Tag Archives: environment

Pumped hydro: this could just be the solution to the energy storage problem

Photo: www.ecogeneration.com.au

One hundred percent renewable energy to power Australia? It sounds like a pipedream—unless you were in the audience at the Bermagui Institute Dinner at Il Passagio on 21 September to hear Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering at the Australian National University, speak about pumped hydro energy storage.

When talk turns to renewable energy lately, the next question is always storage. There’s no question that Australia can harvest massive amounts of wind and sunshine, but how to store excess energy for when the wind doesn’t blow, the sun doesn’t shine? Banks of Tesla lithium-ion batteries? Expensive, and with limited lifespans.

But anything that stores energy is a battery. And Blakers and his team have identified 22,000 potential sites in Australia for pumped hydro energy storage (PHES), all outside national parks and urban areas. There’s an excellent site near Bombala. Fast track development of several Gigawatt-rated sites could be complete by 2022 in time to stabilise the grid as Liddell and other coal-fired power stations close.

Put simply, two reservoirs, sized between 10 and 100 hectares, are built at different altitudes—say at the top and bottom of an escarpment. They are connected by a pipe with a pump and turbine. When there’s plentiful electricity (from solar or wind), water is pumped up to the top reservoir. When power is needed, water is allowed to flow back down, turning the turbine.

Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘Snowy Hydro 2.0’ is a PHES system on a grand scale. The difference with Blaker’s PHES is that the reservoirs will be ‘off-river’—they can be built anywhere there’s suitable ‘head’, the difference in altitude between reservoirs.

Annual water requirements of a PHES-supported 100% renewable electricity grid would be less than one-third that of the current fossil fuel system.

Of the 22,000 sites that Blakers has identified, only a few dozen will be needed to support a 100% renewable energy system for Australia. ‘We found so many good potential sites that only the best 0.1 per cent will be needed,’ said Blakers. ‘We can afford to be choosy.’

The plan also requires strong interconnection of the electricity grid between states and territories, using high-voltage power lines spanning long distances, to take advantage of varying weather conditions across the country at any one time.

On the night, Blakers got a grilling from the floor. MC Doug Mein tried to close down question time three times but the audience kept firing them off. It sounded too good to be true. Lots of crossed arms around the room, studied frowns. But he had an answer for every question. It stacks up.

I had a copy of a press release from Blakers in my inbox; he’d sent it out at 5.56 that morning. Apparently he’d done interviews all day, then driven down to the coast to keep his appointment with us at Il Passagio.

Obstacles? The coal lobby will run interference. ‘I don’t know how they look their children in the eye,’ said Blakers.

See more at http://re100.eng.anu.edu.au.

The EDO’s Sue Higginson: solastalgia, subplots and lawfare

Trials and tribulations: Sue Higginson spoke of her work with the Environmental Defenders Office
Trials and tribulations: Sue Higginson spoke of her work with the Environmental Defenders Office at Il Passaggio in February.

NSW Environmental Defenders Office CEO Sue Higginson paints a picture of EDO lawyers, haggard and caffeinated, racing between their office on Clarence Street and the Land and Environment Court on Macquarie Street, chasing “mining companies with the deepest pockets you can imagine” and “lawyers who lodge Notices of Motion at 1 am”.

It’s comical until you realise the gravity of the work. The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) concentrates its resources on the cases that other lawyers don’t take on. Important public interest cases. Cases where there’ll be a lasting or permanent impact on the environment, where governments haven’t followed the law. Blowing the whistle, holding governments to account.

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On to Plan B: adapting for a radically changing planet

towersIt was pretty clear to scientists in the 1990s that man-made carbon emissions were causing climate change—it had started with the Industrial Revolution. Two plans of action were mooted. Plan A: reduce emissions (mitigation). Plan B: adapt to the changes. But we weren’t going to need Plan B, were we? The fix was clear, and there was plenty of time …

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A clear answer to an unclear question: Helen Caldicott on SA’s nuclear future

helen caldicott1
Dr Helen Caldicott: “Education is key” to curtailing the nuclear industry

Dr Helen Caldicott, anti-nuclear activist, humanist, physician, returned to Bermagui on 10 February during a week when South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was preparing to deliver its “Tentative Findings”. Dr Caldicott was speaking at the Bermagui Institute dinner; her topic was “Nuclear South Australia”.

