsission standards for a range of equipment etc. We may also be able to get agreement acceptable emissions from new cement plants, steel mills etc.”

    There seems to be an excess of symbolism and bureaucratic process with Rudd/Wong’s ETS, and not enough result-driven initiatives.

  190. Brian

    wilful, I’m supposed to be working on a post on the regrowth clearing moratorium, but it keeps on sprawling all over the place and I keep on learning new stuff. So I’m working on a Barakula post. It’s easier and kind of related.

  191. John D

    Thanks for the links Brian. This one is of particular use when discussing what countries like India and Brazil need to do to match the world per capita average required to halve the emissions rate. It is worth noting that only two countries contribute more than 5.5% of the worlds total emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and 24% of emissions come from coutries that produce less than us.

    If we are going to discuss the issue of developing nations it is worth looking at the US/China combination. In 2007 both contributed about 20% of world emissions from burning fossil fuels and both countries are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It is unrealistic to talk of the US helping pay the costs of reducing Chinese emissions since the US already has a growing debt with China and the rest of the world. In world and Chinese economic terms it may actually help both countries if China used its enormous trade surplus to either import the equipment required to reduce Chinese emissions or to invest in the cleaning up of other countries.

    However, there are many things that both countries might agree on that don’t seriously disadvantage either. For example, agreeing on tight efficiency standards for cars, computors etc. probably doesn’t make a lot of difference unless competitors get away with lower standards.

    On the other hand reaching agreement on power generation may be a lot more difficult because China needs to increase generating capacity while the US may actually be able to cut back.

    I think what the world needs right now is to see some agreements being made that are large eneough for total world emissions to start going down.

  192. KeIThY

    Surface Area Required to Power the Whole World With Solar and Wind Power
    by Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada on 09. 3.09
    Science & Technology (solar)

    Click for bigger version. Credit: Land Art Generator Initiative.

    Putting Things in Perspective
    The picture above has been making the rounds of the internet lately (sadly it hasn’t always been attributed to the Land Art Generator Initiative). It’s a bit similar to things we posted about in the past and represents the total surface area that would be required to power the whole world in 2030 using nothing but solar or wind power (see below for wind power pic).

    All the assumptions used to create the solar power pic above (you can click on it to see a bigger version) can be found here, but here are the main ones:

    According to the US Department of Energy (Energy Information Administration), the world consumption of energy in all of its forms (barrels of petroleum, cubic meters of natural gas, watts of hydro power, etc.) is projected to reach 678 quadrillion Btu (or 7.15 exajoules) by 2030 – a 44% increase over 2008 levels (levels for 1980 were 283 quadrillion Btu and we stand at around 500 quadrillion Btu today). […]

    Dividing the global yearly demand by 400 kW•h per square meter (198,721,800,000,000 / 400) and we arrive at 496,804,500,000 square meters or 496,805 square kilometers (191,817 square miles) as the area required to power the world with solar panels. […]

    If divided into 5,000 super-site installations around the world (average of 25 per country), it would measure less than 10km a side for each. The UAE has plans to construct 1,500MW of capacity by 2020 which will require a space of 3 km per side. If the UAE constructed the other 7 km per side of that area, it would be able to power itself as a nation completely with solar energy. The USA would require a much larger area and approximately 1,000 of these super-sites.

    According to the United Nations 170,000 square kilometers of forest is destroyed each year. If we constructed solar farms at the same rate, we would be finished in 3 years.

    surface area power world with wind power
    Click for bigger version. Credit: Land Art Generator Initiative.

    They did the same thing with wind power (again, you can click on the pic above to see a bigger version):

    A 5 MW turbine can be expected to produce 17 GWh per year (they are 40% effective from their peak rated capacity – 5 MW x 365 x 24 = 43.8 GWh). Therefore, it would require 11,748,294 of the 5 MW capacity turbines to create the same yearly output. There are 500 million cars in the world so it’s not like that’s an unattainable goal from a manufacturing standpoint. And each 5 MW turbine is a 30 year lifespan money making machine for whoever buys it. The same can not be said for my car. But if we can build 90,000 Cape Wind size installations, we would be there on wind alone. Based on that installation, each turbine requires 1/2 square mile of area for offshore sites. This would require 5.85 million square kilometers for 2030 world energy needs.

