RENEWABLE ENERGY ALTERNATIVES AS VEHICLE FOR LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN PARADOX OF GLOBALIZED ECONOMY
RENEWABLE ENERGY ALTERNATIVES AS VEHICLE FOR LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY
AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN PARADOX OF GLOBALIZED ECONOMY
Dr. Prashant Mehta, Faculty of Science, National Law University, Jodhpur
'Sustainability' and 'Sustainable development' have become over interacting themes in
environmental policy in recent years. None the less, the concepts are often poorly
understood and we are only beginning to get to grips with the implications of
developing a more sustainable society.
Thinking and practice on sustainable development are advancing rapidly. The original
definition of sustainable development was that given by the World Commission on
Environment and Development in 1987: “Development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own
'Sustainable Development' usually refers to some form of modern technological society,
with business taking responsibility for its impact on society and the environment. It is a
process that can be maintained in its current state of productivity over long period of
time. Alternatively Sustainable development is about growth and Sustainability is about
costs and benefits of Today’s actions against costs and benefits of Tomorrow’s actions.
Since energy is at the hub of modern society more so in developing countries, it is also
an essential component of sustainable development. In real sense sustainable
development is about more than the energy and environment. It is based on four
Identification and sensible or prudent use of resources
Protecting the environment globally
Environment friendly inclusive Economic Growth
Social Engineering Progress
The main target of sustainable development and sustainability is a better quality of life
for everyone now and for generations to come.
IS THERE A SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION FOR 6.5 BILLION HUMANS ON THE PLANET WITH
RESPECT TO USE OF ENERGY AND ENERGY ALTERNATIVES?
The answer is yes, there is in form of RENEWABLE / ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES.
None the less, it is clear that nationally and internationally we should not be using up
precious energy resources indiscriminately. Instead we should moving from non-
renewable to renewable energy resources besides developing more prudent ways of
There is a combination of factors by which energy problems and energy issues are back
at the top of the world's agenda. They include rising oil and gas prices, the prospect of
diminishing fossil fuel resources, rising atmospheric pollution caused not only by oil and
gas emissions but also by burning of domestic fuels, climate change with evident effects
on global warming, and increasing concern about security of continuous supply, thereby
underlining the vulnerability of all industrial and developing countries. Yet these factors
are accompanied by continuing growth in world population, and rising energy demand.
The basic reason that we have a problem is due to exponential growth which creates a
strongly non-equilibrium use of our resources. Its not great to state that the failure to
understand the concept of exponential growth by planners and / or legislators, is the
single biggest problem in all of Environmental Studies and / or Management. The Two
Principle Problems with Energy Management can be outlined as follows:
Failure for policy makers to understand the concept of exponential growth.
Failure for legislation to be formulated and passed to give us a long term energy
Accurate trend extrapolation is the most important part of future planning. However,
failure to assume exponential growth will always lead to a disaster. World Energy
Consumption is given below in figure:
It is quite evident from the figures given above that unless we find alternatives ways of
developing and using energy we will be on verge of energy crises. Humans in various
ways use energy. The main use is in transportation, industry, space heating, cooking,
agriculture, and leisure. Since 1950, most of the world's economic growth has relied on
non-renewable fossil fuel energy from oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy
Non-Renewable Sources of Energy
Oil - Most of the world's energy today comes from the burning of oil. Humans use oil for
various purposes like Transportation, Industry, Agriculture, Residential Uses, Electric
utilities etc. Crude oil (or petroleum) is composed of more than a hundred different
hydrocarbon compounds. The refining process separates crude oil into many different
commercial products including gases, gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and asphalt. Crude
oil also contains petrochemicals, which are compounds that are used in the production
of fertilizers, plastics, paints, pesticides, medicines, and synthetic fibers like nylon.
Experts disagree over how long the world's identified and unidentified crude oil
resources will last. Reserves are identified deposits of a non-renewable fossil fuel or
mineral resource from which the resource can be extracted profitably at present prices
with current technology. At present consumption rates, world crude oil reserves will be
economically depleted in about 40 years.
Natural Gas - In its underground gaseous state, natural gas is a mixture of 50 to 90% by
volume of methane gas (CH4) and smaller amounts of heavier gaseous hydrocarbon
compounds such as propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10). Propane (C3H8) and butane
(C4H10) are separated from natural gas and are stored as liquefied petroleum in special
pressurized tanks. These two substances are primarily used as fuel for heating and
cooking. Methane (CH4) is more important economically. Methane (CH4) is burned in
furnaces to supply residential and commercial buildings with heat, used to heat water in
hot water tanks, used in power plants to generate electricity, and used in a variety of
ways in the organic chemistry industry.
