Review: Peter Seligman’s “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers”. Climate catastrophe avoidable
by : Dr Gideon Polya
Friday July 9, 2010 - 07:27
The important study “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers” by Professor Peter Seligman (University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 2010) must be emulated by scientists and engineers for every country in the World. The looming climate catastrophe and climate genocide do not have to happen.
“Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers” by Peter Seligman is a very important book for Australia and indeed the whole World. As an expertly compiled, case study assessment of how one of the world’s worst per capita major greenhouse gas (GHG) polluting countries, Australia, can convert to 100% renewable energy, this book is also an important book for the world. It can be obtained by free download from here: http://energy.unimelb.edu.au/upload... .
“Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers” was inspired by “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” (SEWTHA) written by Professor David J.C, MacKay FRS, professor of natural philosophy in the Department of Physics at the prestigious University of Cambridge and chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. It is an Australia-specific offshoot of Professor MacKay’s analysis of sustainable energy for the UK and sets out how Australia can meet the challenge of the worsening climate emergency by rapidly switching to 24/7, base-load, 100% renewable energy.
The author, Dr Peter Seligman, is an outstanding electrical engineer who has been a major player in the development of the Bionic Ear. He studied electrical engineering at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and subsequently completed a PhD in 1973 with a thesis entitled "Auditory Pattern transmission". According to the Bionic Ear Institute, Melbourne: “Professor Peter Seligman designed the first portable speech processor for the University of Melbourne bionic ear device and was a key member of Professor Graeme Clark’s team that developed the Bionic Ear. Professor Seligman has joined The Bionic Ear Institute and will help guide staff in research, development and commercialisation.” (see: http://www.bionicear.org/news.html ).
Chapter 1. “Introduction”. The starting point for the book is the good fortune of Australia. Seligman points out (p1) that “to supply European countries with sustainable energy requires country sized installations” but “Australian has 32 times the area of the UK with about a third of the population. Much of Australia has over double the solar irradiance.” While the energy use average in the cold UK is 125 KWh/day/person that for warm Australia is 200 KWh/person/day, the breakdown for Australia being 4% (air transport), 13% (mining and metals), 18% (ground transport), 42% (electricity generation) and 23% (other energy use). A key part of Seligman’s plan involves improving energy efficiency in this energy use mix.
Chapter 2, “What can we do?” reviews the geothermal and renewable energy resources available for an Australia wide sustainable energy model. It successively deals with various energy technologies including concentrated solar thermal, concentrated solar photovoltaic (Australia is a world leader in technology but not in commercial uptake), wind, offshore wind ( important for the UK but not for 7.6 million square kilometre Australia), hot fractured rocks geothermal, vulcanism-linked geothermal, coal bed-insulated deep drilling geothermal (a notable possibility for Victoria’s brown coal region), buoy-based wave power, tidal power, hydro-electric power, and pumped hydro storage. Crop-based biofuels are considered (but the moral and technological downsides of using food for fuel, major carbon debt problems and the very real Biofuel Genocide are unfortunately not mentioned).
Clean coal, carbon capture and storage is considered and Seligman points out correctly that the technology is not established commercially and that “Coal is not renewable energy so neither is clean coal”. Carbon capture and algae-based conversion to biofuels is possible for large area Australia but not for the UK. Seligman is unduly dismissive of the biochar as a negative biofuel - in contrast Dr James Lovelock FRS regards this as our last hope and use of existing agricultural and forestry waste for biofuel could presently exactly compensate from current industrial carbon dioxide pollution (see: http://sites.google.com/site/yarrav...).
Thorium fuelled nuclear power, nuclear fusion and hybrid fusion and fission reactors are considered as future possibilities. However not mentioned is that conventional or novel nuclear cycles in an existing carbon economy are significantly CO2 polluting (e.g. from mining, construction, processing, decomsion and waste disposal) and that we already have a fusion reactor located at a safe distance from the Earth, namely the Sun.
