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Drifting back to diesel power

By Viv Forbes - posted Friday, 28 April 2017


A Diesel in the Shed.

You can have your solar panels
and your turbines on the hills;
You can use the warmth of sunshine
to reduce your heating bills.

You can dream you're self-sufficient
as you weed your vegie bed;
As long as you make sure to keep
A diesel in the shed.

When I was a kid on a dairy farm in Queensland, we relied on green energy - horses and human muscles provided motive power; fire-wood and beeswax candles supplied heat and light; windmills pumped water and the sun provided solar energy for growing crops, vegies and pastures. There were no refrigerators - things were kept cool by evaporation of water in a Coolgardi safe. Cold water for drinks came from a water bag hanging in the shade near the back steps. We had no hot water systems – we bathed one after another in warm water heated in a kettle on the wood stove. The only "non-green" energy used was a bit of kerosene for the kitchen lamp, and petrol for a small Ford utility. We were almost "sustainable" but there was little surplus for others. Labour was cheap and food was expensive.

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Our life changed dramatically when we put a thumping diesel in the dairy shed. This single-cylinder engine drove the milking machines and an electricity generator which charged 16 lead-acid 2 volt batteries sitting on the veranda. This 32 volt DC system powered a modern marvel – bright light, at any time, in every room, at the touch of a switch. This system could also power Mum's new electric clothes iron as long as someone started the engine for a bit more power.

There were no electric self-starters for diesels in those days – just a heavy crank handle. Here is the exact model which saved us from a life of dairy drudgery, kerosene lights and Mother Potts irons.

But all that effort, noise and fumes were superseded when every house and dairy got connected to clean silent "coal power by wire", and coal was used to produce coke for the new slow-combustion stoves. Suddenly the trusty "Southern Cross" diesel engines disappeared from Australian sheds and dairies, AGA coke-burning cookers displaced the old smoky wood-burning stoves in the kitchen, and clean-burning coal gas replaced wood stoves and dirty open fires in the cities.

In just one life-time, human muscles, draft horses, wood, candles and kerosene were replaced by diesel, which was then replaced by coal via coal-gas, coke, and clean silent ever-ready electricity.

Today, after Aussies have enjoyed decades of abundant reliable cheap electricity from black coal, brown coal and hydro, green energy gambling has taken Australia back to the era which had to keep a diesel in the shed.

Tasmania is the greenest state in Australia. It once had a vibrant economy that created mines, saw-mills, farms, orchards, oil and metal refineries, dams, hydro-power and railways. It is now a green no-go land. Greens have stopped new hydro developments, opposed mining, crippled the timber industry, prevented new wood-chip developments and will probably celebrate when their last refinery closes.

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Tasmanians get their electricity mainly from hydro assets created long ago by their more productive ancestors. But recently, a long drought caused a shortage of Tasmanian hydro-energy - they became reliant for up to 40% of their electricity needs on the Bass-Link undersea cable bringing electricity from reliable coal-fired stations in Victoria and NSW. However the overloaded Bass-Link cable failed, and an old gas-powered station was brought back into service (importing gas from Victoria) to keep the lights on. Subsequently their politicians hurriedly put 150 diesel generators in their shed (costing A$11 million per month).

South Australia is the next greenest state in Australia, hosting about 35% of Australia's wind turbines. These were force-fed into existence by mandatory green energy targets and tax benefits. In a burst of green destruction they also closed their gas-fired power stations and demolished their coal-fired station. However wind power failed recently and a storm tore down their life-line bringing reliable coal power from Victoria. Now Premier Weatherill is planning to install up to 200 megawatts of diesel generators in his shed. Many residents are following his lead.

As some wag said:
Question: "What did South Australians have before candles?"
Answer: "Electricity".

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About the Author

Viv Forbes is a geologist and farmer who lives on a farm on the Bremer River.

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All articles by Viv Forbes

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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