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Ramping up renewables

Written By: - Date published: 12:00 pm, August 28th, 2010 - 7 comments
Categories: climate change, energy, sustainability - Tags: ,

An excellent post by Bryan Walker at Hot Topic reproduced with permission.

There may be conflicting reports as to whether renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in time to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and there are still plenty of people in positions of authority, like our own Energy Minister, who see little reason to hurry the process. The heavy lobbying influence of big oil and coal interests remains powerful. But it’s heartening to be reminded from time to time that transition is nevertheless under way in many parts of the world and that it’s gathering pace. An Earth Policy Institute article has arrived in my inbox offering just such a reminder. It refreshes what Lester Brown had to say about the shift to renewable energy in his book Plan B 4.0.

I reviewed the book on Hot Topic last year, but at the risk of repeating myself I’ll report some of the points which he now reiterates and updates. The first is that the transition to energy powered by wind, solar and geothermal sources is moving worldwide at a pace and on a scale we could not have imagined even two years ago. Texas, the oil state, is a prime example. It has 9,700 megawatts of wind generating capacity online, 370 more in construction, and a huge amount in the development stage. When all of these wind farms are completed, Texas will have 53,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity—the equivalent of 53 coal-fired power plants. This will more than satisfy the residential needs of the state’s 25 million people, enabling Texas to export electricity, just as it has long exported oil.

South Dakota has begun development on a vast 5050-megawatt farm that when completed will produce nearly five times as much electricity as the state needs. It will become an exporter, as some ten American states and several Canadian provinces are planning to be.

Brown then moves across the Atlantic to point to the hopes of the Scottish government for the development of an enormous off-shore wind generating capacity of some 60,000 megawatts. I reported on Hot Topic a few months ago on a major survey which has identified North Sea potential from wind and wave of even larger potential, capable of producing six times as much electricity as is currently used in the UK. If joined to a northern super-grid it could enable access to a single European electricity market and export opportunity.

Algeria plans to build 6000 megawatts of solar thermal generating power for export to Europe via undersea cable

It’s not only the developed world that is embracing renewable energy on a rapidly growing scale. Brown instances Algeria’s plans to build 6000 megawatts of solar thermal generating power for export to Europe via undersea cable. He points to their awareness that they have enough harnessable solar energy in their vast deserts to power the entire world economy. Solar energy is clearly of enormous potential not only in the Mediterranean region but also in the south-west US and the Indian desert and China, and there is regular news of new developments in all of these areas.

Brown touches on Turkey where construction  permits are being issued for 7,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity, in response to bids to build a staggering 78,000 megawatts. In Indonesia the state oil company Pertamina is responsible for developing most of a planned 6,900 megawatts of geothermal generating capacity.

‘These are only a few of the visionary initiatives to tap the earth’s renewable energy. The resources are vast. In the United States, three states—North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas—have enough harnessable wind energy to run the entire economy. In China, wind will likely become the dominant power source. Indonesia could one day get all its power from geothermal energy alone. Europe will be powered largely by wind farms in the North Sea and solar thermal power plants in the North African desert.’

The 20th century saw the globalisation of the world energy economy as countries everywhere turned to oil, much of it from the Middle East. This century, says Brown, will see the localisation of energy production as the world turns to wind, solar and geothermal energy. It will also see the electrification of the economy.

‘The transport sector will shift from gasoline-powered automobiles to plug-in gas-electric hybrids, all-electric cars, light rail transit, and high-speed intercity rail. And for long-distance freight, the shift will be from diesel-powered trucks to electrically powered rail freight systems. The movement of people and goods will be powered largely by electricity. In this new energy economy, buildings will rely on renewable electricity almost exclusively for heating, cooling, and lighting.’

Can renewable energy be expanded fast enough? Brown thinks so, encouraged by the phenomenon of the extraordinary growth of the communications and information economies in only the last thirty years. Others don’t. Barry Brook in Australia is one, with his views summed up in this recent article and much more on his Brave New Climate website. Not that he’s arguing for fossil fuels in his view nuclear power is the only technology that can get us there fast enough and economically enough.

Lester Brown falls back on the analogy of the Second World War when the American economy changed direction with extraordinary speed and prospered in doing so. He’s not alone in sounding this theme, but he was an early proponent of it. The difficulty with this concept is that our societies are hardly yet ready to see climate change in the stark terms which obtained in 1939 and 1941.

Whether renewables will be ratcheted up quickly enough or not they certainly represent one of our best hopes of containing climate change impacts. Don’t forget to tell Gerry Brownlee so before September 2, when submissions on the new draft energy strategy close. I’ve said elsewhere on Hot Topic what I see as wrong with the draft.  Simon Boxer of Greenpeace has put it succinctly:

‘It’s a document that lacks vision and goals. It shows that the Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee is ignoring the climate crisis. It’s a route map to a dead end.

