Water Journal : Water Journal February 2013
36 Feature Article WATER FEBRUARY 2013 their own needs from their immediate surroundings. Trees also derive mutual bene ts from other species (e.g. pollination) but their essentially self-suf cient resource usage points to how we must alter our urban resource management approach if we are to cope when our mines are empty. ENERGY The natural world, including rainforests, is solar powered via photosynthesis. Our technosphere is also solar powered, but by solar energy that was locked up eons ago in fossil fuels. There is only so much energy that can be saved through ef ciency. Even after all our energy-consumptive devices are optimised, tted with LEDs, and variable speed drives, we will still need electricity and other forms of energy. Sunlight harvested directly or by indirect methods such as, for example biomass, hydro, or wind must eventually de ne the totality of our energy budget. There is no silver bullet that will solve the energy problem, as Jeremy Leggett suggested in his address to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conference (Leggett, 2012). In a future world where use of fossil fuels is minimal, or possibly outlawed, there will be a variety of renewable energy supplies and this diversity will be a vital aspect of supply security. It is likely that any facility that has need for energy, and has potential to harvest it on site, will do so. For example, medium-scale industrial facilities such as factories and sewage treatment plants will be more energy ef cient, utilising low energy processes while also maximising use of biogas, pressure recovery, wind, tidal, biomass and solar energy capture where feasible. Renewable energy is different to fossil fuelled energy -- it is diffuse and intermittent and although it, too, has a 'peak', this only represents the maximum yield, not the time beyond which resource yield declines, as with oil. In addition, energy is available almost anywhere, although to gain controllable use of it energy storage using 'batteries' of many types must also proliferate. Energy storage systems including solar hot water tanks, latent heat banks, pumped storage hydro and both large and small chemical ow batteries are all available now and are rapidly becoming cheaper. These changes pose profound challenges for existing energy suppliers and it is likely that some of the current energy system monopolies will disappear. These potential changes are comparable to the signi cant adjustments that occurred as digital cameras displaced chemical photography, and telecom monopolies gave way to mobile telephony. Early signs of these types of changes can be seen in the proliferation of rooftop solar panels and, at a community scale, with the Hepburn Wind Energy Project, where a Victorian community developed a town- sized wind power supply (Hepburn Wind, 2012). Also indicative of things to come, Melbourne-based think-tank, Beyond Zero Emissions, is arguing the case to repower Port Augusta with concentrated solar thermal power instead of coal- red power. China, too, is planning more 'great leaps forward', this time with renewable energy. Bloomberg New Energy Finance on 16 January 2013 reported that China will establish another 49GW of renewable power production during 2013. In peak output terms this is approximately the size of Australia's east coast grid. The solar industry in China now exceeds that of Germany and continues to expand at a massive rate, meaning that for China a move away from reliance on imported fossil fuels in the next few decades seems feasible. The global political and economic implications of this potential transition should not be underestimated. However, solar is only part of the general trend, with many nations thinking about how best to utilise the natural resources available to them. The UK is heavily invested in wind energy, and is currently well placed to source 30 per cent of its power from wind by 2020 (Renewable UK, 2013). Japan is rumoured to be well positioned as a renewable energy epicentre in the coming years, with its commitment to phase out nuclear in the next three decades (Australia Network News, 2012). The need for the replacement of fossil fuels and near elimination of mining of raw materials is now obvious. Innovations that can enable us to establish and maintain a resource-balanced technosphere are here, now, and we should implement them. WATER Roughly one in 10 people do not have access to clean, fresh water and 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation services, resulting in extensive waterborne diseases that kill 2,000 children a day Wind farms such as this one near Albany, in Western Australia, are an increasingly useful source of energy.
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