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Options after a double dissolution election

October 6th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a bit about the possibility of a double dissolution. Given the complete incoherence of the Opposition, anything could happen, but it’s hard to see them agreeing on amendments that would be workable in any way. And equally it’s hard to imagine any outcome from a DD election other than a crushing victory for the government. Even so, a Senate majority looks out of reach.

That leaves them with two options after the election. They could use the joint sitting mechanism to pass the ETS bill rejected twice by the Senate. Alternatively (or subsequently), they could sign on to an agreement at Copenhagen and introduce new legislation implementing that agreement, relying on support from the Greens (or, in the event of a post-thrashing change of heart, the Opposition). The latter option looks a lot more appealing in many ways. ????? ?????? ????????????? submit

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  1. Michael of Summer Hill
    October 13th, 2009 at 20:05 | #1

    Fran Barlow, the use of solar thermal technology which can power steam turbines in coal power stations has potential and may well be the answer Australia is looking for.

  2. Fran Barlow
    October 13th, 2009 at 20:50 | #2

    @Alice

    Alice

    Your comments on San Onofre are not accurate. One of the units was shut down but the site is still a working site. see here

    I should say that $125 million is not a huge sum of money in this context — about 75MW of wind at whatever capacity factor you can get. The unit decommissioned in 1992 was abour seven times that capacity.

    The broader point Elise is this. You may well be willing to spend “whatever it takes” to decarbonise without resort to nuclear (and so would I if it came to that) but that attitude is not shared in practice by much of the population. I doubt that even very many of the 10% or so who support the Greens would back that if they knew the full extent of that commitment. Having met them at many demonstrations and at polling booths there is a strong perception that renewables plus energy parsimony can replace what we do with coal and gas at comparable cost with “no regrets” measures that won’t bother them much — not having a plasma TV, having a solar panel on your roof, using public transport and riding your bike to the shops and making sure your appliances are turned off. Maybe we’ll all hacve to pay an extra $1000 each year in taxes or charges … that sort of thing.

    That is simply wrong. If decarbonising were that easy it would have been done years ago. There’d be no denier lobby. It would not have occurred to anyone that a cost on emissions was necessary. People don’t love burining coal because of the colour or out of patriotism — they do it because it’s still the cheapest way to extract useable energy at industrial scale from the Earth if you don’t have to bear the cost of cleaning up the mess or think the cost of the mess to humanity doesn’t matter. As a matter of practice, if costs matter — and they do, the more it costs to decarbonise, the less of it we are going to get people to do in a hurry — and we need them to do it in a hurry.

    With nuclear power we have something roughly six orders of magnitude more energy intensive than coal or oil. Its effective footprint is much less than 1% of that of coal per unit of energy output. The volume of the waste per person is uttely tiny compared with coal, the waste of which extends over the entire planet. The full life cycle kills and harms a tiny fraction per unit of output of that of coal or oil. We would be nuts not to replace as much carbon-based energy recovery with nuclear as we could.

    So here Alice is where it gets real. You like economics. How keen are you to decarbonise and how much do you think the populace is willing to pay for 1 ton of carbon dioxide abatement or 1GW of near zero emissions? Put a figure on it and let’s see what we can buy with it.

  3. Fran Barlow
    October 13th, 2009 at 20:51 | #3

    oops … my apologies Alice … I called you Elise at one point … Freudian slip …

  4. October 14th, 2009 at 14:46 | #4

    Fran Barlow :
    @Alice
    That is simply wrong. If decarbonising were that easy it would have been done years ago.

    It is being done and on a much larger scale than we routinely hear about here. Denmark is at 20% renewables with a target of 30% by 2020. 600MW of solar thermal is up and running with 400 MW under construction and 14,000 MW at various stages of planning. Most of Europe is way ahead of Australia, which recently overtook the US as the leading per capita emitter.

    If decarbonising is so hard and renewables so unlikely to succeed, why would the fossil fuel companies be working so hard to undermine political consensus? It’s important to understand that their cash flow model is threatened by renewables. Consumables as a major fraction of the cost disappear. If you are selling a product by the billions of tonnes that has to be a concern. The World Coal Institute estimates coal use will increase 60% over the next 20 years. They certainly aren’t committed to decarbonising.

  5. Fran Barlow
    October 14th, 2009 at 15:55 | #5

    @Philip Machanick

    It is being done and on a much larger scale than we routinely hear about here. Denmark is at 20% renewables with a target of 30% by 2020.

