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10 clean energy facts

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Over time, I have felt my share of despair and anger as sensible policy has been blocked, reversed and abused. I have been frustrated as I have seen exciting technological and social developments squashed, and abuse of power run rampant. A few issues have caused me serious distress…

hot-10-sign

So we don’t have to waste even more time debating our energy future, I thought it might be useful if I listed a few things we really know about energy.

1. Leave it in the ground

Two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions and three-quarters of Australia’s emissions result from fossil fuel extraction and burning. Most of the world’s existing ‘profitable’ fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. Spending money on exploration and building extra fossil fuel supply capacity is money down the drain.

2. We know it creates more jobs

An energy-efficient renewable energy future creates more jobs than conventional energy, because most of the new jobs are in light manufacturing and services sectors, which are much more employment-intensive and much less capital-intensive than traditional energy supply industries. We have known this for decades.

3. And it’s cheaper

An energy-efficient, renewable energy future will be cheaper than a ‘conventional’ energy future, even if we don’t introduce a carbon price. Much of our existing energy supply infrastructure will have to be replaced over the next few decades anyway, so comparison of the cost of a clean energy future with
existing energy costs is invalid—the real choice is between different investments, and should include a science-based carbon price.

A lot of energy efficiency potential is profitable (the ‘lunch you are paid to eat’ as pointed out by Amory Lovins decades ago). While renewable energy has been expensive in the past, costs are declining rapidly (and performance is improving), and it already seems to be cheaper or similar in cost to building new traditional energy plants.

Interestingly, a clean energy future will also be mostly privatised—in a democratic way.

4. Plus more reliable and resilient

A well-designed, efficient renewable energy system should be more reliable and resilient than a centralised system, as local energy storage, smart management and generation reduce reliance on networks (where most disruptions occur) and transmission lines.

Debate about supply of base load power can only be described as outdated and misinformed.

5. Developing countries benefit too

An efficient, clean energy future offers many developing countries multiple benefits including lower energy import costs, better services to the rural poor and lower pollution.

6. Transport is not just about EVs

Transport is a very challenging energy problem, not because it can’t be fixed, but because very few countries and cities even understand the fundamental problems. A car-based society is not practical, equitable or economic. Electric cars are only a small part of the solution. Virtual service delivery and workplaces, coordinated planning, comprehensive public transport, low-speed electric vehicles (with suitable infrastructure, speed limits and rules to ensure safety for all, including pedestrians), and better-organised walkable cities are needed.

7. Fly lower and less

Air travel is a much bigger climate problem than most people realise. The overall warming effect of air travel is two to five times the value calculated using Kyoto carbon accounting. And most of this impact is due to the release of emissions at high altitude, not CO2—so switching to renewable aircraft fuel
doesn’t fix the problem. Flying lower and less, and transitioning to electric aircraft, will be necessary.

8. New buildings remain a problem

We are constructing buildings and urban infrastructure that will be future liabilities, not assets. And we are not providing the necessary infrastructure to support a successful economy and equitable, enjoyable lifestyles. The failures are deep and systemic. I really don’t know how we fix this one.

9. Add monitoring to appliances

Our appliances and equipment are ‘dumb’, as well as inefficient. They must all have built-in real-time monitoring, benchmarking and feedback systems so faults are detected, operation is optimised and inefficient products are exposed.

10.Skills currently in short supply 

We have very limited numbers of designers, tradespeople, professionals and customers who are competent to deliver energy-efficient low-carbon solutions. We have poor supply chains to deliver what is needed. Training capacity is limited and certification weak. We have few incentives and many disincentives regarding sensible decision-making and action.

Overall, it’s a miracle we have progressed as far as we have! Based on our track record, it will also be a miracle if humanity gets out of the hole we’ve dug without a lot of pain, misery and conflict. But we have the tools and some smart people. The problems are our leadership, short-sightedness, the misguided fear we will be worse off in a clean energy future, and lack of vision and practical focus.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant.

This is  lightly edited extract of Alan Pears latest column for ReNew. Republished here with permission
  

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  • solarguy

    There is nothing in the 10 that I don’t agree with. Thanks Alan, all the best.

    • George

      Ditto

  • Jo

    I share the pain.
    Looks like it has to get worse before it will get better.
    Happy Christmas!

  • Tobias J

    I think the point regarding flying lower and less, and transitioning to electric aircraft is important. There are many people in denial about their travels, its social cost and the ecological debt they accrue.

  • Ian

    There are two evils in this world, travelling for business and commuting. How much of the world’s liquid fuel consumption is taken up getting people to and from work. So much for the freedom of the open road – it’s the daily drudge of going to work. Where’s the excitement of travelling to far flung countries -its travelling far from home to satisfy some corporate boss. An Englishman’s house is his castle has transformed into dormitory suburbs and cities. We work so that we can consume and we consume so that we can compensate for the dreary work. Thank bl–dy Santa for this! I wish Christ would come back into Christmas.

    Fix these things and our transport future will be sorted.

