future clean tech

green business, policy and technology in australia and abroad

Posts Tagged ‘cleantech

Rudd’s three-card trick

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This week’s Australian federal budget was nearly as short-sighted as ever. What we saw on Tuesday was mostly greenwash. Bob Brown was right: this was not a green budget.

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan

The government pandered to narrow dirty business interests and dressed its actions up with a poorly-disguised sop to the environmental movement.

It is true that we’ve committed serious money to a national broadband infrastructure. But that should have been done years ago. The info tech boom is now a fact of life. And now we’re left lagging in the next crucial tech boom: clean tech.

A welcome initiative is the government’s $1.5 billion over 4 years that will go into building serious centralised solar generation infrastructure.

But this is a mere sideshow – it’s the sop to the greens. It is a smokescreen for the government’s real agenda: protecting carbon-intensive industries.

Out of total budget expenditures of roughly $340 billion, $4.5 billion is going into “clean energy”. That’s just over 1% of the budget. The lion’s share of this money is going into that oxymoron, “clean coal”.

“Clean coal”, or carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a largely unproven technology. Certainly more unproven than established renewable alternatives like wind and solar. It’s 10 years away from industrial-scale deployment. And it’s not “clean”.

But since coal-fired power and coal exports are entrenched Australian industries, it is easy for the government to fund relatively unproven CCS technology and get away with greenwashing it by calling it “clean” technology.

This, after last week’s delay in the emissions trading scheme, casts serious doubt on the government’s commitment to the environment and to green business.

What happened? The government should be investing many billions into true, proven clean technology. Where is the serious funding for wind, solar, smart grids, electric vehicles, and other clean technology infrastructure and R&D?

Our government doesn’t get it. While our most promising future jobs engine – clean energy and clean tech – is left to fend for itself, the government’s priorities are clearly reflected in, for instance, its increases in defence expenditures, its clear commitment to subsidising the fossil fuel industries (partly by greenwashed stealth), and its refusal to include petrol-induced emissions in the ETS.

Serious money needs to be pumped into this sector. Instead, the government has doled out $20 billion in frivolous cash giveaways (a vote-buying ploy spun as “fiscal stimulus”) and delivered an unnecessarily reckless and short-sighted budget.

Will we ever learn?

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Written by Gabriel Sassoon

May 15, 2009 at 7:50 am

Opportunities in the midst of the “crisis”

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CrisisRegarding the global financial crisis (GFC): the Chinese word for “crisis” consists of two characters, which make up the compound word “problem-opportunity”.

While it is true that credit markets have seized up, and that there are undoubtedly rough economic times ahead, it must also be true that the GFC presents a tremendous “problem-opportunity” for those in the cleantech space.

This would in some sense be true even if governments didn’t provide regulatory and other stimuli for the industry. Good technologies and good business will bring the market to them because they will be appealing to the consumer (think Prius), and/or cheaper than legacy technologies and methods (think LPG).

The bonus for the cleantech industry is that governments around the world are banking (so to speak) on cleantech as the new economic driver. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Obama Administration has put its money where its mouth is. Barack is fair dinkum about cleantech. The Australian government is lagging behind, but in the event that the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reducation Scheme (CPRS) is passed, and some of the other regulatory elements make it through (such as the new renewable energy production target of 20% by 2020), the cleantech sector will probably boom.

We’re still waiting for the first big cleantech success story in Australia, but it will come. In the meantime, I will mention some of the overseas success stories and local hopes in the next couple of posts. Forget the Global Financial Crisis; think of it as a Global Financial Opportunity.

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

April 1, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Bleeding edge ideas for distributed power generation

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CleanTechnica posted a story yesterday about an MIT professor who argues that, even in the best case scenario, we will still be unable to meet our energy needs by 2050 using the centralised model of today. His solution, according to CleanTechnica:

Nocera said that MIT will announce its patent next week of a cheap, efficient, manufacturable electrolyzer made from cobalt and potassium phosphate. This technology, powered by a 6 meter by 5 meter photovoltaic array on the roof, is capable of powering an entire house’s power needs plus a fuel cell good for 500 km of travel, with just 5 liters of water.

Glass of water

The new electrolyzer works at room temperature (”It would work in this water glass right here”) to efficiently produce hydrogen and oxygen gases from water in a simple manner, which will enable a return to using sunlight for our primary energy source.

These sorts of technologies offer the hope for a kind of radical decentralisation of the power supply. It is also the sort of opportunity that is ripe for venture capitalist involvement (hence MIT’s patent announcement) because it does not require large-scale government funding and won’t face the kinds of bureaucracy that, say, building a new wind farm entails (development consent, NIMBY opposition, and so forth).

urbanwind31

Urban wind power

Everybody is thinking about what the energy infrastructure of the future is going to look like. In the medium-term, we are going to see a partial decentralisation of the power supply alongside a significant increase in traditional, centralised renewable energy generation. While in the long-term (10-20 years from now) we will be aiming for fully renewable baseload power generation, in the medium-term baseload power will continue to be generated primarily, in Australia, by dirty coal. Nevertheless, while the broader transition to renewables gathers pace (a trend that I expect will result in not merely exponential but explosive displacement of fossil fuels with clean energy sources), it is entirely possible for peak power generation to be subsumed by, say, local councils using, say, urban wind turbines on main traffic arteries.

This week’s cleantech forum in Melbourne will be a welcome opportunity to hear where Australia’s cleantech industry sees the local energy sector going over the next few years. Watch this space.

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

March 29, 2009 at 10:35 am