Thursday, 16 August 2012

Children's Crusade

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition is marching from Port Augusta to Adelaide to demand the replacement of local coal-fired power with clean, renewable solar.

Among other things, it states:

It’s not pie in the sky. Solar thermal plants are already operating efficiently in the United States and Europe. And we can build one here.
The community, council, local business and even the power station company are all on board. But to make it happen we need the Federal Government to help fund it. We need to make Port Augusta a national issue.
This September, over 100 people will walk from Port Augusta to Adelaide’s Parliament House – a distance of 325 kilometres.
Let's have a look at this. Even assuming the veracity of the statement in the second paragraph (which for various subjective "something's not quite right here" reasons I'm inclined to doubt), what they say in the first requires some dissection.
Yes, it may be fact that solar power stations are operating "efficiently" in the US and Spain. But one must ask: under what conditions? And will those conditions also pertain in Port Augusta? 
First: Will they get the same intensity of sunlight? The same number of days free of cloud cover? That will determine how "efficiently" the station works in Port Augusta. Mediterranean Spanish and US desert climes, for example, might offer a remarkable number of days per year of bright sunlight with little or no cloud cover, which provides excellent raw energy feed to the station that isn't available in other places. 
Where are the Spanish and US stations situated? If they're on dry, arid land, the mechanisms might not stand up as well in a near-coastal environment, when salt-spray carried some distance inland on prevailing breezes hastens corrosion. Has anyone taken that factor into account? How is it going to affect long-term viability and maintenance of the system, and how does that feed into the costs of providing power?
If you're going to build the station far inland to get away from that, exactly where are you going to put it? How are local soil conditions going to affect things? Are they baked soils which are going to stay down, or blowing, dusty soils which will adhere to mirrors/panels and degrade their performance? Is grit getting into things going to cause issues with reliability? Have these conditions been simulated or experienced elsewhere? Have they been anticipated at all in the design?
What are you going to do for power when the sun isn't shining (a reliable occurrence as night follows day)? What about when there are days on end of heavy cloud-cover, and any tank storage of power you have runs down? (I understand these things use liquid sodium to store heat, but the reservoir is not bottomless.)
Now look at the matter of them getting there:
as Tim Blair notes, the 100 walkers could be taken to Adelaide by bus for around $2600, but they want $20 000 to walk the distance.
I'd love to see the logistic planning for the trip. They might look into the following:
What distance do they intend to cover per day?
Where will they be staying at night, and at what cost if applicable? If tents are involved, who's buying? Do they have enough?
If they are camping out, do they have some sort of menu or rations plan set out? Have they budgeted for all this? What's it going to cost to feed each mouth per day? If they are NOT taking everything along with them, do they have their waypoints appropriately plotted out to enable the group to be fed? Or are the 'support vehicles' going to be dashing into every nearby town, scrounging for food?
What about toilet arrangements? (VERY IMPORTANT.)
Or are they, like the original Children's Crusade, simply going to set out for the Holy Land (of Adelaide's parliament house) and trust in whatever they're substituting for God to get them through? Oh, to be a fly on the wall.  I'm expecting a hell of a lot of blisters, a few dozen ruined pairs of shoes, not a few cases of gastroenteritis, and maybe even the odd STD or pregnancy. Occupy the highways!
I'm betting that some of these people haven't camped out since they were in primary school, if that. And even then, only in their own backyards. Call me cynical, but I expect a fiasco. I have my popcorn prepared, and I hope Blair continues to cover this. I really do. The tweets alone should be fascinating.