‘The Government’s energy strategy prioritises drilling and mining for more oil and coal, while providing virtually no stimulation for the development of renewable energy and clean technology. It fails to acknowledge the seriousness of climate change and makes no attempt to set measurable emissions reduction targets.’

If you’d like some suggestions the Greens offer a thoughtful submission guide.  If you’re lacking time a shortcut is offered by Greenpeace or WWF . Many of the 40,000 submissions received by the government on Brownlee’s proposals to mine conservation land no doubt used form statements provided by organisations. They still count, so use one of the offered quick responses rather than pass the opportunity by.

7 comments on “Ramping up renewables ”

  1. M 1

    Whilst the ramping up of renewables is a worthy cause, there is no way that the chasm can be bridged between what renewables can provide and fossil fuel depletion rates which are now 9% YOY. There is no way that economies will be able to run at the pace they have been and people will not be able to live the way they have been particularly in the developed world.

    The only real currency in this world is energy without it nothing gets done, be it transporting goods and people, irrigating, fertilising and controlling pests on farms or getting food on to plates. This means as the world becomes more energy poor then everyone will become poorer and if we’re lucky in the extreme we’ll all have steady state economies.

    Ninety percent of all fossil fuels are used for transportation and there is not enough oil to power the manufacture and replacement of the world wide vehicle fleet of 800 million (and growing) with electric cars or indeed to even allow the power generation necessary for the recharging of batteries for said cars.

    I believe that around 60% of power generated in New Zealand is from hydro or wind that means 40% is supplied via fossil fuels. The pressure already placed on the grid for domestic and industrial use could not cope with the added pressure of people recharging their batteries for their electric cars. Anyway, the batteries for such cars need to be replaced every few years cost several thousand dollars.

    As to everyone going solar impossible China cannot keep up with the current orders it has and most people could not afford to change even with government subsidies.

    In a letter to Boy Blunder recently I asked the following questions re NZ’s energy future:

    Who is going to be interested in sending oil to a couple of shaky islands at the bottom of the world?

    Who will be able to afford to view New Zealand as a tourist destination when air travel will only be available to the super rich or heads of state as the price of fuel ramps up or is available only sporadically or not at all?

    If we can get some oil, how will it be paid for given we are a poor nation with no wealth as this has been quietly transferred to the upper echelons or overseas for the past 25 years?

    Why is long distance trucking not outlawed immediately and everything that can be transported by rail or sea promulgated?

    Why are not owners of tiny appendage compensator vehicles absolutely gouged through vehicle re-licensing fees, so that owning a 1600cc vehicle would be considered huge? Let’s face it; most SUVs are nothing more than vanity vehicles for people with misguided ideas about safety or major inferiority complexes, particularly males needing phallic substitutes.

    Why is not fuel rationing enacted immediately and ration books printed? This could be a leg up for poorer people as they could sell their ration to the more well-to-do/greedy consumers.

    Why is public transport not being promoted and given decent funding so that people would consider themselves mental to even consider owning a car unless they lived in rural areas or had a major disability such as MS or paraplegia?

    Why are home gardens not being promoted? As fuel prices increase the cost of food will skyrocket and the fry shacks like McDonalds will go out of business. Or is this National’s plan to rid itself of inconvenient sections of the populace?

    Life will by necessity become much slower and extremely local and people will have to reconnect with each other. Anyone who thinks living through oil shortages will be solved by singing Kum Ba Yah needs to read up on Cuba’s predicament when they were cast adrift by the USSR after the fall of communism and the concomitant internal problems the Soviets experienced. Crops rotted in Cuban fields because there was no oil to transport them to market.

    Check out the monthly rations per person in Cuba during the “special period”:

    http://www.newint.org/features/1998/05/05/slim/

    BODEGA BLACKBOARD

    Monthly ration per person at subsidized prices. Supplies vary regionally. Meat is rare and in some areas comes only once or twice a year.

    3 kgs of rice
    3 kgs of sugar
    500 g of beans
    200 g salt
    1 kg fish
    400 g (chicken or beef)
    14 eggs
    1 tube toothpaste (per family of 4)
    1 bar hand soap, 1 bar laundry soap every two months
    Limited quantities of tobacco, rum and coffee

  2. KJT 2

    Unlike most other countries NZ is very well placed for renewable energy and food supplies.
    Most of our power generation is renewable already and we have the potential for much more.
    Demand from many present users of electricity will drop as energy efficiency measures are increased.

