Of renewables, Robocops and risky business

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What a fuel: one particular of Moreland&#039s new hydrogen-run rubbish vans. Takver/Flickr.com, CC BY

A when in the past I questioned what kinds of men and women will direct our terrific vitality transition.

Well, some of them appear to be to be dwelling in North Melbourne. Previously this thirty day period I watched as Victoria’s Weather Transform Minister Lily D’Ambrosio announced A$1 million for a hydrogen refuelling station to electricity zero-emission neighborhood govt autos. The revenue, from the New Electricity Positions Fund, will sit together with A$1.5 million that Moreland Council is investing around a few many years.

The Council hopes that rainwater it harvests from its structures can be turned into gasoline, with the assistance of electricity from its photo voltaic panels and wind turbines, which can in convert be used to run its fleet of garbage vans. If (and it is an if) every thing functions, then citizens get much less air and sound air pollution, and the council gets a lesser vitality invoice and carbon footprint. You can read my account of the launch here.

Of training course, there are doubters. Just one commenter underneath my report wrote:

It amazes me how any individual could however believe [hydrogen fuel cells] are a action in the ideal course for domestic land transportation. Their inherent deficiency of efficiency compared to batteries, issues with storage, explosion threat and the price of setting up the help infrastructure has been shown innumerable periods.

Yet Japan is preparing for 800,000 hydrogen-fuelled cars by 2030. Are all of these governments truly backing the incorrect horse?

This is the nub of the difficulty: technological results frequently develop into apparent soon after the simple fact, and rarely just before. Just after a “dominant design” has survived the battles then hindsight, through historians, tells us it was noticeable all together which style of gizmo was likely to win.

Scholars have prolonged pointed out that this is a fallacy – starting with the humble bicycle. The real truth is that technological innovation is not the clean up predictable method that pristine white lab coats and gleaming laboratories would have us believe.

The historical past of know-how is littered with the carcasses of exceptional thoughts that ended up killed by inferior promoting (Betamax tapes, any person?). In the meantime there are the accomplishment tales that only took place by serendipity – these as Viagra, text messages, and Submit-it notes. At times technologies simply really don’t capture the community eye, and their proponents withdraw them and repurpose them (hi there Google Glass).

Even the most thriving technologies have teething complications. Tests prototypes is not for the faint-hearted (as any one who’s witnessed Robocop will vividly keep in mind).

If there is no very clear and apparent technological route to adhere to, then an sector can stop up “perseverating” – repeating the identical thing insistently and redundantly. As these two experiments present, the American auto marketplace could not come to a decision what must change the inside combustion motor, and so hedged their bets by flitting between different flavours of the month, from biofuels to LPG to hybrids and every little thing in amongst.

Dangerous company

This is what tends to make Moreland Council’s choices so attention-grabbing. It could possibly make “more sense” to wait around and see, to enable another person else run all the risks, and then be a fast follower, with the positive aspects and down sides that involves. But of class if everybody does that, then very little at any time will get finished.

Meanwhile, if civil modern society is pushing for improve, and a council’s personal political makeup shifts (the Greens did properly in the last nearby elections), and there are determined officers, then an experiment can be performed. Coincidentally adequate, Moreland Council’s chief exective Nerina Di Lorenzo lately concluded a PhD on regional governments’ attitudes to chance. Inside of a yr or three she’ll no question have sufficient product for a publish-doc.

Meanwhile, South Australian Leading Jay Weatherill seems to have dropped all hope that the black hole-sized vacuum in federal power and climate plan will at any time be fastened. He has famously commissioned the world’s most important lithium battery and, now, a extended-awaited concentrated photo voltaic thermal ability plant in Port Augusta.

Learning approach

What we are viewing in Moreland is a local council and its condition govt performing alongside one another (what teachers snappily simply call “multilevel governance”), although additional west we have an additional point out govt that has fixed to force its chips onto the environmentally friendly baize and spin the roulette wheel.

Will these experiments do the job? Will the suitable lessons be uncovered, from both failure or success (or far more likely, residing as we do in the authentic entire world, a mixture of each)? How can the “successful” technologies (having said that that is outlined) be scaled up at huge pace, so we somehow clamber up the understanding curve faster than we slither up the Keeling Curve of atmospheric carbon dioxide stages?

Can it be finished? We need to have industrial quantities of luck, and optimism. And severely – what do we have to eliminate by seeking, other than the adore of some vested interests?

The Conversation

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