    Of course, nobody’s suggesting creating a kind of “clean energy monoculture”. The green energy future will no doubt include many sources, including wind and solar, but also wave, geothermal, green hydro, etc. Maybe even space-based solar power and what I call “estuary power” (harnessing the mixing of fresh water with salt water). But still, this exercise is useful because it puts things in perspective and shows us that while the scale is huge, it isn’t so much bigger than a lot of other man-made things.

    source: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/surface-area-required-to-power-the-whole-world-with-solar-power-wind.php

  193. Peter


    While these sorts of ‘back of the envelope’ calculations can be fun and even informative I think the original article is guilty of slicing and dicing things up to make it sound feasible. First they admit that it would cover the area of Spain but then slice it into thousands of little 10km2 areas to make it sound not so bad. Have you ever been to Spain? I have and it takes a couple of days to drive from the bottom to the top and quite a while from side to side. To assume you could cover an area this big with solar panels in 20 years is a bit rich. (actually you would have to double or treble it because it make no allowance for access).

    Considering the worlds manufacturing capacity to produce solar panels is currently at only a few sq km per year (from memory – could be wrong) we have a way to go in that direction as well.

  194. Peter

    Also my calculator ran out of zeros when I tried to calculate the cost. I *think* it comes to 500 trillion dollars (@$1000/m2) but I’m sure Elise will correct me if wrong:

    496,804,500,000 m2 = approx 500 billion m2

    500 billion m2 = 1/2 trillion m2
    1/2 trillion * $1000/m2 = 500 trillion dollars = 10 years world GNP.


  195. Fran Barlow

    AIUI 500 trillionj was about 6.5 times world GDP but who is counting?

  196. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Speaking as someone who has spent quite a bit of time trying to imagine how renewables such as wind and solar could shoulder the load produced by coal, I’d love to see the treehugger claims as realistic, but I rather doubt in practice that they are close.

    A CF of 40% probably isn’t unrealistic. With the right sites, you could get that. IMO, the best sites are probably on top of high rise buildings since you automatically get elevation and more persistent adequate wind strength (though if they are too high rise lower air mass density) and might event in some cases be able to use VAWTs to harvest really strong output. Putting them on top of high rise guarantees they will be close to major sources of demand and major distribution so you can cut your back end transmission costs. Maintenance will be less costly too and you don’t have to build roads.

    Even so, you still have the thorny question of how to deliver enough predictable power to users, so you arfe going to have to have some load balancing costs — so this will require expenditure on technologies such as pumped storage, or vanadium flow batteries or something that can deliver power in the quality that is needed for contemporary life. It doesn’t matter what the average output is. What you need is steady output that matches demand in real time, which is not at all the same thing even if over a year the two columns (demand and supply) are equal. Achieving this match is costly either in terms of redundancy or in storage. That’s one reason why the existing configuration exists. It’s the cheapest way to supply power on demand to major urban areas.

    There’s also the problem of how to supply energy at acceptable costs to the poorest 3-4 billion on the planet. The fact that Southern Australia or the US Midwest or the worlds biggest cities might have lots of surplus wind power is not necessarily of any use to the people of Equatorial Guinea or Azerbaijan or Guatemala. How does this surplus translate into energy for them? Unless all the averages work everywhere then the BOTE calculation is simply an amusing talking point.

  197. Elise

    Fran @196: “There’s also the problem of how to supply energy at acceptable costs to the poorest 3-4 billion on the planet.”

    There I was thinking that they were all going to be having nukes. Surely they can afford nukes?

