Reliable energy supply in the face of climate change

clouds and orange sun over forested hills on the coast - CST power for reliable energy generation

Reliable energy supply in the face of climate change

Dr Karl from Triple J tweeted a very thought provoking tweet this morning (or recently):

Is Australian coal-electricity generation capacity unreliable?
Why can’t it cover baseload?
Where was the long-term Governance & planning to stop this from happening?
(After all, Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurance company, could see the effects of Climate Change in 1973)— Dr Karl (@DoctorKarl) January 26, 2019

It makes me think again about another crucial aspect to our work in reversing and ameliorating climate change. Energy generation is one of the biggest carbon emission generators. And yet, the forces that be are still in a love affair with coal power.

As Dr Karl suggested, in times of heat stress or other environmental pressures, it doesn’t even stand up to the test of consistent supply. The recent heat wave in Melbourne saw whole tracts of land being stripped of their electricity across Melbourne. If you have a small baby, or you are elderly, this could be a huge impact on your chances for survival.

Climate scientists have known since 1973 that coal power is contributing to climate change, and yet, we persist with this technology. Why?! It is a good question.

Energy technology for reliable supply

In terms of solutions though, there is one particular technology that could make a huge impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases from energy generation. This technology is Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) energy. This technology concentrates the inherent energy in sunlight to create heat. This heat can be used to store energy and also to generate electricity. It can also be relied upon after the sun goes down, which can be an issue with solar power.

There are also important bi-products of the heat generated by CST. It can desalinate water, clean up polluted water to create freshwater and the steam can be used to clean polluted soils.

Practical considerations of CST

This technology generates huge amounts of reliable, clean energy. So, where is it being implemented in the world? At the moment most existing plants are located in Spain and the USA. They require adequate sunlight and deserts such as those in Australia, Africa and Asia are the perfect places to locate these plants.

The cost of a CST plant is huge. As I understand it $30 million is merely 10 % of the cost of development of one of these plants. So, it is a bit more of an investment than an average person or community, but if Governments invested in this kind of technology, or commercial entities invested in this technology, we really could have a reliable and clean source of energy.

CST technology is new, in development and has, understandably had some teething problems, but it is certainly one of the technologies that can help to reverse or reduce the impacts of climate change.

Learn more about technologies that can help to save our world

All the information I have cited plus more information about CST and other exciting scientific technologies which have the capacity to save our planet can be found in Tim Flannery‘s book: Of Sunlight and Seaweed (2017). This book is a very short and sweet list of the most critical technologies that our governments and industries need to invest in to avert the catastrophe that is climate change. It presents a hopeful and positive message and uses science and technology to outline a practical and realistic way forward. Highly recommended.

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