Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Electricity out of Thin Light

In my previous blog, I posted about the technique used in converting the available kinetic energy of flowing water into mechanical energy via a water turbine to generate hydroelectricity. Compared to the rest of the world, us Australians have been gifted with an alternative energy resource in great abundance: sunlight.

Here in the Down Under, Australia has some pretty intense sunlight and heat, with U.V-triggered melanomas being recognised as our “national cancer”, and being the host to enormous bushfires that can destroy millions of acres of land.

But what if this apparent curse could be turned into a blessing?

As Australia is a large island-continent, we do have quite a considerable amount of space, particularly in the middle, but strangely, we only inhabit the coastline. We don’t seem to fully utilise the whole surface area of our country. Well, here’s about to be a game-changer.

Being one of the leading nations in using solar-powered generators and reducing the greenhouse effect and carbon footprint on the earth, we are constantly offered – no, actively encouraged – to invest in solar panels. Thousands of new houses across the country are being built with solar power generators fitted in to the roofs seems to be standard now.

What this means is that every house can now take positive action against global warming and reducing their energy bills by a considerable amount, even being given the option to feed the excess generated power back into the grid and be financially reimbursed. At a currently competitive financial cost, everybody wins with solar panels on their roofs.

Despite all of its Excellency, however, solar panels on houses with 21st century families are loaded with electricity-chewing devices. Solar cells can only cover a small portion of the total amount of energy used in a house with the main power, usually coal-power plants which still use massive amounts of fossil fuels and still emit astronomical amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

So to reduce our carbon footprint even more, why don’t we swap the obsolete fuel technology with a more modern approach? Like, a solar power farm?

Well, ‘why don’t we…’ no more. The tech is here and it’s here in great numbers.

Image source:

This solar farm in Ontario, Canada, has 1.3 million photovoltaic panels at its disposal, and when the sun shines, it is estimated that it would generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 12,000 homes.

If we combined the solar panels on our roof with a farm-style solar plant across our vast country, we would not only axe our carbon emissions, but electricity prices will drop in the future in relation to the oil and coal counter-parts. The lower amounts of oil, coal and gas we use then, would mean we would have more to export, and thus, there would be an economic boom that financially benefits Australia, and doesn’t require the immediate termination of contracts and jobs between the industry and private enterprises or government. Inevitably, the price per weight of resource will also slightly reduce, but because Australian citizens will use less, or even no, non-renewable energy sources, the net profit on the global market could potentially be higher post-construction than before the carbon offset.

Australia has far more useable land than its European counterparts, yet countries like Germany still produced 473 Watts per person compared to our relatively feeble 176. When the two land sizes and population densities per km2 are compared, it is obvious that we are not fully utilising the land we have for renewable energy purposes. Despite Germany having an overall population of more than three times that of Australia, they still produced over two and a half times more Watts per person in solar energy than us. Further details can be examined in the table below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 9.13.46 PM
Table source:
File name: National Survey Report of PV Power Applications in Australia 2014, authors: Warwick Johnston, Chris Taeni, Renate Egan  /  Sunwiz (1-2), APVI (3)

It’s time to update our medieval means to an end for power and go in the direction the technology is pointing us. To build a sustainable future for all Australians and to raise the bar for the rest of the world, renewable energy is a must.



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This entry was posted on May 13, 2016 by in Burwood - Friday 11am.

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