Wednesday, August 19, 2015

One Foot off the Grid and Loving It

I believe that the biggest distinction between the current government and the other parties in the next Federal Government election will be on the issue of renewable energy. We will be divided between those of us who believe that renewable energy is part of our new future and those of us who will continue to cling to the belief that coal is good for humanity.  We live in one of the sunniest and windiest places on this planet. As we travel throughout Australia, it is obvious this is a sun-drenched country. We have now been on the road for 5 weeks and except for a 10-day period in Adelaide where we plugged in, we have lived comfortably on the energy generated by our one solar panel and the energy we stored while driving. Of course our energy consumption is now much less than the average Australian household that consumes about 20kWh/day. 

As we pass through the outback, we could also not miss seeing the poles and wires that crisscrossed the landscape, transporting power to remote outback stations. Most people would be surprised to learn that only 20% of their electricity bill is the cost of energy generation, while more than 50% pays for these poles and wires, i.e. for transporting the electricity to their house.  We learnt this from a Senate Committee Report (2012), while preparing for a recent presentation on solar energy. When Australia’s Federal Court recently overturned the construction of the Adani Carmichael coal mine, our Prime Minister said we were depriving 100 million people in India of the chance to get electricity.

Is this accurate?

According to a recent article in the Guardian: “India’s population of 1.24 billion comprises 247 million households, 68% of whom live in rural villages. According to the 2011 census, 45% of these rural households – 75 million – have no electricity. Of urban households, 6 million remain without electricity, or about 8% of the total.”

I read that despite India having invested in new electricity generation during the last 15 years, these numbers have not changed.  The main reason for this is obvious.  These villages are remote and totally removed from the existing grid.  The cost of connecting them to the grid is expensive and it is   Their demands are simple and hence giving them a gold plated solution that involves transporting coal to India from Australia is ludicrous.  Even if you did that, none of these people in these remote communities would be able to afford to pay for the infrastructure.
far cheaper to give these households an off-grid solution like a solar panel on their roof, or installing a solar array for the community. Having grown up in the sub-continent and having travelled widely through India, I have had a few homestays in houses that have no access to electricity or running water. I know that even if they had electricity, they would not be able to afford, nor would they demand the fancy appliances we have in Australia. If you don’t have running water, then you don’t really need a washing machine!

Here’s the other thing.  Coal is really not great for humanity. It is also not great for our environment.  The poor Indian villager does not want to breathe the toxins in the fly ash (lead, zinc, arsenic, cadmium, sulfur, mercury…) any more than any Australian who lives next door to a coal plant does.  I’ve also read that the cost of producing electricity in India using Australian coal from the Galilee Basin is double the current average wholesale cost of electricity. It is the last thing that the Indian villager wants.  In fact, the Indian government has announced that it is now in transition to a renewable future and will probably in the next 3 years or so have no use for our coal at all. 

Here’s another statistic from the guardian:

“Even if one percent of the India’s land area were to be used to harness the abundantly available solar insolation at an efficiency of 10%, the country could generate 570 times India’s current electricity demand”.

Perhaps it is time for us as global citizens to demand we transition to renewables and for us to elect leaders that act responsibly toward both the environment and humanity.

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