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Australian industry embraces green energy while government fights emissions cuts

Australian industry embraces green energy while government fights emissions cuts

Australian industry embraces green energy while government fights emissions cuts
Rhett A. Butler,
December 1, 2005

Despite Australia’s resistance to limiting carbon dioxide emissions through the Kyoto Protocol, Australian industry and entrepreneurs are working on novel ways to reduce dependence on traditional fossil fuels.

Sunny climate an advantage

Australia’s vast uninhabited and sun-drenched interior is could be an ideal site for the industrial-scale development of solar technology which could then sold or licensed to other countries. A similar landscape in the desert of California is already being eyed for such purposes with two large solar projects planned. While these projects call for the use of pricey solar dishes, there may be other solar-based technology options.

EnviroMission, a public company in Australia, is building a 50MW power station on the Sunraysia site in Buronga, New South Wales, that is based on a “solar chimney” concept whereby solar energy is harnessed by the convection of heated air. EnviroMission’s technology, which it calls a Solar Tower power station, uses the sun’s heat to warm a large body of air which then rises through a vertical wind tunnel causing large turbines to spin and generate electricity. The amount of energy generated is directly proportional to the height of the tower. The proposed Buronga tower will be over 3300 feet (1000 meters) tall.

EnviroMission says a single 200MW Solar Tower power station will provide enough electricity to power around 200,000 households, but at a savings of more than 900,000 tons of carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.

The answer’s blowing in the wind

Meanwhile, wind energy may gaining strength in Australia after a period of stalled investment in renewable energy projects says the Australian Wind Energy Association.

Windmill in Australia. By Rhenda Glasco.

“The Australian wind energy industry has close to 6000 MW of projects in the pipeline which are predicted to offset more than 20 million tonnes of harmful emissions — the equivalent to taking close to five million cars off our roads each year,” says Dominique La Fontaine, CEO of the association. “Wind energy is a proven, mainstream energy technology which already has the power to make a significant difference to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Further, argues the association, “while renweable energy technologies like wind power are currently more expensive than coal [Australia’s largest source of energy], the cost of wind energy would be cost-competitive with fossil fuel generation today if environmental and health pollution costs were factored into the price of electricity.”

Converting sewage into energy

Cy d’Oliveira, an inventor from Queensland, Australia, has another idea for helping Australia meet its energy needs in “cleaner” fashion. D’Oliveira has devised a system that purportedly converts sewage and paper pulp into methane and other raw energy sources. He calls the system the d’Oliveira Natural Gas Refinery (dNGR) and claims the technology could produce up to 4.71 Kwh (17 MJ) of electricity per 1Kg of sewage sludge. Mr. d’Oliveira views his dNGR as a potential way for reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.

The concept of using biofuels — any fuel that derives from biomass — has gained ground in recent years. Biofuels are appealing since they are a renewable energy source and their combustion doesn’t result in a net increase of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere (their carbon was already extracted from the atmosphere by growing plants). Currently around 15% of the world’s energy consumption comes from bioenergy, mostly in developing countries where fuelwood, animal waste, and charcoal is burned for heating and cooking purposes.

Whether or not Mr. d’Oliveira process is commercially viable is still to be determined — his plan would require significant changes in how waste is handled. For now Mr. d’Oliveira aims to raise funds to develop a pilot plant to test his concepts.

Impetus to fight climate change

Maps showing the projected spread of dengue fever in Australia should the climate warm. The top map reflects the current distribution of dengue in Australia while the lower two maps show the projected range of dengue in a warmer climate. Images courtesy of the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Australia’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol is not surprising — 85 percent of the country’s electricity generation comes from coal and the Australian is highly dependent on energy use. The country targets limiting carbon dioxide emissions to an 8 percent increase in 1990 levels by 2012, whereas other industrialized countries including European Union nations, Russia and Japan (but not the United States) have agreed to cut emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Despite its hesitance to reduce emissions, Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Research suggests that the corals of Great Barrier Reef, the country’s largest tourist which brings more 1.8 million tourists and generates AU$4.3 billion, could be mostly dead by 2050 if even conservative climate projections prove accurate. Further, the desert-like interior and dry northern parts of the country are expected to become even drier as the climate warms, worsening the risk of forest fires which have burned large areas over the past five years. Rising temperatures will also likely impact the country’s unique biodiversity while threatening the health of Australians. In September, the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Conservation Foundation warned that climate change could expand the range of tropical diseases well into the country.

For these reasons it seems imperative that Australia begin to address carbon emissions and climate change issues. Renewable energy could play an important part in facing these challenges.

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