A record 9 days above 30 degrees

Thank goodness that scientists aren’t warning of any kind of permanent warming of the climate that might prove, y’know, dangerous — otherwise a record-breaking run of hot days might be a tad alarming.

Thank goodness scientists aren't warning the climate might get so hot it'd be dangerous.... oh, wait.

One shouldn’t jump to conclusions of course. As Jon Stewart quipped:

“Global warming is a total hoax. And I’ll tell you how I know. Because it’s cold, today, where I live. That’s jus’ science.”

…and the opposite applies.

I don’t know if this record run of hot days is some freak weather event caused by something else, or a demonstration of how climate change manifests itself. But at the very least this record being broken should be a warning of what’s likely to keep happening into the future as temperatures rise.

Yallourn: impressively big, but inefficient

On the way back from Walhalla, we decided (at Peter’s suggestion) to go via Yallourn. He said there was a lookout with a good view over the Latrobe Valley, and the power plants, and the road through Yallourn was very close to one of them..

We started off by diverting off the road to a spot called Peterson’s lookout. This turned out to be a long narrow dirt road to a view which, you’d have to say, wasn’t outstanding — but reading up on it now it sounds like we needed to go a little further down the road for the real view.

In any case there was a better more-accessible view a bit further along, on the main road itself. Looking over the Valley, you could see a fair bit of haze, and many smokestacks in various directions.

(Andrew Highriser actually posted just yesterday about who owns which power station.)

We drove on, stopping briefly in the town of Yallourn North, which apparently originally opened as the romantically named “Brown Coal Mine” in 1917, and was renamed in 1947. There’s still a Brown Coal Mine Road leading into the eastern side of town, though the signs seem to have disappeared in favour of the less descriptive C103.

Big cooling towers

A little further on was the power station itself. It looms, huge, over the road. We stopped off in the viewing area, which has a picnic barbecue, powered by — you guessed it — electricity.

The cooling towers are impressively large.

Of course, they often shows these on the news when talking about carbon emissions, even though (as I understand it) it’s steam that comes out of them, not the smoke from burning coal.

Down the road a bit was an open cut mine viewing area. It’s not hard to see how decades of mining for coal has ravaged the landscape. It ain’t beautiful, that’s for sure.

Latrobe Valley power stations

But one could argue that farms of wind turbines or solar panels or dams aren’t beautiful either. You know, eye of the beholder and all that.

The real problem is the emissions. Yallourn isn’t as dirty as Hazelwood, but as this table notes, coal sits at about 1000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour over the lifecycle of the generator, compared with about 10 for wind or hydroelectric, or 32 for solar.

Grams CO2/Kilowatt hour

In other words, even the cleanest coal is much, much dirtier than renewables.

And while there might be doubts about a single renewable source being able to provide baseload power, other countries such as Germany are using a variety of sources, with a stated aim of 35% renewable electricity by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Impressive stuff, and I bet we get more sun than they do.

A few thoughts on the carbon scheme

New for June… a Lego house with solar panels on the roof.

Lego house 5771 - with solar panels

Here’s a few thoughts on the carbon scheme announced yesterday:

1. I simply don’t understand how the deniers can continue to be taken seriously by anybody when the vast majority of climate scientists agree there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

It also seems a peculiar view that the world’s population can continue to burn fossil fuels in huge amounts with no consequences.

2. It’s true that Australia represents only a small fraction of overall global emissions. But people are are watching, and influence is important. On any issue, people look to those who are leading the world. Here’s a small example: while I’m not even sure I agree with it, it turns out that inner-city Melbourne has been hailed as a world leader in pedestrian-friendly streets. If we have any hope at all of convincing others to do something about reducing emissions, we have to get our house in order.

3. The scheme sounds like a pretty good start. If the modelling is right, it’ll have a minimal effect on the overall economy (0.1% of GDP) while providing a good price signal that big companies in particular need to find better ways of doing things.

4. The Opposition’s view on this doesn’t make sense to me. A plan of direct action? There seems to be agreement from economists that this is less efficient than a pricing scheme:

The main finding of the research is that the experience from these six schemes indicates that a general price on carbon emissions is preferable to specific measures. – markets are generally more efficient in encouraging innovation than direct government intervention. — CPA blog

And wouldn’t direct action be far more like a socialist response than letting market forces figure it out? Interesting quote from Alan Kohler about just who wants what:

For what it’s worth, what I think is that the entire scientific, business, bureaucratic classes – all the serious people – are in favour — Alan Kohler on Twitter

Those against carbon pricing are the Shadow Cabinet (and not even all of them) plus some attention-seekers. That’s all. — Alan Kohler on Twitter

5. There’s some niggles. The Australian Railway Association notes that with petrol exempt and heavy (road) vehicles exempt for some time, railways, which should provide a less carbon-intensive way of moving people and freight, will be disadvantaged by not being exempt. One estimate is that it may push up public transport fares by about 2%.

