Climate Change and wet bulb temperatures again

My previous article on wet bulb temperatures possibly making the earth uninhabitable is by far the most read on this website, attracting attention from around the world. It looked at the existential threat of these temperatures and how they may eventually make large swathes of heavily populated areas of the earth uninhabitable. The article concluded that high wet bulb temperatures had already killed a substantial number of people in Pakistan in 2015 and in India in 2016.

Recently I tweeted a youtube video with more up to date detail on the same subject. The video closely examines an area loosely defined as ‘South Asia’ and looks at a very large part of the earth where the residents were under the possible threat of death from high wet bulb temperatures. This area extended from the Middle East to the Phillipines and included some of the most heavily populated areas on earth – India Pakistan, Bangladesh and south China. The video also highlighted that the people living here were those most vulnerable to these temperatures and the least able to do anything about them. It should be compulsory viewing.

Most certainly the deaths already caused by high wet bulb temperatures have not been confined to India and Pakistan, as parts of Iran and other Persian Gulf localities have experienced similar temperatures during heatwaves. The whole of the tropical region is under threat and this area, itself, is gradually expanding with global warming. It is imperative therefore that we transfer away from all fossil fuel use and look for ways to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as quickly as possible. This is being called in enlightened ranks the ‘climate emergency’.

When these temperatures are considered along with a myriad of other results of global warming – floods, sea level rise, epidemics – the existential threat becomes starkly apparent. On top of this we may reach a ‘tipping point’ where temperatures keep rising no matter what action we take, such as from the release of massive amounts of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from melting permafrost. Countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran already suffering from global warming will probably be besieged on all sides. Where will the refugees from these climate catastrophes flee to? Is the death and destruction caused by a warming globe, now and in the future, worth the jobs of a few thousand workers in the Latrobe Valley or even the fewer numbers employed in the logging industry?

And what is a ‘high’ wet bulb temperature? People start dying when it passes 28 degrees. When it reaches 35 degrees for more than a few hours without artificial cooling we all die. That is an existential threat.

Demand Response by Paul Guest

Following an Antarctic research expedition in 2001 I returned to Australia and took up a job to help build and operate the Bairnsdale Power Station (BPS). I became the Manager in 2002 and left that role in 2016 to become self-employed.   Not many people know (even local community) that Bairnsdale has its own power station. Due to the noise enclosures, the gas turbines are usually pretty quiet & with advanced control technologies you can barely see the heat shimmer from the exhaust stacks. It was also a pretty clean place to work which was nice.

The station has 2 x 45MW gas turbines that can generate about 90MW in winter & about 70MW in the heat of summer. The air is denser in winter hence the better output. 90MW equates to roughly 90,000 toasters all on at the same time. The local Bairnsdale area typically uses about 1/3 of its capacity, the rest gets exported down the line.

The primary function of BPS is to support the local AusNet services distribution grid for voltage support. Its secondary function is its fast start response to increased energy demand on the National Energy Market.

In 2001 BPS generation was usually 2 hrs per day on a single turbine. In recent years that number has at least trebled & without much population or industrial growth in the local area, but I have noticed how big the new houses are & how many appliances are inside them these days.

Retiring older coal fired generators aside my curiosity is exploring alternate energy management during extreme weather events in summer & winter. I like the idea of using less energy during these periods and building less generation to cope with the situation. One of the reasons for high energy prices is that expensive generation occurs during very hot and cold conditions.

Usually when demand outweighs supply the distributor load sheds a whole area & all our power goes out for a bit. I was wondering what the community response would be if it could be performed in a less dramatic way but without increased power generation.

It would cost a bit to implement initially but what if using smart technology our domestic switchboards were split into vital and non-vital supplies & via the smart meters they could be controlled remotely by the distributer. I’m not going to list every household electrical item but say for example the fridge / freezer & a few lights are on the vital circuit but the TV, dishwasher, air conditioner, & computer was on non-vital.  During an event our non-vital systems get turned off temporarily.

An event might only last 30-60 minutes but instead of us all blacking out it could be a little less dramatic than building more power stations or battery banks the size of sea containers. It’s just a thought.

Wellington Shire Council and Climate Change

An article in the Gippsland Times on Monday 31 July noted the Wellington Shire had pledged to tackle climate change. The article stated: “Wellington  Shire Council has signed up to the state government’s TAKE2 pledge to tackle climate change and assist Victoria reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Council has pledged to provide leadership to the Wellington Shire community to help manage climate change and move towards environmental sustainability.”

