Explainer – The animals of the energy transition

Amy’s Balancing Act, is a fable about the power of diversity and the transition to a clean energy system. The story revolves around Amy’s mission to deliver the post across the island of Energia. The analogy of the story is that the delivery of the post is like the delivery of electricity.

Assisting Amy in her mission are four animals, called Clyde, Sol, Gale, and Snowy. Each of these animals represents a specific type of electricity technology. This page unpacks each of these analogies.

Amy and her diverse team of animal helpers

Clyde the horse

Clyde is a Clydesdale draught horse that represents coal power stations. These horses and power stations are both large and hefty. They’re slow to start and don’t like to change pace quickly.

But they have both been reliable sources of power for humans for generations and humans have become very familiar with how to work with them. They also work through almost any weather conditions.

Like many of Australia and the world’s coal fired power stations, Clyde is old and has reached retirement age. One consequence of aging is that these power stations (and horses) break down more often, especially on hot days.

While it may seem tempting to simply replacing aging horses and coal power stations with new ones, this is not a good option because of the damage they inflict on the environment. In the case of horses, their heavy hooves tear up the ground. Coal power stations, meanwhile, emit large amounts of greenhouse gas and particulate pollution into the air causing catastrophic climate change and respiratory diseases.

This is why the residents of Energia, and societies across the world, are trying to switch to clean sources of power. In Amy’s Balancing Act, these clean energy technologies are represented by the other three animals.

Sol the goanna

Sol is a large lizard, specifically a goanna, which is native to Australia. Like all reptiles, goanna’s are cold blooded and love to lie in the sun to warm up. This isn’t a luxury for lizards, absorbing the sun’s energy is a vital part of how they power their bodies.

This love of sunbaking is why I chose a goanna to play the part of solar panels in Amy’s Balancing Act. Solar panels also rely on absorbing sun light in order to produce power. They rely on sun light this even more so than goannas: 100% of solar panels’ power comes from the sun and they stop producing power the moment it gets dark.

To help strengthen this analogy, Sol is drawn with big black shingles on his back that look like the solar cells in a solar panel. Oh, and Sol’s name means “sun” in Latin.

Gale the albatross soaring in a setting sun

Gale the albatross

Gale represents a wind turbine in Amy’s Balancing Act. I think it’s fitting that she is an albatross because these birds are masters of soaring on the wind. In fact, they cannot stay aloft in still air, they are that dependent on the wind to power their flight.

When the wind does blow, Albatrosses and wind turbines can both operate for many days in a row, including throughout the night. (Incredibly, albatrosses routinely cover more than 1000km a day and one was recorded to travel 15200km on a 33day foraging run).

I also think that albatrosses also look a bit like wind turbines with their long skinny white wings.

Snowy the glider

The last animal to join Amy’s team is Snowy the glider. Gliders look similar to possums (or squirrels) but are able to glide between trees using a wing of skin that stretches between their arms and legs (see wikipedia). They make their nests in tree hollows and carry their young in pouches (like most other marsupials, like kangaroos and koalas).

In Amy’s Balancing Act, Snowy provides the team with a way to temporarily store mail. She thereby plays the role of energy storage in the electricity system. Specifically, she represents pumped hydro-power, and is named after the Snowy hydro-power scheme in the Australian Snowy Mountains.

Pumped hydro-power systems store energy by pumping water between two reservoirs (typically dams) at different elevations. To store energy they pump water from the lower reservoir to the higher one, and then to generate power they run water back to the lower reservoir via a turbine.

Similarly, Sol or Gale lift mail up into Snowy’s tree hollows, where it is stored until Snowy later glides down to deliver it to customers.

Snowy’s storage facility allows Sol and Gale to do something productive when the sun or wind is providing them with more power than they need at that moment. Complementary, when the sun or wind is providing them with less power than they need, Snowy jumps into action and contribute to the deliveries.

This highlights the essential role that energy storage (such as pumped-hydro and batteries) plays in balancing out the supply and demand of power in the energy system.

Storage systems can store power when solar and wind farms are producing more than is needed by customers and contributes power into the system when customers want more power than solar and wind can generate.

Amy chatting to Snowy the glider

That covers the analogies of Amy’s four animal helpers. To learn more about who Amy represents see here.

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