The Climate Emergency, our Carbon Footprint and Gippsland

‘Your Carbon Footprint, your Responsibility’ by Ray Dahlstrom

Many of the recent critics of the Baw Baw Pumped Hydro (PHES) proposal posted on this blog seem to have little or no comprehension of the immensity of the task we are facing in the climate emergency. Above all, we have to exit the use of fossil fuels as rapidly as we can. Gippsland has been central to the state’s fossil fuel economy for over a century and is still providing about 70% of all electricity from its brown coal generators. In terms of the greenhouse gases produced these are the dirtiest coal fired plants in Australia and logically, should have been the first retired, but because of the cheapness of brown coal production they linger on.

The three remaining generators in the Valley have a capacity of just under five gigawatts. To replace this with renewables would require 15 million 300w solar panels or 15,000 3mw wind generators. This is only half the problem for something probably approaching 200% of capacity is needed for a renewables based power grid, as well as different types of energy storage. The Beyond Zero Emissions stationary energy plan of 2010 is now outdated as it favoured solar thermal systems as its major energy provider. The rapid lowering of costs of solar pv has changed this aspect of the plan. But one thing solar thermal does provide is medium storage of up to 24 hours or more.

Another way of looking at the climate emergency is our personal CO2 footprint. John Hermans in an article in RENEW 148 noted “The amount of CO2 released during the generation of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of energy in Victoria is close to one tonne…In Melbourne, a 1 kW PV array may produce up to 1.3 MWh of electricity in one year (depending on orientation, angle and shading). To offset one person’s 20 tonnes of CO2 by producing 20 MWh of clean electricity in a year, each person needs to install 15 kW of PV. An average home with four people would need 60 kW of PV (currently 180 panels) to offset the carbon footprint that sustains their lifestyle as they enjoy the pleasures of living in Australia.”

Here John is looking at all the CO2 an individual produces – including that produced in food consumption and transportation. John and his family are rarities in Gippsland with a zero carbon footprint. But unlike the Hermans’ household our grid needs large scale energy storage to provide power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. The extra renewables above capacity required (double?) can be stored – as lithium batteries, pumped hydro and perhaps solar thermal – the latter two both providing medium storage. One benefit of the Baw Baw PHES not trumpeted is that it could provide construction employment at a crucial time in the just transition in the Latrobe Valley. Thus helping avert a political reaction of the type we are seeing in the coal areas of NSW and Queensland.