    Actually, I sometimes wonder if we are trying to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, with all the $billions being offered for CCS research, and $billions planned for the ETS handouts.

    Gas-fired power will get us approximately to the 80/20 solution, quickly and relatively easily.

    Here is the data on gas-fired versus coal-fired, according to the WA Sustainable Energy Development Office (SEDO): http://www.sedo.wa.gov.au/pages/heat_run.asp

    • Consuming 1kWh of electricity emits approximately 0.99 kg of carbon dioxide
    • Consuming 1kWh of natural gas emits approximately 0.21 kg of carbon dioxide

  198. KEIthY

    I’m amused by all the differing figures. My intention is not to give everyone an unhealthy dose of document shock: I simply thought it was a source worth having in the thread for better or worse. My thoughts are simply that the Fibs cannot succesfully run the argument that Australia desperately needs Nuclear Power ASAP whilst also running the argument that we only produce not even 2% of GHG. It would be too smelly even for them!

  199. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    You quote me:

    There’s also the problem of how to supply energy at acceptable costs to the poorest 3-4 billion on the planet …

    then you continue:

    There I was thinking that they were all going to be having nukes. Surely they can afford nukes?

    With western help, they can. That was my point.

    You cite the figures for GHG emissions associated with gas home heating but this is not the same as for electricity generation using gas. Gas is very efficient at heating and Brayton Cycle CCGTs are very good, as thermal plants go at producing electricity from gas — about 60% thermally efficient (cf coal about 35-45%), but it’s not 5 times as good as coal and certainly not the best coal and not close to being as good as nuclear power. Its likely longevity as a fuel source is also not as good.

  200. Elise

    Fran @199: “With western help, they can. That was my point.”

    Presumably they would be stumping up the $billions for these poor nations to build nukes because they are so concerned about global warming? Not because they would make much money from charging customers?

    I just watched the Four Corners program on coal. It seems that everyone is in a tearing rush to step backwards from actually stumping up cash for their own mitigation activities.

    One could scarcely imagine how successful the begging bowl will be in raising serious cash for heavy duty mitigation for other nations?

  201. Elise

    Fran @199: “You cite the figures for GHG emissions associated with gas home heating but this is not the same as for electricity generation using gas. Gas is very efficient at heating…”

    It seems that you are correct there.

    The SEDO data I quoted didn’t specify how the kWh were obtained, but in all probability it referred to gas HW, gas heaters and gas cooking – all heating applications where gas is very efficient, as you say.

    According to the Qld govt website, gas-fired electricity is about 50% better in terms of emissions: http://www.energyfutures.qld.gov.au/how_gas_fired_electricity_works.cfm

    Even so, using gas-fired power NOW would be a lot better than waiting a decade or so for a few CCS plants.

    In case you are interested in future directions in car fuel efficiency, here is an interesting concept car from BMW (scroll down to the Press Release at the bottom to see the specs in metric units):

    It is a hybrid of diesel/electric, rather than petrol/electric as per the Prius.

  202. Luke Weston

    I don’t like the notion of replacing coal-derived energy with natural gas, and I really don’t like the mindset that “we don’t need nuclear power, we can just use gas instead”.

    Natural gas is an extremely “greenwashed” industry. It’s not clean or green – it’s an extremely carbon dioxide emissions intensive fossil fuel. When you burn it, all that carbon dioxide waste is released straight into the atmosphere.

    It’s a little bit better than coal, but so what? “At least it’s not coal” seems to be the only argument used for selling natural gas.

    I’d rather have zero-emissions nuclear power than have “at least it’s not coal” high-emissions gas-fired generators.

    There is an important and often overlooked factor which makes gas-fired electricity generators quite different from coal and nuclear power. The operating costs for such plant, for the cost of the natural gas fuel, are very high, and this cost is more significant than the capital cost of the plant.

    This is why gas turbines are only used to meet demand peaks, although there’s no technological reason why they can’t run continually as base load. It’s just like running nuclear energy to follow rapidly changing peak load – there’s no technical reason why you can’t, it’s only done the way it is because it makes more sense economically.

