How Renewables are changing the landscape

In spite of the federal government’s bias towards traditional fossil fuels, and their continuing refusal to dismantle the subsidies to the fossil fuel industries (if you don’t believe me look at the $8 billion subsidies the federal government gives to the mining Industry per annum for diesel fuel, and the cost of non-indexation of excise on petrol –abolished in 2001 by John Howard in a desperate attempt to stay in office and estimated to have cost the treasury since then  an estimated $45billion), technologies are rapidly overtaking them.

Just this week it was revealed that the ACT government is on target to have 90% of its energy need fulfilled by wind and solar by 2020. This is in spite of Joe Hockey saying he is determined to withdraw all federal assistance to such a scheme, but lo and behold the ACT government says it doesn’t need any because these technologies are by themselves competitive with fossil fuels in the ACT. Whilst this is partly due to the special ACT environment, it is nevertheless a breakthrough.

I have always maintained that technology will in the end address successfully the climate change issue as long as sufficient money is poured into R&D and governments internationally insist on a level playing field i.e all subsidies for both fossil fuels and alternatives are withdrawn or at least be equivalent, which of course means also R&D money.

As an illustration of what can be done, it was announced last month there has been a breakthrough in solar energy technologies. The thing that has long held back the solar industry has been that it has in most cases only been possible to generate energy when the sun shines. But not at night and not when there is heavy cloud cover. Up until now there has also been a limited ability to store energy which could then be switched on at night. There have been various schemes to overcome this including new battery technologies and the use of hydro. For instance a scheme which is under serious consideration is to put 1000 square kilometres of solar panels in northern Australia and have some of the daylight power be directed to pump water up a hill to a mountain top lake and have it flow down again overnight to provide 24 hours of power. The intention of this scheme was then to distribute this power throughout south east asia via an underground cable and into the Asian power grids, thereby becoming a major source of foreign exchange.

Whilst this is a very interesting idea, it seems the latest technology announcement from researchers at MIT and Harvard may have made THE breakthrough which appears to make all this redundant.

Last month (April 2014), scientists at Harvard and MIT announced something extraordinary: they had found a way to create solar cells that can store accumulated energy from sunlight, and then, with no more than a burst of a few photons, release that energy in a steady and continuous form. These new types of solar cells, called photoswitches,  are made from a form of carbon nanotube called azobenzene, which can exist in two different configurations. One collects energy from the photons that hit it and stores it, another releases it. Because they can be switched from one form to another, the cell is essentially a battery, and this solves many of the problems of storage that arise with a weather-dependent system such as solar.

The great advantage of such a technology is that it would make possible solar cells that were an utterly stable continuous power supply. When you combine it with work being done elsewhere on solar cells that can perform in cloudy conditions, you have the plan for an entirely stable solar delivery system,  indeed, one that is more stable than the large-scale privatised power systems that we currently rely on, subject to mass technical failure, Enron-style credit events, and routine under-maintenance.

Such technology is small miracle, yet it’s only one example of dozens of advances occurring as renewable energy technology comes into contact with new materials and starts to be transformed by them. Thus, in the weeks and months before this announcement, news in renewables included: a new nanomaterial that can increase solar fuel cell efficiency by up to 80%, a solar-powered hybrid car that can charge up without needing to dock at a recharge station; and a plane the size of a 747 that will be able to fly around the world without refuelling. On every front, the renewables revolution is not merely gaining pace, but accelerating exponentially and the overwhelming reason for this is new materials.

The revolution is here. It is about time Joe Hockey and the Australian Federal Government got on board rather than making disparaging remarks about the ACT Government intentions, with Hockey in particular saying if he had his way he would shut down all wind turbines in the ACT because “he doesn’t like the look of them”. Got news for you Joe – they are here to stay. You’d better tell your fossil fuel mates the train is leaving the station and their horse and buggies won’t be able to catch up!

(Partially sourced from Crikey.com)

The contradictions of the Abbott Government

In a new federal government which has mostly been a huge disappointment, Joe Hockey stands out as being closest in it to a rational politician. Too often, the government has tended to prioritize a “tea partiest” social reform agenda (driven mostly by Abbott himself), while often eschewing the urgently needed economic reform agenda, which has always been the hardest, and most important area to tackle in Federal politics.

