Episode 335. Sun and Sails

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 1st of May 2023.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

Renewable Australia


Surging renewable energy output has pushed fossil fuel-fired generation down to record low levels in Australia’s biggest electricity grid, triggering another big fall in wholesale prices.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which runs the national electricity market covering the eastern states, said power prices had tumbled in the three months to the end of March.

Average prices were $83 a megawatt hour for the period, a 10.5 percent decrease compared with the previous three months, and a whopping 62 per cent lower than the September quarter last year.

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That was taken from The ABC site dated Friday 28th of April 2023 and entitled: Drop in wholesale power prices as renewable energy generation from wind and solar grows, AEMO finds

And this is good news. There are plans afoot to set up offshore wind generation along the west coast of Tasmania, in the Roaring Forties trade winds and full sized solar farms. Interestingly, most of the solar generation in Australia comes from roof top panels on homes. We have 20 on ours. The bad news is that power prices keep rising. The last time they jumped, in the early 21st century, we were told the cost of the gold plated poles and wires were the cause. Nowadays we are being told it is again the poles and wires and we need more of them. I smell a rat but that’s for a different episode.

Indian Solar Farms

On the question of solar energy, a piece from the New Yorker entitled: India’s Quest to Build the World’s Largest Solar Farms.


Every morning in the Tumakuru District of Karnataka, a state in southern India, the sun tips over the horizon and lights up the green-and-brown hills of the Eastern Ghats….. Eventually, the sunlight reaches a sea of glass and silicon known as Pavagada Ultra Mega Solar Park. Here, within millions of photovoltaic panels, lined up in rows and columns like an army at attention, electrons vibrate with energy. The panels cover thirteen thousand acres, or about twenty square miles—only slightly smaller than the area of Manhattan.

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13,000 acres is about 5260 hectares and 20 square miles is around 51 square kilometres, so not an inconsiderable piece of real estate and it produces sufficient power just twenty minutes after sunrise for 100,000 Indian homes. At 13:00 it’s producing enough for a million homes. This particular farm is part of the push for more solar power in India.

From further on in the piece, and it’s a long read but recommended, link in the show notes, comes the following:


Sunlight is the most abundant source of energy on the planet. At any given moment, billions of megawatts of solar power are hitting the Earth’s surface; humans could meet all of their energy needs by harnessing just 0.01 per cent of it. According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, such an undertaking would require an area slightly larger than the size of California—a whole lot of land, but less, it turns out, than the current footprint of fossil-fuel infrastructure. And, with help from other energy sources, such as wind and water, this area shrinks.

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About 424,000 square kilometres gets you the real estate equivalent of California or about 8300 of the solar farms mentioned. The world is a big place, about 510 billion square kilometres of land surface. So finding the space for solar farms should not be difficult. Even if they have to be placed next to current or in need of development pumped hydro batteries. See Episode 163: Pumped Hydro and a Hazelnut Driven Food System for more on this tried and tested battery system.

Old mines, dams and natural geological features are all good candidates for this sort of battery. While the sun shines, water is pumped uphill to a storage reservoir creating potential energy. Once the demand for energy exceeds that produced by the panels, water is dropped to a lower reservoir through the same pumps that put it up high, turning them into hydro generators. The water can, in theory, be used indefinitely. In reality there’s evaporation and so on. Bladders and compressed air could also do the job. The great advantage of the pumped hydro system is that we’ve worked out most of the kinks in the system having used hydro electricity for over a century.


Things are doable. The funding, the will and the need to make these sprawling structures literally bombproof could take time. Of course price incentives put in place by regulators, governments and so on would hasten the process.

Sailing Ships?

In another piece from the New Yorker, The Climate Crisis Gives Sailing Ships a Second Wind, comes the notion that sails could return to the high seas and not just for the adventurous single handed round the world types but for cargo vessels. Put from your mind square rigged barkentines or even Gaffed rigged schooners or for that matter the Junk rigged treasure fleets of the early Ming Dynasty. No, think aircraft wings. 


Of course, you can’t just slap an aeroplane wing onto the deck of a ship and expect it to work. Aeroplane wings provide lift, but rely on jet engines to provide thrust; a wing sail, in contrast, must provide thrust of its own. Engineers are now studying how many wings they can cram onto the deck of a ship, and how high they can go without threatening the stability of the vessel.

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The sort of rigid sails on current America’s Cup type boats would fit the bill. Those in the know and I’m just scratching the surface of this myself, suggest the Junk sails are fairly close to aeroplane wings with engineers designing these things for ships that retract like a reefed Junk sail to fit under bridges.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I’ve a new podcast in the planning on sailing a small dinghy/microcruiser across the northern coastline of Tasmania and up to Flinders Island in the Bass Strait so I’ve been delving deeply into the most convenient and safest safe forms for cruising rather than racing and the Junk rig is looking good. More on that when I get closer to releasing the first of what should be four seasons on the process and the journey.

Anyway, sails on cargo ships make sense. The idea is to reduce, at first, the use of diesel and the diesel used on shipping is the nastiest, most polluting of all. I’ve seen cruising yachts with wind generators and solar panels so maybe a sail and electric option could be with us soon enough. Given that it currently costs a bulk transporter of say wheat around USD$24,000 a day, anything that reduces that is a price signal the bean counters at the shipping lines will jump all over.

So Australia is moving with increasing rapidity towards a renewable grid, the Indians too and we could soon be seeing sails return to the seas. There is hope dear listener, there is hope. 

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.



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Drop in wholesale power prices as renewable energy generation from wind and solar grows, AEMO finds


India’s Quest to Build the World’s Largest Solar Farms


Episode 163: Pumped Hydro and a Hazelnut Driven Food System | #worldorganicnews 2019 04 08


The Climate Crisis Gives Sailing Ships a Second Wind


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