    Therefore, generators won’t replace coal burners with gas under a cash-for-clunkers scheme, because the ongoing fuel cost would mean a significant price hike for electricity consumers.

    Let’s remove the ridiculous arbitrary legal banning of nuclear energy, put a real price disincentive on GHG emissions, and let the free market decide what they need to do.

  203. Fran Barlow


    While I agree with the thrust of what you say about gas, a serious price on CO2 would make the cost per KwH of the most efficient gas turbine units at worst comparable with coal. There are also other reasons than GHG abatement for preferring gas to coal — PM, mercury amd actnide release abatement etc.

    You can also use biogas or coal seam bed gas in gas turbine units reducing net CO2 usage still further.

    As is clear, I’d prefer to replace coal with nuclear, ideally thorium 232 which is abundant and which reactors can degrade the most dangerous and weaponizable actinides and produce little hazmat compared with other reactors. The IFR would be an especially good option too.

    But the reality is that here in Ausralia, nuclear is unlikely in the near future, we do need to move quickly, gas plus a little pumped storage can support integration of wind, solar and tidal and I am a respecter of the political wishes of my fellows, so if you ask me which does the lesser offence to the biosphere, and to the interests of humanity — gas or coal, the choice is clear. While inferior to nuclear, resort to gas is preferable to resort to coal.

  204. Elise

    Given that gas produces considerably less CO2 than coal, per kWh, perhaps the carbon emissions from gas turbines might be of a quantity which could be treated by green algae farming?

    Perhaps this would improve the carbon footprint of gas, to enable the gas-fired plants to operate in under a more strict regime of kg CO2 emissions/kWh?

    Someone on LP expressed a concern that the requirement for sunlight, for the algae to process the CO2, would mean vast ponds. There would probably be a practical limit to the size of ponds anywhere near a usefully-located power station.

    I was just wondering whether agitation of the ponds (possibly just by constructing an efficient CO2 gas bubbling system) would continually bring algae to the surface, such that smaller pond diameters are required? This might make treatment of larger CO2 volumes feasible. Do we have a biochemical engineer in the house, to answer this question?

  205. Peter


    I am not a biochemical engineer but I did major in biochemistry. I would say the limiting factor – as always – would be the amount of sunlight / m2. Probably no different in principal to growing crops etc for fuel.

  206. Peter

    The Coyote Guy does the math for a large domestic PV system in Phoenix.

  207. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    You are right that the surface area of algae exposed to the sunlight is key, but the growth rates of algae are very high. If you are inteterested you can google “Aquatic Species Program” + “Michael Briggs” + UNH

    The ponds could be agitated gently by small mechanical rotors connected to a wind turbine perhaps backed up by a PV-charged battery. here, intermittency is not a problem because the rotation is not needed on a continuous basis.

    Another option would be to have LEDs powered by PV running under the surface of the water of a shaft and rotating. This would push up the cost but the yield would be greater.

    In general, the larger the ponds the better the cost structure since you get more area per unit of infrastructure, though of course, in the end, you still have to have a manageable way to harvest the algae.

    The main disadvantage of open ponds is the potential intrusion of less desirable strains of algae, but this is mainly a problem for people wanting fuel at commercial scale, because the speicies may not have the right proportion of lipids for economically viable transesterification, or starches for alcohol fuels. If all you want is biomass then what it is composed of is less important than the rate at which it grows, and in general, it will be the fastest growing algal species that dominate an algal pond.

  208. Elise

    Peter, how much sunlight does the algae need, and does it need the sunlight continuously or intermittently?

    Imagine that the algae cells are floating up to the surface then down to the bubbler, then up again, in a continuous cycle. Can they grow under these circumstances?

    If the algae volume is circulating, then the sunlight watts/m2 is available to a larger volume of algae.