It added that the  “Council wants to take action and support local action by using resources wisely and reducing the impact on the environment” and “Council has committed to undertaking 30 actions in the areas of natural and urban environment, culture and leadership, community, transport and fleet, waste, renewable energy, strategic and statutory planning and energy efficiency.”

The TAKE2 pledge is organised by Sustainability Victoria – one of the forward looking departments of the Victorian State Government. However as in many large organisations there are competing and conflicting interests within the Government and this small ray of enlightenment remains mostly overshadowed.

The Government is yet to recognise that their achievements in reigning in greenhouse gases are minimal and token if they are unable do anything about coal, where they are keeping their options open for further mining and not planning for the rapid phase out of brown coal generation in the Latrobe Valley. Similarly they hold on to the clearfell logging of our much depleted native forests where huge amounts of our carbon store are lost to the atmosphere in the process each year. And in the case of the Wellington Shire a guest blogger recently noted the huge amounts of CO2 the Esso Longford Gas plant operations put into the atmosphere.

The pledge is admirable and a small step in the right direction. It recognises the science – that climate change is happening and that we are causing it. However one must eventually understand the process and realise that drastic steps need to be taken to drawdown our production of CO2. Each day we fail to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and fail to protect our carbon stores, brings us closer to the climate emergency. Bring the target date for zero emissions forward to 2030 and we may have some chance of avoiding it.

Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) Film Night

(first published in Sustain July 17)

The BBSN hosted a screening of Guarding the Galilee on Thursday 27th July. Michael Caton hosted the 30 minute documentary on the background behind the proposal to build the country’s largest thermal coal mine in Queensland and the compelling reasons to stop it:

• It doesn’t make economic sense

• It will add enormously to greenhouse gas pollution

• It threatens productive farmland

• It is being given unfair, free access to huge volumes of water that other users must pay for.

• It threatens the health of the Great Barrier Reef and the 65,000 jobs that rely on it

Adani has a record of environmental and social vandalism. Adani has a complex corporate structure that utilises foreign tax shelters which means it will pay little to no tax in Australia. The justification for the development being that it will provide 10,000 jobs is a lie. The federal LNP is proposing to use $1 billion of tax payer funds to build the required rail link to the coast in a process shrouded in secrecy through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.

After the movie we had a discussion about how we might be more involved in the fight to stop the mine. Think Global Act Local was mentioned as were the lessons learned from the successful onshore gas campaign. Ursula Alquier reminded us of the power of a community taking action on their own terms and setting the agenda.  There is a local Stop Adani group in Melbourne who would benefit from our support- please consider joining them.


My appointment as Secretary Renewable Energy Party (REP)

Just a brief note to outline how my new appointment as secretary and registered officer of the REP may, or will, affect this blog. It is not the purpose here to push a party political position or advocate on behalf of any particular party. The problem of climate change as an existential issue is paramount and the purpose is to offer local news on this and make suggestions as to how we might succeed in overcoming what is almost certainly the greatest problem humanity has ever faced. All, of course, related to Gippsland or by Gippsland authors.

Over the last three years the blog has had a number of guest authors. All locals with one or two exceptions, and these were writing about topics specific to Gippsland. The guest authors have a range of political views including some greens – two of whom, Dan Caffrey and Mal McKelvie have previously stood as green candidates. I make no enquiries about a guest author’s political affiliations and welcome contributors from across the political spectrum with the proviso, of course, that they accept the science on climate change, that it is a serious problem and that they advocate possible solutions.

The REP suffered a near death experience after the last Federal Election when all the candidates, myself included, lost their deposits. The leaders, faced with an election only a month or so after getting the party registered, had most unrealistic expectations of what the party could achieve. On the election eve I offered a precautionary pessimistic, but accurate, analysis of the most likely outcome.  For the rest of 2016 and much of this year there has been a leadership vacuum and the committee and office bearers with two exceptions resigned. So our immediate challenge is to keep the party alive.

I see the REP as advocating a return to bipartisanship on climate and hope, at least in the short term, we devote our energy to helping clear our federal parliaments of the climate troglodytes of the major parties – mainly, but not entirely,  the Libs and the Nats.  The blog, hopefully, will continue in the same vein and offer the opportunity to any Gippslander, whatever their politics, to contribute positively on climate change and its solutions.

Community Energy Info Meeting at Bairnsdale

About fifty people attended the information night on Community Energy in Bairnsdale on 20 July run under the auspices of the East Gippsland Shire Council and the Gippsland Climate Council Network (GCCN).

