Renewable Energy: A Sunshine

  • March 8, 2017

The sun shines bright both on India and Africa because of their geographical locations. At present, India houses the world’s largest solar power plant in Kaimuthi, Tamil Nadu with a capacity of 648 Megawatt (MW), whereas, Morocco in the African continent is building what could be the largest solar power plant in the world. These nations have finally embraced the most abundant source of clean, renewable energy – the Sun.

As the world is going ‘digital’, another trend is making waves across the globe – the trend of going ‘renewable’. With the ever-rising population and the ever-depleting resources, renewable energy is definitely the ‘next big thing’ that has arrived to define our present as also the future.

The concept of ‘Re-new-able’

As the word suggests, renewable means anything that can be revived or recovered after use. Hence, renewable energy is that energy which is obtained from natural resources that can be replenished within the lifespan of human beings. But what are these renewable resources? If you be honest and keep your hands away from Google, all you need to do is take a look around – the air we breathe, the water we use and the sunlight we soak in are all examples of natural resources. In fact, you may be walking on a source of energy (read geothermal) right now. That dustbin near you contains the source of an alternative energy. Yes, waste-to-energy facilities produce clean renewable energy through biochemical and physiochemical methods. Hydroelectricity, tidal power, wind power, solar power, geothermal, biofuel and biomass are all examples of renewable energy. Contrary to the common perception, the concept of renewable energy is not new. Some 200 years before the time of Christ, the Europeans harnessed the energy of a water wheel to power their mills for carrying out industrial processes such as crushing grain, tanning leather and moulding iron. During the 10th century, the Persians build windmills for grinding corn and pumping water from streams to irrigate their gardens. Word spread and so did the usage of windmills in India and China. However, the windmill technology refined in the hands of the Dutch engineers towards the end of the 16th century. Unfortunately, the popularity of clean energy started fading during the 1700s, when coal began to displace other energies as a source of mechanical power. As Industrial Revolution rolled out during the 18th century, first in England and then across the world, fossil fuels or the nonrenewable sources of energy became the backbone of the global economy.

The air we breathe, the water we use and the sunlight we soak in are all examples of natural resources. In fact, you may be walking on a source of energy (read geothermal) right now. That dustbin near you contains the source of an alternative energy. Yes, waste-to-energy facilities produce clean renewable energy through biochemical and physiochemical methods.

Finite conventional resource

Non-renewable resources that include coal, petroleum and natural gas are finite. This means that they cannot be recovered naturally within the human lifecycle as they take about 370 million years to form. Apart from their availability issues, the unprecedented usage of nonrenewable resources, which are primarily fossil fuels with high content of carbon, are practically choking the environment. Increased emissions of Carbon di-oxide over the last 30 years due to the burning of fossil fuels has been regarded as the chief cause of global warming.

The revival of ‘Renewable’

It was in 1995 that the first United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Berlin, Germany to discuss the ‘visible’ consequences of climate change. However, the emphasis on ‘clean development mechanism’ or usage of renewable energy was laid in the 1997 Conference of Parties 3 (COP 3), held in Japan, which adopted the famous Kyoto Protocol. This protocol imposed legally binding greenhouse emissions reductions on Annex 1 countries viz the United Kingdom, France, Germany etc. Many such conferences followed; the latest of which was held in Marrakech, Morocco in November, 2016.

Fortunately, the efforts of the international community to adopt alternative ‘clean’ sources of energy have started yielding results. As per the statistics of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment’ it can be established that 2015-16 was the year of Renewable Energy. The report which was based on the figures of the desktop database of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a United States-based research organisation, stated that the year 2015 saw record breaking investment of $285.9 billion from all over the world in the domain of renewable energy. This figure was six times the amount invested in renewable energy in 2004 and even exceeded the $278.5 billion investment of 2011. The fact that this feat was achieved during 2015-16, a phase when the world saw a sharp decline in oil, coal and gas prices, only indicates the competitiveness of the otherwise considered ‘niche’ market. Renewable energy was earlier considered a ‘luxury’. However, interestingly it were the so-called developing economies that outweighed their ‘developed counterparts’ in clean energy investments during 2015-16. As per the report, India, China and Brazil along with other emerging nations committed $156 billion, a surge of 19% from 2014, whereas the developed world invested $130 billion, a decline of 8% during the same time. In addition, more than half of the net electricity capacity added in 2015 came from renewables.

<strong>Giant corporations such as Apple, Google and Coca-Cola pledged to reduce their emissions by adopting renewable energy.

A renewed global economy

The world is becoming a fan of the ‘big fan’. Recently, the New York state approved the construction of the largest offshore wind farm in the country. The project will use 15 wind turbines that will generate 90 MW of electricity, capable of powering 50,000 average homes. Giant corporations such as Apple, Google and Coca-Cola pledged to reduce their emissions by adopting renewable energy. In fact, Google has decided to power 100% of its operations from renewables in 2017, with Facebook and Amazon following suit. The whole of Costa Rica, a country in Central America, has been running 100% on renewable energy since June 2016 and is ‘now aiming for a year without fossil fuels’.

Living on the edge

It is no doubt that we are living on the edge. The reason being that there is an air of uncertainty about everything in this world today. Imagine what will happen when the last drop of petroleum is left? There is a possibility of a third world war over clean drinking water. Can there be a fourth world war over fuel? Is this how the world will come to an end – fighting and killing each other over resources? What will be left of us then? To avoid such a hideous scenario in the future, it is the need of the hour to turn towards renewable resources. And as it is said that the best things in life are free, it is time to utilize the free gifts that nature has blessed us with – for a better today and a sustainable tomorrow.

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