Thursday, December 10, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 2 - a note on renewable energy

Kangaroo Valley David kindly emailed me a link that set out some interesting material that I had not known on electricty generation using renewable energy.

Two points before going on.

First, I am very reluctant to support nuclear power unless absolutely necessary. Secondly, Australia's current production of electricity is around 224,000 MW.

The article points to some issues in renewable energy. For example, it suggests that the stable generation of 1,000 MW of wind power requires 375 square miles at widely dispersed locations, This implies that Australia would need to allocate 84,000 square miles to such plants to meet current demand.

This is a huge area, 3% of the Australian land mass, at a time when wind plants are meeting fierce local opposition. Oddly, I found the number reassuring.

The core of my present argument is that the solution to green house gasses lies in multiple actions. If we had too, we have the land to use wind power to meet our needs.

A more significant problem lies in the combination of the cash costs of action with the embedded gasses in the solution. Willima Tucker's analysis here of the costs of solar is not encouraging, that of commentator Jeff Wilmer less so.

As an aside,  in Australian responses to climate change - a background briefing, I referred to Professor Ian Plimer's visit to Armidale. Now he is in Copenhagen as a hero of the climate change sceptics. All very interesting, given his former UNE connection.

I should note that I looked up of some of Professor Plimer's material actually expecting to be sympathetic. I fear the good professor has abandoned objectivity for campaign.

I should also note that the more I look at the climate change stuff.  the more I think how lucky Australia is. There are not many countries that could find 84,000 square miles for wind power if we had to, and that's just the start. I will come back to this later in the series.



Winton Bates said...

I think there is an acid test that policy-makers could apply to climate scientists to see whether they are really serious about climate change resulting from CO2 emissions. Their models seem to make sense, more or less, but I know enough about model building to know that it is possible to tweak a model to project forward an enhanced effect for just about anything.

It seems to me that we will know that the Australian climate scientists are really serious if they strongly advocate the nuclear power option. While they continue to give the impression that the risks associated with nuclear power could be greater than those associated with with human-induced climate change we probably don't have too much to worry about.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a dreadfuly cynical view Winton(!), although I see your point.

Neil said...

It's interesting that Brian Dawson and Matt Spanagle "The Complete Guide to Climate Change" (2009) on a global basis rates wind power as likely only to contribute 1-2% mitigation by 2030 and 4-8% by 2050.

I am not dead set against nuclear, but you'll have seen on my post that is also far from the whole answer. I thought the point D & S make about the imminent retirement of first generation nuclear power stations is a good one, and I don't recall seeing it made in other places I've looked.

There's no doubt the kinds of things you advocate, Jim, and other efficiencies will contribute a lot, as D & S also say -- but with some of them there may be an issue about how quickly individuals as well as firms and all the levels of government take them up. (Love the idea they have in England of growing vegetables on the edges of expressway corridors, in churchyards and all manner of other "waste" public space.)

Still think pricing up carbon one way or another has to be part of the mix.

Plimer -- admired his book on creationism, but his climate science does seem to be dodgy unless you're already a believer.

Jim Belshaw said...

I had forgotten your post on Professor Plimer, Neil.

I don't have a full copy of S&D's book, only that portion on Google Books.

The land area required for wind means that their conclusion on a global basis may well be correct. Again, if I remember the numbers correctly, they suggest that improved building efficiency might contribute 45% or so. I have already mentioned this one, although I did not attach a number.

One thing that I think that's important in thinking about possible responses is to recognise that sensible responses will vary between countries. The options open to Australia will be different from, say, India.

I am going to leave pricing issues to the end because I want to get my mind around the rest of it first!