Author Archives: Decarbonise SA

Of forests, fences and foxes: A South Australian reflection on George Monbiot’s “Feral”

Your regular nuclear advocacy programming will resume shortly. As a (disputed!) environmentalist I like to keep thinking and learning outside my direct area, and in other spaces that engage my passion. Hence I have been sitting on a copy of Feral since the day of release which I finally managed to read recently while flying to-and-from Spain (yes, when you live in Australia that’s more than enough time to read a book!). This is not a book review. You will find plenty of those for Feral if you want one. Suffice to say, I think the book has serious merit. I hope you will read on.

Australia remains a wild place. This is a country where the crocodiles eat the people, and the pythons eat the crocodiles. This sparsely inhabited continent is home to the oldest continuing human cultures on earth and an extraordinary collection of world-famous wildlife. We have a bird that can disable a large dog, the most poisonous snakes on the planet, and kangaroos that get pretty aggressive if you walk through their lie on the golf course. So the concept of “rewilding”, as raised by George Monbiot in his most recent book Feral, might, at first consideration, seem inapplicable. If George is as determined to experience death-by-nature as some of his exploits suggest, he could do worse than to emigrate and settle down-under. Continue reading

Worlds Without Nuclear

Many of you will be aware I recently attended the International Youth Nuclear Congress 2014 in Burgos, Spain. I had an outstanding week of learning and meeting wonderful people and I will provide a fuller write-up in coming weeks.

Burgos Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was honoured to be recognised by the judging panel for the Best Oral Presentation of the congress for Worlds Without Nuclear: A systematic review of the literature exploring 100 per cent renewable electricity.

The presentation was not recorded so I have attached a shareable PDF of the slides. Continue reading

Solar thermal, Alinta, Port Augusta… what does this all mean?

One would be hard pressed not to have picked up on the decision announced by Alinta to progress the option of stand-alone solar-thermal power for commercial feasibility study. There seems to be a certain “dancing in the streets” vibe from much of the early commentary.

What does this announcement really mean?

It pays to recall where this all began. Back in 2011 Beyond Zero Emissions put forward a proposal in a report called Repower Port Augusta to replace the coal-fired generation (760 MW) with a hybrid renewable option of solar thermal (760 MW) and wind (712.5 MW) to produce 4650 GWh per year.

Concerned as I and others were at how this proposal sought to limit our decarbonisation options, I, along with James Brown, produced Zero Carbon Options to compare the BZE proposal to a reference nuclear option against thirteen criteria. Our overriding point then was this: if decarbonisation through the permanent closure of large fossil fuel generators is the imperative, we are unlikely to reach it by a process of attempting to corral community and political stakeholder support for only one option that lies at the very highest level of cost and other impacts. We have a much better chance by focusing on the outcome and impartially considering our options.

logo only

The fact is, stakeholders and particularly market forces simply cannot be corralled in this way if the cost difference is too great, the uncertainties too high and particularly if it is pulling hard against given ideological bents. Outcome-driven processes that are less specific about the solution stand a much better chance.

So, how has the process proceeded to now?

Alinta has announced that it will progress a 50 MW stand-alone solar thermal power tower with energy storage for commercial feasibility. This decision comes from the findings of the first part of the $2.3 million dollar feasibility study which is half publicly funded (Aside: James Brown and I worked hard, unpaid, for about 6 months to produced Zero Carbon Options and then crowd funded $10,000 to print and launch it. End aside).

RePower Port Augusta wanted 1472 MW of new capacity in 2011. Come mid-2014 the process is now down to 50 MW.

The preliminary costs for this option are $15,926 kW-1 installed with electricity priced at $258 MWh-1. This is around double the capital costs of the most famous global nuclear cost overrun at Olkiluoto in Finland and the electricity price is bang-on the range James Brown wrote up for Zero Carbon Options.

