Australia’s Energy Future

Hi again, after a long absence, I have finally managed to get through all the proofing processes for my new book Two Squatters, and at last it was released just prior to Christmas. Sadly this was a bit late to catch the gift market for Christmas. However its starting to sell well, even with limited publicity so far. I will follow up my promise soon to tell you of how the book started, and of the processes that I went through with the research, the clues, the interpretation, the writing and re-writing and finally the illustrations and the publication process.  I am still flat out setting up and improving my new website  http://www.martinplayne.com.au , as well as getting the message out that I am selling a book, which I think you will enjoy. But before I get down to all of that, I found this uncompleted work on energy sources in Australia, and the dilemma we face in this country of a political system that seems to lack a long term view. I wrote this a couple of years back, when I became annoyed. For those that don’t know, I researched alternative energy fuels back in the 80s. So I have a long-term interest in the area. Here it is:  AUSTRALIA’S ENERGY FUTURE

The political leadership of this country at federal, state, and local government levels has not demonstrated a willingness or an ability to tackle the fundamental issues which affect our needs for energy supplies for the next 50 years. We need to overcome this inertia, and this fiddling at the edges, which is what is happening at present. We must overcome it urgently.  We have squandered the last 25 years. At the time of the last oil crisis in the mid 70’s , petrol prices rose dramatically, people sold six cylinder cars and bought small vehicles, and we had active research programmes into alternative energy supplies. We were taking action. Then the crisis eased as OPAC supply policies changed in the Middle East and Africa. We soon forgot. The Government cancelled energy research programmes. We did not learn. Now, we are paying the price for that inertia.

Twenty-five years ago, Australian scientists led the world in studying the effects that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels might have on climate, and on food supplies. As a nation, we did not  use that knowledge. Our research teams investigating solar energy, passive energy design of housing, and alternative fuel supplies were at the forefront globally, but government and industry did not take on the challenges of implementing and commercialising that knowledge.  Although we have lost ‘a window of opportunity’ to lead globally in alternative energy systems and advanced waste treatments, and to develop them commercially as a new manufacturing sector, we now have a second chance. We are blessed with sunshine, a warm climate, large areas of agricultural land, large supplies of coal and uranium, and enough light grade oils to provide at least 30 to 50 % of our petrol needs for the next 20 years. We have an abundance of natural gas, which we mostly export. We have many options. We are indeed ‘the lucky country’ (still).

The main issues facing us today are the increased cost of liquid transport fuels, and the need to develop energy systems that do not generate carbon dioxide.  The most immediate impact we can make is for the per capita energy use to decline. We are the second most prolific user of energy per head of population in the World – an unenviable claim to fame!  This is especially serious as most of us live in a warm temperate climate, with little need for heating and cooling of our living spaces. For the most part, we show little regard for saving energy. We love our cars; we despise public transport; we drive our children to school in large energy-inefficient 4WDs; we travel large distances compared to European counterparts.  We need to alter these habits. How can that be done? We need an attitudinal change. We need government to subsidise public transport and continue to improve its frequency, cleanliness, safety and comfort. We need to replace annual vehicle registration fees and insurance charges by adding those charges onto each litre of fuel consumed. This merely replaces an outdated system with the ‘user pays’ principle. Obviously, implementation of such a change will be difficult and impose on some huge and probably unbearable cost burdens. During the change period it will be necessary for government to support those worst affected. Those in fringe suburbs around our major cities with poor public transport infrastructure will be worst affected. Transport costs of food and consumer goods will also increase markedly. It is for governments to plan this process. More freight trains and fewer double B road transports could mediate freight cost increases. We see little sign of such thinking by our politicians, with few exceptions.

However, transport fuels are not the only problem facing society. We need to get away from present housing trends – the Mac mansion with a large floor area per occupant, no eaves, little passive energy design, fully air-conditioned by electricity, surrounded by concrete.  Large footprints indeed!  Government incentives for design, for solar equipment for hot water,  heating and cooling, and water-saving all need to be increased, and indeed to be compulsorily-regulated in new housing.  Private housing is not the only culprit – commercial buildings need vastly improved designs to improve energy efficiency. It can be done. We have examples such as the recently completed building in Melbourne. The most glaring example of poor commercial design is the huge atriums that exist at the entrance of most recent commercial buildings – usually heated day and night to an ambient 20 degrees!

Reducing our present rate of energy consumption per head of population is only one part of the Energy Action Plan that governments so urgently need. TO BE CONTINUED….

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