Tuesday, March 09, 2010
The single largest source of greenhouse gasses is our energy generation – energy in the form of electricity, heat, transportation... And almost all are fuled by fossil fuels with the result that for the first time in the last 650000 years the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has crossed the 250 ppm mark. Any guesses for where it stands now? 300? A staggering 400! And it is rising. This is a very disturbing fact. Geological studies have shown that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is directly proportional to the temperature of our planet. More burning of fossil fules, more the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, which in turn further increases the temperature of earth.
Our energy requirements have risen constantly since the industrial revolution, and given the present population growth and our living standards, it will continue to grow at a higher pace than it is today. We cannont prevent that. How then, you may ask, can we prevent more greenhouse gases from entring the atmosphere? The answer is simple – stop using fossil fuels altogether! You laugh, thinking it is not feasible. It will require technological breakthroughs and will hamper the economic growth. It is feasible, even in the present technology.
It is possible to meet the entire energy requirement of our planet using just 4 renewable energy resources – solar, wind, water and geothermal. True that tapping these resources are costly in that they require heavy installation costs. But given that once they are installed they provide limitless energy almost for free, they are capable of paying their installation costs in a few years' time. In addition to that, take into account the rising fossil fuel prices and the cost to install new powerstations to meet the growing energy need and you have an option that is not only clean but profitable even at the current technology! And if the governments subsidise the use of renewable energy and levy taxes on old technology relying on fossil fuels then the industries would innovate new methods to tap energy from these resources more efficiently for further economic gains. At this stage I did not mention the fact that billions of tons of CO2 will be prevented from entering the earth's atmosphere per year if we go ahead with this.
Skeptics may say that I am painting a rosy picture. We cannot hope to power our planet with just sun, wind and water.That installing the equipment to harness these powers take up a lot of space that simply is not sustainable. But I am in earnest. And I am talking sense. The latter shouldn't be a problem. There is plenty of surface area on earth where wind mills, turbines and solar panels can be installed. Tubines can be installed along the coasts and wind mills can be installed in the shallow seas where there is constant wind, day and night. Solar panels can be installed in the deserts. Households and offices can install solar panels for their basic needs, relying on the grid only to compliment their supply. Farms can install wind mills and turbines and continue with the farming in the spaces between the individual mills. Series of small dams can be installed in the mountain streams and rivers without damaging the ecosystem. Wind turbines can be installed in tall skyscrapers like the trio installed between the two towers of the trade centre of Bahrain. At the same time energy efficent appliances can be installed – CFL, for instance, instead of incandescent bulbs. Buildings can be designed to use natural daylight and can be insulated to cut down on heating or cooling costs. For transportation we can have electric cars running on electricity. Better public transport system can be designed for comprehensive coverage and energy efficiency.
There is a problem though – the sun does not always shine, the wind does not always blow. However, it is more or less true that when the day is clear, the sun shines and when the sun is not shining, it is windy. The key is to use all 4 resources at tandem. Hydroelectricity and geothermal energy are available at all the time. These can be complimented by solar energy during the day along with wind energy. The morning and evening tides can provide additional source of energy. It is seen that the highest consumption of energy is during the day at the peak office hours. Incidently, it is also when the sun shines at its brightest!
It is clear that we have the resources and the technology. What we lack is a political will. The fossil fuel lobby is a very strong one and they would not easily let go of the power and money that they are used to. They pressurise the governments into forming policies that are advantageous to them. Some governments even subsidise fossil fuels (ours, for instance, that subsidise diesel and kerosene). The need is for strong iniciatives by the governments of diferent countries and not succumb to the pressure of oil and fossil fuel barons.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
turn off the electrical devices when not in use – lights, tv, dvd players, computers and don't leave them in stand-by. They continue to consume power in that mode.
Cut down on the use of heaters and air conditioning. It is stupid to be wearing shorts inside your homes in the middle of winters and sleeping in quilts in summer. One way could be switching them off at night before sleeping once the room has cooled down enough in summers or warmed up in winters.