Way over budget and way cheaper than solar thermal with storage

Way over budget and way cheaper than solar thermal with storage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alinta Energy states in the report that commercial development would require “long-term offtake agreements with one-or-more customers to purchase the electricity generated from the CSP” (Alinta Energy 2014, p 19). At $258 MWh-1 that simply won’t happen unless the customer is the Government in the form of a subsidy of greater than 50 %. The volume-weighted average price of electricity for South Australia was $74 MWh-1 in 2012-2013 (Australian Energy Regulator 2013).

Alinta Energy has been upfront in stating that these costs are prohibitive (Alinta Energy 2014, Media Release). Alinta says the commercial feasibility of this option will be studied further “with the due diligence it warrants” to provide information for potential investors “should the cost of technology or regulatory environment change” (Alinta Energy 2014 Media Release).

So, as someone who really likes technology and really wants decarbonisation, what would I be hoping for from here?

I would be hoping that the commercial feasibility delivers a radically improved assessment of the costs. I would be hoping the cost gap closes sufficiently that the required subsidy is a much politically easier challenge. I would be hoping the mechanisms to support renewable energy all make it through this political period unscathed. I would be hoping that somehow the 50 MW build can go ahead, that it exceeds expectations, identifies multiple cost-saving improvements for subsequent expansion and the process gets easier and easier from there.

Hope, however, is not and will never be a plan. All of the above may happen. However I doubt that it will and if it doesn’t? Where does that leave us in the decarbonisation challenge from late 2015?

If, as stated earlier, the goal is decarbonisation, not simply the promotion of some technologies, then the forces marshalled behind this solution for Pt Augusta are making terrible strategic and commercial errors by insisting on limiting our options in this way. It is entirely possible that every bit of effort from every single person (and dollar) behind this campaign will produce little more than studies of one option that won’t get up.

I (and nearly all those I have regular dealings with) am not anti-renewable technology. But the technology must be subservient to the outcome. The outcome stands a much greater chance of surviving the process if we keep our options open. Most especially we need to be open to the only technology South Australia can deploy that is proven to decarbonise large, developed-economy electricity supply.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Another climate scientist joins calls for nuclear

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the Global Change Institute has become the latest climate scientist to make an open call for the use of nuclear power to combat climate change.

OveHoegh-Guldberg, a well-known Australian marine scientist who will be remembered by many for his confrontations with climate change denier Andrew Bolt, has made a direct call for the use of nuclear energy in Australia and globally to improve our chances of preserving the Great Barrier Reef.

In a lengthy column in today’s issue of The Australian , co-authors Hoegh-Guldberg and Eric McFarland of the Dow Centre for Sutainable Engineering, take aim at both the misinformation that has slowed the uptake of nuclear energy and lack of transparency from within the nuclear industry itself.

“Our understanding and control of nuclear reactions is among the greatest intellectual triumphs of human beings and it provides us today with the one real option to significantly reduce global carbon emissions”

“Unfortunately, public focus has been only on risks to human populations highlighted by tragic incidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, rather than the hundreds of reactors that have been operating safely for decades. Nuclear power can provide low-cost, carbon free electricity improving the lives of billions of people. For too long this has been the butt of scaremongering and misinformation that has all but stopped widespread deployment”.

In a separate article, Hoegh-Guldberg was frank about the challenge in changing his position on nuclear energy.

“I have definitely changed my position on this. In all these debates it’s really important that one gets guided not by the position you have taken and stick to it- it’s about looking at the evidence and really thinking the issue through”.

Hoegh-Guldberg joins a growing list of scientists, environmentalists, experts and progressives calling for the deployment of nuclear power to meet the clean energy challenge this century.

Both articles can be found in today’s issue of The Australian

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Am I an environmentalist?

This morning the ABC received “intelligence” as it were that I am not really an environmentalist.

This is predictable. Discrediting the messenger is a well-worn tactic that has been leveled against, notably, Barry Brook over several years (ironically in his case, by both climate deniers saying he’s not a credible climate scientist and by anti-nuclear voices saying he’s not a credible environmentalist), James Hansen and basically everyone featured in Pandora’s Promise.

