Light at the End of the Tunnel

The switch from coal power to renewable energy is evidently on the way … at least in sunny Queensland where I live.  A friend who works in the human resources department of a major electrical supply company tells me that she is laying off staff.   I reminded her that, just a few years ago, her company was taking on new staff and spending vast amounts to upgrade and expand its network of power lines.  She said recent innovations, in solar power, have changed all that.

In particular, the cost of solar panels has come down and the problem of storing electricity has, at last, been solved.  High-tech batteries will soon be standard features in ordinary homes and businesses.

The batteries will be charged during the day and used at night.  Electrical power will be generated where it is consumed and the role of the power lines will be reduced … hence the need to lay off staff.

It seems that my dreams of a sustainable energy future are getting a little closer to reality.  There is no shortage of energy.  We are bombarded by it.  The problem is to capture and store it.

As a lecturer in physics at the University of Cape Town, I used to ask my students to calculate how much it would cost the local municipality if it had to pay for sunlight at the same rate that it charged for electrical power.  No clever calculations were needed.  Simple sums told you that Cape Town would be bankrupt within minutes … just like all other cities.
The magic bullet is the Lithium-ion battery.  In various forms, it has been around for a long time.  The problem has been to produce it on a commercial scale, at a price that makes renewable energy competitive with fossil fuels.  That problem has evidently been solved … or is near to solution.

I sympathise with those, in the electrical supply industry, who find that their skills are no longer needed.  That happens to people who specialise.  I trained as an astrophysicist and it happened to me when the heat came off the Space Race.

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