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The Solar Hydrogen Final

Implications of Climate change and the environment

As population centers continue to grow both in technological sophistication and population density so to do the energy demands they place on a center’s energy infrastructure. Based on current estimates of the electrical use per household it has been shown that on average a home/apartment in Sydney spends roughly $1,500 per year on electricity consumption with an average daily use of 17 to 31 kWhs (Kilowatt-hours) per day or 8250 kWh per annum (Australia, 2005). This results in the production of 8 tones of carbon pollution per household created each year due to the fact that 90% of Australia’s energy needs are met through the use of fossil fuel burning power plants (Australia Market Profile, 2004). With a population density of 4,575,532 this represents literally billions of tones of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere on a yearly basis. One factor to consider when taking such figures into consideration is the fact that Sydney’s population is estimated to grow to at least 6 million by 2035 resulting in an even greater strain on the city’s resource infrastructure. This means that the use of utilities such as electricity will continue to grow along with the amount of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere which will reach astronomical rates due to the increase in domestic consumption. What must first be understood is that population density as well as the industrial infrastructure within a given country directly affects the consumption of electricity. The greater the population density within a country the higher the likelihood is of larger factory complexes existing in a certain area which directly contributes to the rising rate in energy consumption. The inherent problem with such a situation is that the continued growth of the city does not match the energy production capabilities of the various fossil fuel power plants with expansions needed on their energy capacity on a yearly basis. It must also be mentioned that fossil fuels are a finite resource that can and will disappear within a few decades at the current rate of consumption both within Australia and the greater global population. Since 90% of Australia’s power originates directly from fossil fuel resources this means that the current energy infrastructure that feeds into Sydney’s power grid is unsustainable in the long run as a result of dwindling fossil fuel resources. Not only that, as energy demands grow so too will the demand for such resources, the inherent problem with this is that the price of finite resources continues to increase over time as demand grows. This means that domestic households within Sydney will eventually find themselves facing a situation where they will pay an increasing higher price for their electricity needs. Another factor that contributes to this problem is the fact that as populations grow so to do the number of cars and public transportation vehicles that are utilized within Sydney. While the city doesn’t have the same traffic problems as compared to other major metropolitan areas such as New York or Manila the fact remains that more cars equates into a greater degree of fuel consumption which will further heighten a potential energy crisis if it does occur. Environmental considerations must also be taken into account since if Sydney tries to supplement the growing energy demand of its populace through the continued expansion of fossil fuel power plants this may very likely cause various negative environmental reactions associated with pollution and climate change. The inherent problem in utilizing fossil fuel burning power plants is the resulting carbon dioxide waste that gets expelled into the atmosphere. It must be noted that increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere especially in areas where there are few natural ways for the resulting gases to be absorbed results in a significant accumulation in the air for quite some time which has the potential to cause various respiratory diseases. China which possesses one of the world’s most extensive power grids which utilizes dozens of fossil fuel burning power plants has seen a rise in respiratory diseases as the amount of smog in the air continues to accumulate. Based on this it can be expected that a shift will start wherein cities such as Sydney will start to pour resources into alternative energy technologies in order to supplement their energy infrastructure both for domestic home consumption and use in automobiles. As such what is required in the case of Sydney is to invest in an alternative form of energy so as to ensure that the region does not suffer from either a future energy crisis due to a lack of fuel or a polluted atmosphere as a result of unmitigated emissions from various power plants. In the case of Sydney one possible method of resolving the unsustainable energy scenario that it is currently experiencing is to adopt the use of solar hydrogen powered cars and homes in order to effectively lessen the dependence of Sydney on fossil fuel energy sources. A typical solar hydrogen system consists of solar panels attached to the top of the home to collect energy, an electrolyzer (a device which is roughly the size of a washing machine used to break down water into its component parts namely hydrogen and oxygen), storage tanks to contain the extracted hydrogen gas and finally a Plug Power fuel cell stack (a device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity and water). The system works by harvesting solar energy from the sun, using it to separate water in the eletrolyzer, storing the separated hydrogen gas into containers and finally combine hydrogen and oxygen back together to create a reaction which produces electricity and water at the same time. Such a system is self-sustainable with a semi-regular input of water from outside water resources thus making it a long term viable solution for domestic households to be independent from utilizing fossil fuels. Not only that a hydrogen refueling kit can be utilized in order to make privately owned vehicles use hydrogen rather than fossil fuels as its main energy source. Utilizing this type of technology is not only cleaner for the environment but over the course of a lifetime more affordable since it enables consumers to enjoy a virtually unlimited source of energy for their needs.