Well, am I?

Truthfully, what other people say and think about me is none of my business. My very first post to this blog was a wholly transparent bit of background on the journey that brought me here. I would never have presumed to advocate on this issue without first explaining who I am.

There is a lot about what I do in the environmental space that gets a lot less air time than the nuclear discussion. For me, that’s called “my job”. I don’t talk about it much here, in the same way that I don’t chew the ears of my clients about nuclear power.

So again, whether I am an environmentalist or not in the eyes of someone or someone else is not that big a deal to me. Below is some simple, objective information and, where available, links to publicly available material, that describe some of my other activities. I know what I do, I know what I believe in, I know what I am passionate about and I know what I want for our world. Others are welcome to form their own judgments.

  • 2001 Graduate of Occupational Therapy from the University of South Australia. Worked in aged domiciliary care and vocational rehabilitation
  • March 2007 Completion of Masters of Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management, Monash University
  • 2008 Greenhouse gas assessment/emissions reduction strategy/offsetting strategy for Tahbilk Winery (as part of the team with Maunsell)
  • June 2009 City of Melbourne Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (as part of the team with Maunsell)
  • 2009-2013 Annual mandatory reporting of greenhouse emissions, energy production and energy consumption under the National Greenhouse Energy Reporting System for Heathgate Resources
  • 2010 Greenhouse gas assessment, energy efficiency and emissions reduction strategy for the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. A major outcome from the work is discussed here 
  • 2011 Organisation wide greenhouse gas assessment and sustainability strategy and workshop for Minda Inc. covering waste, water, energy and greenhouse emissions
  • 2011 Development of comprehensive modelling of attaining carbon neutrality for the City of Onkparinga, largest local Government in South Australia, with write up in conference proceedings 
  • May 2011 Report to the Campbelltown City Council on the design and development of a rolling energy efficiency fund
  • August 2011 Dealing with Denialism presentation for RiAus Adelaide on strategies for dealing with climate change denial
  • 2011/2012 Greenhouse gas assessments, calculators and emission reductions strategies for the following local Governments: Alexandrina, Grant, Coorong, Tatiara, Robe
  • 2012 Review of potential carbon offsetting strategies for a large new infrastructure development
  • 2012 Development of a greenhouse gas calculator for assessing garbage collection options, Waste Management Association of Australia
  • 2012/2013 South Australian Freight Council Report Green Freight: Investigations and recommendations for moving towards sustainable freight in South Australia, summary write up here 
  • 2012/2013 Lecturer, tutor and course coordinator for the following units at University of Adelaide: Thinking critically about global warming; Climate change: Past, present and future; Sustainable Development: Concepts and Applications.
  • 2012-2013 Identification of opportunities and economic modelling for the attainment of a 10 % or 20 % energy reduction target by the City of Adelaide. This work supported a program of borrowing for investment in energy efficiency across Council assets.
  • 2013 Successful grant preparation for installation of three 99 kW solar power systems on three commercial premises
  • 2013 Research and editorial assistance for the production of a children’s learning book The Environmental Cycle by Amalia Sosrodiredjo

Currently I am focused on my PhD, responding to many and growing requests relating to nuclear issues, caring for my family and responding to other consulting requests when they arise.

Exploring Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. Anti-nuclear, and cherishing nature

With colleague and supervisor, a young occupational therapist teaching correct positioning of children with cerebral palsy. Most were injured in births in poor rural settings. The parents were largely illiterate so we made a guide with minimal text and maximal illustrations. Anti-nuclear and learning about the realities of poverty.

With colleague and supervisor, a young occupational therapist teaching correct positioning of children with cerebral palsy. Most were injured in births in poor rural settings. We surveyed the mothers to identify the need. They often held their children close in protective postures which hindered their development of motor skills. This child had low tone in his torso but was quite good with his hands, if he could use them! Support around the hips gave him the freedom to explore and develop around his weakness. The parents were largely illiterate so we made a guide with minimal text and maximal illustrations that they could keep when they had to return home. Anti-nuclear, and learning about the realities of poverty, lessons I would never forget.

