BIG HEAVY STUFF
LET THERE BE LIGHT RENEWABLE ENERGY IS READY TO POWER A GLOBAL REVOLUTION.
The sun beats down on the ancient landmass of Australia. It feeds our crops, warms our air and sucks moisture skywards, giving us rain. Our drinking water falls from the sky – clean, cool and free. All you need is a bucket or an open mouth and you're quenched. The sun gifts us all of this and more. It's the Barry White of the elements and its unlimited love is set to get even less limited. Sunlight – along with other renewables – is poised to power the 21st Century and every century to follow. Some energy experts are already calling this the beginning of a third industrial age – a clean and green one.
Before we address the likelihood of this occurring let's jump into the Tracks' Tardus and zoom into the not too distant future. It's the year 2050 and renewable energy has taken over as the planet's predominant power source. Entire buildings are made from sleek new-age solar-voltaic cells. Large-scale wind and solar farms dot the arid interiors. Electric cars are the norm. Fuel bills are history. Energy arrives as free and everlasting as sunshine. Cities are cleaner, quieter and healthier than in all of human history. Unsightly power lines are coming down. Jobs lost to the fossil fuel industry have been replaced by the green energy sector. Tony Abbott has long-since moved to Mars.
Like a former pack a day smoker it's been hard to give up the coal and oil habit but by 2050 the planet's vital organs are benefiting in a myriad of ways. The air is cleaner, tens of thousands of people aren't dying of pollution-related illness, oil spills like Valdez and Deepwater Horizon are impossible and the Great Barrier Reef's coal ports have been reclaimed. Farmers no longer have to fight to keep gas companies from fracking up their land. Global conflicts over Arabian oil have ceased and markets are less volatile. The worst effects of global warm-
ing have been limited. The ice caps haven't melted. The polar bears kick on. The future looks bright – wind-powered and sun-lit.
This may read like mooshy wish-fulfilment but there are plenty of credible experts who argue fossil fuels are already on their way out. Gusty winds of change are upon us as countries strive to meet pollution reduction targets and transition into a new energy era. Solar and wind power are becoming far cheaper and more efficient. In 1980 it cost $US35 to produce a watt of electricity from a solar panel, today it costs 70c.
The big drawback of solar has always been its night time curfew. But that appears to have been overcome. Out in the Nevada desert lies a futuristic power plant called Crescent Dunes. It consists of a circle of mechanical poles which tilt 17,000 mirrors toward a central tower. Sunlight bounces off the mirrors and heats molten salt inside the tower which absorbs the energy like a giant battery. That energy can be used night or day and is scheduled to power Las Vegas neon later this year.
Nearby, California has got the jump on green energy thanks to former Governor Schwarzenegger's proactive approach to climate change. The state now boasts the largest wind, geo-thermal and solar thermal projects in the world and an electric car that can do 0-100 in 4.4 seconds. There are already more Americans working in solar than in coal mining or car manufacturing and their numbers are on a steep rise.
In Europe it's a similar story. Green energy investment follows government policy. Germany is pushing to have 80% of their energy from renewables by 2050; Denmark is aiming at 100% while Scotland is charging towards 80% by 2020. They regard cleaning up their energy sector as an opportunity as much as an obligation and for them the race is on.
In Australia the policy response to climate change and energy is now in serious flux. We're the first country in the world to walk away from pricing carbon and our modest renewable target is under review by a climate change sceptic. Clean energy investors have grown wary or have already moved elsewhere. Critics argue the Abbott Government is tying us to a sinking coal ship while the rest of the world moves on.
American economist Jeremy Rifkin put it this way on Four Corners recently. "Australia is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. When you have so much [wind and sun] why would you rely on a depleting supply of fossil fuels with all of the attendant consequences to society and the planet? It makes no sense whatsoever."