Chapter 3, “How are we travelling?”considers the combined effect of growth of Australia’s’ population growth and per capita energy usage that mean that even with achievement of the Australian Labor Government’s “20% renewable energy [by 2020]” there will be net increase in the use of fossil fuels. Seligman is caustic about “government-sponsored scams” (e.g. “[Renewable Energy] Certificates [RECs] are issued for 5 times their actual value as renewable energy from small photovoltaic systems (I’m not making this up)”. The uptake of renewable energy is miserable in Australia – it accounts for only about 8% of electricity production Seligman observes: “solar power is presently insignificant in Australia: about 0.2-0.3%”.
Seligman notes criticisms of the Australian Labor Government’s Carbon Trading-based Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that it calls the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The Greens oppose it for not being strong enough and the conservative Coalition Opposition oppose it out of fear it will damage the economy (although modelling says otherwise – there will be very little effect on per capita GNP in any of the scenarios considered). The critique is summarized by a cartoon in which Climate Minister Wong is saying “We aim to reduce Australia’s emissions without Australia actually having to reduce its emissions. We will address the greatest challenge of our time without anyone actually having to do anything” and the Opposition says “We resolve to do everything in our power to tackle climate change, if it exists” and to oppose anything Labor suggests.
Disappointingly this critique does not include the views of top climate scientists and climate economists who slam the ETS approach as empirically unsuccessful, dangerously counterproductive and intrinsically fraudulent (e.g. it involves selling something that they do not have the right to sell, specifically the right to pollute the one common atmosphere of all countries. For a compendium of such opinions see “Science & economics experts: Carbon Tax needed and not Cap-and-Trade Emission Trading Scheme (ETS)”, 300.org : http://sites.google.com/site/300org... ).
Chapter 4, “A strategy for Australia” attempts to provide a costed strategy for Australia to become a zero carbon country. A total of 57 GW (Giga watts or billion watts of stationary electrical power disseminated by direct current transmission (DC transmission) is (conservatively) provided by 1.6 GW Hydroelectric (as it exists), 15 GW geothermal (currently measured resource fully used), 0.4 GW wave (3% of coastline), 20 GW solar (concentrated thermal, 0.06% of country) and 20 GW wind (0.13% of country, compatible with farming). A key part of the proposal involves a 200 GWh “battery” to provide 24/7, baseload electrical power, this involving a huge saltwater pond on Australia’s southern rim Nullabor Desert to hydrologically store all of Australia’s renewable energy.
Chapter 5 “The Bill”, estimates that “including the cost of the pipes and turbines, to convert our existing electrical power system to completely renewable sources, we will need … $253 billion … over say 25 years. That’s about $10 billion per year or about $500 per person per year or $1.40 per person per day”. The breakdown is $198 billion (wind, solar an geothermal power stations), $20 billlion (high voltage DC power lines), $33 billion (for turbines and pipes associates with hydrological storage of power by pumping sea water to Nullabor Desert storage ponds) and $2 billion (construction of coastal Nullabor Desert storage pond dams). This chapter successively considers the bill, job creation , feasibility of 100% renewable energy, the cost of the electricity (12 cents /KWh), CO2 production associated with construction (payback 1 year), security of supply, thermal storage with concentrated solar (currently being applied internationally) and feasibility (cf the US industrial transformation from cars to tanks, Liberty shops and bombers in Work War 2).
Chapter 6, “What about all the other energy we use?”, considers Australia’s profligate use of energy. Australia’s energy use in units of kWh per person per day is totals 200 (detailed breakdown provided for agricultural , mining  , manufacturing  , electricity generation , construction  , transport  commercial  , residential  and miscellaneous components ) , 94 (non-transport and non-electricity generation energy use) and 61 (non-electrical energy use). Seligman observes “Here we see that even after we have excluded the electricity component, our other category is still about 4 times the UK equivalent i.e. 61 versus 16 kWh/day/person… if we could get down to the current level of the UK or Europe that would be a start”.