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Sustainability of vital resources

As mentioned earlier the current population of Sydney stands at approximately 4,575,532 with an average household consuming 8250kWh (Kilowatt hours) per annum. As such with predictions indicating that the population of Sydney will increase to about 6 million this presents itself as a problem for the local government since its current energy infrastructure is barely keeping up with the energy needs of a population of 4 million. Not only that but with the current proliferation of energy hungry devices it stands to reason that eventually the rate of energy consumption per household will increase as more people shift towards using a diverse array of technological devices which consume electricity. Such a trend does have a precedent in the form of the household computer, previously such devices were a rarity in most homes however with the proliferation of technology and the fact that such items are getting cheaper through the years most homes have either 2 or 3 computers. Computers, as shown through various statistics, are among the greatest consumers of electricity within Sydney area, as such it is likely that with new developments in technology new methods of energy consumption will be created by even more devices that people include into their homes. Based on such projections it is inevitable that the local government in Sydney will eventually have to take measures in order to increase the capacity of the Sydney electrical grid. One possible method, as mentioned earlier, is the use of solar hydrogen systems installed into homes in order to provide residents with an alternative means of electricity. The positive aspect of such a technology is that it is first and foremost non-polluting. The only residual output from the process is clean water, not only that but when utilized as a fuel source hydrogen is clean burning, meaning that it does not turn into residual carbon dioxide and soot as seen in a majority of fossil fuel burning cars. It must also be mentioned that the process is self-regulating and replenishes itself with only a minimal loss in the system of water; any water missing can easily be added via an external source. Unfortunately there are some negative aspects associated with the use of the solar hydrogen technology; for one thing an average setup can range from $50,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of the home. With domestic households spending an average of $1,500 per year on electricity it would take 50 years or so for some households to effectively gain any savings from the amount put into the installed system. Another factor to consider is that stored hydrogen gas, while safe within containers, is still highly flammable. If the containers were ever ruptured the resulting explosion can and will turn the house and anyone in it into flaming cinders. On the other hand it must be mentioned that while the technology is viable it is still in its infancy and as with all technologies that have just been created the expense as a result is costly. It is estimated that affordable solar hydrogen system could be made available to the general public within the next 10 to 15 years depending on the level of technology. Until then it still remains a rather expensive alternative to traditional energy resources.

