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How about 54% of our electricity from renewables? We could have done it in 2012.

After reading that 27% of energy is generated from renewables in Germany, Gregor Ptok asked himself the obvious question: why isn’t this happening in Australia? “Initially I didn’t do anything much with it, but remembered about the Renewable Energy Target (RET) review . . . but was in two minds about whether I should go to the effort of putting a submission in. On the Friday morning when the submission was due, I was reading The Lorax to my son – as stated in my submission (see below), it was the first time I had come across the story. At that point I decided to ‘speak up’ and contribute to the debate. It’s his future that we’re stuffing up and I at least want to be able to say that I tried what I could to mitigate the impacts”.

Edited Submission to the review of the renewable energy target

I just read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax for the first time when reading it to my son. But more about that later. First, I would like to share some thoughts about long-term impacts of government decisions.

The long-term impacts of some decisions made now will be significant. I’m not thinking about 10 years’ time when the budget may be balanced, but 2080 – when I will no longer be here, but my children and their children will. Is the best we can leave them: “a balanced budget” and $12.4bn worth of Joint Strike Fighters? If even one less aircraft was ordered, that would free up $214m for other uses. What effect will one less aircraft have if Australia gets attacked by China? Very little, I would argue.

What will people need in 2080? We can’t be sure how technology changes, but they will still need water, food and shelter. What are we doing to ensure these necessities will be provided in the futures?

My hope against hope is that governments surround themselves with wise advisers. Mature, experienced people who have learned to critically evaluate different viewpoints, balance the short-term and long-term impacts of their recommendations, do thorough risk-assessment and who have compassion for all. People, who strive to leave a legacy that reaches beyond the “bottom line”; one that builds a sustainable, thriving community. A community that is able to pull together to navigate the black swan events that may occur – not just in response to external threats (which would necessitate Joint Strike Fighters), but to the very fundamental threats that The Lorax refers to – resource depletion. If you think of a glass of water, at some stage it is half empty (or half full, whichever way you prefer), but ultimately it will be empty if you keep drinking. The same principle applies to oil, which is the very lifeblood of our current economy. It applies to a lot of other things as well as Richard Heinberg’s Peak Everything so aptly demonstrates.

Taleb wrote about black swan events. My apologies for referencing Wikipedia, but I don’t have enough time at the moment to read the full book.[1] A black swan event is an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Examples given include the internet, personal computer, World War 1, the dissolution of the Soviet Union or the September 2001 attacks:

The phrase “black swan” derives from a Latin expression; its oldest known occurrence is the poet Juvenal’s characterization of something being “rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno” (“a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”). In English, when the phrase was coined, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the metaphor lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought. A set of conclusions is potentially undone once any of its fundamental postulates is disproved. In this case, the observation of a single black swan would be the undoing of the logic of any system of thought, as well as any reasoning that followed from that underlying logic.

Juvenal’s phrase was a common expression in 16th century London as a statement of impossibility. The London expression derives from the Old World presumption that all swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers. In that context, a black swan was impossible or at least nonexistent. After Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh discovered black swans in Western Australia in 1697, the term metamorphosed to connote that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven.

……

The main idea in Taleb’s book is not to attempt to predict black swan events, but to build robustness against negative ones that occur and be able to exploit positive ones. Taleb contends that banks and trading firms are very vulnerable to hazardous black swan events and are exposed to unpredictable losses. On the subject of business in particular, Taleb is highly critical of the widespread use of the normal distribution model as the basis for calculating risk. For example, a paper produced by academics from Oxford University and based on data from 1,471 IT projects showed that although the average cost overrun was only 27%, one in six of the projects had a cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.

In the second edition of The Black Swan, Taleb provides “Ten Principles for a Black-Swan-Robust Society”.

Taleb states that a black swan event depends on the observer. For example, what may be a black swan surprise for a turkey is not a black swan surprise to its butcher; hence the objective should be to “avoid being the turkey” by identifying areas of vulnerability in order to “turn the Black Swans white”.

A common strategy to mitigate risks is not to put “all the eggs in one basket”. By reducing the RET, one strategy that seems to be working to encourage greater use of renewables (and thus more eggs in terms of energy generation) will be negated.

