Consumerism Going green

Is domestic Green Power doing anything?

We buy 100% GreenPowerABC AM on Wednesday on Green power:

JEFF ANGEL: Polluters are using our money which we’re paying as a premium for GreenPower, in order to report lower emissions, when in fact they’re not doing anything.

DAVID MARK: Jeff Angel is the director of Total Environment Centre in Sydney. He says the schemes don’t work, because they don’t reduce Australia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

JEFF ANGEL: The fact is that the big polluters, like the big coal-fired power stations are supposed to be reducing their pollution by a certain amount, however if an individual buys GreenPower, that effort should be additional to the efforts of those polluters.

Your individual effort is simply taken over by the polluters and it’s not additional to the polluters’ efforts.

The story itself is about the promotion of Green Power, with the ACCC ruling that slogans like “a simple switch for you, significant results for our environment” and “you have the power to make a real difference” are misleading.

It highlights an uncomfortable fact — that switching to Green Power might reduce your personal emissions, but doesn’t actually reduce overall emissions.

I pay the extra for Green Power. Is it worth it?

As it happens Greenpeace got in touch this week to clarify something on a couple of my old posts on kangaroo meat. (In short: they do not have an actual position on whether or not eating kangaroo is good for the environment.) I took the opportunity to ask them what they thought about Green Power.

John Hepburn of Greenpeace’s Climate and Energy campaign agreed that people needed to be clear that buying GreenPower doesn’t cut emissions, due to flaws in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, but noted that “buying certified green power is still a useful thing to do in that it drives demand for renewable energy”.

He also said that “probably the most important thing for people to do is to get active in the climate campaign – calling for more political action on climate change. Because ultimately it is a political issue and we aren’t going to solve it through voluntary action”, and noted that buying offsets are a waste of money. “Instead of offsetting, we’d encourage people to donate money to a climate activist organisation – or better still, join one or start their own.”

Amen to that, I can see a lot of parallels to my own campaigning. Using public transport yourself all the time isn’t enough to make it better — you have to get active.

And in that spirit I’d like to insert a blatant plug of my own: Help the fight for better public transport by joining the Public Transport Users Association.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

6 replies on “Is domestic Green Power doing anything?”

We too have used the WA Synergy version of GreenPower. With the knowledge that it was not increasing Synergy’s renewable energy purchases above their legal requirements, we did it more to signal that we thought it important.

However recent signiifcant price rises, tied to the Verve energy’s (the state owned producer) production costs, have made me consider cancelling. I can’t figure why NaturalPower customers must be gouged over and above the increase due to Verve’s problems (fair enough, they are losing millions a week) with a further increase in the NaturalPower premium.

So I cancelled NaturalPower this week.

Your post affirms that probably my money would be better spent elsewhere.

In a previous post:
which you may remember Daniel, as it was EXTREMELY long, as this will probably be, I made mention that wind and solar energy will never be a viable alternative in replacing coal in Australia. My belief in that only continues to grow. As much as the media and the government have boasted about how great they are as energy alternatives, quite simply, they are inefficient, costly, and will NEVER provide the base load energy this country needs.

Having completed a Science degree at Monash University many a year ago, as a physics major, one of my more memorable lab experiments was that investigating the efficiency of a solar cell. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it was something like 25%. It definitely didn’t get past 30%, either way! Granted, it was a while back, but the efficiency hasn’t improved all that much over the years, mainly due to limitations in solid state and quantum physics. Furthermore, the atmosphere absorbs quite a lot of incoming solar energy, so what any panels get is much less than what is normally thought. Also, how many hours of sunlight do we get? About 10-12 hours a day! So only half the time.

Furthermore, it takes considerable time for the storage cells to charge up, so you won’t have much to use at night. Then consider cloudy days! There is something known as the ‘capacity factor’, which refers to the percentage of the time that the particular energy source is producing power at its stated nameplate capacity. For solar, it is approx 25%. Furthermore, many people will say that by installing solar panels at home, they will generate all their electricity needs, and feed any excess power back to the grid, thus earning money. One has to ask, if it were so profitable, why is the Federal Government subsidising it, because people should be switching by the bucketload. Daniel, as I recall you stating a few months back, you had solar hot water for a year, and you didn’t notice any difference, is that right? What was it in particular that indicated no difference? I’m not trying to dismiss solar power, as it may have some small useful applications, but Australia as a country cannot rely on solar power.