“This is urgent”. A nuclear chat for ABC Country Hour

I enjoyed meeting ABC Radio journalist Babs McHugh on my last visit to Perth.

Babs McHugh

Babs McHugh

We spent about a half hour in a pretty far reaching chat. This edited version of our discussion went to air today.

Babs tells me a longer feature is in production. I will be sure to let you know when this goes to air.

High Energy, Low Pollution: Why we must bring forward the Actinide Age

This morning I delivered my key note address to the International Uranium Conference in Perth, Western Australia.

The address was very well received, and built on directions laid by Barry Brook yesterday and Dan Zavatierro this morning.

The keynote encouraged this industry to completely reassess their goals and approach based on the urgent demands for large clean energy this century. Based on several conversations before and after, I have a strong sense that this industry will be increasingly receptive to this message, and will be thinking hard about the need to put forward a compelling case for a nuclear powered world.

Here is the presentation.

High Energy, Low Pollution v3

Here is the accompanying script

Presentation script

Your Friday Funny courtesy of … the Energiewende

(Reuters) – The eastern German state of Brandenburg approved plans on Tuesday to allow utility Vattenfall to mine a further 200 million tonnes of brown coal from 2026, a move critics say will cause pollution and also force 800 people from their homes.

The decision by Brandenburg’s cabinet, made up of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the more radical Left party, highlights the complexities of Germany‘s energy policy, which aims to promote renewable energy.

“We are committed to the expansion of renewable energy,” said Woidke. “However, brown coal is indispensable as a bridge into the era of renewable energy.”


“Furthermore” Woidke asserted, “Alcohol is indispensable as a bridge into the era of sobriety. Water is indispensable on the path to being dry, and punching yourself repeatedly in the face is a critical step towards the goal of not having a broken nose”.

Ok, I confess. I made that last paragraph up. The first bit, however, was reported by Reuters this morning. There’s just no way I could have made that bit up…

Next week I’m off to Perth for a keynote address the international uranium industry on the topic of air pollution, climate change and why these concerns should very much be their business. I look forward to sharing the materials and reporting back next week.

Until then, some more food for thought. This Tweet (which is very much a product of the research I have undertaken for the keynote next week) sparked a lot of discussion this week. While I did my best with 140 characters it remains open to much interpretation. Mike Shellenberger in particular aired his thought process in response, which I found very interesting. Love to hear your thoughts! Until next week.


Thanks for having me SARIEC and Collinswood Probus

It has been a little while since I last posted however I assure you, I have been anything but idle.

On May 6 I joined a panel to discuss uranium at the 2014 South Australian resources and energy investment conference along with Daniel Zavattiero (Minerals Council of Australia), Greg Cochoran (Deep Yellow Ltd), Steve Johnson (Alliance Resources Ltd), Stephen Biggins (Core Exploration Ltd) and Jason Kuchel (SACOME).

Being an investement conference, a lot of discussion focused on the impact of the low price of uranium on project development. From a direct point of view this matter is of little consequence to me as I have no financial interest in development of uranium resources. It is certainly of interest from the point of view of the health of the sector and what that says about directions in energy (if indeed it says much at all… there are a whole bag of factors feeding into this low price). Based on discussion this currently low price certainly is impacting project development.

 

When asked for my perspective I reinforced some of the messages from the presentation from Daniel Zavattiero (which was very good and I hope will be shared), that from the point of view of the pressures of air pollution, growing energy demand and climate change, the fundamentals of uranium are rock solid (pun… yeah, intended, with apology) as the fuel source for this century. However we have certainly proven ourselves to be a pretty dumb species in terms of how much punishment we will take before embarking on big change so I did not recommend the room hold their breath from the point of view of time-frames relevant to projects today. I do, however, see many signs of a bloody big U-235 penny dropping all over the world as more leaders and analysts conclude that our options are actually seriously limited and any pathway that can meet energy demand while decarbonising require a hugely expanded role for nuclear power.