Several non-hydrocarbon gases are also found in natural gas mixtures. Nitrogen dioxide
(NO2), Carbon dioxide (CO2), and Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) may be found in substantial
proportions. Nitrogen is inert and noncombustible. If present in significant quantities, it
reduces the heating value of the natural gas mixture and must be separated before the
fuel is used for the commercial purposes. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is another unwanted
component of the gas mixture. Normally, it is removed from the mixture to raise heating
value, reduce volume, and support even combustion properties. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
is removed from natural gas by a process similar to that used in crude oil refining.
Coal - is formed in several stages as the remains of plants are subjected to intense heat
and pressure over millions of years. It is a complex mixture of organic compounds, with
30% to 98% carbon by weight plus varying amounts of water and small amounts of
nitrogen and sulfur. Humans have had a long history of using coal. Coal has been used to
generate heat and power, for the production of metallurgical coke, and as a source of
various aromatic compounds utilized in synthesizing dyes, solvents, and drugs. Burning
coal produces larger amounts of SOx, NOx, and particulate matter than other fossil fuels.
Nuclear Fission - By the end of this century, 1800 nuclear power plants were supposed
to supply 21% of the world's energy through the process of nuclear fission. By 1991,
after 44 years of development and enormous government subsidies, about 424
commercial nuclear reactors were producing 7% of the world's energy. Another serious
problem associated with generating power from fission reactors is the production of
Fossil fuel resources are finite in supply and are responsible for much of the world's
pollution and environmental degradation. Nuclear energy was supposed to be
producing a significant proportion of the world's energy requirements by the year 2000.
However, problems associated with waste storage, safety concerns, and building and
maintenance costs have slowed the use of this energy source.
Non-Renewable Energy Use - Their Impact on the Environment
Many of our sources of energy generation influence the health of the environment. As a
group, fossil fuels have the greatest negative effect. The burning of any of these
resources produces some form of atmospheric pollution. Coal is by far the dirtiest of
these nonrenewable resources. The combustion of coal releases large amounts of
Carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and small amounts
of highly toxic uranium, lead, cadmium, mercury, rubidium, thallium, and zinc. These
chemicals contribute to the enhancement of the green house effect, photochemical
smog, acid deposition, and can accumulated in the environment where they can affect
the health of plants, animals and human beings. The mining of coal creates acidic and
highly toxic tailings. Precipitation falling on these sediments can leach the acids and
toxins into surface and sub-surface waters where they can influence living organisms.
The burning of petroleum fuels emits about 30% of the Carbon dioxide (CO2) added to
the atmosphere annually. Moreover, these emissions are primarily responsible for the
increase in the concentration of Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere over the last 50
years. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the dominant green house gas. Its increase in the
atmosphere may bring about a warming of the Earth's climate. The use of oil for energy
also releases hydrocarbons and Nitrogen oxides (NO2). Emissions of both chemicals
contribute to the formation of photochemical smog. Nitrogen oxides (NO 2) on its own
can undergo chemical reaction in the atmosphere to form acidic deposition. Because of
its unique global distribution, much of the oil extracted from the ground must be
transported by pipe or ship to a few nations who dominate its consumption.
Occasionally, transported oil is spilled into the environment where it takes its toll on
aquatic and wildlife.
Energy can also be derived from several sources that are infinite in their supply. These
renewable sources of energy include the energy from the sun, moving water, biomass,
moving wind, geothermal energy, tidal energy etc. Each of these renewable sources of
energy is brief discussed below.
Solar Energy - The simplest method of generating energy from the sun involves the
conversion of sunlight into heat. Humans have constructed passive solar heating
systems, like windowed homes, to capture sunlight directly within structures for the
production of low-temperature space heat. Humans have also constructed more
elaborate systems, known as active solar heating systems, where specially designed
collectors concentrate solar energy for the production of heat. A fan or a pump is then
used to re-distribute this energy for space-heating or water-heating needs.
Solar radiation can also be converted by photovoltaic cells directly into electrical energy.
Most solar cells consist of layers of purified silicon. Trace amounts of gallium arsenide or
cadmium sulfide are added so that the resulting semiconductor emits a small electrical
current when struck by light. By the year 2010, solar cells could supply as much of the
world's energy as nuclear power does today at a lower cost and much less
environmental risk. The main advantage is that it is pollution free. The main Drawbacks
are Solar cells right now have high costs, Low efficiency (05%-15%), lack of adequate
storage materials (batteries), and finally the high cost to the consumer.