Economic Viability

The main issue with renewable energy resources is that they are as of yet an unreliable form of main energy generation for a city. There are three reasons behind this: renewable energy resources from a commercial energy standpoint are as of yet an unproven method of reliable energy production, the means by which renewable energy is produced requires a high initial startup cost and finally in terms of overall reliability only geothermal plants or hydroelectric dams are the only proven reliable sources of renewable energy both of which cannot be used in Sydney due to the overall lack of the necessary areas to actually create them. Commercially speaking when comparing fossil fuel burning power plants to either solar powered arrays or wind turbines most energy producers would choose to construct a fossil fuel burning plant rather than a renewable energy production site. The reasoning behind this is simple, fossil fuel power plants simply require less space and produce more power compared to solar or wind generated energy sources. In order to prove this point the example of Egypt and its attempt at utilizing renewable energy resources should prove to be an adequate example. In its attempt to expand into the renewable energy industry in order to supply an energy starved populace with more electricity Egypt introduced both solar and wind energy into its electricity producing infrastructure. The result was the wind turbine installations in the Red Sea produced only 230 MW while the solar energy array only produced 30 MW. When taking into consideration the fact that Egypt requires 36GW within the next 10 years in order to keep up with demand indicates that renewable energy technologies at the present currently do not have the needed capacity to keep up with an ever increasing demand for electricity. One alternative power source that is reliable and is not dependent on external factors such as the sun or the wind is the use of nuclear power. Nuclear power reactors are a proven technology utilized in the U.S., Japan as well as several 1st world countries. One of its advantages is that it is able to function at the fraction of the cost of fossil fuel plants, can produce more electricity and utilizes a fuel source that is not expended easily. The inherent problem with nuclear power plants, as seen in the Fukushima dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, is the fact that should anything go wrong the potential problems could become disastrous. The recent nuclear scare that happened in Japan as a result of the failure of the cooling systems of a nuclear power plant is still firmly embedded in the consciousness of the population in Sydney. As such attempts to build a nuclear reactor anywhere near the city to provide power to the populace is expected to receive harsh criticism and protests from the local population. Based on current estimates of the amount of energy needed by the country within the next 5 to 10 years or so, it can be expected that the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere will increase as a result if the country compensates for this need by creating more fossil fuel burning power plants. The reason why this paper suggests that the Australian government will likely turn towards the building of fossil fuel power plants is due to their current economic viability in the eyes of the government. Should technologies such as solar hydrogen based system be proven to be economically viable within the next few years then it is possible that the government may choose to actively participate in its proliferation. Unfortunately, as of yet the technology still requires a significant start up cost for domestic household utilization and it is due to this that it can be expected that more fossil fuel power plants will be created within the next few years in order to meet demand based on Australia’s predilection towards fossil fuel utilization.

Realistic Solutions

The inherent problem with a “solar hydrogen” future, as mentioned earlier, is its economic viability. In fact this problem holds true for most renewable energy initiatives with the exception of geothermal power which is unviable in Sydney. The problem with the approach towards renewable energy technologies, especially with solar hydrogen, for large scale or even domestic household energy consumption is that the initial setup cost is far too large compared to other viable sources of energy production. While governments may say that they think that the use of renewable energy is a goal that they must reach the fact remains that harsh economic realities still force them to use traditional or cost effective methods of energy production (Hindmarsh & Matthews, 2008). For example, a single fossil fuel power plant can operate on the fraction of the space required by a solar powered array and produce nearly 10 times the given amount of electricity. The fact is energy production is a numbers game wherein the amount of energy produced is more important than its method of creation. This is due to the fact that most populations, especially that of Sydney, are in fact increasing. As mentioned with the case of Egypt earlier renewable energy resources still cannot reliably produce enough electricity at the present to feed a growing energy hungry populace without starving it. It is due to this that any future scenario involving solar hydrogen will need two distinct things, namely: support of the development of the technology in the private sector and government subsidies to encourage its use. The private sector is capable of many things, among them is the ability to innovate technologies to make them more competitive by lowering the cost of production and installation. A future involving solar hydrogen would first have to involve greater initiatives, possibly through government funding, for private sector companies to develop viable solar hydrogen systems that can be used on a commercial basis (The zero emission house is here, 2008). As mentioned earlier the problem with current solar hydrogen systems is their initial cost, if that can be resolved then it can be expected that its popularity will rise resulting in more people utilizing solar hydrogen as their home and car’s primary energy source. Another factor to consider is the use of government subsidies in order to encourage the installation of solar hydrogen systems. An examination of various systems and ordinances in the U.S. reveals that people who set up home solar powered systems within the U.S. are actually given government subsidies (depending on the state or county) for the installation in order to promote the use of solar powered technology. Not only does this lessen the cost of the installation itself but helps to encourage more people to install their own systems. Such a solution could be implemented within Sydney wherein the installation of solar hydrogen systems can be subsidized by the local government through a shared cost system which would make the price of installation more viable to home users. By utilizing these two factors not only would this encourage the development of solar hydrogen in order to make it more economically viable but it would also result in making it more appealing to consumers due to the government subsidy program. If the given proposals are followed then a viable solar hydrogen future is a distinct possibility however as of yet the technology, despite its advantages, is still not economically viable enough as means of domestic household energy production.