I also reinforced a message previously delivered in these settings that if the industry wants better economic conditions, it needs to start focusing much more on building the brand of uranium. Screw the critics, it’s an incredible material with an incredible story to tell about the role it will play this century. I keep saying it, they keep inviting me back, and I will keep saying it! So, thanks again for having me.

Last week I spent an hour with the Collinswood Probus club where I delivered a slightly shorter version of my original, now updated presentation Nuclear Power: From Opponent to Proponent.

Probis Club May 2014

This felt like coming back to my roots. Presentations to community groups like this is how I started out over three years ago. I still consider them a hugely important part of the bigger picture of nuclear advocacy. Every presentation is a group of people who help bring forward intelligent discussion of nuclear. It’s great to know that there are many doing this work just as I do.

Many thanks for the informative presentation that you gave to our club last Wednesday. It was greatly appreciated by our members and helped dispel many of the myths about nuclear energy.

So many thanks to Alan and the other members for having me.

Most of my time lately has been spent on my first paper, which is currently out for peer review, co-authored with Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook. A climate change special issue for a South Australian journal provided and ideal opportunity to deliver an analytic essay of the energy journey South Australia has taken since the commencement of wind development in 2003. We have researched and presented the benefits and limitations of this development in the context of South Australia and the whole National Electricity Market, reviewed the position of alternatives and proposed a path forward for replacement of fossil baseload.  All going to plan, this paper will be available in coming months.

Next month I head to Perth again to deliver one of the keynote addresses to the AusIMM International Uranium Conference 2014. My presentation is called High Energy, Low Pollution: Why we must bring forward the Actinide Age. I will be exploring the pressures and challenges of our energy system, both now and in future, and presenting the case for nuclear energy as the cornerstone of a successful century for humanity. I will publish the slide deck and script after the conference. I tell you this: preparing this keynote has been sobering. The energy injustice that exists today is staggering.

Thanks all for the continuing readership, support, and collective effort. I’ll leave you with a little time lapse of the Sanmen nuclear power stations, currently under construction. This is a big part of the future: 2,308 MWe of dispatchable, zero-carbon energy on a tiny bit of land with no polluting stack.

How much better the world might be…

Sanmen 10 2011 Sanmen_Oct2013_1Sanmen_April2014_1

Energy Futures delivers a null outcome

When a group of about one hundred Australians are invited to participate in an energy forum to be broadcast for an international audience, could anyone be faulted for bringing high expectations? This week’s Energy Futures forum in Perth provided an opportunity to address Australia’s contribution to what is arguably the conundrum of the century: a high energy planet that must become carbon neutral. The results were deeply underwhelming. It seems those of us most saturated in reliable energy are also the most insulated from its simple realities.

I was pleased to participate in the Energy Futures forum in Perth this week, the first in a three part series for 2014 by CNBC, sponsored by Shell. My sincere thanks to CNBC for the invitation and also to Shell for the hospitality for the evening. The evening will be broadcast next month, with the next 2014 fora to be held in Singapore and Ontario. I took the opportunity for a longer visit to Perth and surrounds, and enjoyed myself immensely.

What a shame then that the event itself delivered a null outcome. Despite a wonderful set up and a well-conceived hypothetical, the hand-picked assembly manifestly failed to deliver.

Having been warmly welcomed with dinner and drinks, participants joined tables of 6-8 where we found a flat, three-tiered octagon, scratchy textas and a voting keypad.

Our challenge and process was as follows.

We would be given a hypothetical and fifteen minutes to document ideas for addressing it on the outer tier of the octagon, with the aim at this stage of “quality, not quantity”. Stage two required the table members to elevate their favoured ideas to the next level of the octagon and vote, using chips, on their favourite idea. The winning idea would then be documented on the top tier and presented to the assembled group in a ninety-second elevator pitch. All assembled would give each pitch a score out of ten and at the end of the evening scores would be announced.