Abbott seems ready to implement a baffling array of side issues, long being championed by the looney right in Australia, like the Institute of Public Affairs, who are well outside the main stream, but who nevertheless are listened to by the ideological, ultra conservative, mostly conservative Catholic, cabinet of Abbott. To list them all would take up more space than desired, but just consider these:

  1. apparently it is now “ok to be a bigot” (according to the chief Law Officer in the land George Brandis), no matter how this might offend others or diminish their space under the Australian sky;
  2. nobbling the ABC, with apparently the eventual intention of selling off, at least parts of it, to News Limited;
  3. bringing back the British honors system (what a joke!);
  4. insisting on implementing the most expensive paid parental leave scheme in the world (and most eschewed to the rich);
  5. refusing to consider a free vote on gay marriage; and
  6. dismantling a website developed by the Federal Department of Health to inform consumers of the the most fattening and least fattening foods and have that reflected in food labeling – a very effective way of tackling the obesity epidemic  and one fought tooth and nail by the fast and packaged food industries. The fact that this was traced back to the assistant Minister for Health’s senior staffer, who happened to be a former lobbyist for these said industries, did not concern Abbott one iota. It is difficult not to contrast the behavior of Barry O’Farrell and Abbott and his ministers. The Abbott Fedral Government seems to be more captive of vested interests than any in living memory – and it has not even been in office 12 months yet.

Joe Hockey, on the other hand,  has exhibited mature leadership in not pandering to the nay sayers in the face of closure of smoke-stack and un-economic industries like cars, alumina and uncompetitive manufacturing. He has tabled a visionary process to funnel Superannuation monies into new infrastructure builds by effectively bribing the states to sell off their mature infrastructure assets and then put the proceeds into new start-up programs in return for the Federal government providing 15% of their cost. Now 50% of Super Funds go offshore, because they do not want to invest in start up infrastructure projects, but are more than prepared to invest in mature assets with proven revenues.

This will revolutionize the way infrastructure is financed and built in this country, at a time when construction in the mining industry is winding down. A sensible, common sense, and economically rational way of tackling this problem.

 

What could Malcolm Turnbull’s Third Party look like?

With Julia Gillard’s collapse in the polls, without something extraordinary happening, it looks as though Tony Abbott will have a clear run to the Prime Ministership. Much of his own party, and the majority of the Australian people do not want this to happen, but in the absence of an acceptable alternative this is what will…

The only way to stop this, is for a third party to emerge, with a charismatic, smart and popular leader, a strong experienced team of technocratic politicians and party men and women behind him, and with it strong backing from the business and general community. Such a leader is Malcolm Turnbull.

With Abbott’s current strength, and the weakness in the Labor Party under Gillard, Turnbull’s ambition to seize the LCP leadership before the election has now evaporated. Many of us thought, that Turnbull was being a loyal party man in anticipation of Gillard gaining in the polls as we move towards the election (which is the historic trend for incumbent governments), and once parity was gained, then the LCP would panic, and turn to him. What other explanation could be proffered for such an intelligent man as Turnbull supporting the incoherent and illthought- out set of  utterances which pass for Abbott’s policies.

Since the ill-conceived Rudd Challenge, after which Gillard’s electoral support has evaporated, Turnbull has been subtly shifting his stance. He negotiated with the party a compromise on the NBN (although in policy terms it is quite ridiculous), and he now in the last week or so, is supporting a revival of the Republican debate. Both policy issues are directly against Abbott’s mantra, and particularly the Republican issue designed to directly challenge his authority (remembering Abbott was the leader of the Royalists in 1999), and he is extraordinarily reverential to both the British Crown and all things British. Turnbull is the opposite.

Could it be that Turnbull is testing the water on a third party, with him as leader.  If so, considering the unprecedented level of disillusionment with federal politics on both sides, and the unprecedented low level of popularity for both leaders of the major parties, isn’t it exactly the right time when a well positioned and led third part might succeed? Certainly, Turnbull has very considerable support with on both sides of politics, and the so called swinging voters.

Let’s for a moment consider what this party might look like. To be successful, it would require competent middle of the road politicians and ex politicians from both sides; it would require for highly skilled party machine men to commit to such a cause; and it would require considerable levels of support from business and community organisations to fund (although i suspect a copy of the Obama popular “man in the street” internet based funding model would be a real winner with lots of people).

So who might these politicians be who would commit to such a cause. Let me reel off some of the more obvious ones:

Lindsay Tanner

Geoff Gallop

Amanda Vanstone

Jeff Kennett

Kristine Keneally

Ted Baillieau

Nick Greiner

Anna Bligh

Penny Wong

Tanya Plibersek

Bob Carr

Jason Clare

Mark Dryfus

Kate Ellis

Tony Windsor

Andrew Wilkie

 

I’m sure there are many more which other bloggers could identify.

