Climate Change & Solar Power

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Last week in Melbourne, Australia I went to a series of lectures, discussions and Q&A sessions on climate change. Presented as the 2010 instalment of the Deakins Lectures, named after Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second prime minister, the programme took place under the Wheeler Centre umbrella. You’ll find videos and other information about the events on the Wheeler Centre website.

The sessions included philosophy and ethics – are we selfishly subjecting the developing world to the evil effects of our first world passion for over consumption? The economics discussions included the big question, does prosperity have to be inextricably linked to growth? And of course there was politics, with representatives of Labor, the Liberals and the Greens all blaming each other for not facing up to the problem.

Politics discussion
Perhaps it’s my own earlier life as an engineer which made the technological insights the most interesting. We’re so enthusiastic about coal and gas power generation in Australia that we’ve barely scratched the surface of alternative energy use, despite the potential for solar power. Michael Bielinski (emergent technologies at Siemens) touched on his company’s involvement with the Desertec concept which aims to generate solar thermal and wind power across a sweep of the Middle East and North Africa and then transmit the power under the Mediterranean to Europe with HVDC (high voltage direct current) transmissions lines, a new science which is much more efficient (although also more expensive) than current AC lines. Australia’s power requirements are concentrated on the east and west coasts, but a string of solar power stations across the country could be linked by HVDC lines to the coast in both directions. Exciting ideas.