Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life, by design

Japan's Fukushima is unfortunate in bearing the wrath of man-made disaster, made by design.

Increasing human need for continued energy is making us think for ways which are risky and fatal to the very existance for which we desire energy. Some lives are sacrificied for the sake of others need. But is it not what everyone does in order to exist? It may be right but not correct.

Stuart Brand argues, “Air pollution from burning coal is estimated to cause 30,000 deaths a year from lung disease in the United States and 350,000 in China. A one gigawatt coal plant burns three million tonnes of fuel a year and produces seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide, all of which immediately goes into everyone's atomosphere. Using nuclear reactor to generate one gigawatt a year requires only about 20 tonnes of nuclear fuel, but with zero carbon dioxide”. Is it better to have nuclear reactors for energy in view of less number of deaths caused in comparison to conventional fossil fuel? Not necessarily. 

Oil resources are depleting, nuclear energy is frought with avoidable risk and with coal causing slow and steady deaths, what are the alternatives?

Solar energy in India is untapped. India is densely populated and has high solar insolation, an ideal combination for using solar power. With about 300 clear, sunny days a year, India's theoretical solar power reception, on only its land area, is 600 trillion Watt per year. Assuming the efficiency of PV modules as low as 10%, this would still be thousand times greater than the domestic electricity demand projected for 2015. Currently, the amount of solar energy produced in India is less than 1% of the total energy produced. High cost of solar power notwithstanding, it has decreased four fold in a decade and is at GBP 125-180/MWh in comparison to coal at GBP 100-155/MWh (2010 Matt MacDonald Estimates). High usage and therefore high consumption volume of solar photovoltaic cells will reduce the per MWh cost of solar energy further, making it attractive energy option. Solar energy is not only green, saving carbon credit costs and helps in fulfilling Kyoto obligations, but also averts any man-made disasters. Distribution losses can be contained by grid-based and non-grid based power network that are possible only using solar power. 

India is uniquely placed in harnessing solar energy unlike many developed countries in the cold region. Our energy sources can well be different too. Energy sufficiency will make superpowers of tomorrow and India can catch that advantage as it did in IT, by design.

Ashish Jain

1 comment:

  1. Good one.
    I would add few comments.
    The main sources for CO2 emissions are as follows -
    - combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in power plants, automobiles, industrial facilities and other sources.
    [Carbon dioxide emitted from power plants and industrial facilities can be captured before it is released into the atmosphere, and then injected deep underground]
    A number of specialized industrial production processes and product uses such as mineral production, metal production and the use of petroleum-based products can also lead to CO2 emissions.
    - Deforestation, conversely, can lead to significant levels of CO2 emissions in some countries.

    So alternate source of energy will go a long way to help reduce green house gas. However change of life style (including simplistic lifestyle, less dependence on private transport, turning into a veggie etc), town planning (less distance between place of work and residence, public transport etc.), house design (energy efficient) etc are probably equally important for saving the earth.