I joined a table with the following participants:

  • Paul Anastas, Lord Mayor’s Personal Aide, City of Perth
  • Marita Bradshaw, Senior Science Advisor, Energy Division, Geoscience Australia. This organisation prepares the Australian Energy Resource Assessment
  • Chris Fair of Oilfield Data Services
  • Alex Gosman, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network. This organisation represents Australia’s largest greenhouse emitters
  • Dylan Korczynskyj, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, University of Notre Dame Australia
  • Ray Wills, Managing Director, Future Smart Strategies, a private sustainability consulting firm

This was the hypothetical for which we needed to propose a pathway:

“Australia’s energy sector achieves the impossible, becoming the world’s largest producer while attaining carbon neutral status in the same year (2035)”

Unfortunately participants were not provided with any numbers in which to frame this hypothetical. Therefore the quality of the outcomes relied, in large part, on pre-existing literacy regarding the global energy challenge and Australia’s energy footprint. This knowledge varied a great deal among the participants. I’ll take the opportunity here to put some simplified numbers around it based on Australia’s published energy flows.

Australia’s balance of total primary energy is roughly 16,500 PJ. Of that, about 13,500 PJ is dirty energy in the form of coal export (8,000 PJ), gas export (1,000), oil export (1,000 PJ) and non-renewable end use within Australia (3,500 PJ). Our clean energy is approximately 3,500 PJ of which 95% is our uranium export (3,250 PJ) and 5% is renewable electricity and biomass (250 PJ).

Australia’s largest energy contribution is coal export

For a coarse definition of the carbon neutral concept (in energy alone) included in the hypothetical, let’s assume Australia needs to consume and export equivalent or greater zero-carbon energy than it consumes and exports in fossil fuels. That assumes perfect substitution of a PJ of zero carbon energy for a PJ of any fossil fuel. That’s incorrect but suffices for this purpose. The other way of resolving the challenge of the hypothetical is to make enough of the dirty impacts of the dirty energy disappear i.e. carbon capture and storage.

Now, we can get a rough idea of the challenge. To achieve the carbon neutral goal based on our current position, assuming no reduction in fossil exports (i.e. a net increase in energy), we would have needed to consume and export just shy of four times the amount of clean energy, to achieve 13,500 PJ of clean energy. Assuming clean energy exports substituted for fossil exports rather than adding to them, (i.e. the total energy figure remains the same), we would have needed about 2.3 times the consumption and production of clean energy, while the fossil consumption and export drops by about 40%.

Bear in mind, the hypothetical also called on Australia to become the world’s largest energy exporter in 2035. All of those energy numbers would need to increase dramatically to account both for us jumping to first place and for the projected growth in global energy demand by 2035. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to complete the discussion using current figures.

Our task: to provide a vision for achieving this challenge. Without a useful, workable set of numbers to frame the challenge, discussions readily degenerated into unreality. Three major discussions emerged at our table.

Firstly Ray Wills declared “The future is renewables. The coal and gas industries will crash between 2025 and 2030. We have this renewable energy, so the challenge we have is catching it get it there”.

I called this as nonsense at the outset, suggesting that those markets cannot crash on the back of renewables until the solution is well established and proven, and it isn’t. Willis assured me this was happening now. I queried whether he grasped the quantity of energy we currently export and the quantity of growth to come, by pointing out to our table that on average a Kenyan has access to just 1/100th the electricity generating capacity of a South Australian. Wills informed me that the amount of energy needed to address energy poverty was actually very small, clarifying that “he doesn’t mean buying them a TV”.

It may come as a surprise to some that Kenyans, along with everyone else, buy their own TVs and they do so without asking our permission. Willis’ version of addressing energy poverty seems consistent with the United Nations description of meeting “basic human needs” of 50-100 kWh per person per year. That is enough electricity to operate “a couple of light bulbs, a fan and a radio for five hours per day“. That would be an awful lot better than nothing at all, but let’s not kid ourselves. The median Western Australian household uses that much electricity in just ten days.

