Sunday, December 27, 2015
Isn't the sunny optimism below wonderful?
Unmentioned is that this is an old idea and that there are already a lot of these plants around to assess how successful they are. Huge projects of the sort are already in operation in both California (See here and here) and Spain (See here). And guess what? They do produce some power but have big problems and need big subsidies from government to stay in operation
After hours of steady rain, there is not a ray of sunshine in sight and the mud is thick on the ground at the $20 million Jemalong pilot solar thermal plant near Forbes in central west New South Wales.
But in a way, the fact it is overcast helps to explain the importance of this technology, which enables both capture and storage of energy from the sun, according to James Fisher, chief technology officer of Vast Solar.
The engineer, who formerly worked in the fossil fuel industry and said he never thought renewables could compete with coal, now has a much sunnier outlook on the subject.
Technology behind solar thermal power plant
The Australian company has developed what it hopes will be a low-cost, high-efficiency Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) generation technology.
The Jemalong pilot plant will be ready for commissioning in mid-January and is designed to prove the technology works.
Five modules of 700 mirrors — or heliostats — will concentrate the sun's energy onto a receiver mounted on a 27-metre high tower.
Sodium will then be pumped through the receiver where it will be heated up to 565 degrees Celsius and stored in a tank.
When power is needed, the hot sodium will be put through a steam generator, similar to a big kettle, which will boil the water, generating steam and driving the turbine in the same way a coal-fired plant operates.
Mr Fisher said traditional solar or photovoltaic power production converted the sun's energy directly into electricity which then had to be stored in expensive batteries.
He said the difference with CSP was that it captured the sun's energy in heat which was cheaper and easier to store.
"So the big advantage with solar thermal is the storage. Our storage costs around $25 a kilowatt an hour, compared to lithium ion batteries which cost about $300 a kilowatt hour," Mr Fisher said.
He said the system meant power production could happen whenever it was needed and until now, that role of maintaining a steady electricity grid had mainly been provided by coal power.
"We can run 24 hours a day and providing base load is really the key to solar thermal," he said.
Mr Fisher said if the 1.1 megawatt Jemalong pilot proved the technology was viable for 30 years, billion dollar commercial plants would be built.
"This sort of technology will put massive amounts of money into regional Australia if it takes off," he said.
Vast Solar has revealed plans for a 30 megawatt commercial plant — at a yet to be determined location — and Mr Fisher said the company had progressed well in attracting investment.
"But a problem is it's big money to develop it. These plants you can only build in large scale, so a tiny plant will be $100 million and a good-sized plant will be $500 million," Mr Fisher said.
The commissioning process at the Jemalong pilot will take four to six months and experts ranging from representatives of power utilities to academics from the Australian National University will be involved.
The project is also being closely watched by the Australian Government's Renewable Energy Agency, Arena, which has committed $5 million.
Mr Fisher said commercial solar thermal plants could be producing power at seven cents per kilowatt hour, which was cheaper than the most up-to-date coal-fired plants.
"I think we'll look back in 50 years and think, 'wow, what were we doing building coal mines to power a plant that has to run 24-hours a day when the sunshine's free?'"
He said solar thermal technology had a bright future. "Hopefully it will be Vast Solar that cracks it but someone will do it, there's no question in my mind," he said.
December heatwave shatters record temperatures in south-eastern Australia
Global warming, right? Not quite. In S.E. Queensland where I live we had an unusually COOL December. So whatever is going on is not global
Sunday night was Sydney's warmest in three years but a cool change will bring rain over Monday and Tuesday, aiding fire risk reduction efforts in the Newcastle and Wodonga areas.
It might be hard to recall after the past few days of torrential rain, but December has been hot – the records don't lie.
The extreme heat prompted the Bureau of Meteorology to issue a Special Climate Statement, confirming record temperatures across South Australia, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria, where the highest daily minimum temperature ever recorded was reached (31.9 degrees in Mildura).
"The most intense phase of the heatwave began on December 16 as high pressure became established in the Tasman Sea and directed hot, north-easterly winds over South Australia," the bureau said.
Children took to the Nepean River at Penrith as the mercury rose into the 40s on Sunday.
Children took to the Nepean River at Penrith as the mercury rose into the 40s on Sunday. Photo: James Alcock
"The heat spread over much of south-eastern Australia from 18 December as winds turned more northerly, reaching its most intense levels over the weekend of 19-20 December. A trough and cold front crossed the region on 20 December, bringing the heatwave to an end over the most-affected areas although hot conditions continued over parts of New South Wales on the 21st."
Sydneysiders have surely not forgotten the night of 20th, when they sweated through the hottest December night in 15 years, during which the mercury was still sitting at 29 degrees at 10pm in the city, before dropping briefly to a low of 22.6 degrees just after 3am.