If this list is anything like accurate, then there is a party to be built in record time if it is to prevent Abbott from being PM, and surely that would be a service to all Australians, on all side of politics.

The NBN is too important to play politics with…..

You may have noticed in the Press the spat between Malcolm Turnbull and the ABC’s Technology correspondent Nick Ross. The source of this friction is that Ross has exposed the coalition’s broadband policy as the sham it is.
http://www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2013/02/21/3695094.htm

In this article, he goes in to a huge amount of detail comparing what is currently planned and what the coalition says it wants. Frankly, Ross has nailed Turnbull well and truly and Turnbull does not like it one little bit.  I suggest this is because Turnbull knows he (Ross) is right (Turnbull is after all one of the country’s foremost technology executives, and would understand the technology arguments very well), and he has been exposed as being a hypocrite on these issues. We all know Turnbull has gone along with Abbott’s recidivist policies presumably waiting for him to self-implode in the hope that LCP party room will turn to him, but this policy stance he is advocating is frankly irresponsible.

For any of you in doubt about this, look at my previous blog on this where CSIRO sets outs in dispassionate, objective fashion how important an advanced broadband capability will be for the future economic well-being of Australia, particularly in the light of our appalling non farming/mining productivity performance.

Those of you who read this blog regularly, will realise I am generally a fan of Malcolm Turnbull. In fact I think he is the best person to lead this country into the future. But he is dead, dead wrong on this. One of the things I admire about him is his willingness to analyse things on their merits and not get too tied up in Abbott’s high ideological approach to policy. Does this prove me wrong? I very much hope not. We can only hope that when they come to power, they will quietly shelve this stupid policy.

Further to the North Korea discussion…..

An interesting additional dimension to my entry earlier in the week on North Korea  appeared in “The Age” this morning (Saturday 9/3/2013) It states:

Missile Shield Spurs China’s Korea Stance

BY JOHN GARNAUT CHINA CORRESPONDENT BEIJING

CHINA’S support for tougher sanctions against North Korea has been prompted in part by concerns of an evolving USanchored missile defence system on its borders, say Chinese and Western analysts. The missile defence systems involve new land and sea-based radar systems, missile interceptors and intelligence sharing between the US and its regional allies aimed at shooting downa North Korean missile during the relatively lowvelocity launch phase. Analysts note that these systems could also be used to shoot down missiles launched from China’s eastern regions.

 Australia is building three air warfare destroyers with Aegis radar and missile control systems that can be potentially integrated into the US system. ‘‘ North Korea’s test of a nuclear warhead and missile may not bring much of a [direct] threat to China,’’ said Cai Jian, a North Korea expert at Shanghai’s Fudan University. ‘‘ But the response from Japan or South Korea, or America’s strategic advances into the region, are more disadvantageous to China. These are the reasons China opposes North Korea’s tests.’’

 The sanctions against last month’s nuclear test by North Korea were jointly drafted by China and the US and endorsed by the UN Security Council on Thursday night. They will make it more difficult for Pyongyang to shift money and technology in aid of its nuclear program.‘‘ These sanctions will bite and bite hard,’’ said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN. The UN resolution follows Pyongyang’s successful ballistic missile test in December, as well as a stream of bellicose invective. Prior to the agreement, Pyongyang threatened to turn South Korea into ‘‘ a sea of flames’’ .

 Responding to the resolution, Kim Jong-un’s regime said on Friday it was nullifying all agreements of non-aggression and denuclearisation with South Korea and was cutting off the North-South hotline. Officials in Seoul said they were on the alert for any possible attack as Pyongyang seeks to vent its anger. ‘ The higher decibel of invective isa bit worrisome,’’ said Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who has travelled to North Korea eight times, most recently in January. ‘‘ It’s the highest negative level I’ve ever seen, and it probably means that the hardline elements, particularly the military and not the Foreign Ministry, are in control.’’ On the other hand, Mr Richardson said, ‘‘ China is part of asignificant sanctions effort, and this may cool the North Koreans down, may temper their response.’’

 Several analysts said the effectiveness of the sanctions would depend on China adopting a far greater level of enforcement than it had previously. Regional missile defence systems are evolving in response to North Korea’s weapons program and also to increasing concerns about China’s military intentions. ‘ It allows Japan to say, ‘We’re buildinga missile defence system against North Korea but we can also use it to defend ourselves against China,’’’ said Scott Harold, a security expert with the Rand Corporation in Hong Kong. Dr Harold said the US had been strongly encouraging South Korea and Japan to engage in defence cooperation . ‘‘ Beijing is worried that this is a prelude toa trilateral alliance or a Pacific version of NATO.’’