Meme by Tim-Rasmus Kiehl

With the benefit of the basic numbers we can put the renewables-driven concept to the test. Use and export of renewable energy would need to be increased 14-fold to cover just our dirty domestic energy consumption. On a substitution basis, to neutralise the impact of the exports too, our output of renewable energy would need to increase another 32-fold. To fulfil the promise of crashes in fossil fuel (i.e. meeting the full level of fossil exports with renewable energy) it would need to be increased another 40-fold. So, to neutralise both domestic use and exports we need to grow renewable energy output by 46 times. To wipe fossil out of the picture we need to grow renewable energy output by 54 times.

Of course, that’s not even the nub of the problem. Just how are we supposed to use and export at least 46-54 times our current production of renewable electricity? Currently we can’t even implement cost-effective systems of storage to shave off a bit of peak demand. We cannot sell sunshine, wind and hot rocks. We have no way of packing this energy into a useful, portable form that is anything like a match for the energy density of coal, gas, and especially uranium. The only technologically conceivable route is the direct connection and sale of a frighteningly large amount of HVDC electricity. Try to picture a system that can deliver 40 times Australia’s total energy end use in the form of electricity. Picture all of our export markets happily forgoing the flexibility, convenience and security provided by stockpiled fuel, and instead purchasing every single kWh in real time from our island nation.

To Wills’s credit he chose not to elevate such a vision to the second stage. He was stumped by the challenge and no solution came to mind.

The second major concept came largely from Marita Bradshaw with support from others, and went roughly as follows. Based on the achievement of a major climate compact in Paris in 2015 between the USA and China, strong climate action is entrenched. Australia is elevated to the world’s largest energy exporter through growth in the full energy “portfolio” (Aside: portfolio is fast becoming my most hated weasel word in energy discussions. It’s code for “cop out”. End aside) This portfolio included growth in coal and gas. Uranium was included on a token basis, largely to placate me, and I think renewables were mentioned somehow.

When I pointed out that a growth in fossil exports from current levels fails to meet the carbon neutral component of the hypothetical a priori, the response was that carbon capture and storage is delivering on the challenge by then. I observed that this sounded like every Australian Government policy document I have read in the last five years and not the type of idea that could actually meet the hypothetical. I cautioned the table that while this vision may get up in our vote, it would be treated harshly by the room and is therefore not worth supporting. I was told that it was not about winning. In summary, this vision was vision BAU fossil growth, crafted to challenge, excite and offend no one.

I offered the third alternative based on our uranium resource. It should be obvious to even the casual observer that since uranium is 95% of our total clean energy and 100% of our clean energy export, the key to meeting this challenge lies in growing the export of uranium, the super-dense clean energy fuel. An increase of just 2.5 times the uranium export in substitution for coal would meet my coarse carbon neutral definition. That is so achievable it’s almost boring. Australia is not even the world’s largest uranium exporter right now. We are third, even though we have the world’s best uranium reserves. Even if expanded alongside, instead of in substitution for fossil fuels, a four-fold growth in Australian uranium would meet the carbon-neutral challenge articulated above. Considering our current energy export in uranium is delivered via less than 7,000 t U3O8 per annum, compared to exports of about 150 million tons of thermal coal per year, it’s a logistical non-event.

