Take that solar sign down, Queensland

“Welcome to the solar state: We’re doubling Queensland’s use of solar energy in five years”

I’VE driven passed this Queensland Government advertising hoarding a handful of times in recent weeks. It’s on the road out of Brisbane airport and, personally, I think they (they, being the state government) should take it down.

Why? Because it’s misleading. Allow me to explain.

Firstly, Queensland might be the sunshine state, but it certainly ain’t the solar state.

According to the Queensland Renewable Energy Plan, last year only about 150 MW of the state’s 12,500 MW of installed electricity generation was coming from solar. That’s 1.2 per cent of clean, renewable energy emitting no greenhouse gases once installed.

Now the Queensland Government counts solar hot water heaters in that 150 MW. Obviously solar hot water heaters don’t generate any power at all, but they do reduce the amount of power which would have been drawn from the grid.

If you take solar hot water heaters out of the equation, the renewable energy plan says you’re left with 6MW, or 0.048 per cent of all the available power.

Now since that report was compiled, things have got a bit better or, rather, slightly less worse. Thousands of people have installed solar panels at home to take advantage of the Queensland Government’s net feed-in-tariff . Thousands more have stuck solar hot water heaters on their roof (including me), encouraged by Federal and State Government rebates.

As I’ve written a story about this issue which hasn’t yet been published, I’ll have to hold back on some of the detail for now, but I think most people would agree that Queensland is an awful long way from being in a position to declare itself a “solar state”. Perhaps if you were to get to the point where most of your energy was coming from solar, then you’d be on more solid ground.

To get an idea of how all of this looks in the bigger scheme of things, we can compare that entire state-wide 150 MW of solar energy to one single coal-fired power station. I’m going to take Tarong, which serves the southeast corner of Queensland. This single coal-fired power station has a generating capacity alone of 1400 MW and is one of the largest of more than a dozen coal-fired power stations in Queensland.

In data submitted to the Federal Government, in the year 2008/09 Tarong power station emitted 6,714,430 tonnes of greenhouse gases (bundled together and reported as CO2-equivalent). Tarong, which is owned by the Queensland Government, also has a second smaller power station known as Tarong North, which emitted a further 2,649,130 tonnes.

Now, let’s fantasise for a while that Australia introduced a tax on emissions. If you take the cheap-and-cheerful $23 per tonne suggested by The Greens as an interim price, that potentially exposes Tarong shareholders (as a state-owned corporation, that’s the State Government) to about $215 million of costs.

In one of those ironic twists that you couldn’t make up, the very next billboard on the road out of the airport is another Queensland Government effort, this time to encourage people to buy shares in QR National.

This rail hauler says proudly in its advertising that it carries “500,000 tonnes of coal a day”. If ever there was a reason not to invest in something then, for me, that would be it.

“Welcome to the coal state”

UPDATE: A pic of the QR National billboard.


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Carbon price – Rio Tinto wants one too

LOTS of excitement after the boss of mining giant BHP Billiton gave a speech in which he said was in favour of a price on carbon and would quite like it if Australia’s Labor-led coalition government could get on with it.

Perhaps BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers was still a little dizzy from his company’s recent $13.8 billion profit announcement, but here’s a bit of his speech.

The decisions that we are taking now on power production and building infrastructure will still be with us by the time we expect a global price for carbon to be in place. With about 90% of the carbon emissions from our electricity sector coming from coal fired power stations, Australia will need to look beyond just coal towards the full spectrum of available energy solutions.

Failure to do so will place us at a competitive disadvantage in a future where carbon is priced globally. My main point is a simple one – we need to anticipate a global price for carbon when taking decisions with long dated impact. The decisions we take now on power production will still be with us long after a global price for carbon is finally in place.

Editor of Climate Spectator, Giles Parkinson, declared Kloppers was showing “the sort of leadership from the biggest companies that has been so desperately lacking in the last 12 months”. Greens leader Bob Brown said Kloppers’ statement would add strength to the efforts by the new government’s climate change committee as it tries to find a route to a carbon price.