The speaker shared anecdotes from her forty years of campaigning, detailed the hazards to human health and the environment presented by the nuclear industry, and advanced three main points: one, that the recent search for a site to store radioactive waste from Australia’s only nuclear reactor is premised on a lie; two, that Premier Jay Weatherill’s pursuit of a nuclear industry for SA is unnecessary and dangerous; and three, that public education and the democratic process are the only means by which nuclear expansion can be curtailed.

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Will Steffen: a chilling message about a warming climate

Will Steffen spoke at Il Passagio in September 2015
Will Steffen spoke at Il Passagio in September 2015

Upon hearing that the planet had warmed by one degree Celsius, a conservative politician said that he could get on a plane in Melbourne and get off in Sydney an hour later and find the temperature higher by a comfortable six degrees, so what’s the problem?

In fact, a global rise of one degree has increased the incidence of extremely hot days in southeast Australia by a factor of ten. It’s because temperatures, like most natural phenomena, arrange themselves along Bell curves. And a shift to the right of just one degree has massive ramifications, not at the height of the curve but at that very low, very sensitive-to-change high end. If it seems that bushfires are starting earlier in the season and becoming more frequent lately, that explains why.

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Richard Denniss: Whatever happened to just in case?

 

Photo of Richard Denniss
Director of the Australia Institute Richard Denniss spoke at the Bermagui Institute dinner in February 2015

The world’s sluggish response to climate change is a mystery to many. After all, overwhelming evidence of a problem usually results in mitigation of the problem. Witness the global response when scientists suggested in the 1990s that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) might be busting a hole in the ozone layer, leading to high rates of skin cancer, amongst other consequences. The reaction was swift; CFCs were banned from aerosol cans. In America, consumers voluntarily switched away from aerosol sprays, resulting in a 50% loss in sales even before legislation was enforced.

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Ten years lost: Ken Henry on the economics of climate change

Photo of Ken Henry and his wife with two audience members
Ken Henry, Carol and Harry Bate, Naomi Henry

It was an unseasonably balmy night at the Bermagui Hotel. The speaker was Ken Henry and the subject “The Economics of Climate Change”. We’d all been congratulating the Bermagui Institute’s Jack Miller on his orchestration of the China-US emissions reduction deal just in time to create a dramatic backdrop for the talk, when Henry told us, “it won’t make any difference” to Australian government policy on climate change action.

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Busted: The Baseload Myth

The restaurant in the Bermagui Hotel is buzzing as I enter at 6pm on Thursday 3 April for the Bermagui Institute Public Dinner. Such is the interest in tonight’s speaker, the Institute has raised its booking limit, and still I meet a couple of ticketless friends hanging hopefully by the door.

Dr Mark Diesendorf is Associate Professor and Deputy Director at the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW, and formerly a principal research scientist at CSIRO. He is the author of Sustainable Energy Solutions (UNSW Press) and an expert in renewable energy.

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Dry River

dryriver600It’s hard to spot, but there’s a path into the bush in the far corner of the Quaama Cemetery. As you pass the main cluster of graves – the smart new granite of the Colemans, the Conways with their river rocks and shells, the green trellis over Pato Taylor – you may see it. Enter the scrubby remnant forest here and continue down along the path, deeper under the trees. It’s cooler in here. The light is dappled, filtering through the canopy. You can hear bellbirds’ chimes, the occasional whipbird, the zim-zippery wagtails’ calls.

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Nine dead wombats

There are nine wombats on the road between Bega and Bemboka. Nine dead wombats. And it’s not even a bad season, a dry season, when what little rain we get runs off the roads and pools in the ditches beside them, creating green oases in a land of brown. Those oases bring the wombats to the roadsides in drought. But this time we’ve had plenty of rain, and still they come to the road. There they die bad deaths: deaths bouncing off bumpers, deaths crushed under wheels, deaths dragged by undercarriages until they’re just stains on the bitumen.

My friends Vicki and John hit a kangaroo once, on the Tanami Track, in the Tanami Desert. Didn’t kill it. But they got out and had a look, and it was clearly injured. No WIRES in the Tanami. They made a decision; who knows if it was the right one. What would you do? They decided to finish what they’d started.

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