A Renewable Energy Superpower Lecture

Norway in the near future?

I recently delivered a power point lecture at the Bairnsdale U3A on Australia (and Gippsland) as a renewable energy superpower based on the need to change from fossil fuel based industry to renewables as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. In doing so I relied heavily on a Beyond Zero Emissions paper of the same title and the feedback reigns website.

After an historical introduction on the greenhouse effect and the role of climate inertia in the climate emergency the advantages and options of having a renewables revolution in Australia and our region were examined.  The importance for Gippsland cannot be overstated when much of our local economy is dependent on fossil fuel based industries and others like logging that have to be rapidly phased out in any real emergency action.

A wide range of options were examined including solar, wind, pumped hydro, batteries, other forms of energy storage, green blue and brown hydrogen, burning rubbish for energy, pyrolysis, geothermal and even the possibilities of nuclear generation. The performance criteria for the options being that they were carbon neutral, could be established rapidly within a 10 year time frame, and either were not capital intensive or had ready finance. Consequently many of the options for Gippsland failed including burning rubbish (produces greenhouse gases) brown hydrogen (ditto) and nuclear (establishment time and capital requirements). The options of manufacturing electric vehicles included the establishment of a Sea Electric factory in Morwell next year with the promise of 500 jobs. Other manufacturing options were canvassed for the Latrobe Valley including heat pumps, floating solar floats and the BZE plans for carbon neutral cement production.

In particular I examined two major job and power generating proposals – the Star of the South offshore wind farm and the Thompson Dam pumped hydro proposal – both of which when completed could produce or store more energy than Yallourn. There is no employment estimate made for the pumped-hydro project though it can be assumed that during construction it would be substantial whilst the Star of the South projects claim the creation of 12,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and 200 permanent jobs on completion. High employment is essential to a rapid just transition in Gippsland and both these proposals take full advantage of valley infrastructure.

I also looked at transport in some detail including the BZE Very Fast Train (VFT) proposal between Melbourne and Brisbane. Whilst there are number of these trains operating successfully overseas the obstacles to a VFT in Australia are enormous including the time period for construction and capital requirements – estimated by BZE to be in the vicinity of $90b. But the fact that battery powered planes already exist with the prospect of a small passenger carrying electric plane in Norway by 2022 with a 500 K radius and larger ones with a 1000 K radius by 2027 may mean the VFT proposals for Australia are obsolete.

When communities and governments realise we are facing an emergency it is then not a question of whether we change from fossil fuels to renewables but how and how quickly they can be done.