But BHP Billiton isn’t the only gigantonormously-really-quite-big mining company to have laid their carbon cards on the table in recent weeks. The Queensland Parliament’s Environment and Resources Committee is currently in the midst of an inquiry into renewable energy which currently accounts for just two per cent of all the state’s electricity.

Among the submissions to the inquiry is this from Rio Tinto Alcan and Rio Tinto Coal Australia.

It is widely understood that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require a transformation in the way we produce and use energy. While renewables will play an important part, they must be seen as part of a portfolio of low emissions energy technologies (including nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage) that deliver increased energy efficiency. A carbon price on all terrestrial carbon is required to deliver that transformation.

So now Rio and BHP Billiton have joined the lengthening line of companies asking for a carbon price, such as electricity retailer AGL and technology company Siemens which were co-signatories of an open letter earlier this year.

Is this the bit where we point out that Liberal leader Tony Abbott has declared he’d never put a price on carbon, even if his policy announcements before the election seemed to declare the opposite?

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Do sharks hear the Jaws theme music too?

MAYBE the reason I’m scared of them is that they’ve got pointy teeth and, potentially, they can kill you or at least rip off a limb or two.

Yes.. that’s definitely the reason I’m scared of sharks…. oh, and there’s that foreboding theme tune from Jaws.

Even though I know full well I’m way more likely to die from being struck by lightning, crossing the street or even at my own hands, I can’t get those scary pointy teeth out of my head.

But that doesn’t mean I’d like to go out and kill sharks. I’d be more likely, to be honest, to wish ill-will of John Williams, the guy that put together the alternating E and F notes to make that horrible theme tune.

I can’t really say if I’d feel any differently if I actually were unfortunate enough to be partially eaten by one, but I’d like to think that I would react in the same way as Australian navy diver Paul de Gelder, who “lost” his right hand and lower right leg in Sydney harbour last year.

At the time, the local News Ltd tabloid newspaper went on it’s own feeding frenzy and even sent out a journalist to try and catch a shark.  “Gotcha – How we caught a man eater” the newspaper screamed on its front page, before going on to reveal that the shark they “caught” actually got away.

Anyway, it appears that de Gelder has a rather different reaction to his situation than the local tabloid press. He has joined with other shark attack victims from around the world for a new campaign to help save the animals that bit them, as reported here in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Huffington Post.

Pew Environment Group, a Washington-based organisation that brought the survivors to the UN, says 30 per cent of shark species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction, while the status of 47 per cent is not properly known.

Understanding the impact which humans have had on these majestic (but still pointy-toothed) creatures makes you wonder whether it would be more appropriate if the sharks were the ones hearing the foreboding theme song whenever they come across a human, rather than the other way around.

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Abbott and Gillard offer to widdle on the climate change bonfire

ACCORDING to Tony Abbott, only the coalition has a credible climate change policy to achieve a five per cent cut in Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020.

Allow me, if you will, to equate this climate change challenge to a gigantic raging bonfire of all Tony Abbott’s currently and previously-owned pairs of budgie-smugglers which would surely be a blaze three-storeys high visible from Christmas Island.

Presented with the challenge of controlling this three-story high bonfire of budgie-smugglers, what Tony Abbott is saying is that only he has a credible policy to enable him to pee on it, such is the gap between what is being offered and what is needed.

A couple of days ago, I was on a journalist’s panel listening to the three candidates for the seat of Brisbane talk climate and conservation to a group of gathered greenies. Both Labor’s Arch Bevis and Liberal Theresa Gambaro re-iterated their leaders “commitment” to that 5 per cent cut (the Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett pointed out they would be looking for a 40 per cent cut).

At one point  Mr Bevis stated that Labor was following the “science” on climate change, at which point I surmised that you’d be hard-pressed to find a credible climate scientist advocating a five per cent cut.

So what does the “science” think of a five per cent cut?