    • disqus_gF5uXVTUbL

      Yes most of the population are consumed with various versions of materialism.

  • wmh

    Local energy storage can be cheap.
    In Sydney, most domestic energy is used for low grade heating, both room heating and heating of domestic hot water. It makes sense to store solar energy as hot water which can store 52 kWh per 1000 litres (45 C to 90 C operating range) and such a storage method is a lot cheaper than batteries and can make use of the existing electric hot water tank.

  • Brian Tehan

    Nobody mentioned the elephant in the room, which is agricultural emissions and, in particular, the unsustainability of more and more people eating larger amounts of meat. Also, many lesser issues, including the transport of food over large distances as we pave over prime agricultural land near our cities for housing.

    • Ren Stimpy

      Sorry but the elephant in the room is the 60 million Trump voters who won’t brook any mention of cutting back on their meat consumption. If you want to know the best way to EXCLUDE SIXTY MILLION PEOPLE from participating in climate change action, just start talking about a need to cut back on meat consumption.

      And also just start talking about a need to cut back on flights.

      I’m not saying flights and livestock are not a problem, but they are the most difficult problems to solve therefore should be way down the priority list, and preferably not even mentioned so as to obtain the participation of the simple and sensitive millions who voted for Trump.

      • Brian Tehan

        I think you’re wrong about 60 million people taking it as some sort of personal insult – that’s a bit silly, don’t you think. If someone is some kind of militant meat eater or climate change denier, they won’t do anything anyway. You have to discuss issues to get people to change. Most people will be willing to cut back on eating meat if they know the impact on the environment and their own personal health. Most people don’t know this yet. What won’t work is telling people that they can’t eat any meat.

        • Ren Stimpy

          And the election of Trump wasn’t silly? It’s a mistake to underestimate how seriously these people take what they perceive to be greenie/commie/environmentalist thought control.

          As well as the Trump and Clinton voters there are also about 90 million eligible voters who didn’t vote in the US election. If these people didn’t even bother to vote, they sure as heck aren’t going to make the effort to cut back on their meat consumption for environmental reasons. I’d wager a pretty penny that if push came to shove, most of the Clinton voters would not cut back on their meat consumption either. So the real number is more like 180 million voters who would give short shrift to any notion of cutting back on their meat consumption. 60 million who take it as a personal insult and another 120 million who are apathetic on the issue.

          The mere suggestion of cutting back on meat consumption is destructive, because it won’t change behaviour in the vast majority of the population but it will create anger at and antipathy of climate change action.

          The personal health angle has already run its course. People didn’t reduce their meat consumption they simply substituted white meat for red meat, and meat consumption continued to increase:

          http://fortune.com/2015/10/27/red-meat-consumption-decline/

          Most of the emissions from livestock can probably be abated “upstream” on the production side anyway, and there has been significant progress in this area:

          http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-19/environmental-concerns-cows-eating-seaweed/7946630

          http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-26/pig-poo-could-help-grow-feed-for-piggeries,-cut-emissions:-study/7203288

          If the above or similar methods can be broadly deployed to eliminate methane in cow and sheep burps and to harvest the methane in pig and chook manure, most of the emissions from livestock will be abated:

          http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-top-10-foods-with-the-biggest-environmental-footprint-2015-9

          Climate change deniers and the apathetic can all be won over on climate change action with cost savings. Solar panels, energy efficient appliances, LED lighting, home insulation, electric cars, recycling, home batteries. These are measures which strike at the real heart of the issue – fossil fuels – AND give a return for action in the form of lower power and fuel costs. Quid pro quo.

    • solarguy

      You left out over population, that’s a big problem.

      • Calamity_Jean

        What should the world’s population be, and how do we get there?

        • Pixilico

          11 billion by 2100 and we’re already on track for that:

          • Calamity_Jean

            Thank you for the video, one of the points Mr. Rosling makes is the one I was hoping to make to solarguy if he responded to me. Which is that it’s impossible to control climate change by reducing overpopulation, because most of that “overpopulation” has already been born and won’t get old enough to die of old age in time to prevent climate disaster.
            Incidentally, I ran across an interesting factoid today. On the continent of Africa, more people die from the effects of air pollution than die from malnutrition and poor sanitation combined.

  • disqus_gF5uXVTUbL

    “reduce reliance on networks (where most disruptions occur) and transmission lines”

    The cost of local generation and storage is cheaper than the cost of transmission, so local generation and storage is preferable wherever possible.

  • Barri Mundee

    Number 8 (New Buildings). First stop digging. This will require regulations to ensure from a given date much higher energy efficiency standards are mandated.

    • lin

      All true, but while builders are not even meeting current standards, and privatised building inspectors are letting all sorts of illegality through, tightening standards more is pointless. Step 1 would be getting proper inspectors back. Step 2 would be ensure current regulations for building standards and energy efficiency are being met, with penalties imposed on builders whose products are not meeting specification. After that, increasing standards to what the rest of the developed world currently enjoys makes sense.