Green energy for sustainable future

Alternative Energies

Fossil fuels have caused some major human health and welfare problems due to their extensive use in various industrial & non-industrial sectors. Moreover, fossil energy sources are not renewable.

Sai Golla writes about the importance of Green energy in the present consequences and how sustainable energy strategies can make an important contribution to the economies of countries.

Sai Golla

Sai Golla

With the vast majority of global population growth concentrated in urban areas and the developing world, world energy demand is expected to increase with population projected at 9 billion by 2050. At the same time, the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates that the global temperature will trend higher.
Together, these trends pose a serious challenge: How can the world generate and then use the energy it needs in an environmentally sustainable fashion?

As is known, fossil energy sources are not renewable. Also fossil fuels have caused some major human health and human welfare problems, due to their extensive use in various industrial non-industrial sectors. We have reached a level that is not tolerable anymore. The urgent need in this regard is to develop green energy strategies for sustainable future without any negative environmental and societal impacts.

Green energy reduces the negative effects of fossil energy resources, lowers overall emissions from electricity generation, decreases the greenhouse gases, gives an opportunity to take an active role in improving the environment, and meets the clean energy demand for both industrial and non-industrial applications. The sustainable energy strategy can make an important contribution to the economies of the countries where green energy is abundantly produced. Several already are making a significant contribution to energy generation, such as hydropower in Brazil, biomass in Finland, onshore wind in Denmark, solar photovoltaic in Germany or geothermal energy in Indonesia.

Low-priced green energy is the most essential means for increasing the sustainable technological development and industrial productivity as well as people’s living standard in a society. Hydropower currently provides about 16% of the world’s electricity, which is greater than the percentage produced by nuclear power, and a far greater share than all other renewables combined. In fact, the largest power plant by capacity in the world, as well as four of the five largest power plants in the world is hydroelectric plants. The second major source of renewable energy is traditional biomass. In developing countries, the overwhelming majority of the energy consumed is provided by fuel wood (often unsustainably sourced), which is generally the cheapest fuel option available. Fuel wood is the main energy source for cooking for most of the developing world, and is the primary source of energy for over 2 billion people. Solar and wind power have both experienced explosive growth over the past decade, but both still account for a very small portion of the world’s energy.

Constraints in Green Energy development:
– Scalability , cost and time frame
– Commercialization
– Substitutability for an existing form
– Material input requirements
– Intermittency of the source availability ( as the wind blows or the sun shines, and even biomass-based fuels depend on seasonal harvest of crops )
– Low energy density
– Water dependency , specially for bio mass based energy
– The law of receding horizons
– Energy return on investment
– Dependence on Govt Subsidy
– Energy storage limitations

In order to develop and publicize sustainable green energy technologies the following actions should be taken into account:

– industrial and technological support for transition to green energy technologies
– control of the projection and analysis of green energy sources
– governmental and public support for green energy economy
– production, consumption, distribution, conversion, management and marketing of green energy
– research, development and application of sustainable green energy technologies
– availability, productivity and reliability of green energy and technologies, and
– design and fabrication of green energy-based environmental and ecological applications.

Future Technologies of Green energy:
While solar-power electric hybrid vehicles are a proven success story on the roads, the researchers are now working on solar-electric watercraft.

Hydrogen has been claimed to be a good alternative to replace fossil fuel since the 1970s. But hydrogen’s potential has not been realized even partially mainly because of storage and commercial production difficulties. Recently, breakthrough research has been successful in creating a new method for storing hydrogen.

Corn-produced ethanol has been used for mixing with gasoline but there have been side effects like corrosion from ethanol. Also huge tracts of precious farmlands need to be diverted for corn production. But now new research has thrown up results that show common algae can be used for bio fuel production.

Currently bio fuel is produced from plants as well as microbes. But a new research has led to a new discovery of getting the microbes to produce fuel from the proteins instead of utilizing the protein for its own growth.

Today solar cells are no longer flat shaped or unyielding. Ultra thin film-type solar cells have now been manufactured which are quite flexible and adaptable for use in corners, curvilinear and other structures.

Attempts are being made to combine two forms of external energy sources such as light and heat or light and vibration to generate external energy so that enough energy can be collected for practical use. MIT researchers are now gearing up to take the thermo-chemical technology that is supposed to convert solar energy into electrical energy. Scientists are working on combining solar power and wind power to produce enormous energy called the solar wind power, which may satisfy all energy requirements of human kind in future.

A team of researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is working on developing fuel cells. The solid-oxide fuel cells will become a highly sought after technology in days to come. The solid-oxide fuel cells that are capable of replacing fossil fuel with pollution less fuel are generated with the use of the plentiful fuel resources and low operating temperatures, along with some material that is of low cost, and some other small devices.

With rapid industrialization, the world has seen the development of a number of items or units, which generate heat. Until now this heat has often been treated as a waste. Now, with the physicists at the University of Arizona finding new ways to harvest energy through heat, this dream is actually going to become a reality.

We can go green in several ways, from powering our homes with green energy or by changing small things in our everyday life like light bulbs. Green can apply to the way we fly, the way we drive, the way we build and more. We can choose to embrace a green way of life, and do everything we can to be environmentally conscious, or we can pick specific ways we want to change our lives to become green.

(The author is Senior General Manager – Quality, EHS and Sustainability, 3M India.)