Chapter 7, ”Bang for a buck in CO2 abatement” considers the most effective choices we can make for CO2 abatement with some surprising results. Thus “money equals carbon dioxide … Spending money results in energy use – no matter what you spend it on”. “The gross cost, excluding any government incentives, is about $50/W [for of roof top photovoltaics or solar PV] … The capital cost of a windfarm is about $7-$8/W”. After giving several examples (office LED lighting and 2 solar energy PV comparisons), Seligman tabulates the cost of CO2 abatement (including the cost of energy saved) this ranging from -$196 (Compact fluorescent light , CFL); -$184 for LED fluorescent tube replacement ), -$147 (domestic solar/gas hot water service), and $8 ( rooftop grid-connect solar PV system (i.e not very good).
Chapter 8, “Transporting negative CO2”, makes a very powerful point that “ To maximise bang for a buck of CO2 abatement, you do not have to place the abatement scheme on your house or even in your local community. The scheme may be far more effective elsewhere”.e.g. by investing in a windfarm rather than installing the expensive option of rooftop solar PV. This chapter does have a significant deficiency in downplaying the significance of biochar as a solution (Peter Seligman is an electrical engineer and not a biologist). Thus Professor James Lovelock FRS thinks that biochar is our last hope and indeed it can be calculated that the amount of biochar that can be made from plant waste each year is roughly the same as the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere each year from carbon burning by man. The technology is straightforward and has been used by charcoal makers for thousands of years, specifically heating plant material to 400-700 degrees Centigrade in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic pyrolysis) to generate carbon (C) from plant cellulose (roughly (CHO)n) . Carbon (C) is stable (unless you set fire to it and have plenty of oxygen - neither being likely underground) whereas plant cellulose (roughly (CH20)n) is oxidized by soil organisms to yield the GHGs CO2 and H2O or worse still, converted by anaerobic bacteria to methane, CH4, which is about 25 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 100 year time scale and 72 times worse on a 20 year time scale (see: http://sites.google.com/site/yarrav... ) .
Chapter 9, “Efficiency and waste” is a detailed and very surprising analysis of how we can save energy and hence minimize carbon pollution on a carbon-based economy. The coverage of this chapter is conveyed by the sub-headings: Fridges (refrigerators); Ducted heating system, water heating (gas use in solar-gas water heating is surprisingly minimal); Domestic heating and cooling statistics; Solar air conditioners (a deficiency is that not mentioned is the excellent New Zealand Heat Replacement Ventilation or HRV system that uses the heating and cooling of the roof cavity); Waste reduction; Waste management; Desalination (“another example of how we are heading in the wrong direction”); Burning fuel like there’s no tomorrow; Heating the great outdoors; A domestic central heating, cogeneration heat pump; and Electric cars (for short trips electric is better).
Chapter 10, “Market forces”, cogently argues for “an integrated utility organization that would cover Electricity, gas, water, transport and efficiency measures".
Chapter 11, "Putting it all together", is the final chapter that summarizes the Big Picture. It commences with the arguable propositions that “Renewable means we could keep using it for as long as we are around. The best example is solar polar. Sustainable means that we are using up something but we could keep using it for the foreseeable future.” To me renewable means something that (like solar-related resources) are constantly renewed. Sustainable means use of something (like forests) that can be replaced. Peter Seligman considers all the renewable and sustainability options and concludes “We could do this at a price we could afford. Possibly the best solution will be a combination of these approaches.”
“Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers” by top electrical engineer Professor Peter Seligman is a very important book for Australia and indeed for the whole world.
Engineers and scientists in other countries must emulate what Peter Seligman has demonstrated for Australia and Professor Professor David J.C, MacKay FRS has demonstrated for the UK.
The world is facing a climate emergency but climate catastrophe and climate genocide do not have to happen.
Professor James Hansen (Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and adjunct professor at 76-Nobel–Laureate Columbia University, New York ) in an article entitled “It’s possible to avert he climate crisis” declares “Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold, hard slap in the face” (see Countercurrents: It’s possible to avert he climate crisis” : http://www.countercurrents.org/hans... ) .
Electrical engineer Dr Peter Seligman’s superb book shows us how we can respond to the climate emergency in a timely and sensible way using existing technologies. What price Humanity and the Biosphere? Professor Peter Seligman demonstrates that the price is minimal and eminently affordable. The climate catastrophe does not have to happen.
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