When doing laundary, make sure your washing machine is filled to full load. Do it once a week if you have to. This will save electricity as well as water.
Use pressure cooker for cooking. Cover the pans with lids. Heat up only as much water in kettles as required.
Travel less. Do your weekly shopping in a single trip. Car pool. Use public transport when possible and walk or cycle to the public transport station. For short journeys walk or cycle. Ask your employer if it is possible to work from home once a week.
Buy energy saving electrical appliances. They may be more expensive to buy and install than regular appliances but they will prove economical in the long run.
Use fuel economy cars and bikes. Turn off the engine at red lights. Try to Drive at a constant pace and don't brake or accelerate often. Maintain a good tyre pressure.
Don't buy bottled water if tap water is safe to drink. Install a water filter at home other than relying on bottled water.
Buy fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and are in season. Transporting exotic varieties and varieties that are not in season leads to consumption of energy directly. And indirectly as a result of storing them in cold storage.
Follow the 3 R's – reduce (your consumption) . Reuse (materials that has once been used, like a plastic bag or bottle). Recycle. Try not to consume use and throw products.
Cut down on use of paper. Read newspaper online if you can. Don't print your emails unless necessary. In fact don't print anything unless necessary. Use electronic medium as much as possible. Like that idea ad!
Save our planet. Sustainable development. Green technology....we hear these phrases and terms more often than Tiger Wood changes his girlfriend. And yet we take them at their face value and not think over them. For example, how many of you have heard about the use of jute bag instead of plastic? I congratulate you if you haven't. Why? Simply because using jute instead of plastic is just not sustainable. How, you may ask. It's simple math. Jute bags are made out of jute. Which is a crop, which like other crops needs land for cultivation and, if not organically grown, fertilisers, insecticides etc. So far so good. Problem is, we are a nation of over a billion people. Growing jute to meet the demands of such a large population is simply not sustainable. Jute needs certain specific geographical conditions to grow, the most suited of which is the Ganges delta. The Ganges delta is also most suited for another living thing – tigers. It is either them or jute bags.
A more sustainable approach would be to use artificial materials (plasitc?) and then recycle or reuse them. Waste management is what we should be looking at instead of lobbying for something that only looks good on paper, pleases a few environmentalists and fools people into thinking that they are going green (ethanol, anyone?). Alomst everything that we manufacture can be recycled – metal, paper, glass, building materials and even plastic. And when i say recycle, i am not talking rocket science. The technology exists today to seggragate materials from a heap of junk, collect them together and recycle them. Plastic bottles can be made into high strength bridges. Your discarded cd player can yeild gold and mercury – some very precious metal. The waste news paper can be turned into dazzling white photo print paper. All we need is a will to do this. That and political support.
And if you think recylcing is too much of a trouble then how about creating electricity from your waste? And for doing so you don't even need to seperate materials into different stacks. All you need is a chamber where you introduce high voltage eletctricity that can heat up the waste to disintigrate it into its elemental form, and in the process produce electricity. It does not discriminate between different types of waste – hospital waste, baby diapers, toxic metallic wates, radial tyres...they are all same. The process i am talking about is “plasmagassification” and it works on a simple principle. You create in a close chamber an artificial lightening by introducing high voltage electricity between two electrodes. The heat would instantly transform any material that is in the viscinity into plasma – the fourth state of matter (you heat up solid and you get liquid. You heat up liquid you get gas. You heat up gas and you get plasma – the same material that is in the sun, and all the stars). And in doing so releases emmense ammount of electricity that not only helps the incinirating plant to be self-sustaining but also produce excess that can provide electricity to the second party. Whats more! The end product of this process is miniscule ammount of slag – a material that can be used in buildning, roads and even jwellery. A ton of waste leaves a little more than a kilo of slag. Thats 0.1% residue.
Think about the acres of arable land we can save from unsustainable land fills. The precious ground water we can protect from contamination due to toxic metals and greenhouse effect we can abate by checking the release of methane and CFC into the atmosphere...