Member messages - Autumn 2020

  • Autumn 2020
  • Member Messages

Letter of the month

I enjoyed reading your Mike Munro article in the Summer 2019 issue of Our Generation. It is refreshing to read something about Australian bushrangers that does not refer to their legendary status, as if they were heroes. They were, in fact, robbers and murderers. 

I have been investigating my family history over the last few years, and discovered that my second great-grandfather’s brother was Sergeant 2nd Class Andrew Sutherland, a New South Wales Police officer. He was shot while on duty at Binni Creek near Cowra on May 1, 1872. 

On that day, he was returning to Cowra from Bathurst Court. En route he was told two offenders wanted for robbery, George Gray and William Bristow, were at Daniel Horan’s hut at Binni Creek, 12 miles from Cowra. The sergeant rode over to investigate and as he approached the door of the dwelling, two offenders emerged and shot and killed him. 

Gray and Bristow were subsequently arrested but both were later released without charge. No one was convicted of the crime. A plaque now commemorates Sergeant Sutherland at Cowra Police Station.

- Judith

Concern over renewables

The second paragraph of the article in the Summer issue of Our Generation gave me concern.

It stated, “action should be taken[regarding climate change] even if this raises living costs”. In following paragraphs, statements were made such as “older Australians can play an active role in protecting the environment,including purchasing solar panels; recycling waste and reducing waste; investing in large-scale energy storage."

Please allow me to explain that solar panels are set to become one of the most environmentally unfriendly items of this century—they have a limited lifespan, are virtually non-recyclable and will dominate the waste disposal systems incoming years. Sure, they look good right now and sure they produce cheap energy but at what cost to the environment in future years?

Large-scale energy storage—I assume you mean battery systems? Again, another huge waste issue when they eventually fail. Even the highly priced lithium types are doomed now that the world has opened its eyes to the lucrative and very efficient hydrogen fuel cells being developed. Hydrogen powered vehicles are touted to achieve extraordinarily high mileage figures without any environment pollution. It is not a new fuel—it has been used for generations when fossil fuels were in short supply, but modern technology has made it very economical and very efficient. Hydrogen is the fuel system that will [and is] replacing fossil fuels.

In a few years fossil fuels will have become too expensive for general use due to decreasing demand and to competition from hydrogen fuel cells, so please do not encourage your readers to invest in systems that will very soon be outdated and more costly to maintain e.g.replacing failed lithium batteries.

- Alan

We asked the experts at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, to provide a response to the points raised in Mr Duncan’s correspondence.

The environmental benefits of solar PV are expected to greatly outweigh the impacts of current rates of raw material disposal. Our studies show extremely low degradation rates for modern solar panels, which are easily expected to produce close to their rated power output for at least 20 years, and could continue to produce useful power for many years after that. The panel composition is predominantly glass, with an easily removable aluminium frame, and some very thin silicon cells (silicon is made from sand). Studies have shown that the very small amount of lead in the solder used in silicon solar panels does not escape undamaged panels, and only escapes damaged panels in extremely small quantities. At present it is uneconomic to remove and reprocess the silicon cells from the glass. Until the technology makes this possible, it would be helpful to put in place a sensible framework of regulations to manage the impact on landfill volume and the minor issue of toxicity. In response to these potential issues, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is presently investing research funding in projects to advance PV recycling technology.

- Dr Chris Fell, PV Performance Laboratory and Photovoltaics Development

Battery systems have varying rates of recycling and end-of-life management. For example, 80 per cent of lead acid batteries sold in Australia are recovered and recycled. Our main issue at present is the low volume (three to five per cent) of the handheld small portable batteries, which includes lithium. For lithium batteries, only about 25 per cent of the materials are currently recovered—with the implementation of several state bans on battery and e-waste entering landfill, alongside the developing battery stewardship scheme, this will change. There is a lot of focus nationally and internationally on R&D to take newer recovery technologies into the marketplace, especially within the lithium battery value chain. Given the complexity of our energy and storage needs, it is more likely that we won’t have a single, clear “winner” in technology type, rather a share among a range of different technologies.

- Dr Anand Bhatt, Electrochemical Energy Storage

Hydrogen is expected to play a critical role in decarbonising the Australian economy in addition to other forms of storage—not as a substitution. Hydrogen offers the main pathway for renewable energy export, replacement of natural gas for industrial heat, production of synthetic fuels for aviation and as a replacement in many heavy transport applications such as trucks. Batteries offer a solution for applications where weight is less critical such as cars and short-term grid storage. If the electrical power used to process battery materials and manufacture batterypacks is sourced from renewables, then it is possible to produce battery electric vehicles and storage systems with a relatively small environmental footprint. This can be further reduced by recycling batteries. The other key differentiator between hydrogen and battery technologies is efficiency. Batteries have a roundtrip efficiency more than double that of a hydrogen cycle. So, while batteries have a higher upfront cost, they are more suited to being frequently cycled. A large amount of energy can be stored relatively cheaply in a large fuel tank of hydrogen,making it better suited to applications where there are fewer, longer cycles. There will be a range of technologies that will be required for Australia to meet its current international obligations including solar PV, battery storage and hydrogen. These technologies will have to be used in combination to achieve the lowest cost and most environmentally benign solution.

- Dr Chris Munnings, Electrochemical Energy Storage

More tech torment

In response to Jaymee McD and the Tech Troubles item on page 4, Summer 2019 issue:

Like Jaymee McD, I also struggled to master the manoeuvres of accessing and navigating the online site myGov. In fact, after my last failed attempt, I would rather wrestle 11 annoyed emus in a stagnant swamp with one arm tied behind my back, than try again. My failed attempt left me confused and convinced that my problem mattered not a jot.

- Neil

I constantly have the same problems with organisations expecting tech miracles from an almost 80-year-old. I am very tech savvy but the need for so many passwords in so many differing formats has me beaten. And as for the MyGov site ...I have developed a response to staff in such situations: I smile sweetly and say, when I was young we didn’t have a phone or car or TV. What gives me great joy is knowing that when you reach my age, the techies will have developed things that are too hard for you! They usually look at me blankly (silly old duffer writ plain on their face) for a moment and then the penny drops. In regard to the “penny drops”, they are unlikely to know of the days when a penny had value, and the expression is likely to have originated when we used penny-in-the-slot public toilets and when the penny dropped the door opened.

- Jennie 

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