I’m writing this in Perth, Western Australia.
While the entire country has been suffering a record breaking heatwave, the South West corner of this amazing continent has just experienced the coldest, wettest day in 122 years of records.
Thankfully my winter coat was in my wheelie bag, I needed it.
Australia is a fascinating country. A country of conflicts, opportunity, forward facing, backward facing, progressive and retrograde, charming and alarming.
I’ve been here many times, my wife is Australian and we lived here for a while back in 2000-2001, my son lives here now.
It is a country blessed with staggering natural resources, mostly amazing weather, huge amounts of land that’s useless for agriculture but perfect for solar farms, an incredible 25,760 kilometre coastline that’s perfect for wind turbines.
It has a great education system that produces highly competent engineers and scientists, many of whom now work in the renewables sector both within Australia and around the world.
And yes, it also has a government that may, I’m just guessing here, may by influenced by a massive, powerful and well-funded coal mining lobby.
Mate, they love coal. Coal is king!
They also have huge mining concerns that don’t dig up coal, they dig up bauxite (world’s largest supplier) nickel (2nd largest supplier), iron ore, (3rd largest supplier) lithium, copper, cobalt, uranium and a host of other vitally important minerals.
Loads of coal.
The current government loves coal.
They have recently been busy shouting at each other because a few weeks ago there was a big power outage in South Australia.
South Australia has the largest percentage of renewables installed of any state in Australia, a lot of wind and solar.
A severe storm destroyed a few high voltage pylons throwing huge areas into a blackout.
What do the coal loving federal government do?
The obvious of course.
“Mate, if it wasn’t for all your fancy renewables you wouldn’t have had power cuts.”
Utter tosh of course but that’s what gets in the papers, and old voters still read newspapers and the coal boys know that.
In fact the government had plenty of warning of this storm, they had adequate backup in gas powered generating that needs a few hours to come on line and they did nothing.
Since this gargantuan cock up, they’ve been making hay for the coal lobby, denigrating renewables and poo-pooing their own academics who know what really happened.
Yawn, nothing new, just a continuation of the pro-coal-drum-beat.
Meanwhile the uptake of solar is epidemic in Australia. Yes, they may have been a bit late to the party but in many aspects, that’s working in their favour. The cost of solar panels has dropped so steeply that it now makes economic sense to install them on your roof regardless of incentives and feed in tariffs.
And where did Tesla install the very first Powerwall. In California?
No, in Sydney.
Australia is in the lead in the uptake of domestic batteries and solar.
And solar panels are developing in ways no one could have imagined even five years ago.
During an invigorating and head spinning conversation with Professor Ray Wills, an adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia and clean tech investment guru, I heard about the development of new silicon wafers that are at the same time solar photovoltaic cells, data storage systems and communication devices.
Cloud storage in solar panels? What the wha!
There are already 1.6 million solar rooftop installations in Australia with a total of 5 GW of capacity. The installation rate is growing rapidly.
In the 12 months to June 2016 the solar output in Australia was estimated to be around 6,100 GWh of electricity and is predicted to double this year.
What we are about to witness in solar technology is a massive, game changing, highly disruptive revolution, the long-term outcome of which is difficult to predict.
As more and more people buy less and less from the grid, as the grid becomes more sophisticated, and that’s a big challenge, as the methods of instantaneous micropayments being developed through systems like Blockchain allow individuals and communities with renewable systems on their land (farmers and wind turbines, householders and rooftop solar) one thing is clear.
It’s goodnight and thanks for the help coal.
Ah yes, but the wind isn’t always blowing and the sun isn’t always shining, as I have witnessed in Perth recently.
Of course we need fossil burning and nuclear at the moment, it’s painfully obvious.
Just like we needed land lines when cell phones first appeared.
Do we need land lines now?
No, of course not, I finally got rid of mine last year.
We need backup now, but the way this technology is developing it’s obvious we won’t for long.
Ah yes, but Australia exports billions of tons of coal to China, coal is still king!
True, they do export a massive amount, but not an increasing amount. In fact, it’s a decreasing amount.
And yes, they ship it out of northern Queensland where dredgers have been destroying huge swathes of the Great Barrier Reef but mate, coal is king!
China is making gargantuan leaps in renewables, a breathtaking 40% growth last year and that’s on top of an already massive base of wind and solar.
This combined with a yearly drop of 4% in their coal consumption, their recent cancellation of 103 planned new coal plants and things are not looking good for Aussie coal.
But don’t tell the Australian Federal government, let them continue to give massive tax breaks (subsidies) to the coal companies, let the coal companies bribe and con the indigenous population to allow them to rip the stuff out of the ground.
Pretty soon they’ll go broke, pretty soon the very small number of jobs that are linked to the coal industry will go and we’ll see an exponential increase in the number of jobs created in the renewables sector.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy the antics of the coal corporations employees, sorry, current Australian government.
A bloke called Scott Morrison recently waved a lump of coal around in the Australia Parliament to show the opposition it wasn’t dangerous. Funny