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Electrical power with a switch on/switch off capability
(written in 2014)

But first, lets get these facts right:

# Our planet is warming. Click here to bring up NOAA's "Climate Watch" and then go to their "Dashboard". It will show a graph of the global average surface temperature. Click the ocean heat tab so that a comparison between these two graphs can be made. Yes, the planet is warming, if the role of ocean heat is not "forgotten". (See the NOTES 1 & 2 at the end of this article).

# In general, our glaciers are melting.

# In general, our terrestrial and marine ecosystems are changing.

# The levels of carbonic acid in parts of our oceans are rising.

This information should send a message to most people: at the very least, we must dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions. (See NOTE 3)

Redesigning our base-load power stations such that they have a switch on/switch off capability so that when the sun is not shining and the winds not blowing, these power stations switch on a number of their turbines or engines to assist the renewable power sources to match the electricity demand. This enables a continuous uninterrupted supply of power. Importantly, if these power stations are used effectively, the overall release of CO2 could also be reduced significantly. (See NOTE 4)

The CSIRO has done work in this area. First example, the CSIRO are developing what they call DICE technology:

This involves converting coal into a water-based slurry, which is then injected into a jumbo diesel engine. In combination with renewable power sources, this could produce an uninterrupted supply of electricity. However, a problem this process could have, is the production of NOx gases due to the high temperature when their fuel is burnt to produce electricity. This itself could lead to further problems down the line, if it is wished for the exhaust gases (mostly CO2) to go to an algae farm to produce fuel as an alternative to simply burying the gas, as some people would like to propose.

On a happier note, however, the latest generation of hydro power has that - all so very important - switch on/switch off capability, and of course, in combination with a renewable power source, could produce electricity 24/7.

What sort of renewable power should we use? At various places overseas, Engineers are putting PV panels on floats and placing them on the reservoirs of dams. If you click here you can have a look at a series of images showing these floating solar panels. Also, a company called Solar Choice, presents these facts supporting the use of floating solar in Australia.

Many cities in Australia have reservoirs near them for their water supply and, in a few places, use them for hydroelectricity. A problem these dams have are the very high evaporation levels. Solar panels and their floats placed on the water will lessen this evaporation. In some cases, this could result in a happy situation where PV solar could be used in conjunction with hydro power to produce electricity 24/7. Also, having the panels over water will reduce the possibility of high-temperature damage to the panels, thus extending their life.

So, what's stopping us from changing our method of production of electricity from "base-load" to "switch on/switch off" where, by using the latter in conjunction with renewable power, our emissions could be cut significantly and at a cost that will not kill our economy.

One problem with stand-by power stations is that the top priority for their use would be for the uninterrupted supply of power for the network, and not just to produce electricity that will be profitable for that power station. Therefore, such a stand-by power station ought to be a public utility like the network infrastructure (poles and wires etc), and should be run by the state governments where purpose rather than profit is usually the preferred motive.

The other problem, of course, is the resistance to change by some members of our society and their failure to acknowledge that a change in their attitude is an absolute must.

NOTES:

#1....Much has been made of the so called "global temperature hiatus" where the global average temperature has levelled off somewhat since the monster El Nino of 1998. Looking at NOAA's graph of the global average temperatures certainly confirms this.

The rapid rise of the ocean heat content which started to happen at a time approximately a little after the El Nino - and can also be seen in NOAA's graph - was explained by Scientists as being the result of an increased strength of ocean surface winds over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. (See this from the Catalyst ABC TV program and also this from Wikipedia and this from Skeptical Science).

Now, the ocean heat content also appears to have somewhat levelled off a little from about 2003 to 2012, which you can see in the ocean heat graph. If the increased strength of the ocean surface winds are attributable to a global tipping point, so why not the behaviour of the ocean heat content? Maybe another global tipping point had been set off in our oceans where the strength of currents had increased and where this had reduced the rate of rapid increase of the ocean heat content. No doubt the ARGO bouys will explain this.

#2....NOAA's measurement of the heat energy in the oceans shown in their graph are in joules x 10 to the power of 22. To give an idea of the heat energy involved here, please note that the energy released by the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima* was about 63 x 10 to the power of 12 joules, and remember this only happened once.            * See Los Alamos National Lab report: LA-8819

#3....Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, wrote this article for the Australian newspaper that was published in November 2014. In this article, Patrick reasserted his belief that the planet is coming out of an ice age and it is this that is causing the warming and not CO2. Curiously, Patrick states this in his article: "There has been no significant warming for 18 years..." [someone "forgot" ocean heat content?]

However he does does make at least one valid point: "...we have absolute proof CO2 is vital for life on Earth and [some ?] plants would like more of it." But there are a couple of issues that Patrick didn't address:

# Ocean level rise. Our species, one of the world's most adaptable - up there with rats and cockroaches - now have complex infrastructure and because of their proximity to the coast, they are very vulnerable to sea level rise. Examples are seaports with their industrial areas nearby, and some housing. Such a rise - if it happens as predicted by Scientists (this would include Patrick) - would be very expensive for countries to adapt to.

# The levels of carbonic acid in parts of our oceans that are rising. If these levels get out of hand because of our increasing CO2 emissions, than that could do immeasurable harm to our oceans, certainly in the long term.

Therefore, even if YOU have beliefs similar to that of Patrick, rather than just ignoring the rising rate of CO2, you should - if you're sane - agree that the World should reduce its emissions, even if it is just to play things safe.

And yes, we can do it without giving our economies a whack.

#4....In addition to this "switch on / switch off" technology another solution to the intermittent nature of renewable power would be the application of electrical storage such as large batteries. An example, and one developed in Brisbane, is Redflow Advanced Energy Storage. They use the flow method and store electricity by pumping an electrolyte through a bipolar electrode in the battery. This enables the storage or the release of electricity, which ever is required.

Redflow has two sizes, one the size of an industrial container and another about the size of a medium sized refrigerator. The latter is for residential use and is shown above. Both systems would lessen the pain of power outages and, of course, would enable the demand for electrical power by the consumer to match the available incoming power.

But personally, on a broader note, I find it very difficult to believe that the owners of coal fired power stations would walk away from their investments without a fight, and when powerful people say that "coal will be around for a long time yet", they mean what they say. Perhaps they could learn to use less of it !!

 

FOOTNOTE added 3.10.2016: For South Australia, the Pelican Point gas fired power station could be a step in the right direction, however with only two gas turbines, it would most likely not cut it for "switch on/switch off" duties. Also, according to ABC's FACTCHECK, CSIRO's DICE Technology may not be an economic proposition, even in the future.

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