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Renewable Energy powering a healthier future

By : Dr. Shabnam Asthana

Energy constitutes a key aspect of climate challenge. With the spotlight on this and buzzwords like depletion, reduction, drainage, deprivation shining strong in this field, what if we decided to let these sink into the shadows and redirect the focus on increase, rise, replenishment and augmentation, not in the distant future but as a fast-emerging reality? With the world gearing up to address a safer future, renewable energy is being looked at as a key solution. The prevalence of energy sources like wind, and solar that are readily available and emit minimal to zero greenhouse gases, and in most cases are cheaper than oil, gas or coal the shift to renewable energy is an obvious and clear choice. Fossil fuels such as coal and gas used widely to generate electricity and heat, and produce energy, contribute to the major greenhouse gases that envelope our Earth and trap the heat of the sun. Fossil fuels are citied as the largest contributor to the global climate change. Over 75 percent of global green house emissions and approximately 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to fossil fuels. To reduce its’ damaging impact on climate change, by the year 2030 emissions need to be reduced to almost half and by 2050 they should reach net-zero.

Alternative sources of energy that are clean, affordable, accessible, reliable and sustainable need to be explored and our dependance on fossil fuels must be considerably reduced and eventually done away with. The natural renewable energy sources like water, sun, wind, waste and the heat from the Earth, emit negligible or zero greenhouse gases and release minimal or zero pollutants into the air. They are in abundance and also replenished by mother nature. Solar energy is the most abundant natural source of energy and harnessing it is easy even in cloudy weather. Solar energy is intercepted by the earth at a rate which is 10,000 times greater than the rate of energy consumption by mankind. Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy. Solar panels with an average life of 30 years are growing in demand. The cost of manufacturing them has nose dived over the years making them the affordable and the cheapest source of energy.

A host of applications can be addressed by solar technologies including heating, cooling, electricity, fuels as well as natural lighting. Harnessing the kinetic energy of moving air through on shore or off shore large wind turbines produce wind energy. There is ample scope and potential in the world to enable a large deployment of wind energy. The accessible thermal energy from the Earth’s interior is utilized by Geothermal energy. This is a reliable and mature technology for generating electricity and has been operational for over 100 years. The energy of water moving from higher to lower elevations is harnessed by Hydropower and can be generated from rivers and reservoirs. Hydropower accounts for the largest source of renewable energy currently, in the electricity sector. It does face certain inherent risks like its’ dependence on rainfall and so on Ocean energy as the name denotes uses waves and currents or the kinetic and thermal energy of seawater to generate heat and electricity through technology. However, this is still at an early developmental stage. Ocean energy can cater to much more than the human energy requirements.

Biomass such as charcoal, wood, dung and other manures used for heat and power production is termed as Bioenergy. A variety of organic materials contribute to this energy production. Rural areas in developing countries due to the poor population residing there uses this more. The modern biomass system depends on residues from agriculture, crops or trees, and organic waste amongst other sources. Burning biomass does create greenhouse gas emissions but at a much lower level than fossil fuels. A limited use of bioenergy is recommended keeping in mind the harmful environmental impact, deforestation and change in land use. Currently there is a noticeable and marked shift from fossil fuels (that account for more than 80 percent of the global energy production) towards renewable sources of electricity (which currently account for 29 percent.) If one were to debate and ponder on the reasons to accelerate the transition to clean energy, and create a more livable and healthier planet, there are some strong reasons to do so. There are 6 billion people who are dependent on fossil fuels from other countries and 80 percent of the global population resides in countries that are net importers of fossil fuels.

They are very likely to get affected by crises and geopolitical shocks. Renewable energy by comparison, is found in abundance in all countries, with untapped potential. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has estimated that by 2050, there is a strong possibility that 90 percent of the world’s energy will come from renewable sources. Renewable energy offers a country import independency, diversification of their economies and protection from the price swings of fossil fuels which cannot be predicted. It can boost economic growth, provide new jobs and reduce poverty. Being a cheap power option in most countries is the edge renewable energy provides over other conventional sources. Between the year 2010 and 2020, the cost of electricity from solar power dropped by 85 percent. The onshore wind energy cost fell by 56 percent and offshore by 48 percent. The popularity and demand for renewable energy will grow in low to medium income countries, and low carbon sources will feature in the new sources of power supply in the coming years. The shift to cheap electricity from renewable sources could decarbonize 90 percent of the power sector and cut down carbon emissions by 2050. About 65 percent of the world’s total electricity supply could come from renewable sources by 2030. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has pointed out a comparison of wind and solar power costs that seem elevated post pandemic due to the increase in freight and commodity prices, but when compared with gas and coal prices which have risen sharply, they still score better.

A Study by the World Health Organization (WHO) Reveals that 99 percent of the people breathe unhealthy air that poses strong health hazards. Air pollution is a part of the environmental causes that account for 13 million deaths in the world every year. The burning of fossil fuels releases high levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide which contribute to the unhealthy air that we breathe. Approximately $8 billion a day contributing to a total of $2.9 trillion in health and economic costs were incurred in 2018 from air pollution caused by fossil fuels. Three important aspects – climate change, health and air pollution are addressed effectively and benefit from clean energy sources. According to estimates by the IEA the transition towards net zero emissions will lead to job generation in the energy sector. This will be nearly 3 times more than the jobs that are available in the fossil fuel industry.

The flip side is that nearly 5 million jobs will be cut down by the year 2030. A net gain of 9 million jobs though can be expected post the creation of 14 million new jobs in the renewable energy sector. More manufacturing job roles will open up with innovative technologies like hydrogen, electric vehicles, and hyper efficient appliances. Energy related industries would need an additional 16 million workers. A total of more than 30 million jobs is being projected in clean energy and low emission technologies by the year 2030. A swift and clear transition will ensure that a majority of the people are not left unemployed. In the year 2020 approximately $5.9 trillion was spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. This also included explicit subsidies, health and environment damages and tax breaks that were not calculated into the cost of fossil fuels. Until 2030, renewable energy needs a $4 trillion investment, which also includes investments to be made in technology and infrastructure that would enable us to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2050. A deterrent to this transition for most countries could be the upfront cost.

They may look towards seeking technical and financial support, but ultimately this will be advantageous for them. If the pollution and climate impacts are reduced, the world can achieve up to $4.2 trillion per year by 2030. If power supply options are diversified, and efficient and reliable renewable technologies opted for, a more resilient and energy secure system can be created that protects and acts as a buffer from market shocks. With the growing corporate consciousness of the efficacy and need of renewable energy as a Sustainable goal and climate action, many corporates are announcing aggressive steps towards clean energy usage. During this transition offsetting energy costs due to the increased use of renewable energy sources has shown good results. The adoption of these cost effective and healthy measures goes a long way in allowing CSR success. Speeding up the global shift to renewable energy is an action that must be undertaken on priority in the wake of the daunting climate crisis!

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