    To draw a long bow, taking a kitchen analogy of making devilled almonds (raw almonds + cayenne pepper + salt + dob of butter), you either need a very large skillet to get a monolayer, or you use a small skillet and stir it frantically. This is an inverse example of supplying the watts from below, so to say. 😉

  209. Elise

    Fran @208, thanks for the info.

    Incidentally, has anyone looked at putting a collar dish of mirrors around the tanks, to focus more sunlight on the surface, and increase the biomass production rate (thus CO2 consumption rate)?

    Even more whacky, could the tanks be made of a perspex type of material, and mirrors focussed on the sidewall area as well? That should greatly increase the “surface area available to sunlight”, without making the tanks unmanageably large. This could address your point about large open ponds and control of ingress by undesirable material.

  210. Peter

    Elise, I don’t really know the answer to your question off hand except to reiterate that, from first principals, I would think that the limiting factor will be the amount of sunlight / m2. In other words if algae need ‘x’ amount of sunlight to produce a certain amount of whatever it is you are after, then there is no way around this by, say, shifting the algae around. All that will really happen is that they will get less than ‘x’ sunlight and so produce less of whatever.

    Of course different arrangements will be more or less efficient at doing this but the 1Kw/m2 from the sun would be the main factor and I would be a pleasantly surprised if you could harvest more than 10% of the suns energy by this means.

  211. Elise

    Peter, the key to it all, as you say, is the “x” amount of sunlight needed.

    It will probably make a world of difference to the outcome if the “x” amount of sunlight is relatively small, compared with the incident radiation/m2.

    Don’t some types of algae grow in relatively shady ponds? It would be interesting to know if these would be suitable.

  212. Elise

    Peter @207, I just read your link to Coyote Guy for a large domestic PV system in the US. I’m not sure how the rebates he refers to can be used to imply anything for buying systems here in Australia.

    One thing that sticks out like the proverbial dog balls, is that he seems to need more than 11 kW for a domestic system. Phoenix is supposedly a very sunny part of the country (by Coyote’s say-so). Why on earth does he need that much power?

    For comparison, we have a 1.3 kW system (compared with 11 kW), and it cut our electricity bills by more than half. If we had double the capacity, i.e. 2.6 kW then we would be electricity neutral.

    While Coyote is ranting on about wealth transfer, he might as well talk about wealth transfer to the coal companies, car manufacturers, farmers, etc. They all get handouts from the government. Does he mind that type of wealth transfer?

  213. Peter


    You must live very frugally. We go through 27KwH per day. We have gas heating and off peak hot water. There are 3 of us. Most of our bulbs are now cfl. We do have a pool but that only uses maybe 6KwH per day for 6 months of the year. We don’t have aircon. Most of our appliances are quite efficient and we don’t have that many – only a small fridge and freezer, front load w/m and a stove. We don’t collect most other gadgets and they wouldn’t use much anyway. Both my wife and I work at home most days which would make a difference and we do have computers everywhere – probably 6, but they are mostly sleeping.

    Re Coyote, if you read his blog you will discover that he is against all the transfers that you mention.

  214. Elise

    Peter @214, it doesn’t feel like a frugal existence. We are new technology enthusiasts, rather than hair-shirt greenies.

    We have gas HW, gas heating, gas cooktop (all very efficient for energy consumption and carbon footprint, as discussed earlier). Virtually all bulbs are compact fluorescent or LED. Probably no different to you there.

    No pool – the space is taken up with garden, especially 2 large shade trees to protect against the western sun, and a whole bunch of grevilleas for the native birds.

    We have 3 small aircons – efficient, split-system, reverse-cycle with inverters for bedroom, office and lounge. We don’t try to completely compensate the temperature, just knock the tops and bottoms off temperature extremes, so to say. We also have a ducted evaporative aircon and fans for the large open-plan area and the adjacent BBQ area. The mixed aircon system is deliberate, to enable minimising the carbon footprint with horses-for-courses, or fit-for-purpose cooling.

