Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Claytons policy...

Does anyone still remember the ad campaign from the 80s for a soft drink called Claytons? The catchphrase was "the drink you have when you're not having a drink". It has since entered common use as a way of describing something inferior or false. So for instance before an election is officially called there is the "Claytons election campaign": the election campaign you're having when you're not having an election campaign.

As there is a federal election later this year in Australia, it seems we are already experiencing a Claytons election campaign. As part of the 'campaign', there has been some policy decisions made by both sides of politics regarding everything from water shortages to the war in Iraq. But the latest policy release by the Howard Government was released yesterday and it is Howard and his boys at their very best.


Household light bulbs get the flick

THE initial cost of replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs will be offset by longer-term savings, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull this morning announced standard incandescent light bulbs would be phased out within three years in a bid to reduce energy consumption.

"We are introducing new energy efficiency standards and these old lights simply won't comply, they will be phased out and basically over a period of time they will no longer be for sale," Mr Turnbull said.

Compact fluorescent or low-wattage bulbs cost about $5 more, but are more energy-efficient and save an average of $30 per year.

"They'll be a bit dearer to start off with but over time they'll be less expensive and they'll last four to 10 times longer," said Mr Howard.

On the surface it seems like a good idea. On a nationwide scale, using Compact Flourescent Lights (CFLs) will reduce power use in a very big way leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

CFLs have many benefits, the most notable being 20% of the power use compared to incandescents for similar light and a much longer lifespan.

However, I have a few concerns with this policy as CFLs aren't the perfect solution:

  • Lifespan - CFLs are more suited to locations where the light is left on for extended periods of time (a kitchen or lounge light that is left on for hours at a time). Their efficiency is maximised when left on for long periods of time and actually use more power on startup. If used in an area where the light is switched on for short periods of time (toilet, hallway, etc) the lifespan of CFLs is equal to or less than incandescents.
  • Mercury - All CFLs cannot small amounts or mercury, not enough to be a problem in the home but when concentrated in landfills it poses a serious health risk. When a CFL tube is broken it mercury is released as both a gas and solid (white coating inside the tube).
  • Household Fittings - CFLs cannot be used with dimmer switches.

Don't get me wrong, the move to ban incandescents is a good thing, but it seems like this is a play from the John Howard playbook. Appear to do something while doing the minimum possible. This policy is only a small part of what should be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a Claytons environmental policy.

There needs to be a bigger push toward renewable energy sources. I am not talking just solar panels and wind farms. There are many other renewable sources, that Australia is well suited to, that are worth looking into:

  • Geothermal - Australia is a very geologically stable place and there are large amounts of solid rock available for drilling.
  • Solar Furnace - Example With lots of spare land and lots of sunlight, I don't see why we aren't doing this now.
  • Solar Updraft Tower - There are plans to build one in north-western Victoria. (Video)
  • Tidal Power - Northern Australia experiences some of the biggest tidal ranges (Darwin has an 8 metre tidal range) in the world, I'm sure that could be put to good use somehow.
  • Wave Power - Likewise Southern Australia with large waves pushing up from the Southern Ocean.

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