Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Reducing the footprint of renewables through technology

Geothermal power station. Image / iStock
Geothermal power station. Image / iStock

Earlier this month, I wrote about how awesome it was that the Brooklyn wind turbine in Wellington was getting an upgrade.

If not just for the reason that renewables reduce our carbon footprint, they also reduce the impact on air pollution that fossil fuels have, meaning that there are less health problems from fine particles being breathed in.

As usual, a bunch of sceptics (or are they paid lobbyists?) had a go at me in the comments section, trying to challenge the idea that this renewable energy solution uses more carbon to be made than it reduces over its lifespan.

So I thought it was time to clear this up.

The Guardian reports that the sceptics who have lobbied against wind turbines in the UK, where they provide 10 per cent of the nations electricity, have simply got their facts wrong.

This published study, shows that a wind turbine will pay back its carbon footprint within five to eight months of being commissioned. Given that the old turbine stood generating clean power for 22 years and even then is actually being refurbished to continue in this selfless task, I can now saw that the cynical commenters can eat their hats.

In Spain, wind provides about 50 per cent of the national power requirements, which I think is an amazing stat that they can be proud of.

I do however understand the need to analyse these solutions before commissioning them to ensure that they are a good idea as the investments can be huge.

When it comes to geothermal energy, it costs a lot to install, but can continue generating electricity for a very long time, because the volcanic heat just keeps on going.

But geothermal plants are not perfect. Although CO2 emissions for geothermal power plants are normally in the range of 10-400 g/kWh compared to 900-1000 g/kWh for oil and coal-fired plants or 400 g/kWh for gas-fired combined cycle plant, they are still having an impact as they produce electricity because some emissions are released during the generation process.

Due to their amazingly reliable output over time and knowing that there are a lot of hot springs around New Zealand where natural energy could potentially be harvested, I thought, would it not be great to have a way of reducing their footprint while they are in operation.

Then I found that once again, science and technology have combined to produce what could be an ultimate solution for renewable energy in areas that are blessed with volcanic heat.

Check out the video here from The New York Times.

Scientists in Iceland have been experimenting how to inject greenhouse gases into the ground for permanent storage with some amazing results.

Should we explore this technology for New Zealand geothermal assets?

It seems like a great idea to me, especially if renewable power starts to get used for necessities such as transport which would further reduce our emissions and clean up our air - particularly in cities where air pollution is a major health cost.

The Ministry for the Environment has put a lofty, but I think awesome goal on paper for this - with an aim that our vehicle fleet will comprise upwards of 250,000 (approximately 8 per cent) of electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrids).

To me this seems like a no brainer. If we have the natural resources like wind, rain, sun and underground heat that can produce renewable electricity, we should harness it in the best way possible to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health.

So I think we should invest in research and development of clean electricity and infrastructure, such as electric buses that would get cars off the road without belching diesel fumes into the lungs of cyclists who are doing their bit to help this problem.

What else could we do?

Debate on this article is now closed.

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