Wave energy always seemed like one of those technologies that sounded cool but was always 10 years away from a practical implementation. I think the massive rise in solar over the past decade or so is partly to blame for this as whilst it has its disadvantages it’s readily available and at prices that make even the smallest installations worthwhile. However it seems that whilst the world may have turned its eyes elsewhere an Australian company, Carnegie Wave Energy, has been busy working away in the background on developing their CETO technology that can provide a peak power output of some 240KW. In fact they’ve just installed their first system here in Australia and connected it to the grid to provide power to Western Australia.
The way these pods work is quite fascinating as much of the technology they use has been adapted from offshore oil rigs and drill platforms. The buoy sits a couple meters under the surface and is anchored to the sea bed via a flexible tether. As the waves move past them it pulls on the cable, driving an attached pump that creates high pressure sea water. This is then fed up through a pipe to an onshore facility where it can be used to drive a turbine or a desalination plant. These CETO pods also have some other cool technology in them to be able to cope for rough sea conditions, allowing them to shed energy so that the pumps aren’t overdriven or undue stress is put on the tether.
What’s really impressive however are the power generation figures that they’re quoting for the current systems. The current CETO 5 pod that they’ve been running for some 2000 hours has a peak generation capacity of about 240KW which is incredibly impressive especially when you consider what comparable renewable energy sources require to deliver that. Their next implementation is looking to quadruple that, putting their CETO 6 pod in the 1MW range. Considering that this is a prototype slated to cost about $32 million total that’s not too far off how much other renewables would cost to get to that capacity so it’s definitely an avenue worth investigating.
I’m very interested to see where Carnegie Wave Energy takes this idea as it looks like there’s a lot of potential in this technology they’re developing. With offshore wind always meeting resistance from NIMBYs and those who think they ruin the view something like this has a lot of potential to work in places where the other alternatives aren’t tenable. That, coupled with the fact that they can be run as either power generation units or desalination plants, means that the technology has a very large potential market. Of course the final factor that will make or break the technology is the total installed cost per KW however the numbers are already looking pretty good in that regard so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these CETOs soon.
Whilst I might tend towards nuclear being the best option to satisfy our power needs (fission for now, fusion for the future) I see little reason for us to not pursue renewable technologies. Solar and wind have both proven to be great sources of energy that, even at the micro scale, have proven to be great sources of energy that have great returns on investment. Even the more exotic forms of renewable energy, like wave power and biomass, have proven that they’re more than just another green dream. However the renewable energy which I believe has the most potential is concentrated solar thermal which, if engineered right, can produce power consistently over long periods of time.
Solar thermal isn’t a recent technology with functioning plants operating in Spain since 2007. However compared to most other forms of power generation it’s still in its nascent stages with the numerous different approaches being trialled to figure out how to best set up and maintain a plant of this nature. This hasn’t stopped the plants from generating substantial amounts of power in the interim however with the largest capable of generating 392MW which might not sound like a lot when you compare it to some coal fueled giants but they do it without consuming any non-renewable fuel. What’s particularly exciting for me is that our own CSIRO is working on developing this technology and just passed a historic milestone.
The CSIRO maintains an Energy Center up in Newcastle where they develop both energy efficient building designs as well as renewable energy systems. Of the numerous systems they have there (including a traditional photovoltaic system, wind turbine and gas fired microturbine) are two concentrating solar thermal towers capable of generating 500KW and 1MW respectively. Their larger array recently generated supercritical steam at temperatures that could melt aluminium, an astonishing achievement. This means that their generating turbines can operate far more efficiently than traditional subcritical designs can, allowing them to generate more power. Whilst they admit they’re still a ways off a commercial level implementation the fact they were able to do it with a small array is newsworthy in itself as even the larger plants overseas haven’t achieved such a goal yet.
