Sunday, August 10, 2014

Imagine If They Chugged A Red Bull

I presume that, at some point, you've participated in the ongoing debate about some energy crisis or other. It would, of course, be about running out of a nonrenewable resource, usually coal or oil.

If you live in Australia, this debate looks far different than most countries' debates. Australians have been hitting the renewable energy market with such utter vigor- as of June, we're talking 3.5 gigawatts of solar power alone, mostly since 2010- that they're actually reporting an oversupply of energy, such that if they don't install one single thing that generates energy for the next decade, they'd still be fine. In South Australia- the one with Adelaide in it- their wind energy alone is sufficient to supply 43% of the state's needs. (To compare, the US Department of Energy has a website titled "20% Wind Energy By 2030", which represents a goal regarded by them as optimistic.)

So that's pretty great, actually... on the face of it. Economics, meanwhile, are proving to be a bit of an issue, as they haven't quite caught up to the reality on the ground. You have coal plants losing money or facing closure save for government subsidies, you have large electrical companies lobbying the Australian government to ease up on infrastructural goals- or even cancel them- because the glut of energy means they can't get as much money supplying it and grid usage is going down besides, and consumers are dually complaining that they're paying too much for something that is at an enormous surplus, and that the price is somehow still going up, which to them makes absolutely zero sense.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to get completely onto renewable energy, whatever intermediate targets you set for yourself along the way. You assure you don't run out, and as a bonus, you're not spewing carbon into the atmosphere at utterly untenable levels. Sometimes that, regrettably, requires breaking the occasional economic egg. If it didn't, we'd be a whole hell of a lot further along the path than we are now. This is the part that requires breaking the egg. If you're really showing commitment to the cause, that subsidized coal plant there just for the sake of jobs is going to have to go; you can do whatever's reasonably possible to retrain the employees. The electrical company is going to have to be told to take it on the chin, since as grid usage is going down, their services are needed less.

Besides, the surplus, which is unprecedented, may not be a thing that sticks around. We do keep using energy, after all. You don't want to give yourself a surplus situation and then ease up so much that you're back to a deficit before you know it. That would be the act of a fool.

But let's see how Australia acts.

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