«IMAGINING AUSTRALIA’S ENERGY SERVICES FUTURE Alan K Pearsa a Adjunct Professor, RMIT University, GPO Box 2476V Melbourne 3001 Australia email ...»
• Typical computer centres are very wasteful, not just because they are full of equipment that is often poorly power managed, but because the airconditioning systems used are often extremely inefficient (and expensive to maintain). For example, one computer centre assessed by the author used over 40% of an office tenancy’s total electricity use. Modern computer equipment is much less sensitive to temperature variations, with some equipment being designed to operate atop mobile phone towers, and it is also becoming much more efficient. Careful layout of computer centres to ensure adequate airflow, combined with power management and improving efficiency, means that the need for airconditioning can be reduced and, in some cases, avoided . Of course, in the longer term, the need for data centres may be almost eliminated as decentralised systems dominate.
• As noted above, commercial sector refrigeration equipment is typically very inefficient. Improved insulation, high efficiency compressors, multi-stage compressors, high efficiency fans and fan motors, larger condensers and evaporators and optimisation of management can deliver large savings. However, energy waste from open refrigeration units may need to be dealt with by regulation, so that there is a level playing field: otherwise marketing staff are likely to resist measures they believe will disadvantage their stores relative to competitors.
• Other energy use includes cooking, lifts and escalators, and a myriad of miscellaneous equipment such as coffee makers, health care equipment, and so on. In every case, there is potential for large savings through improved design and management. For example, an analysis by the author indicated that, at best, typical chip fryers were 25 percent efficient, with large standby losses. A coffee maker analysed by the author in a fast food restaurant was found to be less than 10 percent efficient.
Overall, there seems to be potential to reduce energy consumption per unit of activity in the commercial sector by at least 75 percent. However, if economic growth continues, it will also be necessary to drive ongoing fundamental change in the way services are provided, for example by greater use of the Internet and other communications technologies, further reduction in the time spent in hospital for surgical procedures, and so on.
5 Industry (including Mining and Agriculture)
In 1999, Australian agriculture generated 3.3 percent of GDP, while mining generated 4.6 percent and manufacturing generated 13.3 percent. Rural activity employed 821 000 workers, while mining employed 78 000 and manufacturing employed 1.1 million. In 1999-2000, rural activities generated 21.2 percent of export revenue while the resources sector (including metal processing) was responsible for 34.8 percent and other manufacturing 21.5 percent . So, while these sectors are not large employers or contributors to the local economy in comparison to the services sector, they play a major role in managing Australia’s Balance of Payments, by offsetting imports of manufactured goods and services. On average, nontransport energy is a small input cost factor for Australian industry, averaging less than 2 percent of input costs. For a small number of energy intensive industries, energy comprises 10 to 30 percent of input costs.
Over the past three decades, the major areas of growth in Australian industrial energy use have been mining, non-ferrous metal production (mainly aluminium) and food processing. Energy use in the steel industry, and in the glass, bricks and cement industries have declined. Around half of the energy used for mining is actually used for extracting and liquefying natural gas for export.
Figure 7. Industrial energy and electricity use, Australia 1973-74 and 1998-99 In considering future trends in Australia’s industrial energy use, the future of materials is central.
More than two-thirds of industrial energy is used for extraction or basic processing of materials, most of which are exported.
In 200 years, it seems unlikely that Australia will still have significant natural gas resources to export, so the gas liquification component of energy use is likely to decline markedly. Depending on progress regarding geosequestration or other mechanisms to capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal use, coal exports may continue, or may be phased out due to competition from other energy sources.
The long-term future of metal production from virgin material is also open to question. If global population has stabilised, then recycling, dematerialisation, ongoing improvements in alloys, and switching to non-metals (such as carbon composites, plastics, etc – which could be produced from renewable feedstocks or recycled material) could significantly reduce Australian energy use for mining and processing these materials. Perhaps the future potential can be best summarised by the following
quote from US visionary R Buckminster Fuller , who noted:
“We have reached the point where no more mining need be done. In my tracking of resource curves, I discovered that the average of all metals recirculates every twenty-two and a half years. …. Each time they come around again, we have gained so much more know-how and can do so much more with so much less in the way of physical resources per function that ultimately we need not mine any more.” Figure 8. Australian industrial energy and electricity use by activity, 1999 Already, there is potential for best practice paper and pulp mills to improve efficiency and utilise energy from wastes and renewables to provide all of their energy requirements, and even become net electricity exporters .
Within 200 years, ‘green’ chemistry may have replaced much conventional chemical processing energy, while nanomachines and other technologies may replace much conventional manufacturing activity.
These changes will dramatically reduce industrial energy requirements. To the extent that they replace global scale industrial facilities that rely on international shipping, these technologies could have major impacts on global transport and on the location and nature of industrial facilities.
Overall, indications are that industrial energy use will decline as emphasis shifts from processing of virgin raw materials towards higher value, less energy intensive activities.
6 Transport Australia’s present transport energy use is dominated by road transport which, in turn, is dominated by cars. Cars are used for personal mobility and business purposes, mostly within urban settlements.
Already, it is clear that cars could use much less fuel than today’s Australian average of more than 11 litres per 100 kilometres. Weight reduction and advanced engine technologies offer potential to reduce fuel consumption to less than 3 litres per 100 kilometres.
