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Solar and wind power lose their shine

By Gary Johns - posted Thursday, 9 February 2017


It is exquisite that we are to place our energy future in renewables, the energy source most prone to the beast that we are trying to slay: climate change.

Non-renewables, by contrast, are least reliant on climate. Come hell or high water, coal, gas and oil can be pumped, refined and burned.

Fossil fuels are our natural store built from eons of climate change. They are our insurance against the effects of climate change.

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The climate change gambit has always been a Goldilocks story. The speed and damage of climate change had to be not too hot (or rapid) and not too cold (or slow), it had to be just right. Too rapid or hot and renewables would never work. Too delayed or cool and the world could wait for better technologies. Renewables seemed right only in the just right scenario.

But, what if climate change creates more clouds, calms the wind, stops rivers flowing, or wipes out bio-crops in regions where panels, turbines, hydro and biofuel stock are located?

You would think CSIRO would research the risk. But it has nothing to say.

The US Environmental Protection Agency says no more than that “the impacts of climate change on wind and solar power is still a developing area of research”.

Both are happy to predict calamity in every other aspect of climate change.

Fortunately, some others have been thinking about it.

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David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change from 2009 to 2014, thought the idea of renewables powering Britain was an “appalling delusion”.

He said Britain should focus on nuclear power and carbon-capture technologies. The same could be said of many nations with the same climate — that is, much of northern Europe and the northern US.

However, he said solar could be an important power source in other countries, where sunny summers coincided with a big demand for electricity.

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This article was first published in The Australian.



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About the Author

Gary Johns is a fellow of the Australian Institute for Progress and an adjunct professor at QUT.

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