Justification of Solution

While this paper has proven that solar hydrogen is a viable alternative energy source should the proper initiatives be put into place another factor that should be taken into consideration in order to justify its use is the diminishing supply of fossil fuel resources. As it is well known, fossil fuels are a finite supply and with Australia’s power grid having nearly 90% of its production isolated towards fossil fuel burning power plants this presents a distinct vulnerability for the country towards acts of “petrol politics”. Petrol politics can be described as a method in which supplies are withheld or given as a result of political concessions. This was seen in the various oil embargos done by various oil and natural gas producing countries. In fact the case of Russia, Belarus and other surrounding states in Eastern Europe is a clear cut case of petrol politics wherein several eastern European countries reliant on a supply of natural gas from Gasprom, Russia’s largest natural gas provider, have reluctantly agreed to a large portion of Russian requests regarding certain concessions to be given to the country (Redman, 2003). Refusal has often been met with dwindling supplies of natural gas or even a complete shut off especially during winter months when entire nations rely on a supply of gas from Russia in order to heat their homes (Cavenagh, 2008). Australia with a power grid that is 90% reliant on fossil fuels is vulnerable to acts of international petrol politics especially with dwindling fossil fuel supplies. Thus, in order to prevent outside parties from influencing or meddling with Australia’s ability to make proper decisions what is needed is to shift efforts towards independence from fossil fuel resources. This can come in the form of greater government concessions towards the private sector and consumers in order to promote the use of solar hydrogen as a viable form of independent energy production.

Cost estimate of each in terms of $ per kilojoules of power

The average domestic cost of electricity is approximately $1500 or 8250kWh per annum. This is equivalent to roughly 29700000 kilojoules within an annum as well. An examination of current solar hydrogen systems shows that on average a large system for a ranch type house can produce nearly 90 kWh from solar energy production alone with the remaining energy going into stored batteries to power the electrolyzer and Plug Power fuel cell stack at night where there is no external source of power. Smaller systems for average domestic home use can produce capacities ranging from 25 to 40 kWh per day with a percentage of the produced power going into stored battery generators or the production of hydrogen for storage. Such systems can thus produce 90,000 to 144,000 kilojoules of power. Based off current domestic consumption estimates of 17 to 31 kWh per day the energy production capacity is more than sufficient to meet the needs of an average domestic household. On the other hand the cost of such a system ranges from $50,000 to up to $100,000 for an average domestic home with the costs exponentially increasing even reaching $500,000 for much larger ranch type homes. With current estimates placing domestic energy costs at $1,500 per year and the production capacity of an average domestic home reaching 90,000 kilojoules per day the estimated savings range from $1,500 to $1,800 depending upon the capacity of production. It must be noted that it would take nearly 25 years to 30 years or more before significant savings can be met due to the cost of the initial investment. This takes into account a draft timeline of implementation within the next few years while energy prices are at their current rate with the proposed savings actually beginning by 2050 or 2065. This of course doesn’t take into account the potential for increases in the price of electricity or if the solar hydrogen technology will get cheaper within the coming years.

References

‘Australia’ 2005, Energy Forecast World, pp. 39-44, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

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‘Australia Market profile’ 2004, Energy Forecast Asia & Australasia, pp. 22-26, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

Cavenagh, A 2008, ‘Gazprom factor stifles European power plays’, Acquisitions Monthly, 286, pp. 18-20, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

Hindmarsh, R, & Matthews, C 2008, ‘Deliberative Speak at the Turbine Face: Community Engagement, Wind Farms, and Renewable Energy Transitions, in Australia’, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 10, 3, pp. 217-232, GreenFILE, EBSCOhost.

Redman, N 2003, ‘Bear hug’, Business Eastern Europe, 32, 40, p. 6, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

‘The zero emission house is here’ 2008, Ecos, 145, p. 5, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.

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