Wind power is an even greater fallacy. Much has been made of the promise of wind turbines, and many coastlines have been littered by these things. Firstly, how often is it really windy? I remember driving to Adelaide a year ago, and passing non-operating wind turbines. In order for wind turbines to produce power, the wind has to have a minimum speed of 10km/h. Most reach maximum capacity at 40-60km/h. At winds of over 90km/h, where you would think that we’d be awash with power, the turbines actually cut out, so as to prevent damage! Also, there is no way of storing wind energy, so you can only utilise it when the wind is blowing. The capacity factor for wind is 30%. As the wind blows sporadically in random locations, it is hardly the most reliable form of energy. Again, I am not anti-wind, if it can be used in certain applications, fine! But once again, it can’t provide Australia’s needs.

Advocates of wind power always point to Denmark as the success story, as approx 30% of it’s electricity is wind generated. What is rarely mentioned is that Denmark’s electricity is amongst the most costly in Europe, almost double the UK price, in part because of the higher costs of wind power, and also because of the importation of power from countries such as Sweden and Germany. It is also for that reason that they get sufficient power.

Simply put, what the government and green groups don’t state is that these ‘renewable’ energies do not have anywhere near the capacity or the efficiency to provide electricity on an industrial scale. You pay more for those compared to coal simply because of the inefficiency- you require more of a resource to get the same output, if that, so the costs go up. Most will say that that is a necessary price to pay for saving the planet! As from the last post, I have made my opinions clear that I do not believe climate change is a man made phenomena, rather a natural solar cycle, but I am not trying to debate that here. What I am trying to get across, is that there is a viable alternative, one which WILL cut carbon emissions dramatically, and furthermore, is the most efficient form of energy, and thus the cheapest. Australia actually has at least a quarter of the world’s overall resources, and yet we’ve refused to use it for nearly 60 years.

Yes, it is nuclear energy, and I know I’m going to set off a firestorm, but I feel the public ought to know more about nuclear energy than is being let on. We in this country have never had a serious debate about it, and it is about time that we did. Yes, there are concerns with it, but by not allowing development and research, we have seriously impeded a valuable source of energy. Australia has about a quarter of the world’s supply of uranium and thorium, yet we won’t use it, but we’re happy to export it to tin-pot dictators to make weapons with? This is crazy!

Okay, let’s get the negatives out of the way, and hopefully I can explain that it isn’t as bad as made out. First, let’s get Three Mile Island and Chernobyl out of the way, as that is always the main defence against nuclear energy. At Three Mile Island in 1979, no one was seriously hurt, receiving no great a radioactive dose than a chest X-ray. Chernobyl, in the former USSR, was a disaster waiting to happen, as was the rest of the Soviet Union at the time. Furthermore, the technicians there disabled certain safety protocols to conduct an unauthorised experiment. Sure, there have been other minor accidents over the years, but each new generation of reactors has improved safety features. Remember the Longford gas plant explosion? Or the Western Australian gas plant explosion last year? Two gas plant explosion in Australia in a decade, and we haven’t banned gas, have we? Then there’s the issue of radioactive waste, which is a very valid one. It isn’t such a stretch to build a facility in the desert to store long-term deposits, as the Yucca Mountain facility in the Arizona desert. There is also another option- recycling waste material for re-use, which is prominently used in the nation that I will discuss as an example- France.

France is an excellent example of the beneficial use of Nuclear energy. Over 85% of France’s electricity is provided by nuclear energy, for which it is amongst the cheapest in cost in Europe. Furthermore, it is the largest exporter of electricity in Europe. And the most significant stat for this discussion, France has similar CO2 emissions as does Australia, a nation with a third of its population. Why? Greater use of the CO2 free nuclear power. Here in Australia, nuclear is divided politically, with liberals against, and conservatives for, usually. In France, it has popular support across the entire political spectrum- even amongst the Left. France have managed to build a successful nuclear energy program, with constant development providing greater safety, efficiency and cheaper costs. It is probably the only time I would ever say we should follow the French!