There is a country which in the last quarter generated 27% of its energy from renewable sources[2]: Germany. It generated 40.2bn KWh from renewable sources[3], which equates to 40,200 GWh. A country with less sunshine and landmass than Australia (though admittedly a higher population), in the last quarter generated the equivalent of Australia’s expected annual RET in 2020. If there was a will to invest less in a few strike fighters, Australia could be on the way there now.

I hope your recommendations will create the foundation for mitigating risks in energy generation not just for this generation, but for my son’s generation as well. And due to the time-lag usually involved in energy programs, leaving a balanced budget – in my view – does not count as risk mitigation. I take out a mortgage to build a house and spend a long time paying it off. Investment in renewable energy infrastructure is one investment I believe we should be willing to pay off for a longer timeframe as well. Or we could re-allocate some funding from the defence budget.

A different world is possible. Borrowing language from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax again: Are we Once-lers or someone who cares a whole awful lot?

If Australia were to have Germany’s renewables energy generation capacity, in 2012 we could have sourced 53.65% of our energy from renewables.[4] Whilst there are arguments around baseloads, etc. this is just one image to show what that would look like:

Graph2

Click on the image to enlarge

 

[1] Information in this paragraph and the following quotes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

[2] Energiewende: Deutsche verbrauchen so viel Ökostrom wie noch nie, Spiegel Online, http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/erneuerbare-energien-oekostrom-anteil-steigt-auf-27-prozent-a-968439.html

[3] ibid

[4] Australian total energy production 2011-2012: 253,851 GWh. Source: 2013 Australian Energy Update, Australian Government Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, p.11

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43 comments

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  1. ryan

    great artical heres 1 or to links u may want to look at 1 on super critical solar powered steam by the csiro http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20140506-25618.html the other some analysis of those joint strike fighters you mention skiping https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27qdB1D0s9M one or 2 of 😛 but yes we could have round the clock power from just solar alone and the super hornets will leave us with a air defence the rest of the world will laugh at, could easly buy 0 of them and be in a beter position then buying a aircraft that in wargames testing vs the current russian SU’s was compared to “clubing baby seals”

  2. CMMMC

    I would just like to say, …., um, ENRON, ENRON, ENRON.

  3. leighton8

    CMMMC ….. Eh, the relevancy of a chorus of “ENRON” in relation to this escapes me …. please elaborate ……

  4. MissPamela

    Thank you for a great article. I will be reading The Black Swan asap.
    I have thought many times recently of sending Abbott and crew a copy of The Lorax!

  5. Shaun Newman

    Unfortunately Australia is rich with coal deposits and big business is literally making billions out of it, it is this old money that is holding back the RET in Australia with the LNP backing the 19th century technology over the modern technology because old money rules the LNP.

  6. silkworm

    RET is a strategy designed to ameliorate climate change, not peak oil. I have to wonder why climate change is not mentioned in this article.

  7. Carol Taylor

    “Germany. It generated 40.2bn KWh from renewable sources[3]”

    The other country which is investing heavily in renewable resources, and who in fact has overtaken the USA as the leading investor is…China.

    The Chinese have never enjoyed being beholden to the West for..mostly everything, and energy production is no exception. If Australia is foolish enough to go backwards on this issue it is our future which will see our prosperity likewise go backwards.

  8. Gregor

    @ryan – thank you and thanks for the links.
    @John921Fraser – also, thanks for the link to info on Solar.
    Whilst I don’t see solar as the be-all and end-all, especially in Australia there is so much potential for it. Whilst baseloads need to be supplied, I believe solar could make a big contribution to the energy mix. It could be especially useful for covering extra loads on hotter days when all the air conditioners are on ….
    I wasn’t aware of the comparison of Joint Strike Fighters, but if they really are as useless as the video makes it seem, that’s a lot of money we are wasting.

  9. Gregor

    @CMCC @Shaun Newman – The mighty $$$$.
    I wonder if there’s a correlation between a person’s spiritual and personal development and where their political affiliations lie. If anyone has any research that may be related, please share the links 😉

  10. Shaun Newman

    I noticed today that the Abbott government is sucking up to Japan, with China looking on with interest. If China cancels Australia’s coal and develops their renewable energy faster the Australian economy would cease to be.

  11. Shaun Newman

    Imagine the amount of power which could be generated by hydro in this nation, The Snowy River scheme was only the tip of the iceberg, however again coal barons have great influence within the LNP.