An extended period of hot weather in South Australia concentrated on Adelaide, where temperatures reached 40 degrees on each of the four days from December 16 to 19.
"This was the first occasion that four consecutive days of 40 degrees or above had occurred in Adelaide in December," the bureau said.
"The highest temperatures of the heatwave occurred on 19 December. Hottest of all was the upper Spencer Gulf region, where Port Augusta reached 47.2 degrees, with 45.8 degrees at Whyalla and 45.6 degrees at Port Pirie."
Bureau senior climatologist Blair Trewin said the South Australian heatwave was particularly interesting as heatwaves usually occurred in late summer.
"Systems tend to be more stable and slow moving," he said. "It's unusual to get a heatwave in December. We've had that a few times in January and February but never December."
However, the fact a heatwave occurred early in summer did not suggest even hotter conditions for the coming January and February, Mr Trewin said.
"The seasonal climate outlook is leaning towards cooler conditions in much of Victoria and South Australia," he said. "We are experiencing a strong El Nino, but the main effect of that on temperatures in Southern Australia is actually in the second half of the year.
"El Nino effects on average temperatures disappear in Southern Australia from January onwards."
In Victoria, El Nino summers tend to bring more extremes at both ends of the scale, meaning more hot days but also more unusually cool temperatures as well.
The remarkable global heat experienced this year may not be the last of it, with forecasters already predicting next year will be hotter again – marking three years in a row of record annual warmth.
The prediction, by Britain's Met Office, came just days after almost 200 nations agreed in Paris to a new global agreement to tackle climate change.
Under the pact, to take effect from 2020, nations would review efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions every five years with the aim of keeping temperature increases to "well below 2 degrees" of pre-industrial levels.
Most Australians are clueless about immigration and population: survey
Many problems flow from Australia's high immigrant intake
In the 2016 election year we will hear a lot more about one of Australia's hitherto practically unsung federal-state imbalances.
The much sung one, of course, is the fact that the Federal Government raises the bulk of the taxes, but the states are the ones with the responsibility for spending them – schools, hospitals, police, most roads and so on. It goes by the rather ugly name of vertical fiscal imbalance.
The unsung one is that the Federal Government is responsible for Australia's high immigration rate but it is the poor states that have to provide the services and infrastructure for the extra people. It could be called vertical population policy imbalance. But it might be easier just to call it dumb policy.
Australians seem to have some idea about vertical fiscal imbalance because the Premiers and Chief Ministers are forever whingeing about being starved of funds by the Feds. It is a convenient excuse for long hospital waiting lists and the like.
But Australians have very little idea about population. A survey published this week by the Australian Population Research Institute reveals just how ignorant they are about it.
The survey asked four basic questions with multiple-choice answers. Only 2 per cent of respondents got all four questions right. That is worse than random guessing, which would have yielded one in 16 getting all four questions right, or about 6 per cent of respondents.
That suggests not just ignorance but the possession of misinformation, as if people have been victims of a slow-drip propaganda campaign.
The questions were: Is it True or False that without immigration, Australia's population would be shrinking? What is Australia's population? What portion of the immigration intake are refugees? And is it True or False that Australia has one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world?
The best result was the present level of population, with just over half of respondents getting it right. The worst (19 per cent) was the fact Australia has one of the highest population rates in the world. Only Israel and Luxembourg in the OECD have higher rates.
Overall, 12.6 per cent of respondents got all four questions wrong. Again, random guessing would have resulted in only 6 per cent of respondents getting them all wrong. The 12.6 per cent result can only be the result in some general pushing of misinformation – not just ignorance on its own. By the way, this is my conclusion, not that of the researchers.
If political leaders, business, the media and other providers of information and information were generally pushing the correct or no information – rather than an incorrect picture – you would expect a better than random result for all questions right and for no questions right. Instead, both are worse.
The survey backs up what a few people have long suspected: that the big end of town – a tiny, wealthy and powerful minority which gets benefit from high immigration - and the politicians they finance have pushed the case for high immigration, generally against the overall public interest.
They do this by stressing imaginary benefits – economic growth, cure for an ageing population, cure for a falling birth rate etc. And they underplay how aberrant high population growth is, the strain it puts on infrastructure and the provision of services, and the strain it puts on the environment.
Further, they are desperately worried that any difficulty with refugees might detract from what they say is general support for immigration. Former Prime Minister John Howard said as much. That is why he was so tough on refugees.
Well, it is about time some of these myths got busted. And it looks as if the next election campaign may go some way towards that.
For a start, last week's report revealed that politicians' assertions that there is widespread support for immigration in Australia are plainly wrong.