    Denmark is a special case because it not only has good resources of wind, but the massive and cheap hydro resources of Norway backed in turn by Swedish nuclear and German coal behind it. It can trade its surplus wind to the grid and if the wind falls, Norway can switch its hydro in within seconds knowing that it can never run out because before it does Swediah and German baseload will come to the rescue. So intermittency isn’t the problem it would be but for the hydro “buffer” and thermal baseload.

    If decarbonising is so hard and renewables so unlikely to succeed, why would the fossil fuel companies be working so hard to undermine political consensus?

    Because it would prejudice the value of their assets — principally coal and crude oil — in markets where nuclear is not barred. Also, cheap coal underpins the aluminium and steel smelting business here. The gas people are pretty keen on wind though because absent nuclear, they are next in line and will be essential if wind and solar are taken up with any seriousness.

    The threat to coal is never going to be from renewables, except in some limited cases similar to Norway or maybe the Rift Valley in East Africa or in South Australia where there is geothermal. Small beer in the global scheme of things.

  6. October 14th, 2009 at 16:25 | #6

    Fran, try reading David McKay on the potential for renewables in the UK: not good without major changes in attitudes; doable if you buy in solar energy from North Africa. In Australia, we don’t have the problem of too little land for solar resources. We also have pretty good geothermal.

    In any case whatever we do there is going to be a major energy shortage in a few decades if we insist on fuel-based solutions. Unless we can get thorium, FBRs or other more prolific nuclear fuels going in time, we will run out of uranium in less time than you can amortise new power plants is we scale nuclear up fast. Even if you solve nuclear’s problems, you can’t run a jet plane on nuclear.

    Stationary power is not the hardest problem; fuelling jet planes when oil runs low enough to be too expensive is much harder. If we burn up all the coal generating electricity we can’t use that to make hydrocarbons (and even if we do, the environmental cost is very high). Tar sands, oil shale etc. are all very environmentally expensive.

    Nuclear is a narrow solution with a broad range of problems. If that’s the best we can do, we are in deep trouble.

  7. Fran Barlow
    October 14th, 2009 at 17:50 | #7

    @Philip Machanick

    try reading David McKay on the potential for renewables in the UK

    One of my favourites. I am sure I’ve linked it here. ANd yes, I am in favour of fast breeders and IFR and any other combination of solutions that would work. As Mackay points out, it is only nuclear that meets the sustainable test on a world scale.

    Stationary power is not the hardest problem; fuelling jet planes when oil runs low enough to be too expensive is much harder.

    Of course, which is why we need to get going with nuclear right now. We could use small nuclear to power cargo ships and trains instead of diesel too. And we can certainly use nuclear to do the hydrocarbon reformation we need for liquid fuels from waste biomass or NG.

    Ultimately though, even if we have to get by with less air travel, who cares? It’s not as if, in a world of digital interconnection, the world of mass air travel contributes anything indispensible to human civilisation.

  8. October 15th, 2009 at 11:20 | #8

    Fran Barlow :
    @Philip Machanick

    try reading David McKay on the potential for renewables in the UK

    One of my favourites. I am sure I’ve linked it here. ANd yes, I am in favour of fast breeders and IFR and any other combination of solutions that would work. As Mackay points out, it is only nuclear that meets the sustainable test on a world scale.

    Fascinating. Whenever I point pro-nuclear people at this book, they stop reading when they find justification for their position. This is what McKay ends up with:

    We have a clear conclusion: the non-solar renewables may be “huge,” but they are not huge enough. To complete a plan that adds up, we must rely on one or more forms of solar power. Or use nuclear power. Or both.

    Show me where he says “only nuclear”.

  9. Fran Barlow
    October 15th, 2009 at 12:55 | #9

    @Philip Machanick

    What Professor Mackay did not do was specify the cost of this plan. His was a purely engineering-based analysis — what could on in theory do to meet the demands for energy in perpetuity. This was a perfectly reasonbale thing to do but the costs are germane, either because nobody will fund them or they will fund them but not on the timeline neded to make the difference we need.

    What do you suppose it would cost to connect build enough Solar Thermal in North Africa to feed Europe and Britain’s grid with enough to supplant coal and gas and to connect it via HVDC? How would this compare with the cost of building nuclear plants?

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