Ill wind blowing over turbines in Tasmania
A plan to generate renewable energy by building wind power turbines on the top of a Hobart office block has been rejected by local planning authority the Hobart City Council.
The news has spawned a fusillade of responses, both critical and supportive, from a strange brew of sources.
As the ABC’s Tony Eastley put it in his report on AM, “Tasmania prides itself on being clean and green, but controversy is never too far away.”
Writers to local newspapers described it as a “ridiculous decision” and noted how Tasmania “needs to become a leader in renewable energy”.
The knock-back evoked some quite personal responses such as one correspondent who said she was “deeply frustrated”, another stating “the Hobart City Council has rightly been held up to ridicule nationally and internationally for its decision” which was seen as being based on the “shallowest of aesthetic reasons.”
Just as strong are those who see the proposed wind turbines as an “ugly, ad hoc plan” and “inappropriate in the urban environment either because of scale or noise.” One opponent wrote “ being green is about not screwing up our environment, including our natural and built environment.”
The Tasmanian Government was hoping the turbines might get the go-ahead. The Minister Assisting the Premier on Climate Change, Lisa Singh, said “I think this is a lost opportunity by the council, which could have taken a national lead.”
Set against this localised decision is a broader landscape of the future of urban transportation systems in capital cities across Australia. Advances in vehicle and associated technology mean that the very nature of those systems will depend on the increased availability of electricity. From a carbon reduction perspective, it would clearly be preferable if this was renewably-generated electricity.
In the opinion of scientists and technical engineers researching this future, one way forward is to re-invent Australia’s urban transportation system through greater use of hybrid, battery-electric and plug-in electric vehicles. Part of this future would have to include the utilisation of the urban structure itself to provide additional electricity capacity and generation opportunities.
At the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) Alternative Transport Fuels Symposium held at the RACV in Melbourne last year, delegates heard from a number of eminent scientists including a compelling presentation on sustainable urban mobility from renowned architect and urban planner Professor William Mitchell, Director of the Smart Cities Group at the MIT Media Laboratory in the USA.
Professor Mitchell’s futuristic view takes the often-traveled information superhighway as its metaphor and describes a “mobility Internet, integrated with energy and information networks.” Mitchell looks at “entire cities as virtual power plants” with a “smart distributed power generation system” composed of effective utilisation of “inexpensive, off-peak power and clean but intermittent power sources” to apply to the urban transportation task. These power sources would include wind, solar and others.
The future of urban vehicles in particular, for Mitchell, will be the City Car: a shared-use, two-passenger, fully electric and robotised car that folds and stacks like the airport luggage carts that many people would be familiar with. Customers swipe their credit card, pick up a car from a stack, and deposit at another stack when finished. Recharging happens at each stack. Again, the urban electricity grid and supply is fundamental to this model.
Motorists have been changing their opinions in recent years about cars and the environment and what can be done to reduce their impact. Increasingly, alternative-powered vehicles are seen as a solution to our dependence on conventionally-fueled vehicles. This reflects what is happening in the international marketplace as well.
A national survey of motorists’ attitudes conducted for the Australian Automobile Association – of which RACT is a member – by ANOP Research Services Pty Ltd in 2007 showed that around eight in ten motorists (79%) claimed to be ‘concerned’ about the effect of motor vehicles on the environment, up from 64% in 2003.
In the same survey, motorists were asked about ‘realistic solutions’ to reduce the impact of cars on the environment. “Driving less” (12%) and “improving vehicle emissions” (13%) were favoured by some respondents, while “alternative fuels” (29%) and “improving public transport” (30%) were considered to be more important in addressing the impact.
More motorists now suggest the development of “alternative cars” as a solution, with 43% of respondents nominating this as their number one realistic solution to reducing the effect of cars on the environment. We expect this number to have increased again in our next survey, due later this year.
Interestingly, this response is up from only 13% in the same survey in 2003, reflecting the significant advances in technology and innovative design in the area of alternative vehicles during this short period of time. Much of this development has been in the hybrid-electric and fully electric vehicle market.
An example of this is Mitsubishi’s feasibility study of its first fully-electric production vehicle, the i MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) currently underway in Australia. This latest-generation vehicle utilises a large-capacity lithium-ion battery system and a compact, high-output electric motor in place of a traditional petrol power train.
The i MiEV requires seven hours plugged in to a normal domestic household power supply for a full battery charge. Mitsubishi claims that the running costs are 33% lower than a comparable-sized petrol car.
But where will all the extra electricity required come from ?
At the 2008 ATSE Symposium the Director of the CSIRO’s Energy Transformed program, John Wright, estimated that vehicle kilometers travelled in Australia would increase from around 200 billion km to about 325 billion km by 2050.
Of this, however, only 50 billion km would be traveled by solely internal combustion powered vehicles. According to Wright’s model, by 2050 at least 125 billion km (or 40%) would be traveled by 100% electric and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles.
Wright argued that electricity as a transport fuel “will steadily grow and in the very long term will become predominant.”
If the future of urban transportation is electrification of the wider fleet, and innovative electric urban vehicles - as many in the field argue it will be – then we will need to use our cities’ structures to generate, store and distribute electricity.
Like it or not, the angular blades and whirring revolutions of renewable energy generation mechanisms will more than likely become part of our future cityscapes.
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