  12. Gregor

    @MissPamela
    I have got the book and started it. It makes for a fascinating and challenging read. Taleb spent an early part of his career in a wall street bank where he developed expertise in quantitative finance, betting on rare and unexpected events. He was actually well-placed in the stock market crash of 1987. His 10 principles for a Black-Swan-Robust society are all the more interesting in light of this background:
    1. What is fragile should break early, while it’s still small (nothing should ever become too big to fail)
    2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains
    3. People who were driving the school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus
    4. Don’t let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks
    5. Compensate complexity (of globalisation and highly networked economic life) with simplicity (of financial products). The complex economy is already a form of leverage.
    6. Do not give children dynamite stickes, even if they come with a warning label (i.e. complex financial products)
    7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”
    8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains (i.e. using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage)
    9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets as a repository of value and should not rely on fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. (Economic life should be definancialised)
    10. Make and omelet with the broken eggs (don’t do makeshift repairs, voluntarily move into a robust economy)

  13. Gregor

    @silkworm. Good pick-up!
    I agree, RET is obviously aimed at mitigating climate change. To me climate change and the need to do something effective about it is a given. Renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions – as much as is technically and financially possible – to me is a no-brainer . I guess that’s why I didn’t specifically mention it in my article.
    Another reason is probably that someone is then bound to make the argument that whatever Australia does is miniscule in terms of global impact on emissions, etc. etc. I believe that a lot of emotional energy can be wasted on arguing technicalities, but the angle I was highlighting is that there are other reasons for diversification of energy generation.
    Peak oil in my view will make our usual responses to disaster and, by extension, climate change, much more difficult and expensive. It will also have significant impacts on the production and generation of coal, the primary source of Australia’s electricity. I believe that more localised and diversified energy production is one way to help make electricity available. Hence the argument that diversification of energy generation away from coal is a step to mitigating some of the risks of peak oil.

  14. Don Winther

    @Gregor,

    I have noticed that Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Pyne and Bill Shorton were all educated at Jesuit primary and secondary schools and a very high percentage of politicians in the liberal party are ( pretend to be ) very Catholic. Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper is Tony only friend so far is also very Catholic right wing. I think Tony is more Catholic than he is Aussie.

    I have nothing against Catholics but they are not saints

    @Shaun Newman, I thought they sold the Snowy Mountain Scheme?

  15. MIssPamela

    Have purchased it for my iBooks library and hope to start it this evening.

  16. Dan Rowden

    Don,

    I don’t think the Jesuits do Primary Schools.

  17. Shaun Newman

    I sincerely agree @Gregor, and I do not know whether the Snowy scheme has been privatized or not, but would assume so. Progress is difficult when there is so much ‘old money’ tied up in coal, in fact the LNP government in Queensland has just announced that it plans to build a new ‘coal fired’ power station in North Queensland. Those of us who want progress have paid off solar power over the years which has saved the State government a fortune from having to build new power stations, however all the LNP can do is attack, attack, attack us. Barry Jones former Hawke government Minister has been talking about climate change and carbon pollution since the 80s, but the LNP just refuse to get with the program.

  18. Shaun Newman

    This is perhaps why Shorten is so weak in opposing the tory policies, he probably half believes in them himself, after all he is a right winger.

  19. Kaye Lee


    ITS massive hydro generators produce electric gold – renewable peak demand energy that commands top dollar and makes superannuation funds and private investors salivate with the thought of owning it.

    But Snowy Hydro’s three cash-strapped owners, the commonwealth, Victorian and NSW governments, appear likely to pass up the chance of privatising the prized piece of infrastructure.

    Politicians appear unwilling to take on the unlikely alliance of environmentalists, unionists, farmers and nostalgists who successfully fought such a move eight years ago.

    Ministers in the three governments told The Weekend Australian this week they had no plans to instigate a renewed attempt to sell the Snowy scheme, seen as one of the most audacious nation-building projects in the country’s history.”

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/no-stomach-for-selling-off-snowy-hydro/story-e6frg6n6-1226799383931#

    IPA wish list

    75. Privatise the Snowy-Hydro Scheme

    I would suggest it’s on the “to do” list.