 Those defence systems may, in turn, prompt China to build more missiles  ‘ The overall direction in which missile defence is going means the US, Japan, probably South Korea and Australia, get used to and work on the basis of integrating their systems ,’’ said Stephan Fruehling, an expert on missile defence systems at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.

 ‘ This has political implications and symbolism, and that is what is causing China grief,’’ he said.

 Sam Roggeveen, editor of the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter website, said there was a risk of a regional ballistic missile defence race: ‘‘ The easiest way to defeat ballistic missile defences is to overwhelm them with numbers.’’ Chinese analysts say Beijing’s backing of the new round of UN sanctions reflects frustration with North Korea but not a shift in its underlying strategic calculus. ‘‘ People are fed up with North Korea, but I’m not sure this signifies a new age,’’ said Jia Qingguo, professor of international relations at Peking University. ‘ China’s policies are in atransitional period, China is in a transitional period, andI think this period might be quite long.’’

With NEW YORK TIMES

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

In other words, there is nothing like self interest to spur action. It seems China thinks that the possession of ballistic missiles by North Korea is spurring on the western allies in the Pacific: South Korea, Japan, US. Australia, to do something about protecting their population by building additional alliances and technologies which will negate the affects of the North Korean missile capabilities. This in turn would also negate the effectiveness of China own arsenal.

This is the last thing China wants. Up until now there has been a willingness on both sides – particularly the US and China  to try and work through their differences in order to come to a peaceful accomodation in the Pacific. The growth of a new military  alliance, facilitated by North Korean intransigence, just might make the Chinese come to the same accord I described in my article earlier in the week i.e. a historical agreement to dismantle the North Korean regime in return for with drawal of US troops from South Korea, declare the Korean peninsula politically neutral enforced by UN troops (not including the US), and hold free and fair elections.

The alternative to this will not only be the development of a military alliance of democracies in the Asia Pacific, but the other action mooted in my earlier articel i.e. the withdrawal of the nuclear guarantee to Japan and South Korea meaning they will acquire nuclear weapons aimed straight at China.

These moves might be just what the new Chinese Premier will need to build a case with the PLA, and the remaining hardliners in his cabinet, to move on North Korea.

It would be both historical and highly statesman-like, and may be the dawn of a new Chinese democracy and peace in what is now becoming an unstable part of the world.

It also happens to be the world engine room for growth in the forseeable future. The stakes are high to get it right…

The NBN is all about productivity improvement – ask CSIRO

For those of you who are not aware, the CSIRO has an incredibly interesting podcast called CSIROPOD. It shows off the range and depth of Australia’s leading scientific research institution. For those of you excited by the possibilities of science, like me, to solve the world’s problems, it is just a treasure-trove. Most people do not realise, though, CSIRO is not only “hard science”. It has soft science areas like economics and social research.

One area which it has tackled recently is the area of Australia’s productivity. Apparently, if you take mining and agriculture out of the mix, Australia ranks about 33 out of 36 in the OECD productivity table. This is in stark contrast to almost every other social and economic indicator where Australia usually rates in the top 3 or 4. This is a disgrace.

This interview outlines the challenge, but also the solution:

http://www.csiro.au/en/Portals/Multimedia/CSIROpod/Uploading-the-economy.aspx

What it clearly explains is that there is a solution to this predicament, but it involves Australia as a nation committing to completing the roll out of the NBN fibre to the home, which the coalition are still holding the line about dismantling. This is crazy. Malcolm Turnbull has more than enough ammunition to fire at the ALP on this area of economic policy. He should not also prevent the solution from being arrived at. It is politics in its worst form.

I still think Turnbull is the best leader for Australia at the moment, but he is dead wrong on this one.

The Rapidly Changing Education Model

Further to my piece yesterday, where I suggested the debate around the implementation of the Asia in the 21st Century Report, there is a discussion this morning in the Fairfax Press in “the zone” where Ernst & Young outline the finding of their research into the education sector.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/full-transcript-peter-rohan-20121014-27kwz.html

Clearly the revolution is coming, but so are amazing opportunities. Implementing across the country Asia language skills is surely doable over the next 20 years off the back of thesE changes.

A very interesting comment buried in the narrative is “that both political parties have beenengaged and thoroughly understand what is coming in Education” what does this mean? It means that this criticism of the Asia White Paper by the Opposition is yet another one of Abbott’s scare campaigns. You would have though there would be a rethink by now in the Coalitionthat they need to switch the debate to one based on policy difference rather than their knee jerk negative reaction.

