Monday, July 17, 2006

Energy Policy for Greens

Went to a meeting last week run by a local Greens MLC. Seemed to be more concerned about anti-nuclear issues than about a realistic energy policy that responds to climate change and peak oil. Here's a few thoughts on an energy policy for Western Australia -

  • The climate is changing fast, much faster in the last 18 months than previously and much faster in the last 10 years than previously. This means that the requirements of daily living, namely water and food, are likely to be immediately threatened as crops and water supplies fail. The idea that this won't happen on a catastrophic scale is simply wishful thinking.

  • We are addicted to oil as a fuel and our behaviour regarding it's availability is similar to any heroin addict. Namely denial of any problem followed by violent responses when shortages occur. We are in deep addiction because we have substituted oil for many other forms of energy, our lives revolve around oil. Of course, it's not the same for everybody, some people have moved on.

  • Our immediate priority should be the substitution of public for private transport. We need to be demanding free and subsidized public transport throughout our towns and cities.
It doesn't take much back of the envelope stuff to work out that even for a small city of 30,000, having a fleet of mini buses and taxis, supplied with drivers, would be cheaper than the collective cost of maintaining one car for every 2.5 people.

The question is how to acheive the transition - obviously the price of fuel will make the public side of the equation more acheivable. It's also true that in a city like Perth, public transport is already being provided at close to optimal timetables along major routes. So it's not unachievable nor is it going to destroy the fabric of civilization.

  • We need to greatly expand the context of taxi services. Not necesarily by removing rules, but by expanding the types of services provided. For people living without a car, the need for a means of transporting relatively bulky goods(to big for public transport)can be a major problem. What's needed is cheap local taxi truck services. This can be facilitated by rules and regulations governing quality of service etc. The taxi business needs to be expanded - the problem here is the maintenance of monopoly control by companies and owner drivers who benefit from restrictions on plate numbers. The companies need to be convinced that their monopoly sets will be broken up:-) if they don't agree to an orderly expansion of the taxi business.

  • We need to re-introduce the subsidy for gas conversion of vehicles and to have a formulated plan for the conversion of 80% plus of the W.A. private vehicle fleet to gas within 5 years. Subsidies could be directed at the poor. A 5 year crash program to train mechanics and others and to provide the equipment required should be run be the government and industry, preferably by some one with autocratic powers.

  • We need to expand the availability of local free bus services, like the City Link and Freo Link buses. But by this I mean expand our concept of a bus as well as expand the services to smaller centers and towns. These vehicles do not need to run fast and can be small. There are many Asian examples of small buses albeit most of them powered by diesel. we can and should use gas.

  • On a purely local south west level we need to consider building a Manjimup to Mt Barker railway line. This would link the Albany-Perth and Manjimup-Bunbury lines and make and offer a the potential of a viable passenger rail service to Albany from Perth via Bunbury. The current Albany - Perth line takes 12 hours compared to 6 hours by bus and was discontinued in the 1960's. The bus trip via Bunbury already takes about 10 hours. Mt Barker to Manjimup is 150km and is mainly devoted to woodchips, wool and vines. The potential for a second rail route to Albany port for the woodchip industry is also obvious.
There have been a number of calls recently for the extension of the gas supply grid to Albany from Manjimup and doing this at the same time as the railway line would make a great deal of sense.
  • The State Government has introduced new rules regarding new buildings being energy efficient but there is an obvious need to also retrofit the existing housing stock to reduce energy demands. The important synergy to recognize here is that there is a concurrent need to retrofit for water conservation as well. So it makes sense to think about how these two tasks can occur at the same time. For instance, any water storage device can act as a heat storage device and used for heating or cooling as needed. (We forget that water can be used to store heat as well as used to cool.)
In this area much could be gained by a well funded education campaign encouraging home owners to do it themselves, supporting innovations and inventions through competitions and so on.

  • We need to recognize that energy is limitless it's how we use it that matters.
  • At an industrial level we need to emphasise co-generation at every level. There should not be a refrigeration plant that isn't cogenerating from it's waste heat in the State. Nor should there be an air conditioner that isn't powering a stirling energy or heat exchanger and generating electricity from it's waste heat. These solutions are technologically mature - what's missing is the expertise. The state should be facilitating this process through workshops and conferences with industry bringing in international experts and consultants.

As with private housing we need to recognize that energy conservation and water conservation have significant synergies.

  • We need to publically own the transmission lines and corridors to ensure that (1) energy buy back is facilitated fairly for all parties (2) corridors are selected with the public interest in mind. The idea that natural monopoly assets like roads and electricity supply lines should be in private hands is nonsense and the current flirtation will end in tears.

Already the people of Gnowangerup and the Great Southern are outraged at the corridor being chosen for the power to go to the Wellstead iron ore mine. Not only does this traverse a spectacular unmarked landscape by running across the foot of the Stirling Ranges, but it also by-passes towns like Gnowangerup which have been complaining about the poor quality of their power supply for years.

This is on top of the tragic results(two deaths) of the Kendenup bushfire that was clearly due to the poor maintenance of the power lines in this district.

  • We need to look at alternative uses for Collie coal and for ways to revitalize the town of Collie. Specifically we need to look at its potential to be used as the starting material for nanotech materials. Collie coals' high sulphur content makes it ideal for producing nanotubes of carbon.

Collie itself, despite it's current despondent and gloomy state is actually an ideal town for a technology park based around the production of nanotech devices. We have many of the raw materials (e.g Silicon, various heavy metals as well as a conveniently available and otherwise unusable coal supply), Collie has the cheapest real estate in W.A., it has it's own water supply, abundant electricity and plenty of technological and industrial know how.

The nanotech industry is poised to take off in a major way. New devices and ways of using and manipulating objects at nano-scale are being announced weekly. Nano devices have a very high surface to wieght ratio and can be used to catalyse many energetic processes with a high degree of selectivity and control. Nanotech lubricants are already on the market.

  • We need to continue to support the fledgling eucalyptus oil industry. Eucalyptus oil has great value as an industrial solvent substituting for oil based solvents as well as having a high octane rating and having potential as a fuel additive. The failure of this winter's rain should alert us to the fact that basically north and east of Albany highway is going to turn into desert or mallee scrub in the next few years unless we pull our finger out. The oil mallees being grown come from the south east and don't need as much water as blue gums. But clearly trees are going to make a difference whether they are blue gums, oil mallees or tagasastes. You can already see this on satellite images of the Great Southern.

Eucalyptus oil can also be used as part of a nano-tech industry described above, to provide a more biodegradable waste stream than the TCE and related chemicals that have poisoned Silicon Valley.

Oh, and we don't need to sell uranium nor build any nuclear plants neither...
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