WITH LAST WEEK’S news of a proposed Northern Territory photovoltaic (PV) power station which would supply one-fifth of Singapore’s energy needs as well as supply parts of the Northern Territory with electrical energy, the proposal for what could be the largest photovoltaic and wind power station in the world in Western Australia’s Pilbara region surely signifies to the fossil fuel duffies in Planet Canberra that the era of renewable energy is rapidly emerging and that for fossil fuel is in decline.
The proposed installation would form part of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub and eventually comprise 26,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy as well as production of hydrogen. “Once complete, it would be Australia’s biggest renewable energy development, and potentially the largest of its type in the world.”, reports The Conversation. The federal government granted the proposal major project status so it can be fast-tracked through the approval process.
The Western Australian ERPA says the project woulkd consist of linear arrays of 1,743 wind turbines and solar panels distributed across an area of 644,600.
“Australia’s coal and gas exports have been growing for decades, and in 2019–20 reached almost A$110 billion. Much of this energy has fuelled Asia’s rapid growth. However, in recent weeks, two of Australia’s largest Asian energy markets announced big moves away from fossil fuels. China adopted a target of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2060. Japan will retire its fleet of old coal-fired generation by 2030, and will introduce legally binding targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Just propping up growth?
All projects come with negative as well as positive aspects. One negative of the proposal would be the clearing of native vegetation to make way for the installation. It comes down to one of those decisions governments and individuals will have to more-frequently make in this era of the anthropocene—what are the priorities? Do we leave native vegetation intact and continue to burn fossil fuels or do we build the system and start reducing our carbon emissions?
Proponents of zero-growth economies will point out that these large-scale renewable energy installations merely support economic growth. However, there is another side to them. It is this: they also shift the world away from fossil fuels and their global heating emissions.
All technology has the potential for good and bad. This proposal comes with both. It is not as simple as that. Joseph Wood Krutch got it when he said: “Technology made large populations possible. Large populations now make technology indispensable.”
What this means is that in a world which by October 2020 had reached 7.8 billion people and was still growing, old ideas, old ways are no longer sufficient. Life in the anthropocene calls for new ideas, new ways of thinking, new solutions. That is as true of the energy which civilisation needs as it is of anything else.
Buckminster Fuller put it like this: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Something… like these renewable energy installations, perhaps?
Time for a rethink
Any politician or public servant with a nouse of intelligence should be able to read the tea leaves when it comes to energy trends.
Yet, what we see is a federal government in denial, a government firmly wedded to lumps of black carbon dug from the ground and burned. It starts to look a bit like a carbonaceous suicide club. Meanwhile, the nation’s citizens and the energy market lead the nation towards renewable energy infrastructure. Government lags somewhere in the distant background.
Households lead in renewable energy installation
The trend to renewables is evident at the household level where the number of Australian households with photovoltaic panels installed passed two million in 2018.
“Australia has the highest uptake of solar globally, with more than 21% of homes with rooftop solar PV. As of 30 September 2020 more than 2.56 million rooftop solar power systems have been installed across Australia”, says the federal Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
“Solar PV is intended to be an investment that, once paid for, will save its owner money by generating free electricity during daylight hours. A system without batteries typically has a payback period of 3 to 5 years. Adding batteries extends the payback period… Recent design improvements and price drops in lithium-ion batteries have made solar storage more viable than ever before.”
More recently, households started to add home batteries to their rooftop solar energy systems to provide energy security and to reduce rising energy costs.
The increasing number of grid-and battery-connected rooftop photovoltaic systems is in addition to the total of 1.23 million installed solar water heating systems, of which 63,000 were installed in 2019 and which reduce the average household’s carbon emissions by 2.4 to 3 tonnes, according to the Clean Energy Council.
Not the old world
We have left the old world. The departure gate started to open back in the late-1950s when we set out on a new civilisational adventure with the acceleration in almost everything: population, environmental damage, science, technology, knowledge, medicine, pollution, cities, transport, energy consumption and all the rest. It was the Great Acceleration.
We remain embedded in this acceleration. Finding solutions that are robust, resilient and sustainable will require us, as a society and civilisation, to rationally tackle the dilemmas like those posed by these large-scale renewable energy projects.
Solar energy installation: Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources https://www.energy.gov.au/households/solar-pv-and-batteries
Mapping Australian Photovoltaic installations https://pv-map.apvi.org.au/historical
Solar Batteries — Are They Worth It? July 2020 https://www.solarchoice.net.au/is-home-battery-storage-worth-it/
2015: How battery-powered homes are unplugging Australia https://www.smh.com.au/business/how-batterypowered-homes-are-unplugging-australia-20150731-giogk2.html
Solar photovoltaic systems and battery storage https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/energy-and-environment/energy-efficient-home-design/solar-photovoltaic-systems
South Australia’s giant Tesla battery output and storage set to increase by 50 per cent https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-19/sa-big-battery-set-to-get-even-bigger/11716784
Australian outback cattle station to house world’s largest solar farm, powering Singapore https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/21/australian-outback-cattle-station-to-house-worlds-largest-solar-farm-powering-singapore?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other&fbclid=IwAR27L0iTZPtWyHS2-N4GKqccEI3ZpQkQuRZQYPmwurbBJ_HxbEJ9yqBGvI0
Super-charged: how Australia’s biggest renewables project will change the energy game https://theconversation.com/super-charged-how-australias-biggest-renewables-project-will-change-the-energy-game-148348
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