The meeting covered a wide range of related topics mostly about solar, but also including wind, bioenergy possibilities, community education and energy efficiency. Some of the discussion was quite technical and beyond the understanding of part of the audience. For instance there was some discussion on ‘demand response’ – where consumers, usually large ones, are paid not to consume electricity – that went backwards and forwards between some of the more technically minded members of the audience.

A variety of more or less complimentary aims for community energy projects emerged including energy independence, energy security, financial independence and reducing our greenhouse emissions to help mitigate climate change. The research undertaken on behalf of East Gippsland Shire indicates that over $11 million leaves the Shire in electricity generation payments (which also highlights an opportunity). To this can be added the savings of the Shire which, through the big four banks, is also mostly invested elsewhere.

Ian Southall of the Mirboo North Energy Hub and GCCN replaced the advertised speaker Chris Weir from the Bendigo Sustainability Group who had unfortunately caught the flue. Ian is a good friend who has run the Renewable Energy Demonstration Trailer working in schools and communities across Gippsland for five years. He gave an account of the pitfalls that their continuing community energy plans have faced.

As far as I am aware there are no Community Energy projects producing energy in Gippsland. (The South Gippsland Energy Innovation Co-op may have their community energy project of solar PV running but on which I cannot find any information.)  So the speaker for the Bendigo Sustainability Group, which has a number of them up and running, was missed.

Rob Passey clearly outlined the options available to the community, including having functioning micro-grids for small communities at the edges of mains power (Mallacoota, Omeo, Buchan, Dargo), bulk buys of solar panels, and options for organisation and financing of various projects. He also gave brief accounts of some of the operating projects including Repower Shoalhaven.

It is not a matter of choosing between alternatives but going ahead with the best, fastest and easiest options. This could include a number of different projects running consecutively. My preference is for the Repower Shoalhaven model where projects of up to 100kw of solar are installed behind the meter. What is required is organisation, mainly of financial aspects, in which the shire could play a major role. I for one, would be happy to buy a share or help finance putting enough solar on my favourite shire building, our library.



Prescribed Burns and the Carbon Store

Protecting the bush with low intensity burns has been accepted practice in forest management for many years. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) paper on planned burns, which I hope to examine in detail at a later date, has objectives such as the protection of human life, assets and infrastructure that we can all agree with. But at the heart of the conundrum for DELWP is the protection of industry, a euphemism for logging native forests. On the one hand they are to protect the timber resource for the loggers and the other to preserve biodiversity*, the latter including forest as a ‘carbon store’.  Conventional wisdom and current practice suggests that prescribed burning may reduce the chances of crowning fire. But the experience of Black Saturday and some research suggests otherwise.

I have written previously on the burning question urging that planned burns be used only sparingly for asset protection and also a number of times on the importance on the protection of our forests as a carbon store.

In recent work Dr Luke Collins of Latrobe University noted: “The management of forest ecosystems to maintain and increase carbon storage is a global concern, as carbon sequestration has been identified as an effective strategy to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Prescribed burning for wildfire risk reduction has the potential to increase fire frequency across many forest communities. Changes to fire return intervals resulting from prescribed burning may alter demographic processes and growth of tree species, and consequently carbon storage…”

A major overhaul of the so called “forest industry” based on best science is needed urgently. The science clearly indicates that native forests should be protected as a carbon store and not clear felled, that DELWP’s role should move from timber production to forest protection, especially fire protection. With the latter in mind the current policies of low intensity burns should be completely reassessed. And until then only burns for the protection of life and human assets – not including the logger’s timber allocations – should occur.

*This article is only concerned with protecting forests as a carbon store. There are many other aspects of concern for biodiversity with burning for example see here.


Chris Barfoot* on Pumped Hydro

My name is Chris Barfoot and I am a board member of the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCNN). I was asked to write a short blog on pumped hydro and its opportunities.

But first I want to congratulate all involved in East Gippsland. In my short time dealing with the region I have been amazed at the level of innovation and passion displayed towards changing the future. If I can play a small part in helping it progress further I will be honoured.

Anyway, pumped hydro. This is a concept going back many years. Put simply when you have excess power you use it to pump water to a higher storage place and then when you need power (no wind or sun) you release the water back to the lower point via a turbine to make energy.

This is the fundamental systems used throughout the existing Snowy scheme, Tasmania and of course the famous Snowy 2.0.

