CLEAN coal increasingly appears to be neither scientifically feasible nor economically viable. The only real alternative for Australia is nuclear yet those most concerned about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) oppose it.
Clean coal is the process of trapping carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal to prevent those emissions from entering the atmosphere. Local expert John Harborne, in a recent article, notes that the energy cost of trapping the emissions is almost equal to the energy produced from burning the coal and the area required to store the trapped emissions exceeds the area of the mined coal.
For its part the Federal government has introduced the Renewable Energy Target [RET] to combat the alleged problem of AGW. The RET mandates that twenty per cent of base-load energy must come from renewable energy [RE] by 2020. The Greens support this and with the fallacy of clean coal now revealed are demanding that all base-load energy come from RE.
The two main types of RE are solar and wind power. According to Professor Gary Willgoose the main form of solar power will be private residence solar panels. This is not a source of base-load power but the cost of these panels will impact on base-load power costs. They will do so because the cost of the panels will determine the cost of carbon emissions. A recent article by journalist Mark Davis shows that each solar panel will save twenty six tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 20 years at a net cost of $9000. This works out at $350 per ton. With the amount of carbon dioxide emissions being limited by government legislation this means the price of power from carbon emitting sources will have to increase by $350 per ton of emissions to enable the cost of the panels to be competitive. This will be achieved either by direct pricing to consumers or through subsidies paid by tax-payers.
In addition, most of the solar panels are imported from China. China is still expanding its fossil fuel energy network so coal power from Australia will be used to build the Chinese solar panels. There will therefore be no net saving of carbon dioxide emissions from the greater use of solar panels in Australia.
Wind power is also unlikely to be able to supply base-load power. Wind power is intermittent and to replace the twenty per cent or six mega watt of coal power with RE will necessitate the construction of twenty mega watt of wind capacity. Over twelve years this will mean two wind towers per day will have to be built at a cost of $34 billion. But even with this large oversupply of potential wind power there will be times when no power can be supplied by wind. Two studies by Dr Tom Quirk and Peter Lang showed that power from where the wind is blowing cannot be transferred to wind-free areas because wind-free conditions are usually simultaneously widespread over most areas of Australia.
The position of the Greens is that computer modeling shows that the construction of RE will be an economic and employment bonanza. But we do not have to rely on modeling to see whether this is true. Over the last decade many other countries have invested in RE. Spain and Germany have both invested in solar power and now have high unemployment and national debt. Both countries are continuing to invest in fossil fuels and Germany in particular is investing in nuclear power. A similar situation exists in Denmark which had invested heavily in wind power.
In fact nuclear power is the only feasible and proven alternative to fossil fuels. France has had the bulk of it power from nuclear for over thirty years and has the cheapest power costs in Europe. Nuclear power is cheaper than any other power source except coal and natural gas. The fourth generation Fast Integral Reactors are ninety nine percent efficient and produce small amounts of low radioactive, non-weapon grade waste. Fifth generation reactors will be ninety nine point nine per cent efficient and run on thorium as well as uranium. The efficiency of this power would mean that Australia’s resources of thorium and uranium could provide base-load power to the world for centuries.
The coal industry must either dispute the science of AGW or concede that the continued use of coal will acerbate AGW. The Greens and Government must abandon their opposition to nuclear power. By limiting RE to solar and wind and excluding nuclear, the government and the Greens will be condemning Australia to a drastically reduced standard of living and far less prosperous future.
Cohenite lives in Newscastle.
Notes and Links
Cartoon by Nicholson from “The Australian” newspaper: www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au .
The John Harborne link is;
The Mark Davis link is;
The Tom Quirk article is here;
The Peter Lang article is here;
A discussion of the Baseload Fallacy in respect of wind power by Peter Lang is here;
Professor Gary Willgooses’s details are here;
Professor Willgoose made his comments about solar panels in an ABC interview on the 19/8/09 morning session in Newcastle.