Well the minimum recommended by Professor Ross Garnaut’s comprehensive government review two years ago, was a 10 per cent cut. This 10 per cent cut, Garnaut said, would represent a fair shake of the sauce bottle from Australia as part of a global effort to stabilise emissions at 550 parts per million in the atmosphere.

Continue reading “Abbott and Gillard offer to widdle on the climate change bonfire”

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10 climate policies from around the world that Julia or Tony could steal

THE Australian Government’s permanently jack-knifing and stalling emissions trading scheme is one of the most divisive public issues since… oh I don’t know… the separation of church and state or the day Greg told his brother Trevor to bowl underarm so the Kiwis couldn’t hit a six.

Already that attempt to put a cap on Australia’s emissions and create sellable carbon permits has helped to win one federal election (Kevin 07) and claimed at least one, and maybe two, opposition party leaders.

As things stand, if Labor leader Julia Gillard gets back in to Government then it’s going to be at least 2013 before Australia has a price on carbon. If Tony Abbott gets in, he won’t even be bowling underarm. He just won’t bowl.

No wonder then that it feels as if cap-and-trade is the only way out of this sorry mess. So to that end, I went looking for climate policies that are already in place in other parts of the world.

There are literally hundreds of them, from Brazillian mandates on biofuels, to carbon taxes, climate levies and even a national rewards scheme for buying low carbon products. There’s heavy rebates on cleaner cars, taxes on burning fossil fuels, feed-in tariffs for renewable energy and yes, there are emissions trading schemes across Europe and New Zealand.

It’s a rich policy landscape. To see the final 10 policies, have a look at my feature on the ABC Environment portal and leave your thoughts here or there.

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Feature – Electric cars are coming and this time they mean it.

YEH I know, you’ve heard it all before.

Electric cars are coming to take over the world, robbing petrol-heads everywhere of their fossil fuel-loving internal combustion engines with all that grrrrrr and CO2.

Well it seems that while many finally dismissed the claims of EV enthusiasts as little more than science fiction, the car companies, local governments and savvy entrepreneurs have been getting on with the job.

Keep reading for a feature I’ve just had published in Brisbane’s bmag looking at what seems to me to be the inevitable rise of the electric car. Not even a jobsworth wheel clamper can stop the revolution now.

The Buzz about electric cars

Mark down 2010 on your driveway or scratch it on your garage wall as a reminder of the year when the wheel clamps and handbrake were finally released on the electric car.

For more than a century, the cleaner and greener electric vehicle (EV) has been held back thanks to a plentiful supply of liquid fossil fuel. But as cheap oil runs out and evidence mounts of the damage to the planet of extracting and burning fossil fuels, the long-time “concept vehicle” is stepping out of the sci-fi movie and on to a road near you.

Dozens of models of electric cars are going into mass production around the world, with some already being sold. And, if 2010 is the year the electric car industry finally got going, then July could be credited as the month when Queensland started to take them seriously.

“You now have electric vehicles popping up everywhere,” says Brisbane-based clean technology consultant Philippe Reboul. “It is getting serious.”

Continue reading “Feature – Electric cars are coming and this time they mean it.”

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Cloudy with a chance of warming

LOOKING out of my office window, passed the juvenile citrus trees, the chickens and the lemon gum, there’s a vivid aqua blue sky without a single wispy cloud.

No matter how long I stare at it, this morning it’s pretty impossible to spot any human influence or interference on what’s going on up there in the troposphere.

There’s not even a contrail from a plane.

You can’t really see the water vapour – the most abundant greenhouse gas – and you can’t see carbon dioxide either, yet they’re both key players in the climate system, as are the clouds which today I can’t…. ooh, there’s one.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the white stuff a lot lately after researching and writing this piece for the ABC’s environment portal on clouds and water vapour and their influence on the climate.

Prof Steve Sherwood at the University of New South Wales Climate Research Centre told me that knowing just how clouds will behave in a warming world is one of those “known unknowns” in climate research.

As I think my feature shows, there’s a lot of work going on now to make it a “known known”. Go here to read the feature.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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