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Good clean fun!

By Joel Catchlove - posted Monday, 21 August 2006

In the same week the Federal Government launched its Taskforce into expanding the nuclear industry in Australia, Spain joined Belgium, Sweden and Germany in legislating to phase out its nuclear power program entirely. Communities across the world are recognising and responding to the threat of irreversible climate change and declining fossil fuel resources, leaving Australia, despite its vast potential, far behind. The responses of these communities - especially in Western Europe - are often characterised by a shift towards decentralised, community-based renewable energy generation.

For US energy scientist and policy expert Dan Kammen, the shift to renewable energy generation is a fundamental shift in the way we plan and manage energy: a shift from what he calls the “hunter-gatherer” pursuit of limited deposits of fossil fuels to the “farming” and harvesting of the inexhaustible flows of renewable energy.

Decentralised renewable energy generation is increasingly recognised as the way forward to cut carbon emissions. With up to 21 per cent of energy being lost in transmission from power plant to user, distributed renewable power generation allows homes, business and communities to efficiently generate their own clean energy on or near the site of consumption.


Drawing from models in Denmark and the Netherlands, where 50 per cent of energy generation is decentralised, London Mayor Ken Livingstone has expressed a vision of the city as a web of “local energy networks” where buildings generate their own renewable energy. A recent study showed that Britain’s current model of centralised power generation wastes some two-thirds of the power it generates - the energy wasted at the power station and in transmission is equal to the entire water and space heating demands of all buildings in the UK.

Livingstone’s vision of buildings powered by their own energy was recently echoed in the British Government’s allocation of £50 million to support community-based “microgeneration” initiatives. Such initiatives are intended to aid businesses, schools and homes in adopting community-based renewable technologies from wind turbines to solar heating.

The initiative emerged after Woking, a town of 100,000 people in Surrey, reduced its carbon emissions by 78 per cent and installed 10 per cent of Britain’s solar energy through renewable microgeneration. The Government’s £50 million is intended to also increase demand for renewable technologies, triggering mass production and so helping to lower prices and increase accessibility to such technologies.

While the full scope of renewable energy potential is yet to be realised, wind, solar and biomass have quickly taken the lead in the new renewable economy. In the US, increasing natural gas prices have pushed the costs of conventional electricity above wind power, leading to a demand that outstrips supply - wind turbine manufacturers are sold out until at least 2008. Denmark has rapidly become a world leader in wind, generating 3,600 megawatts by 2002 - the equivalent of five nuclear power stations - with supply to rise to at least 25 per cent of Denmark’s total energy consumption by 2009. Across Europe, by 2005, wind was cleanly generating the equivalent of 35 coal-fire power plants and growing.

Meanwhile, solar technologies have been widely adopted in Japan and Germany - in 2001, Japan had 50,000 homes powered by solar electricity, selling the excess electricity generated back into the grid. In order to slice their carbon emissions, Spain announced in 2004 that all new and renovated homes must have solar panels. Advances in efficiency and its ability to be structurally incorporated into architecture mean that solar has a bright future - even at current levels of efficiency, solar energy could provide all of the US’s energy needs while occupying less than a quarter of its urban space.

In March 2006, the Sustainable Development Commission, the British Government’s environmental advisory board, emphasised that “there is more than enough renewable resource in the UK to provide a diverse, low-carbon energy supply”, making it “possible to meet our energy needs in a carbon-constrained economy without nuclear power”.


In 2005, the German government resolved to begin its transition to 100 per cent renewable energy generation, and like Spain and Belgium is phasing out all its nuclear power.

Iceland and Sweden have pledged to become oil-free, Sweden planning on replacing all fossil fuel technologies with renewables within the next 15 years also without nuclear power. Such steps demonstrate that the Federal Government’s enthusiasm for nuclear power as any kind of solution to climate change is unjustifiable.

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About the Author

Joel Catchlove has been involved in environmental community projects for several years. He is a campaigner for Friends of the Earth Adelaide and can be contacted at

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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