The coming together of two visionary ideas…..

As regular readers of this blog will realise, I am a great admirer of the Federal Government’s NBN policy – one of the most visionary policies I believe from the Federal Government in recent memory and one which has the potential to greatly change the way we operate as a society for the better.

Some of you also may not realise that I am “an old Asia hand” ie someone who has lived and worked in Asia for almost a decade in my career, so I was delighted to see the Government initially commissioning their “Asia and Australia in the 21st century” White Paper, and releasing it so competently over the weekend. Having now read it thoroughly, I think the authors have done a great job, and deserve due consideration on both sides of politics, as well as in academia and the media.

Imagine my horror today, when listening to the ABC at lunchtime, when the government has allowed themselves to be marginalised by the vested interests on this issue, particularly on their commitment to Asian languages and the line from the opposition “it means nothing without extra funding”.

This is a nonsense. The extra funding comes from the NBN. Sometimes I wonder whether the Government even realises what a revolution they have started in this area.  They certainly did not explain it as they should, something they also have  a habit of doing in other areas of policy.

It started off this morning in “The Age” with one Professor Adam Chen suggesting the commitment to Asian languages “will cost billions”. This was followed up during the morning by the usual procession of vested interests with their hands out (of which as usual the Teachers Unions are the most vocal with their baseless breast beating about class sizes echoed by the Federal Opposition).

Education is the sector, along with Health, which will be most profoundly affected by the NBN. In 10 years’ time, when the NBN will be fully implemented, education will be profoundly changed.  Teaching at universities will be largely done online, when the most important things  for them will not be the size of their campus, but the quality of their teaching and the prestige of their Brand. The NBN will provide virtually unlimited capacity to teach. Rather than a university lecturer being limited to the student numbers dictated by the size of the lecture theatre, it will be restricted by the size of the demand as these services will be delivered via a limitless capacity on the internet.

As with universities, the same will apply to schools. An excellent teacher of Mandarin, rather than being restricted to a classroom, will be able to take regular classes with unlimited capacity via a very fast broadband. It will revolutionize schools, and greatly improve teaching standards to all sectors of society in all subject areas.

It is possible the Federal Labor Government would prefer to take “stick” from the Opposition, than to have to explain this fact to their constituency in the Union movement, most of whom do not appear to understand this profound change (along with most of the Press). Nevertheless, it is coming down the track, and will greatly expand the policy options for government in all sort of areas, not least Education.

In my view, it will be a revolution even more profound than the internet itself.

The Real Tony Abbott…

For all those who are interested in interesting debate, good governance, and for Australia to continue as a tolerant, inclusive, civilised society, I highly recommend you read this article…

http://m.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/a-thirst-for-power-lies-at-the-heart-of-abbotts-agenda-20121022-2818x.html

Written by ex diplomat, senior public servant, and political insider Bruce Haigh, it gives an insiders view of Abbott dating back to his undergraduate days right through to his present persona. It explains more clearly than I have seen elsewhere why Abbott behaves as he does, and why he is incapable of modifying his current self destructive ways.

It also spells out very specifically why we must all work (on both sides of politics) to ensure Abbott never becomes Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott just does not get it….

Given Tony Abbott’s latest remarks dog-whistling Julia Gillard about not understanding children, I’m beginning to believe he simply has no idea what is sexist and what is not. Otherwise, given his greatly weakened political position post the now famous Gillard speech, why would he deliberately go out of his way to continue to confirm the main point of the speech ie he is sexist and mysoginist.

I am now convinced he can not distinguish right from wrong in this sphere, and continues to put his foot in it because he can not tell what is acceptable and what is not. After all, we must all remember that Tony Abbott’s personal advisors on social policy are George Pell and Alan Jones –  hardly bastions of socially progressive thought. Indeed it goes a long way to explain why Abbott to many Australians appears to be a throw back to 1950s Australia. Now we all remember Abbott’s political hero is John Howard, and Howard himself championed at times the “values” of the 1950s (remember the “white picket fence” imagery), but Howard, although himself socially conservative like Abbott, never sought to thrust his opinions onto the Australian electorate in this area. For Abbott, this is his modus operandi.

Now that the over the top scare campaign on the carbon tax has been revealed for what it was – a great big new lie – Abbott now has very little to fall back on except campaign on his very conservative social values which are so out of touch with the mainstream Australian electorate,  he is continually found out on them. Eventually, he will self-implode and the LNP will be left with no choice but to replace him.

And wouldn’t that be a relief to us all.