Looking at the designs they have on their website it seems their design is along the traditional lines of solar thermal, using the steam created to directly feed into the turbine to generate electricity. This, of course, suffers from the age old problem that you only generate power when the sun is shining, limiting its effectiveness to certain parts of the day. The current solution to this is to use a heat storage medium, molten salts being the currently preferred option, to capture heat for later use. Thankfully it seems the CSIRO is investigating different heat storage mediums, including molten salts, to augment their solar thermal plant with. I’m not sure if it would be directly compatible with their current set up (you usually heat the molten salts directly and then use them to generate steam down the line) but it’s good to see that they’re considering all aspects of solar thermal power generation.
Considering just how much of Australia is barren desert that’s bathed in the suns radiation solar thermal seems like the smart choice for generating large amounts of power without the carbon footprint that typically comes along with it. The research work that is being done at the CSIRO and abroad means that this technology is not just an environmentalist’s dream, it’s a tangible product that is already proving to have solid returns on investment. If all goes well we might be seeing our first solar thermal plant sooner than you’d think, something I think all of us can get excited about.
Ah budget time, it’s always an interesting time of year as you get to see what the government has planned for the coming year and the rhetoric spin machines go into overdrive as both sides of parliament start duking it out over every talking point they can find. For me it usually entails a couple hours of good analysis of the changes so I can see if there’s any new measures that I’m able to exploit or if my particular industry might see some changes to encourage or discourage growth. Still it’s no secret that the whole thing is a rather dry affair (I skipped out on a friend’s invitation to have budget drinks at a local pub, even alcohol can’t make the delivery interesting) and I’ll forgive you if you tune out now, but if you read on I promise to make it worth your while 🙂
Rather than link you to a veritable tsunami of articles that analyze the various ins and outs of the budget I’ll just give you a link directly to a quick overview to the whole thing direct from the horse’s mouth. On the surface there’s really nothing amazing about it, no crazy reforms or highly controversial schemes that haven’t already been duked out in front of the public over the past few weeks. Most criticisms I’ve heard of the budget thus far focus on the government’s ability to follow through on the plans, citing past broken promises (ignoring the fact that it wasn’t Labor which caused them to fall through) and making accusations that it all hinges on things that haven’t yet passed parliament. Most of these accusations can be traced right back to Liberal party rhetoric and frankly, whilst they may have raised a couple points that need discussion, I’m starting to get tired of all their talk (more on that later).
One of the biggest things to come out of this budget is the so called Resource Super Profits Tax. In essence it’s the Australian governments attempt to get a bigger slice of the current resource boom that Australia is experience on the back of the heavy demand stemming mostly from China. Initially I was appalled at the idea as it felt a lot like a grab at a profitable industry just to boost the coffers to put the budget back in surplus sooner (which honestly doesn’t matter as much as the Liberals will have you believe). I mean what would happen if we had an IT boom in Australia? Would we then be subject to a super profit tax because we suddenly became desirable for hosting services (which is quite possible if the NBN goes ahead)? Diving deeper however it appears that this idea actually came direct from the mining giants themselves, hoping to seek a simpler system rather than the complicated arrangement they currently have. My sentiments echo that of Martin’s post I just linked; the belly aching we’re seeing from mining companies lobbyists is a disagreement over price more than it is them actually being hurt by this new tax.
An interesting development is the government’s idea of implementing a pre-fill or standard deduction option to the current tax return system. Basically this allows about 25% of all Australians to be able to claim a standard flat fee from the government (to the tune of $500, increasing to $1000 in 2013) without having to go through the hassle of filling out a full tax return. It’s a good idea, one of the few that the government is implementing from the Henry Review, and is very similar to many systems that are implemented in other countries. The main saving comes from the estimated 8.5 hours that every tax paying Australian spends doing their taxes every year, totalling a whopping 100 million hours spent collectively (not including the back end processing that the ATO has to do as well). For someone like me who has a rather complicated tax arrangement it’s really of no benefit but for those 6 million+ Australians it will help I’m really glad to see a measure like this go through, although I’m sure accountants Australia wide are none too happy with it.