Uranium oxide carries 14,000 – 23,000 times the energy of coal per unit weight

The challenge is more so the growth of the market itself. That was the crux of the concept I offered the table, termed Intermediate Fuel Storage + Integral Fast Reactor (IFS+IFR). It goes like this. Australia establishes the world’s first multinational spent fuel repository. This is established on the ironclad commitment to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors (commercially known as PRISM) to demonstrate and expand the recycling of the spent nuclear fuel for another 99 times more zero-carbon energy. The development of the intermediate repository and the first reactors is funded by our international partners who purchase the service Australia provides, so it is at worst revenue neutral for Australia at the outset. The commitment to PRISM development negates the need for geological repository on science fiction time scales. The 30-year half-life of the eventual waste products permits far simpler storage solutions on an intermediate time scale (hence intermediate fuel storage). By unblocking the back end of the nuclear fuel cycles for our international partners and customers, rapid nuclear development in Generation III+ technology receives a strong boost and uranium exports begin strong growth as nuclear power pulls share from coal in global energy growth. Each PRISM development adds 622 MWe of saleable zero-carbon generation to Australia which further improves the revenue position and drives down our domestic energy footprint, bringing the carbon neutral goal ever closer. At maturity, Australia is running on PRISM reactors fuelled by the spent fuel we received. The world is running on a much large number of Generation III+ reactors that we supply with our uranium exports under a fuel leasing model. The transition to PRISM world-wide is underway on the back of Australia’s pioneering embrace of the technology with support of key partners. Australia is exporting the starter bundles of metal fuel from our own PRISM fleet while continuing to derive revenue from the multi-national repository and uranium exports.

I won’t pretend that’s easily done. But it meets the challenge of a hypothetical that called on Australia’s energy sector to “achieve the impossible”.

This vision picked up votes from three at the table: myself, Paul Anastas and Chris Fair. The portfolio vision scored votes from four: Marita Bradshaw, Alex Gosman, Dylan Korczynskyj and, to my considerable consternation, Ray Wills, a sustainability consultant who threw in behind fossil-fuel BAU rather than give oxygen to a nuclear vision. Stranger still, he stood up and presented it. There was something profoundly allegorical about how this played out. With nothing to offer to meet the challenge of a high energy, decarbonised planet, so many renewables advocates will flee to the safety of climate change rather than entertain a nuclear pathway. My vision lost, and BAU won. At least, at our table.

The pace was frantic and discussions were heated

When the elevator pitches arrived, presentation after presentation gave a rehash of the same blue-sky, motherhood statements around carbon capture and storage, renewables here and elsewhere, engineered draw-down of carbon dioxide and the like. Two presentations suggested Australia would begin accepting, by the tanker load, imports of carbon-dioxide from our trading partners for sequestration in Australia. Several groups made passing, joking, semi-scathing reference to Australia becoming a nuclear “dump” to fund these grand ideas.

The scores told the story. All eleven tables were scored between low 4s/10 and at best a high 6/10. Our table scored in 8th place with a score in the high 4s. Given that tables could boost their own chances by voting for themselves, it’s clear that we delivered shades of mediocrity to answer this serious hypothetical. In defence of my fellow participants who may be less specialised than I, more information on energy was required.

And that was that. We emerged for drinks and networking.

I departed quickly, feeling deeply disconcerted and even angry at what I had seen and heard. As an assembly of hand-picked Australians, we would have represented a far upper percentile of wealth in even our own wealthy nation. We had flown in from around the country, and driven to the event in petrol powered cars along bitumen roads. We enjoyed hot food and cold beer in excess, doubtless throwing out more food per head than the town’s poorest would see in a week. We watched the city of Perth light up below us from our own well-lit, air-conditioned venue before returning to modern hotels. We were filmed and recorded, and will be showcased to an international audience. Everything about the experience was the result of energy. Plentiful, dependable energy provided, but for a scraping of renewables, from dense fossil fuels whose waste is threatening to bring the house down around our ears this century. We Australians appear so utterly detached from both the quantity of the energy that sustains us and the impact it is having on the world. We owed far, far more to the process and our hosts than we delivered. We owed more to those who live without energy, and more to those who would have given anything to participate in such a forum.

I would like to see the debt repaid. If there is a sponsor who would support another event where we capture the process of writing an inspiring, high energy carbon neutral future for Australia, I’m in. I’ll bring our greatest creative energy minds with me, and we will deliver.

Perth by night, seen from our forum venue. We are a high-energy people. We need to get informed and get honest about that.

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