I know I’ve dragged on, but I feel I can’t do this topic justice without elaborating! I would like to discuss the fraud that is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. This dreadful piece of legislation, in my opinion, will NOT significantly cut CO2 emissions, but will burden the Australian consumer and industry with onerous taxes, and could quite possibly fatally damage our economy. I do not say this lightly, and I really worry about this, as we are one of the greatest countries in the world! We think that the ‘big polluters’ will be punished, but they will only pass the costs on to the consumer. And metal smelting industries will probably close up here, as they would be heavily punished, and instead go to China, the world’s largest emitter, where they would be likely to emit even more. And like I said, switching to ‘green’ energy will also cost more, and without the option of nuclear, it means we’ll pay more for electricity regardless, which goes mainly to the government- in otherwords, we’ll be paying energy taxes!

As I said, if the Government really wanted to seriously cut emissions and benefit the Australian public, nuclear would be the way to go! And for those who worry about the safety of it, think about the nuclear powered naval vessels, which sailors are living with- they don’t seem to have a problem. And as I work on Wellington Rd, I work right down the street from the Synchrotron, which is nothing more than a watered down nuclear reactor (synchrotron generates X-rays, nuclear reactors generate gamma rays, both next to each other on the electromagnetic spectrum). Yet Steve Bracks heavily promoted it, but boasted after an election win that Victoria would never go nuclear! Why do we shut talk on it- if it really is that bad, then the government would have no problem opening up the discussion on it, because all the evils would be on show, right? In fact, many nations are reconsidering their stance on nuclear energy, as they realise it is a significant way of cutting CO2 output!

My contention is that the government isn’t interested in seriously cutting emissions, because we could do that with nuclear energy, but this is nothing more than a tax raising measure! Not only will the government profit, but so will companies such as General Electric, Goldman Sachs, and Generation Investment Management, the investment group co-founded by Al Gore. Goldman Sachs in particular. People seem to forget that half of ‘Cap and Trade’ is the TRADE part, because that’s where the serious money will be made. Goldman Sachs own 10% of the Chicago Climate Exchange, which will trade most of the carbon derivatives the CPRS will create. Incidentally, Generation Investment Management also own 10%- lucky Al! Go look it up, along with the Australian Climate Exchange- it isn’t a environment saving bill, it’s a money making bill, but not for the average Australian.

Once again Daniel, I thank you for providing an open forum, and I know you may not agree with me, but I just get so frustrated with the government spin, because I really fear the worst economically , as I think Rudd does, otherwise, why would he delay it a year? And because I believe there is a way of HUGELY slashing CO2 emissions without taxing Australians further, I feel I have to speak up!

Please, people, keep an open mind, and investigate some of the topics I’ve brought up! I may not be 100% with all my information, but with my physics background, I know full well the ineffectiveness of these ‘green’ energies, and the values of nuclear, in spite of the problems! How about research in nuclear fusion- energy from water! It isn’t obviously viable at this stage, but may be in a few decades! Let’s keep all options open, and not let the government meddle in this, after all Daniel, you’d realise government ineffectiveness with PT and myki!! Thankyou for your time, and am open to hear others thoughts!

Thanks Andrew. Only time to skim your comment right now, but I haven’t looked at capacity issues with GreenPower yet — this post was strictly about the emissions impacts.

Re: the switch to solar water: no difference in effectiveness of the hot water service, and also no noticeable difference on the gas bill. However the gas bill does not isolate hot water, and I know that our usage of the gas central heating increased in the same period (due to more hours at home), so I don’t read too much into this.

Hi there,
Anyone interested in the viability and efficiency of renewable energy can check out Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution Report, created with leading energy experts. The Australia Energy [R]evolution report shows how we can completely phase out coal-fired electricity in Australia by 2030 by harnessing the country’s renewable energy resources – which are enough to power half of Asia — and create jobs at the same time.

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