However, improving the fuel efficiency of cars will not solve urban congestion, address the social problems faced by the poor, elderly and young who cannot drive, nor recover the time spent by unpaid chauffeurs such as parents. With developments in high efficiency electric motors, energy storage and fuel cells, small low speed vehicles such as electric buggies and electric bicycles are increasingly appearing as local transport modes. Intelligent, fuel-efficient vehicles will become commonplace. Safety concerns regarding the emerging mix of vehicle types and speeds will be addressed by systems such as air bags, radar, collision avoidance technologies, high strength materials and speed limited lanes. Advanced, intelligent public transport vehicles will also play an important role in urban transport. Inter-city and interstate transport services will be most efficiently delivered by very high speed trains of some kind, running on above ground tracks so that the environmental impact and crash risks are minimised.
Urban consolidation will reduce distances people need to travel.
Development of services such as on-line shopping and virtual reality technologies will also reduce the need for travel for many purposes. For example doctors will be able to remotely diagnose and even treat illness, much education will occur on-line, and so on.
Light commercial vehicles consume nearly as much fuel as do trucks, even though they travel much shorter distances (see Figure 9). The rapid growth of this sector reflects the development of a ‘just in time’ mentality, whereby almost empty vans rush around cities delivering small items. It also reflects decentralisation and declining organisation of business activity, and an increase in home deliveries and provision of on-site services. Some of this business travel actually reduces personal travel, for example home delivery of take-away food can use less fuel than when individuals visit stores. But much light commercial vehicle activity could be reduced through improved coordination and alternative forms of provision of services. In the long term, intelligent fuel-efficient small vehicles could be used for both local freight and passenger activities.
Figure 9 Recent trends and projections of Business As Usual transport energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past few decades, trucks have replaced rail for many freight tasks. However, this trend is beginning to reverse as rail systems are upgraded and the fundamental economics of rail are recognised.
Australia’s rail infrastructure is still of a poor standard, but its potential is beginning to be recognised.
Much of Australia’s overall freight task is for bulk materials, as shown in Figure 10. Dematerialisation, increased use of locally sourced renewable and recycled materials, and declining exports of bulk materials will all lead towards a decline in the total freight task.
Figure 10. Australian domestic freight task, 1999.
Transport will, of course, be well into the post oil era in 200 years. While it is fashionable to suggest that hydrogen will be the fuel of the future, it is also possible that methanol from biomass, biodiesel from vegetable oils and ethanol from sugar beet, trees or sugar cane could play important roles. It is likely that different mixes of fuels will be used in different regions. As in the non-transport sector, conventional thinking on transport fuel sees a need for bulk volumes of fuel. Once very high efficiency transport service solutions dominate, the economics of more diversified regional and local transport energy solutions may be superior to centralised options.
International travel to and from Australia is likely to be an area of major growth over the next two centuries. Increasing wealth, globalisation and vehicle speed will make it increasingly normal to travel long distances for both recreation and business. Larger planes with more fuel-efficient engines and improved aerodynamics will reduce energy use per passenger-kilometre but, based on the potential for growth in demand, this will not be sufficient to limit overall energy growth. Further, development of supersonic planes to satisfy markets for faster travel could add to the increase in energy consumption.
Virtual travel using advanced telecommunications and computer technologies may replace much business international travel, as the time savings and avoided jet lag have substantial value to a business. Some tourists may also opt for virtual travel. Also, there is potential to encourage tourists to take trips of longer duration, so that the benefit of each international trip is increased. On the other hand, tourism operators also like to encourage spontaneous weekend and even day trips.
Innovative travel solutions such as airships and surface skimming planes, which ride on the boundary layer of air close to the surface of the sea, could reduce energy consumption. Such vehicles may also be more suited to using renewable fuels, which are generally more bulky than present fuels.
Renewable fuels will also be used for air travel. Given the potential fuel efficiency improvements in air travel, even a doubling in the cost per litre of fuel due to use of renewable energy would be balanced by the fuel efficiency improvements, so that overall travel cost would not change much. Indeed, given the importance of fuel volume and the long lives of modern planes, it may well prove worthwhile for airlines to pay extra to process renewable fuels such as biogas or alcohols into synthetic aviation fuel, despite the energy and financial costs involved.
7. Energy Supply
Many energy analysts paint pictures of widespread use of nuclear power and ongoing dependence on large scale fossil fuel use. Underpinning these visions of our energy supply future is the belief that future energy requirements will continue to grow indefinitely, and that the efficiency of delivery of services for which energy is required as an input will improve only marginally. For example, if we project present transport fuel use into the future, biofuels will not be able to play more than a minor role because of resource limits. But if dramatic fuel efficiency improvements occur, and demand for conventional transport moderates as society and technology evolve, so that many of the services now provided by transport are provided in other ways, biofuels offer the potential to provide sufficient fuel for all Australia’s road transport requirements.
Similarly, those who see a nuclear or coal-fired future assume that future households and businesses will continue to require as much electricity as today’s homes, offices and factories per person or per unit of economic activity. Tomorrow’s technologies (and indeed, many that are already available) will allow the amount of energy required to provide services to be dramatically reduced. As discussed in the residential section of this paper, these changes will lead to serious questioning of the economics of conventional large scale centralised energy supply systems: we just won’t need them. Modular interactive energy systems will be cheaper and more reliable for most purposes.
At the same time, choices Australians make about their lifestyles and the energy options they use will have enduring impacts on both the amount and types of energy they use to satisfy their energy service requirements. A society that lives in enormous houses, commutes long distances and continues to consume large quantities of non-renewable materials and resources will not be consistent with the relatively benign energy future scenario this paper maps out – although application of technology would still make a remarkable difference to its long term viability.