It is becoming more popular as the need to back up renewables with storage is being recognised. Some examples have been built using tanks alongside wind turbines (Chile) and more recently there has been a trend to trying to use seawater and an inland dam where wind turbines are based on the coast.

At present pumped hydro is an economic option that can be considered. However the fundamental fact is that you are changing your energy from electricity to pumping and back to electricity. This means you will lose about 20% of your power in these changes of state. So in the longer term as the pricing drops batteries or capacitors are more likely to be the best option.

But one place where it make a lot of sense is where there are existing dams and structures for example in an old mine site. Here you already have the lower reservoir and the cost of construction can be significantly lowered by reuse of these sites. Such systems have been proposed for some the Latrobe Valley mines. Are there any opportunities out East?

*Chris worked in the power industry for 33 years as a scientist, engineer and project manager. He retired with the close of Hazelwood and welcomes the opportunity to work with the renewable energy sector.


Hazelwood’s Barramundi Blues 

The end of the Hazelwood Pondage Barramundi experiment is nigh. In an article entitled “Territory Barramundi Struggling with Southern Cold in Relocation Project” the Northern Territory News outlined its fate noting “Victoria’s winter is playing havoc with our iconic barramundi in a relocation project that has gone pear-shaped.” Of course as everybody knows it is not the winter that is killing the fish but the fact that the Hazelwood Power Station no longer keeps the waters warm.

The article noted that the “the barra have swum out of the main body of water in the Hazelwood pondage and into a hot water channel in search of the warmer water. The area where they have congregated houses a pipe that continuously delivers warm water from an aquifer underneath the nearby Hazelwood coal mine.”

At the risk of saying I told you so I stated the obvious on 1.1.17 – that the “temperature of the pondage will drop rapidly after the station closes its generators in March which will be the end of this short-lived fishery. Assuming that most of the 5000 fish are caught before the end then each fish has cost us at least $30. This amount of money could have financed an in depth study to utilise the pit and pondage for pumped hydro.” Or, I might add, a small floating solar farm.

I support the fact that State Government is putting substantial (but perhaps not enough) funds into the Latrobe Valley. Such a project if successful in the longer term may have brought many tourists and trippers to Morwell and Churchill. However this clearly showed a lack of foresight – that Hazelwood would probably shut or be closed down in the next few years and that the fish could no longer survive in the colder waters. Therefore it was not money, energy and time well spent.

What is needed for the ‘just transition’ in the valley is more co-ordination, some imagination and above all planning. The underlying assumptions are that all brown coal generation will shut down sooner or later and that renewable energy in its many forms is part of the answer to mitigating climate change. Any state funded projects that clearly do not fit these criteria should not even be considered.



Floating Solar for Gippsland

A recent paper entitled “Proposal for Renewable energy projects in Southern Victoria and Opportunities for Latrobe Valley Development” by Chris Barfoot et al examined the potential for renewable energy to be a major part of a just transition in Gippsland. In particular the paper examined solar, wind, pumped hydro and battery storage opportunities. Here I look at their case for floating solar and hope to examine other aspects of their paper, in particular pumped hydro, at a later date.

The paper lists a substantial number of advantages for floating solar including no preparation for the site is needed; that if associated with established hydro operations there is no need for costly infrastructure upgrades; that when energy efficiencies from the cooling effects of the water are taken into account costs are not that much different from that on land and most important of all the advantages it can be done almost immediately.

Possible sites for consideration included reservoirs and water treatment plants. The Thomson River dam could house a raft of photovoltaics producing 100 megawatts. Listed suitable sites included Lake Narracan, Hazelwood Pondage, Blue Rock Dam and Moondarra. I have noted previously the work of the Mirboo North Community Energy Hub and their current feasibility study where they hope to create a floating solar farm of 1.4Mw in conjunction with Gippsland Water. This was discussed at a recent Gippsland Climate Change Network meeting which also mentioned the suitability of Lake Glenmaggie for floating solar development.

In terms of the ‘just transition’ the paper noted: “Opportunity exists for production of the floats needed through local industries in Morwell under licence from the designer. One style is metal and the other blow moulded plastic. Both industries exist in the Valley. Tracking systems could also be designed and produced using local industry. This would also boost metal supply and fastener industries. Secondly employment opportunities come from the delivery of the float systems to the construction sites. Other works options are the assembly of the rafts, fitment of the panels, wiring and grid connection.”

Above all jobs now, and plenty of them, is the first and most important step in the just transition.