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.