Two major areas of funding are infrastructure and renewable energy. Whilst the infrastructure spending is mostly just a continuation of the spending that has been going on for a couple years the resources allocated to renewable energy and a skilled workforce are welcome changes. For renewables (full disclosure: my dad is the teacher of renewable energy at the Belconnen TAFE and I share his passion for it) there’s really nothing to lose in researching such technology. Whilst most are still in their infancy we’re on the cusp of having some real significant breakthroughs and Australia is well positioned to take advantage of them. Really with our vast amounts of unarable land and swaths of coastline we’re an idea place for wind and solar (both photovoltaic and thermal) and with such strong opposition to other clean forms of energy (read:nuclear, despite us having about 40% of the world’s uranium in our soil) renewables are the way to go, and I’m going to keenly watch all developments in this space.
There are some benefits that also speak to me personally, like the reduction in company tax rate and instant asset write off for small businesses. As someone who’s just about to lash out into the cruel world of being a technology start up any benefit I can get my hands on will be gladly taken and made use of. All the bits of technology I require to get my projects underway neatly fit under that $5000 limit for instant deduction, hopefully softening the blow somewhat to my own personal finances whilst I attempt to get my business off the ground. Whilst these changes are the ones that hinge on the super tax going through I’d still bet on it being passed, albeit in a different form to what it is now.
Now that I’ve gotten that all out of the way I’d like to take some time to launch a load flame laden bloggery right at the Liberal party. For the past 5 months the Labor government has been under constant attack from the Liberal party who have been taking every shot they possibly can whilst failing to deliver anything substantial of their own. To be honest I had expected as much as after the leadership spill saw Howard’s attack dog Tony Abbott take the opposition leader’s crown. Whilst I can appreciate that criticism of any policy is required to make sure it is robust I’ve heard little to no arguments that can be rightly substantiated with hard facts. That usually wouldn’t be a problem but it seems that the constant barrage of vitriol from the Liberal party is starting to have a dramatic effect on the Labor government’s approval rating with the populace at large, and that’s worrying for a couple reasons.
It’s no secret that I’m liberal (little l there folks) with a slight bent for libertarian went it suits me, so you should probably take this all with a little bit of conservative salt. The current rhetoric from the Liberal party is hinging on old ideals that Labor can’t be trusted with money (they always spend it~¹) and that the Liberals are the best to handle the economy (they always run a surplus and interest rates are always lower~). However if you do even a small amount of research you’ll see that traditionally the Labor government has been in power when the world economy at large is suffering. Keynesian economics advocates government deficit spending in time of a recession and it has been proven time and time again that this either softens the blow or stop a recession from happening entirely. Liberal rhetoric would have you believe that if the government did nothing we would’ve been fine regardless which shows a reckless disregard for the facts and decades of research into the matter. The interest rate line is dragged out time and time again, but isn’t it strange that the last year has seen interest rates lower than that of the previous governments entire time in office? That would be the line I’d tow if I wasn’t so blind to the fact that interest rates are subject to external pressures that are not under any Australian government’s control. The sooner this myth and the fear that comes with it dies the better.
Then there’s the idea that the Liberal government would do better than Labor at the helm of this country. Right now nothing could be further from the truth as whilst the party has managed to stabilize itself for the past 5 months it has spent most of that time being cynical whilst doing little other work. You’ve got an ultra-conservative at the helm, one climate change denier (he is a NOT SKEPTIC) in the front bench (with one recently leaving) and none that seem to harbor any respect for fact and rational thought, although I fully admit this could be far more due to party politics and such issues being dealt with behind closed doors. Currently it seems that the public perception is that they’re not sure about the Rudd government but they have yet to seriously consider the alternative: an Abbott government. Pressing a few not-so-politically inclined friends on the matter shows that they’d rather not have the latter, but hadn’t considered opposing Rudd meant getting Abbott as PM.
The budgets are always a big talking point for both parties and even more so in an election year. The Rudd government has delivered a sensible budget that aims to continue the economic growth that it managed to sustain throughout a global recession and keep Australia being the economic power that it has become. The rhetoric from the Liberal government should be analyzed and then discarded for the rubbish that it is and hopefully the Australian public sees that the current government is doing the right thing by us all and the alternative is a much darker Australia for us all.
¹FYI a tilde at the end of a sentence on the Internet typically indicates a sarcastic, flirty or playful remark.