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Clean and Green: The Renewable Revolution

Posted by NYCA Blogger on October 17, 2016


Ms. Sneha  Pandey, an environmentalist, Btech. graduate

sneha-pandey-nepalThis month, one of the most celebrated news among climate enthusiasts was the ratification of the Paris Agreement – the ambitious climate accord of 2015 where 195 nations came together and pledged to keep global temperatures “well below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels” all the while “pursuing efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5˚C “. By validating this Agreement, which was a culmination of over two decades of talks, nations from all four corners of the world showed marvelous cooperation and camaraderie in the face of lurking climate catastrophe. As a result of such actions, the agreement – which is concerned with what nations must do to slow down and adapt to the effects of climate change – is set to enter into force less than a month from now.

Along those who celebrated the news of the ratification are also those who are skeptical of the goals set by the Agreement. One validation to such skepticism is a recent analysis carried out by Climate Analytics – a climate science and policy institute – which shows that the current policies and pledges of various nations is insufficient in maintaining the thresholds set by the Paris Agreement: Temperatures would rise from anywhere between 2.5˚C to 3.8˚C by the end of this century in the current scenario. However, despite such dire predictions, the hold that dirty petroleum products have in most nations is still strong and, in some cases, even expanding. Fossil fuel companies are still extracting coal, gas and oil with no end in sight and refusing to change their polluting business models.

According to a carbon budget report compiled by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) – a think tank comprising of financial analysts and environmentalists – to have a 80% chance of staying under the 2°C threshold, no more than 886 gigatons of carbon can be emitted between 2000 to 2050. But one-third of the 886 gigatons carbon budget has already been spent in the first decade and for the remaining forty years, only 565 gigatons is left.

On the other hand, estimates by the CTI also shows that if all the proven  oil, coal and natural gas reserves in the hands of the fossil fuel companies and oil-rich countries like Kuwait and Venezuela were to be burned then  an equivalent of 2,797 gigatons of carbon dioxide be released into the atmosphere– emissions, more than five times the recommended limit, that would cause global climatic conditions to alter drastically and unpredictably.

To avoid such uncontrollable changes from occurring, experts recommend that 80%, if not more, of the remaining fossil fuels be left underground and instead, renewable energy must be promoted and deployed. However, dishonest fossil fuel companies and complicit government officials have always blocked any momentum on this front by dismissing renewables as an expensive technology that would have great economic implications.

While this argument held some validation a few years ago, it is no longer true. Renewable technology has undergone meteoric advancements over the past couple of years and prices have plunged dramatically. According to the investment firm, Lazard, the average global cost of generating electricity via. solar panels fell by 82% between 2009 to 2015. In the same period, the cost of electricity generation using wind turbines fell by 61%. On top of this, construction bids on projects in Dubai and China over the past six months show that the price for solar technology has still fallen by a further 25%.

Taking such plummeting prices into account, it is clear that even without special incentives, the price of solar generated electricity is already close to rivaling that of coal generated electricity. KPMG, an accounting firm, predicts that, by 2020, solar energy would be 10% cheaper than energy derived by burning coal in India. It has also been reported that, in the past six months, UK produced more power from solar panels alone than it did from burning coal – a prospect that had previously been dismissed as too harsh on the economy.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, countries that have invested in large scale solar energy are doing remarkably well economy wise. Investments in the renewable energy sector in Germany – a country that fulfills more than half of its energy requirements using solar energy –  supports more than four million jobs today and its ambitious green plans in the future is expected to more than double this number. Chile, another country where solar energy is thriving, is producing so much solar energy that for 192 days last year, electricity was free for its citizens. Imagine the economic advantages if such surplus could be harnessed and exported. Examples such as these show that renewable technologies no longer mean huge economic sacrifices: In the present context, countries can move away from carbon-intensive practices cheaply and quickly.

There is also another important consideration here: If relatively cooler countries like the UK and Germany are able to harness their solar potential in such a large scale, and so effectively, imagine what nations of the Global South –  with their comparatively hotter climate patterns  – can do with such technology. Countries with hot desert or tropical climates like Abu Dhabi and Costa Rica have reported amazing successes with solar panels . A success that can be replicated with other countries of the Global South as well – no matter their economic standing.

While awfully promising, solar energy is not the only prospect available to countries on the renewable front. Depending on the resources available, countries can use a combination of wind, water and geothermal technologies to meet any shortcomings presented by solar technology. Furthermore, petroleum cars can either be replaced by electric cars (powered by wind or solar generated electricity) or by biofuel cars – cars that run on fuel produced from crops or algae that have a lesser carbon footprint than their carbon-intensive, gasoline-guzzling counterparts.

 In all corners of the globe, ventures into various renewable technologies are thriving. The Islandic capital, Reykjavík, plans on achieving a carbon neutral status by 2040 by relying on the abundant geothermal energy available to it. In another part of the world, Japan has developed a technology that can harness the wind energy from a typhoon – a natural phenomenon with energy potential estimated to be so great that Japan will be able to meet  all of its energy requirements from this alone for several decades.

Even small nations like Nepal have joined the fight. Although Nepal’s  global green-house gas emissions is lower than 0.05%, its government has been promoting solar technology persistently – mostly as a solution to the ongoing energy crisis. Solar roof-top systems have become an integral component of building codes (that were revised after the 2015 earthquake). The government  also offers substantial subsidies for both commercial and residential installments of solar panels.

According to Mr. Manjeet  Dhakal, a senior policy analyst at Climate Analytics from Nepal, “Nepal’s neighbors, India and China, are actively pursuing clean energy options and are investing in solar, wind, and hydropower. Research and investment in clean energy is increasing and as a result energy options are getting cheaper for Nepal. So the time is right for Nepal to develop an infrastructure that is reliant on renewable technology.”

Nepal’s solar potential is immense. At an average solar radiation of 4.7 kWh/m2/day , for 6.8 hours of sunshine each day and with around 300 such sunny days in total, Nepal’s solar radiation is considered to be greater than Germany’s – the world leader in this sector. Nevertheless, any gaps identified in the solar energy sector can be filled in by hydropower as Nepal  – with its steep mountainous topography  that holds 2.4% of the world’s water resources – is deemed to have a whopping hydropower potential of 43,000MW.

Temperature records show that during the first six months of 2016, temperatures rose by an average of 1.3°C – the hottest months yet in recorded history. According to climate scientist James Hansen, we are already past a climate safe zone in the present. With an atmosphere where carbon dioxide levels have reached dangerous levels , the world cannot allow climate conferences to remain perfunctory acts – devoid of any real meaning or beneficial agendas.

In 2015, excluding the electricity generated from large hydropower plants, 10.3% of all the global electricity was generated using renewable resources – sun, wind and the likes. To ensure that this percentage rises radically in the upcoming years, we must make sure that all countries have access to  renewable technology.

While generating momentum on this front may be hard for many nations, activists and environmentalists can take comfort in the fact the struggle is only bound to get easier with time. After all, the era of renewable revolution is almost upon us.

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