    We also built shade “sail” verandas around the house, with the highest grade of dual-extrusion polycarbonate (best specs for heat-reflection with maximum light penetration). This really cut the heat load in summer, as did the big trees in the western corner.

    The fridge is 4 star, and we have a freezer and a bar fridge which is used for BBQ’s (otherwise switched off). Front-load washing machine and drier, electric stove and computers (heavy usage), printers etc. No different to you there.

    We have a 1.3 kW solar PV system, grid-connected, on a North-facing section of roof. That really helps – cut our coal-fired electricity consumption in half, and our bills by more than half (SmartPower rates with feed-in tariff for solar excess).

    Our total electricity imported from the grid, averaged over a year is 6 kWh/day. Blowed if I know why you would be using 27 kWh/day! Maybe your meter is faulty?

    The pool would account for some of your higher consumption, and the solar PV accounts for a 6 kWh/day reduction for our consumption.

  215. keIThY

    Luke Weston @ 202: What free market? [You are a psychopath!]

  216. Peter

    This should please some of you!

  217. KeIThy

    Where’s the nanosolar projects: that’s what I want to know!

  218. Elise

    Keithy @218, by “nanosolar” do you mean green algae? :)

  219. KeIThy
  220. KeIThy

    No, from wiki: Technology

    The company uses copper indium gallium diselenide—which achieves up to 19.9% efficiency in laboratory samples[14]—to build their thin film solar cells. The company’s technology gained early industry recognition with the presentation of a Small Times Magazine award at a leading nanotech business event in 2005.[15] Nanosolar’s solar cells have been verified by NREL to be as efficient as 14.6% in 2006, with no more recent results announced by the company. [16] Technical details of Nanosolar’s new manufacturing techniques have been disclosed in patent applications.[17] Some information about their process has become available in a Scientific American article (in German). [18] These details involve a semiconductor ink that it claims will enable it to produce solar cells with a basic printing process, rather than using slow and expensive high-vacuum based thin-film deposition processes. In Nanosolar’s process, the ink is deposited on a flexible substrate (the “paper”), and then nanocomponents in the ink align themselves properly via molecular self-assembly.

    Nanosolar has developed a suite of in-house capabilities for creating nanostructured components based on various patented and patent-pending techniques. It uses nanostructured components as the basis for creating printable semiconductors, printable transparent electrodes, novel forms of advanced nanocomposite solar-cell design and powerful new forms of barrier films. [19]

    According to the company, “leveraging recent science advances in nanostructured materials, Nanosolar has developed a proprietary ink that makes it possible to simply print the semiconductor of a high-performance solar cell. This ink is based on Nanosolar developing various proprietary forms of nanoparticles and associated organic dispersion chemistry and processing techniques suitable for delivering a semiconductor of high electronic quality.”[20][21]

    Two advantages over earlier technologies is that a printing process is quick and also makes it easy to deposit a uniform layer of the ink, resulting in a layer with the correct ratio of elements everywhere on the substrate. Also, the ink is printed only where needed, so there is less waste of material. Last, the substrate material on which the ink is printed is much more conductive and less expensive than the stainless steel substrates that are often used in thin-film solar panels.[1]

    These solar cells successfully blend the needs for efficiency, low cost, and longevity and will be easy to install due to their flexibility and light weight. Estimates by Nanosolar of the cost of these cells fall roughly between 1/10th and 1/5th [22] the industry standard per kilowatt.

    The company implies that their solar cells can last more than 25 years by saying they “achieve a durability compatible with our 25-year warranty.”[23]

  221. John D

    I doubt there is very much merit in bubbling CO2 throughthe algae – probably costs a lot less to send the CO2 up the stack and let the algae use the CO2 in the air. gives more flexibility re algae farm location and saves the cost of collecting and bubbling CO2.
    Fran @ 208: Peter’s figures above are similar to my guess, i.e., you have to be talkig about very large pools, not tanks. Large pools mean that species used has to be able to compete with the wild stuff and has to be OK for fish, ducks etc. to eat. Large pools also mean evaporation so it would be smart to use an algae that works in salt water from the sea.
    I don’t see natural gas as the long term solution unless CO2 sequestration works a lot better and costs a lot less than current expectations. I see natureal gas as cheap way of getting short term gains while we allow various tecnolgies to develop a bit more.

