Fifteen years ago, a scientist at UNSW (one of the world leaders in solar energy tech) said that all of Australia - the entire country - could be powered by a solar farm around 2% the size of Tasmania.
Fair to say that Australia's population has grown a bit since then, but today I got curious about all of the power options available to us at the moment.
There are countless credible, semi-credible, and less-than-credible sources of info around this, so I'm hoping I've landed somewhere in the middle.
Of the major renewable and non-renewable energy sources, there are 5 of each:
I put an asterisk next to biomass because it's a contentious one. It's essentially using plants for energy, but in various ways. One way is simply burning (like firewood). Of course plants regenerate, so it's "renewable" in that sense. There is an extreme argument though, that we could burn through all the available biomass fuel, and be left with none (very extreme). Also burning isn't the only method of extracting energy from plants - so it's contentious.
All of the non-renewables are limited. There is a set amount of everything that will run out, and they way they need to be used produces a by-product that is or can be bad (nuclear is arguably the safest and most economical, aside from that it can explode catastrophically and leave radioactive fallout). Removing non-renewables from the ground and consuming them are both bad.
Renewables are basically unlimited, and have little to no by-products. The sun's got a good 4-5 billion years left, so that's not running out. Magma heat will radiate up, wind will blow, and water will move. As long as that happens, we just need to be able to capture energy from all of them, and we know how to do that really well.
For example, geothermal energy is used in volcanically-active countries like Iceland, where they capture the heat from the rift in the continental plates below, and distribute it via it's 5 geothermal power plants. Almost all of Iceland's power is generated from renewable sources - as in literally 99.9%. Geothermal is around 25%, hydro is 75% and only 0.1% is imported for some petrol uses.
Now sure, renewables have challenges (eg, the power and freight required to make solar panels and turbines) but still, doesn't that make the idea of building new coal mines seem insane!?
So... Australia is kinda insane.
Australia currently has 72 new coal projects, and 44 new gas and oil projects under development... we're already the largest coal exporter in the world, before you count these new projects.
Remember that solar farm that could power Australia - the one that only needs to be 2% the size of Tassie? That's roughly this big:
Oversimplified sure - but that little pink dot could power the whole country. And every single country on the planet has a viable option for powering itself on 100% renewable energy.
Ready to move your money out of big banks and super funds that are paying for all those new coal mines yet? 😜
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