Hydroelectric Power - In large-scale hydropower projects, high dams are built across
large rivers to create large reservoirs. The stored water is then allowed to flow through
huge pipes at controlled rates, spinning turbines and producing electricity. Hydroelectric
plants rarely need to be shut down, and they produce no emissions of carbon dioxide or
other air pollutants during operation. Te main advantage is No pollution, Very high
efficiency (80%), little waste heat, low cost per KWH. k loads. However, hydropower has
some drawbacks. The reservoirs of large-scale projects flood huge areas, destroy wildlife
habitats, uproot people, and decrease fish harvests below the dam, Fish are endangered
species; Sediment buildup and dam failure; changes watershed characteristics; alters
hydrological cycle (just like in theri dam project in India).
Wind Power - Worldwide, by 1990, there were over 20,000 wind turbines, grouped in
clusters called wind farms, which feed power to a utility grid. They produce electricity
equal to 1600 megawatts. The cost of producing electricity with wind farms is about
one-half that of a new nuclear power plant, and should be cost competitive with coal by
1995. Wind power experts project that by the middle of the next century, wind power
could supply 10% of the world's electricity. Wind power can be used only in areas with
sufficient winds. Backup electricity from a utility company or from an energy storage
system is necessary when the wind dies down. The main advantage is supplemental
power in windy areas; best alternative for individual homeowner whereas the main
disadvantage is highly variable source; relatively low efficiency (30%); more power than
is needed is produced when the wind blows, noise of rotary blades, killing of birds and
efficient energy storage is thus required.
Energy From Biomass - Biomass is organic plant matter produced by solar energy
through photosynthesis. It includes wood, agricultural wastes, and garbage. Some of this
plant matter can be burned as solid fuel or converted into bio-fuels. In 1989, biomass,
mostly from the burning of wood and manure to heat buildings and cook food, supplied
about 15% of the world's energy and about one-half the energy used in Less Developed
Countries. The main advantage of Biomass waste (wood products, sewage, paper etc) is
that they are natural by products of our society; reuse as an energy source would be
good and it can provide definite co-generation possibilities. The main disadvantages are
Particulate pollution from biomass burners, and transportation is not possible due to
Geothermal Energy - On a human time scale, geothermal energy is inexhaustible.
However, geothermal power generation does have one important limitation.
Geographically, geothermal energy is only found in locations where the hot molten
magma of the Earth's mantle comes in contact with groundwater near the surface to
produce wet steam, dry steam (very hot steam with no water droplets), geo-pressurized
brines (natural deposits of hot salty water) or hot water. The main advantages: very high
efficiency; low initial costs since you already got steam were as Disadvantage is non-
renewable (more is taken out than can be put in by nature); highly local resource.
Besides this Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, Tidal energy and Hydrogen (Fuel of
Future) burning can also provide some viable alternatives to our energy crises. They can
help us conserve energy and at the same time help us lower pollution.
Sustainable Energy Use
From an environmental stand point, our current patterns of energy use are plagued with
three major problems:
Energy derived from the combustion of fossil fuels creates large scale environmental
degradation in the form of global warming, acid deposition and various forms of
Supplies of fossil fuels are limited.
Many of human processes that require energy use this resource in a highly
Projections of energy use into the middle of the next century suggest that demand for
this resource will increase by approximately 400%. This increase in consumption will be
driven by population and economic growth. However, environmental degradation and
constraints on supplies of fossil fuels will force the human population to modify the way
it uses and consumes energy. Future energy use by humans will be modified because of
economics and concern for the state of the environment. In short, energy use will
become more sustainable.
The move toward more sustainable energy use will be characterized by the following
Reduced use of fossil fuels because of the need for environmental protection and
increases in resource costs.
Increased use of technologies that make the burning of fossil fuels safer for the
environment. For example, the installation of smokestack scrubbers reduces the
amount of sulfur released from the burning of coal.
The development of more efficient human systems of energy use. Studies suggest
that industrialized economies can significantly reduce their use of energy through
conservation and technological innovation.
Increase reliance on renewable energy resources like biomass, solar, wind,
geothermal, and hydroelectricity.
Development of new technologies for the production of energy. Nuclear fusion
research is currently taking place in several countries. Some scientists predict that
fusion may become a major source of energy for human needs within 50 years.
Fusion produces far less dangerous radiation than fission and very little waste. Its
fuel, deuterium, is also virtually inexhaustible.
The importance of this topic cannot be over emphasized by any stretch of our
imagination. If we have to address the above issue, we have to think radically and on
many dimensions. Last but not the least we also have to initiate energy conservation.
Thus moving to renewable / alternative energy sources will become vehicle of
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