  222. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    There is some value in piping the CO2-rich effluent through the algae since (sunlight permitting) you do get (with some strains) increased yield, and you also remove quite a bit of NOx. It’s doubtful though if the economics compare well with open raceway ponds. I heard that one company in Milwaukee (IIRC — will stand corrected on this) — a beer company — was doing something with a company called Solix along these lines.

    The pools in question are very large — raceway-style. Here is a recent reference.

    Fairly obviously, some algaes can grow in brackish water — I understand there was some work being done in Hawaii along these lines though again, I’m not sure of the economics. These would obviously change if there were a serious cost on carbon emission in general and on the footprint of crude oil in particular.

  223. Brian

    I gather that the algae is used to make biofuels, which means that it isn’t sequestered at all. As John D points out you don’t have to have the pond next to the fossil fuel burning power station, so claiming that setting up an algae pool makes a power station clean is a complete con. There is no necessary connection and it is not even an offset in the normally understood meaning of the term.

  224. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Well yes, if the algal biomass is combusted then all that is really happening is a further fuel cycle in the CO2 added by the original source, rather than sequestration. Whether this new cycle is of any net value depends on whether some other combustion of fossil fuels is foreclosed.

    And yes, it doesn’t matter where the algal pond is set up unless gorwth rates are better near the power station are better as a result of the more concentrated CO2 supply.

  225. Brian

    Fran my view on the information available is that there are only a few biofuel sources that may have some value in terms of the energy yield as against energy inputs and other environmental negatives. Algae is among the most promising and we may need it to provide things like jet fuel from a low net emissions source.

    Give that we need to get emissions down to net zero and beyond we really need go as clean as possible everywhere in every aspect of production and consumption. We’ll need genuine sequestration activities like forestry, perhaps biochar, to offset all the emissions we can’t avoid while still providing reasonable opportunities for a satisfying and pleasant lifestyle.

    In calibrating all this I doubt whether the market with a price on carbon is going to give us optimum or even sufficient outcomes. It’s likely to require rational intelligence and political cooperation on a scale perhaps never achieved before.

  226. Fran Barlow

    I think your summary is reasonable, Brian, but although a carbon rpice alone will not ensure that what needs rto be done gets done, it is I believe a necessary condition for the collaboration needed.

  227. BilB

    The next person who declares that China is doing nothing about their CO2 emissions is going to be ignored.


  228. John D

    [email protected]: Subscription to GIZMAG should be compulsury for anyone who wants to comment on solutions to climate change or is just interested in smart ideas. In terms of the chinese solar power the following quote from the article is worth noting:

    Central to the project will be its operation under a government feed-in-tariff scheme. According to Ahearn, a long-term price guarantee for the electricity produced by the plant “is necessary to create a strong solar market and facilitate the construction of a project this size, which in turn continues to drive the cost of solar electricity closer to ‘grid parity’ – where it is competitive with traditional energy sources.

    No mention on putting a price on catbon but a strong message supporting all those of us that are saying that price (and sale) guarantees are essential to encourage investment in a way that minimizes price increases.

  229. Brian

    I had heard about it, but I’m not sure where.

    Colour me cynical, but China are going ahead full bore with coal and nuclear also. I believe they’ve declared renewable energy as a strategic industry and have an overriding interest in being in front of the pack in manufacturing the where-with-all.

  230. Elise

    John D @228: “No mention on putting a price on catbon but a strong message supporting all those of us that are saying that price (and sale) guarantees are essential to encourage investment in a way that minimizes price increases.”

    Copy that, with bells on! :)