Light, Energy and the Environment Congress plenary is being held. The US Ambassador introduced Dr. Steven Chu, Professor of Physics and Molecular & Cellular Physiology and former U.S. Secretary of Energy. Dr. Chu was the first energy secretary who was a scientist and was charged with increasing renewable energy use.
This acceptance of the need for action on climate change by the US Government contrasts with Australia, where reports indicate that the Australian Trade and Investment Minister will be sent to climate change
talks in Peru, to ensure that the Foreign Minister does not agree to carbon emission reduction measures. The support for Dr. Chu's visit to Australia appears to be a continuation of the criticism of Australia's climate change policy by the US government.
Dr. Chu pointed out that there were significant oil shale deposits yet to be exploited around the world. He also criticized Russia for warning of the environmental effects of shale oil exploitation in Improper while proceeding with it in Russia. He suggested that the world should not wait for this oil to run out before changing to renewable energy sources.
Dr. Chu the drew parallels between anti-smoking campaigns and global warming. The public health problem is that there are decades between the time a person starts smoking and resulting disease. This makes it difficult to first find the cause-effect relationship, then convince the public to act and finally for health to improve. Dr. Chu pointed out that the ratio of isotopes of carbon can be used to show the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is due to human activity and is not due to natural causes. He pointed out that the effect of increased carbon dioxide levels will take hundreds or a thousand years to recover.
Dr. Chu claimed that wind and solar power will be cheaper than coal and nuclear power within ten years. He pointed out that when the environmental cost of carbon dioxide pollution is included, renewable energy is already cheaper than coal (obviously this does not apply to Nuclear power). Dr. Chu predicted a cost of 50 cents per watt for solar panels by 2020. However, Professor Loren Brandt previously pointed out vulnerability in the Chinese solar industry, which dominates the world market. Also Dr Renate Egan, has pointed out that by 2013 the cost of the PV panels for a domestic solar
installation was less than the cost of the system. The installation cost is lower with large scale industrial installations. Dr. Chu mentioned that companies such as Solar City lease domestic roofs for energy production and the regulatory costs could be reduced to make this more efficient. Also he suggested that production line techniques could be sued for installation. But I suggest there is considerable scope for Australian companies to innovate in how to sell and install solar power.
Dr. Chu is also be speaking at the ANU ECI Energy Update, next Tuesday, 9 December 2014.
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