    I do not think we will run out of either given the political will.

    “The pressure already placed on the grid for domestic and industrial use could not cope with the added pressure of people recharging their batteries for their electric cars.”

    We currently pay over 6 Billion a year for fossil fuel imports. If we can halve that with electric cars for commuting the effect on the grid can easily be paid for by savings in the current account.
    http://kjt-kt.blogspot.com/2010/08/industries-we-could-lead-in.html
    Fossil fuels can then be kept for intercity transport. At least until rail and shipping can be improved.
    Cars can be charged outside high consumption hours so the effect on the grid is not as great as you may think.

    We should be leading in alternative energy and energy efficiency projects. Not being an “aso ran” yet again.

  3. M 3

    KJT

    I don’t believe the political will is there to push for even greater use of renewable energy because political parties will not want to offend big oil and there is still very much the NIMBY syndrome.

    When I read the article in the Listener about how Deborah Coddington did not want her view despoiled with wind turbines I wondered if she would be happy to be reading by candle light of an evening – the same thing goes on with Makara residents.

    New Zealand could be self-sufficient for food and water but that self-sufficiency will of course have NZ in the sights of those not so lucky. As Robin Scott says, Indonesia or China could annexe NZ overnight.

    I’m all for optimism as long as there’s a healthy shot of reality in the mix. Even though I believe everyone is going to suffer a lot with peak oil, I still think there’s a chance that people will realise that working together rather than being greedy and fighting over scraps of whatever resource will be the best way to survive and prosper – and one can never rule out black swan events.

    Getting a good bike would be a wise investment for most people 🙂

  4. KJT 4

    M. Yes I agree. We first have to get control of our country back. Then we may have a hope.

  5. Ramping up SEXYCOAL

    Lignite fast track proposed
    Home » News » Dunedin
    By Stu Oldham on Mon, 30 Aug 2010
    The Regions: Southland | News: Dunedin | Energy | Solid Energy

    Multibillion-dollar plans for a lignite-to-diesel conversion plant and urea plant in Southland are so significant the Government could fast-track their resource consents, Gore District Council mayor Tracy Hicks says.

    Solid Energy’s estimated $11 billion plans to build a liquid fuel plant andRavensdown’s proposal for fertiliser plants at as-yet undetermined sites in Eastern Southland would have a significant impact on New Zealand’s economy and environmental commitments, Mr Hicks said yesterday.

    They would be on an unprecedented scale and there was every chance the Government would want to intervene to streamline the resource consent process and have a board of inquiry or the Environment Court consider the applications, Mr Hicks said.

    “I believe in as much local decision-making as possible, but here we have something that is of national significance and central government will want to, and some will absolutely want it to, have a big say in what happens.”

    The spotlight returned to Solid Energy’s plans for the three billion tonnes of lignite it has in Southland with its latest announcement that it will build two demonstration-scale lignite conversion plants.

    One plant will use a new technology to convert lignite and biomass to synthetic crude oil.

    The other will convert about 100,000 tonnes of lignite a year in a process successfully tested in the United States this year.

    Solid Energy new energy general manager Brett Gamble yesterday said the briquette plant could be built from March next year, and a bigger plant could be commissioned by the 2014-15 financial year if export trials were successful.

    Details of the crude plant would be released once Solid Energy had worked through its options.

    Mr Hicks said there had been plenty of rhetoric and promises around Solid Energy’s plans for its massive lignite reserves but the announcement two pilot projects would go ahead were the first “real lines in the sand”.

    He wanted more dialogue between the council, the company, and the Government as elected officials considered “the next three years, which will be crucial for the district, its people, and its economy”.

    There were pluses and minuses to having either of the big projects, which could start within the next six or seven years, called in by the Government.

    It would take pressure off local resources but it would also take the decision out of the community, Mr Hicks suggested.

    Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee could not be contacted yesterday, but Green Party energy spokesman Kennedy Graham supported the idea of calling-in nationally significant projects to ensure only the best, most environmentally sound were successful.

    Even so, the Southland pilots were powerful symbols of an outdated approach to energy production.

    The Government should step in and stop the economic and environmental gamble before construction began.

    “The people of Southland deserve a better future than being told their job security lies in choking their kids on coal dust and condemning them to a dangerously heated planet,” Mr Graham said.

    Mr Gamble said Solid Energy would take full responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions of its lignite developments.

  6. Green Party energy spokesman Kennedy Graham yesterday attacked Solid Energy saying two new lignite plants would be the wrong direction for the country.

    State-owned enterprises should be run within a national energy strategy that encouraged the development of tidal, solar and wind power, not coal, he said.

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