  20. Jonathan Maddox

    Please don’t confuse “energy” with “electricity” or “electric energy”. Less than half of a typical industrialised nation’s energy consumption is in the form of electricity. Heating and transportation, while they may use some electric power, are largely powered by direct burning of gas and oil respectively. Moreover, the “primary energy” usage of thermal power stations is far higher than their electric energy output, because much of the heat generated by fuel burning is necessarily discarded in the process of driving turbines with it. Most renewable electricity (hydro, solar and wind) does not have the same constraint.

  21. Winifred Jeavons

    Primitive cultures consider the effects of actions on several generations ahead (3 up to 7) . I saw this in action in a Pacific society. Are they primitive or are we? the same society cared for all its members, orphaned. frail old included . Again who is the “primitive”? We seem unwilling or unable to consider effects on citizens even 1 generation ahead. Grow up Australia !

  22. Shaun Newman

    Johnathon, could you please contextualize or further explain what you mean by the above statement?

  23. Jonathan Maddox

    LOL. Shaun, my comment regarding the difference between *electric* energy and energy was a response to the phrase in the first line of the article, “27% of energy is generated from renewables in Germany”. The word “energy” is incorrect; it should be “electricity”. Germany like any country consumes an awful lot of energy which is *not* in the form of electricity, such as in the form of oil burned in vehicle engines and in domestic heating appliances, gas for heating, cooking, chemical processing etc. and also biomass for heating. Even a small amount of coal consumption is used for purposes other than electric generation.

    When statistics bodies give figures for a nation’s “primary energy consumption”, for fossil fuels and biofuels they give the thermal energy content released by the fuel when burned. However when those fuels are used to make electricity, depending on the efficiency of the generator, as little as 20% and at most about 64% of that thermal energy will be delivered as electric energy (typical figures are 35%-45% efficiency; over 50% is achieved only in the newest and most efficient combined-cycle gas-fired power stations). For non-thermal generation techniques, however, only the electric output is counted in the stats, so rather less primary wind or hydro energy is required to displace primary fossil fuel or biofuel energy consumed in thermal power stations. (Apparently some statistics bodies also count only electric output for nuclear and solar thermal power, disregarding excess heat used but not converted).

    Thus, a transition from fossil fuel power to cleaner energy sources twiddles with the primary energy statistics in interesting ways. Germany’s 21% of electric energy from non-thermal renewables (the other 6% is thermal biogas or biomass power) might only represent 9% of primary energy consumption, but since well over half of it is from non-thermal sources, about twice as much “primary” energy would be consumed if that energy were generated using fossil fuels instead.

  24. Shaun Newman

    Winifred, obviously it is we who are primitive we continue to sell out, or rather to allow our governments to sell out on our behalf, assets and culture that Europeans have established in Australia for 200 years and Aboriginal culture that has existed here for 50,000 years, all for the sake of the almighty dollar into the hands of the very rich, while ignoring the real advances in technology from home construction from hemp to energy generation from renewable energy. All this has been bought to us from the LNP government/s.

  25. Shaun Newman

    Thanks Jonathon, your explanation was much appreciated.

  26. Stephen Bowler

    This is a good article – may I relate something that made me do a double take in 1978 when I came to Australia
    I was a member of the british armed service’s (RAF). And in 1971 I was posted to Cyprus a beautiful island in the Mediterranean sun. On arrival I noted these funny looking flat things on the roof of most houses and buildings, on inquiry I discovered that they were solar hot water systems – yes SOLAR hot water and in Cyprus a place that was considered pretty poor as nations go.
    Now when I arrived in Australia in 1978 there was not one solar hot water system on any roof that I could see.

    At the tome I felt it was a pretty dum thing to have all this sun and rely on electricity or gas for hot water.

    36 years later, Australia still has the vast majority of houses without solar hot water and a minute number of buildings without solar electricity!
    How is this so.

    If the Australian governments of any pursuasion (but more particular the Labor government when in power) were realy serious about climate warming and the reason is because of CO2, then Labor should have given loss cost loans or even paid for solar electricity on every domestic house in Australia. And legislated that all business installl solar and wind energy sufficient for their needs.

    Now I know that many people would baulk at that most of whom would be the business world and the electricity companies the mines and the petroleum industry. But the result would be a massive reduction in CO2.

  27. Stephen Bowler

    Sorry few errors in my spelling because of my fingers not knowing where the keys are!

