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Friday, 6 April 2018

Monash would have promoted renewables

There has been recent discussion about a “ginger group” of politicians who label themselves the Monash Forum asking the government to invest in a coal fired power station or two. Members of the group include Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews. In other words, the more conservative members of the Liberal Party. I tried to find an etymological definition of the term “ginger group” online but nothing came up that was definitive. It seems the term has been used in different jurisdictions starting in the first half of last century, and it means a subset of party members who want to further a specific agenda within the polis.

The Monash family and the Returned Services League (John Monash was a general in WWI) apparently objected publicly to the adoption by the group of the name of the esteemed public figure, after whom Monash University in Melbourne is named, but characteristically the politicians involved have said they will not back down.

Monash was an engineer and, according to his Wikipedia entry, was involved in introducing reinforced concrete into Australia in the last decade of the 19th century. The technology had only just been invented in Europe, independently by a number of different men in different countries, specifically Germany, France and England, and use of it was defended by independent patents. Monash was involved in introducing the Monier system to the market in Melbourne. It wasn’t until the 1920s that calculation tables for the use of steel reinforcing bars in concrete were developed after the patents expired, to ensure loads were properly supported by the construction.

Americans had been building high since the 1880s but they had relied on steel girder construction methods until they finally moved into the European markets in the aftermath of WWII. (Steel buckles and distorts under heat, so steel-framed buildings are not safe against fire, whereas the concrete in reinforced concrete acts as an insulation, preserving the structure in case of fire.)

After WWII when the combined effects of the Depression and the war had retreated, businesses started to build high throughout the world. Building high is expensive, as is the process needed to make the cement you need to make concrete. In Sydney, height restrictions that had applied to buildings since the beginning of the century were finally removed in 1957, and presumably other Australian cities followed suit soon after.

What is certain from this little excursus is that Monash would have been very adaptable and innovative in his thinking, and would most definitely have welcomed the cost savings, combined with the environmental benefits, that renewables combined with battery storage enable today. I can’t see by any stretch of the imagination see Monash putting his good name behind a plan to build a dirty coal-fired power plant in Australia.

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