6. The second niggle (but a political reality) is that the scheme is aimed squarely at the big emitters, and with lots of compensation to individuals, there’s little or no incentive to change personal behaviour. Hence, petrol is exempt (but as Phil Hart from ASPO said at a recent PTUA member meeting, including it wouldn’t have made much of a price difference compared to what will happen when peak oil really kicks in).

7. Personally I’m not sure if I’ll end up ahead or behind in economic terms. The Estimator tool on the government web site told me “The household situation described by the information you have entered is not covered by the scenarios used by this Estimator.” Oh well.

From the looks of it, wealthier people can’t count on the tax changes to get all their costs refunded. But then, they are precisely the people who can afford to cover their roofs in solar panels themselves to cut their electricity and gas costs, and cut their direct emissions and costs that way.

8. Niggles aside, I do think it is important to get the ball rolling on reducing emissions, and it does seem to me that putting a price on pollution sends an important market signal that will get that process underway.

When not to use CFLs

Letter the other week in The Age:

Not worth the cost

AM I the only person having trouble with expensive ”green globes” alleged to last 10,000 hours? Used eight hours a day, a globe should last more than three years. I have replaced the globe in one lamp four times already this year. I want my cheap, long-lasting, environmentally unfriendly globes back.

Leone Garro, Northcote

My CFLs are lasting ages… provided they’re in the right places.

I would bet the globes referred-to above are switched on for short durations (less than 15 minutes), many times a day. That kind of usage is bad for CFLs, and it’s precisely why I’ve avoided using one in the toilet, for instance, and also in the bedrooms — our particular usage there seems to predominantly involve ducking in to get something/drop something, then out again.

For those types of spots, it’s far better to stick to non-CFLs, such as the energy-saving incandescents still available. (My local supermarket has the Philips EcoClassic products, which for instance provide 100w of light but burn 70w of power.)

Evidently this message isn’t isn’t getting through.

Or possibly Leone’s light fitting or wiring is faulty, but I’m betting it’s the former.

(Previous blog post on this topic)

Stuff I’ve learnt from Radio National

Often when I listen to Radio National, I’ll learn something I didn’t know before. In this case, I was listening to Saturday Extra last week.

Cutting power consumption?

One item talking about electricity efficiency noted that enormous amounts of money are being invested in distribution networks, instead of being spent on measures to cut consumption (and thus GHG emissions) so you don’t need to upgrade distribution (or at least not as much).

GERALDINE DOOGUE: In the Lend Lease proposal… they say for every dollar spent on demand management, studies have shown the need for investment in energy infrastructure is deferred or reduced by $6.50. …

TOM CAWLEY (Energy Efficiency Council): In California what they’ve done is spent a lot of the money that would be spent on the electricity infrastructure on energy efficiency. And it’s easy to do in California because the power companies are vertically integrated. That is that the same company owns the power station, owns the power lines, and owns the retailers. We don’t have that situation in Australia…

GERALDINE DOOGUE: Keith Orcharison, who’s been a very prominent commentator over many years, writing in Business Spectator last week wrote something I think most of us wouldn’t know: that there will be forty to fifty billion outlayed in the next four to five years on distribution and transmission network systems. …

TOM CAWLEY: There’s no business case for the distributors to spend money on energy efficiency. There’s no structure for them to do that. … The other problem here is that with energy efficiency, you’re talking about [spending] at the point of use. Now, if demand keeps growing, then they need to keep spending money on infrastructure to deliver that energy. The idea is that if we can spend that money at the usage point, then we can reduce the demand.

So basically the electricity industry is structured in such a way that they can’t do the sensible thing and spend those billions on making electricity consumption more efficient; instead they have to assume demand will grow and so all that money goes into building capacity to distribute more power.

That’s just silly.

The mining “super tax”

Who coined the phrase “super tax” in its current context (that is, a proposed 40% tax on “super profits” on the mining sector)? According to a search of Google News (hardly the most scientific method, I know) It appears to have been Joe Hockey, shadow treasurer, quoted in an AAP report on April 24th.

With a nickname like that, it’s no wonder the mining companies joined in.

But it was interesting to hear the Financial Review’s Laura Tingle talking about it — both the negatives and the positives, which haven’t really got an airing:

LAURA TINGLE: The resources we’ve got in the ground are a finite item, they’re owned by all of us, and therefore when people go to buy them, you should try to get a return to the taxpayer for that…

There is a very potent argument to say… well, even if it does slow the pace of resources development a bit, that’s not a bad thing because we’ve got infrastructure problems, skilled workforce problems flowing from the resources boom in the rest of the economy, and it helps even-out the level of activity across the economy, so you don’t have interest rates rising, you don’t have the exchange rate making the rest of business uncompetitive.

(The issues around infrastructure were echoed the other day on 774 when the editor of The Weekly Times, I forget his name, noted that rail transportation of grain had dropped markedly, in part because so many grain hopper carriages are elsewhere serving the mining industry instead.)

And Tingle made the point that the government’s done an absolutely hopeless job attempting to tell people what the benefits are, so it’s not surprising that the Opposition and the mining companies have dominated the debate.

It’d be nice to see this debate become a little less one-sided. It’s hard to gain an informed view when one side is completely dominating.