Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Fantasy of Future Power

Coal-fired power.
As a sf/f writer, I like to think about where aspects of our society are headed into the future. As someone who has worked in the resources sector since graduating from uni 17 years ago, I often wonder where lies the future of global power generation.

I'll come clean from the beginning, I was an exploration manager for a uranium company in Africa for a significant period, and so have some insight into the way large companies view this issue. I'm also currently a director of a small Australian exploration company with interests in Lithium, Uranium and (soon) coal, in Africa.

The fact is, coal is cheap and plentiful. Here in Australia we like to throw stones, particularly at our close neighbours, like China, like Indonesia et. al. The fact is, Australia has shitloads of coal, and we have absolutely no problems mining and burning it. China, India, developing countries in Africa, all need more power than they're ever needed before - the cheaper the better. Globally, humans will be using a lot more energy into the future. We all talk about using less, but our TVs, Fridges, computer monitors, washing machines, are all getting bigger, not smaller.

Happy nuclear.
You can't stop coal. You just can't. For a while, when the anti-uranium hardliners were softening, and people were beginning to realise that responsible nuclear power generation was the best, and most sensible, alternative/compliment (i.e. the waste is contained and can be put somewhere, rather than ejected directly into the atmosphere) there was some hope. But not since Japan.

Solar? Where do I start. The Australian government has been reducing solar subsidies for how long now? While at the same time proclaiming it the 'domain of the wealthy'. The idea being that if only the rich can afford it, why subsidise? Okay, two things: 1) If you don't subsidise at least a little NO ONE CAN AFFORD IT and 2) If you eased the up-front pain MORE, rather than LESS, lower income families could afford it.

If you can't make solar work in Australia, it won't
Of course there are all the fringe elements, such as wind farms and the like, that no one seems to want in their back yard. But none can provide either the stability, or the volume required by rapidly expanding Asian proto-superpowers. So we end up back where we started - coal. Plentiful, cheap, coal. You can forget phasing it out. The best we can do is make coal-fired power stations as clean as humanly possible, and check and assess and improve our scrubbers, and hope for the best.

If we truly wanted to clean up our act in this country, we'd revisit the nuclear debate. Unlike Japan, we have oodles of tectonically stable real estate and a shitload of unused coastline. Outback Australia is a giant, tectonically stable desert. We have enough room to safely store as much nuclear waste as we could ever hope to generate, and with easily enough room for the rest of the world's as well.

Imagine that, no more CO2 into the atmosphere, no more shit in our kid's lungs. All the bad stuff stored safely underground - WHERE IT ORIGINALLY CAME FROM.

The fact is, here in Australia - we're stupid. I wish we weren't, but we are.

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