Nuclear power now not likely
In the aftermath of the appalling earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the still unfolding nuclear power station disaster, there has been an inevitable and smug “we told you so” reaction from the anti-nuclear brigade in Australia. Never mind that the nuclear reactors actually survived the most severe earthquake in Japan’s history and that it was the following tsunami that caused all the damage. Never mind that any nuclear power station which might (now possibly never) be installed in Australia would be a modern design with far more safeguards than the old reactors in Japan. Never mind that Australia is not subject to severe earthquakes and tsunamis in any case. This is a major setback for nuclear power which will last many years.
So the rallying cry from the greens is that we must rely on renewables, which as most people are now aware, are much more expensive than coal or gas-fired power stations, and which require back-up with an equivalent capacity of yes, coal or gas-fired power stations.
On a related topic, concerning that dreadful “carbon pollution” and “climate change” (caused by you and me), is a recent press release from Ausgrid, which is the new name for Energy Australia, the major electricity retailer (recently sold to TRUenergy) in Sydney. Ausgrid are urging people who own electric hot water systems to hurry and replace them while government subsidies are still available to install “energy efficient” gas-fired, heat pump and solar hot-water systems.
Readers may not be aware of it but electric hot-water systems have not been allowed in any new homes or dwellings since last year and no such systems will be able to be replaced from 2012.
Now it is not clear just how universal this ban will be but there are vast numbers of hot water systems installed in home units, offices, shops and commercial premises where it just won’t be possible to replace them with gas-fired or solar systems. Is this yet another misguided government attempt to make us all more energy efficient? By the way, the press release includes this ridiculous statement: “Every time you have a hot shower powered by electricity, you’re using the same amount of energy that it takes to run 150 televisions at once”.
Now it is true that electric hot-water can account for around 35-40% of total household electricity consumption but the above statement is highly emotive rubbish. Yes, the heat energy being delivered from your shower head is at very high rate (albeit it has been accumulated in the tank over a period of maybe half an hour or so) but that is akin to saying that the petrol coming from the bowser at your local filling station is equivalent to a large power station – equally ridiculous.
I feel that the whole process of using government subsidies to get people to replace perfectly functioning hot-water systems is another huge waste of resources, especially as those same systems may last for many more years (particularly if their sacrificial anodes are replaced every five years or so). Yes, gas-fired systems are more energy efficient but the cost of operation under present tariffs is about the same as for an electric off-peak system. Solar hot-water systems are generally more efficient but unless properly installed, they can use lots of electricity or gas in their booster when the sun is not present.
So even if a conversion from electricity to gas or solar is promoted, the overall energy savings may not be that large. And the process of encouraging people to scrap functioning units simply ignores the large amount of natural resources which have to be used to manufacture the new unit.
For my part, I am going to keep my off-peak electric hot water system going for as long as I can. This may not conform to the current government doctrine but I regard it as being more environmentally and fiscally responsible.
You can find the current federal government edict on hot-water systems at: www.climatechange.gov.au/what-you-need-to-know/appliances-and-equipment/hot-water-systems/phase-out