  28. Shaun Newman

    Steven Bowler, it would only be the ALP who would do such a thing, because the LNP protect the “old money” in coal mining. However once again this plan of installing solar on every roof in Australia, while it is a great plan, the government needs revenue to do this, and while big business have found a way of transferring $60 Billion each and every year to tax havens in such places as the Cayman Islands, then the revenue is just not there to complete a project of that size.

  29. Möbius Ecko

    Apart from breaking yet another major promise this move of cutting the $600 million for a cornerstone of their much vaunted DAP, much vaunted to Europe and Obama as well by the way, down to $2 million blows that scheme out of the water.

    How many of us, me included many times, said that DAP was never intended to get off the ground. Malcolm Turnbull picked it when he said it was an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

    The DAP sat on Hunt’s website since 2007 unchanged and I bet he still doesn’t change it in light of ripping $598 million from it. That’s more proof that DAP was always a mirage as no major policy sits for years without constant updates and adjustments.

    Once again this lot prove they can’t be trusted in anything they say or do. Their first, second and last recourse is always to lie and them to lie about lying.

  30. Möbius Ecko

    Well Abbott must have tanked big time in the US, so his big success there is just another lie.

    https//pbs.twimg.com/media/BqAwmYDCYAEtJJD.jpg

    Have a look at the look on Abbott’s face.

    Obama has just asked Abbott if he was a fool as your carbon price works.

    Wonder how much else unfavourable was said to Abbott we will may hear about?

    Another sign he tanked badly is that the right wing trolls are flooding social media all of a sudden with the climate denialists out in force again posting the same disproved crap as though it is new information. Also the attacks on Labor, the unions through the AWU commission saying how terrible the revelations are and past crap is being aired as well.

    Why?

    Abbott’s approval rating is lower than Gillard’s worst number.

  31. silkworm

    Möbius – can’t get that image to open.

  32. Möbius Ecko

    http//pbs.twimg.com/media/BqAwmYDCYAEtJJD.jpg

    Probably the https. Try again.

    I really don’t like this layout and most of all the line and paragraph spacing in the posts. It makes it more onerous than it should be to read.

  33. Möbius Ecko

    Nope. Now don’t know what’s happening. Along with removing line breaks in posts it’s no longer linking url’s.

    Frustrating.

  34. Möbius Ecko

    Too quick to blame this blog. Looks like the image has been taken down.

  35. Möbius Ecko

    For a description it was a picture of Obama talking in the foreground but blurred so the full focus is on Abbott scowling hate like at Obama in the background.

    The story is that Obama is saying Abbott is a fool for removing carbon pricing that is working.

  36. Möbius Ecko

    http://tinyurl.com/nhzcw84

    Found it on the Terror. But don’t bother reading the article that goes with it. A bigger load of crap you won’t find anywhere. Apparently according to the Terror Abbott was afforded one of the highest powered meetings rarely given to a world leader. It just goes down hill from there.

    They really are trying way too hard to prop Abbott’s failing ratings.

  37. silkworm

    I think the problem was you missed a colon after the http… Anyway, yes, tony’s left eye, his winking one?, is red and weepy. Either he’s been drinking, or he’s missing his drinkies. lol.

  38. sam

    Does anybody have a link to the research paper from csiro for super critical steam? Best info i can find on ‘how’ this was achieved was better computer control of the heliostats. This is interesting stuff!

    In a broader context: Thermal solar like the ivanpah plant is about 30% efficiency and is scaled to produce 392Mw. A large coal fired power station can produce 800/1200Mw due to energy density of coal (even though burning said coal is incredibly inneficient).
    Solar/base load solar eg: gema solar is thought to be on par with coal price performance wise once especially if the ‘corporate welfare’ is removed. This claim comes from academics and industry more frequently.

    The only real need for these coal plants would be one off industry eg: making aluminium with the bayer process. And all the other heavy industry which there are not that many left in Australia anyway.

    No excuses for domestic/general industry at all now. There should be a ‘war room’ like approach to this with the impending disaster of global warming over the next 100+ years and the conventional pollution, land space, health problems with coal plants.

    If supercritical steam does what it is supposed to do then the case for creating an industry and tens of thousands of jobs involved implementing this stuff sounds like the obvious strategy.

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