The survey found that 51 per cent of Australians do not want any population growth. And a further 38 per cent said they did not want Australia to grow beyond 30 million. Those 89 per cent are in effect saying they want governments to reduce or eliminate immigration – because, as the survey pointed out, even without immigration Australia's population would still grow.
The Australian Population Research Institute is an independent research institute. Its members are participating researchers, mainly academics. This survey was commissioned by Sustainable Population Australia (about to change its name to Sustainable Australia). Its candidate was supported by Dick Smith in the North Sydney by-election this month.
Smith said he has been in discussion with Flight Centre founders and rich-listers Graham Turner and Geoff Harris about supporting Sustainable Australia at the next federal election.
Money, of course, helps immensely in politics. The Palmer United Party, backed by millionaire miner Clive Palmer, won three Senate seats and a House of Representatives seat last election. Its support has since collapsed and two of its senators deserted the party and its policies have been incoherent.
You need more than money. You also need a convincing platform. So expect to hear a lot more about immigration and population at the next election. Money can buy media presence, either directly through advertisements, or indirectly through things like last week's research and paying people to present the message effectively.
One of those messages is likely to be that Premiers should stop asking the Feds for extra money, and ask them for fewer people instead.
Oddly enough support for population growth was stronger among university graduates and urban dwellers.
It was extraordinarily high in Canberra – the centre of political lobbying.
Overseas born were – as you would expect – more in favour. The research suggested that more recent arrivals did not have a past reference point of a less populated and less congested Australia.
Males were more in favour than females and tended to cite economic reasons more than females who, when in favour, cited cultural diversity and helping refugees more than males did.
The interesting question will be how the Greens and the National Party react. The Greens have not been very active for an environmental party on the sustainable-population front. The National Party has opposed (fairly weakly) mining on agricultural land, but has been virtually silent on the question of population expansion encroaching on agricultural land.
They may be forced to get into this debate come election time.
Killers and terrorists will be served Halal chicken at 'religious friendly' Christmas lunch at Supermax - because so many of the inmates are Muslim
Christmas dinner inside Goulburn's Supermax prison for many of the inmates will be Halal chicken with cranberry sauce in an aluminium tray slid through the hatch of their four-by-three metre cell door at around 11am on Friday.
An unprecedented number of arrests of terror related suspects has boosted the number of Muslims locked up inside Supermax this Christmas alongside longer term inmates like serial killer Ivan Milat and double murderer Vester Fernando.
Daily Mail Australia can reveal that 37 high risk inmates will be spending the holiday season inside the prison and the increase in Islamic prisoners means there will be more call on the 'religious friendly' meal option on Friday's menu.
Although they are unlikely to be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Supermax's newer inmates like teenager Raban Alou will find little comfort in the culinary nod to his religion.
Alou was locked up in October for allegedly supplying schoolboy Farhad Jabar, 15, with the gun that killed police accountant Curtis Cheng at Parramatta in western Sydney.
Supermax prison is a modern jail within the larger 19th century jail which lies on the edge of the town of Goulburn, 200km southwest of Sydney.
While Goulburn's main prison, where inmates are caged in open-air yards in a noisy and sometimes menacing rabble, the atmosphere inside Supermax is more like a hospital than a jail.
It feels clinical, and with dozens of the country's worst offenders behind the glass doors of their day rooms like animals in a zoo, it is creepy.
Alou is likely being held in Supermax's segregation area, 7 wing, where all fresh admissions are held as they get used to the high risk management prison's rules and restrictions.
Alou, who is spending his first Christmas inside after being charged with aiding, abetting, counselling and procuring the commission of a terrorist act, will be offered the Halal chicken with potatoes and mixed vegetables.
Muslim inmates can also opt for the vegetarian Christmas lunch option of a spinach and ricotta burger with potatoes and vegetables.
Prepared three days earlier by criminals in one of the state's four prison kitchens in Sydney and regional NSW, the meal will be reheated, placed on a trolley and given to Alou in his cell. For dessert, he will receive a fruit mince pie.
The food will have been precisely measured to be high on vitamins and minerals and low in harmful fat or salt rendering it, many inmates claim, completely tasteless.
After a year in which breaches at Goulburn prison have resulted in escapes, attempted escapes and the amassing of contraband such as mobile phones, security will be tight in Supermax where guards can only interact in pairs with inmates.
In the lead up to Christmas, Corrective Services usually instigates a pre-season crackdown with officers from a special anti-contraband force and dogs searching common areas of the prison to sniff out drugs.
At this time of year, these teams also step up searches of visitors who may try to bring illegal substances into prisons.
Searches unearth stashes of methadone, fruit to make 'jail brew', cannabis, pills, steroids, 'ice', mobile phones and SIM cards, weapons such as shivs made from filed toothbrushes, wood or metal, and other banned items tattoo guns and cigarettes.