This week we are privileged to have Professor Susan Krumdieck who leaves our City soon to become a Professor in Scotland. Susan will speak about Transitional engineering.
Here’s what she wrote recently:
At the turn of the century, the factories, transport systems and products of the industrial age grew rapidly along with the engineering professions. This growth did not require new perspectives in engineering, rather the growth required organization, standardization and education in engineering disciplines. By 1911, the successful industries and products were also the biggest threat to life and health! In response to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan, all of the engineering fields were transformed by the emergence of a new concept, Safety Engineering. The idea of “preventing what is preventable” was a major change of perspective for the industrial engineers of 1911. Economic realities were still important, but engineers in all disciplines agreed to be honest about the problems and potential solutions, and to take responsibility for public well-being. In a similar way, Transition Engineers in all disciplines will work with communities, businesses and organizations to address local and immediate issues while building resilience and shifting to much lower levels of energy and material use.
Krumdieck, the University of Canterbury academic, argues the rationale for hydrogen isn’t there – “hasn’t ever been”.
She knows hydrogen, having researched it in her native United States – “I’ve got patents on fuel cells” – and supervised two PhD students conducting hydrogen research in New Zealand. She’s certain it won’t work, not because of technical difficulties, but because of logic. It’ll take a huge amount of new renewable electricity to make enough hydrogen to power our transport fleet, she says.
“We would need four more South Islands of New Zealand to do exactly the same thing we’re doing right now, with hydrogen.”
What does she mean? Well, by the time you make hydrogen, compress it, store it, transport it, and then put it through a fuel cell to make electricity, you’ve wasted a whole lot of energy. “You need four times the generation capacity to get the same amount of electricity.”
EnergyWatch, the journal of the Sustainable Energy Forum, compares using hydrogen as an energy carrier to “using kauri as firewood”. Its April edition compared hydrogen to: coal or natural gas as an electricity supply back-up; lithium-ion batteries for “peak-shaving” energy storage; battery and hybrid-petrol vehicles.
“None of these comparisons indicate a useful role for a hydrogen economy in NZ in the foreseeable future.” (The journal also says exporting hydrogen is a “pipe dream” which “doesn’t stand up to rational analysis”.)
Maybe we don’t need more energy, Krumdieck says. Perhaps we can rebuild the 40-odd-per cent of our homes that are “class-A crap”, make them more energy-efficient, and use less power. “Which would make us healthier and more comfortable anyway.”
Instead of spending millions researching hydrogen, maybe research could find better ways to build or rebuild more efficient houses. (Krumdieck has written to Energy Minister Woods, pleading for the Government to drop hydrogen funding: “Let’s get on with the stuff that we really can do that will really make our economy work.”)
So, come along on Tuesday and bring your questions. Susan Krumdieck is challenging current public policy. A presenter at the Tuesday Club, Dr Jan Wright the former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, agrees with Susan that focusing on hydrogen is barking up the wrong tree for New Zealand.