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Category Archives: Renewable energy

Energy generation and usage is considered not only as a mark of progress of a nation but also security of a nation. That is why countries go to extraordinary distance to achieve such a security and everything else becomes secondary in the path of their goal. That is why countries with high oil and gas reserves enjoy good relationship and privileges with powerful nations of the world. Countries who do not have their own oil and gas reserves and who completely rely on import of oil and gas have no choice but maintain a good relationship with oil rich countries despite their difference in ideologies and policies. But with warming globe and changing climate the dependence on fossil fuels is fast becoming unsustainable and countries look for alternatives. It is good news for the whole world especially for nations who depend completely on import of oil and gas because they can develop their own renewable energy sources to lower their emissions. But there is one major difference. Countries who depend on import of oil and gas required to develop only an infrastructure to store and distribute oil and gas, But with renewable energy they have to develop an infrastructure to produce the hardware necessary to use alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal  but also energy storage such as batteries. The warming globe and changing climate have become a grave threat to the plant earth and a threat to lives of entire future generations. It is the greatest challenge of the industrialized world. One can view this as threat or as an opportunity. But it is time to act irrespective of our views and we must act now.

It is an opportunity for scientists and engineers to view energy sources and their applications in a new perspective. It is an opportunity to understand how human activities affect our environment and how not to damage them but preserve them for our future generations while developing new alternatives. Humanity is just a part of a larger environment and any damage to planet earth is at our own peril. It is an ancient wisdom, but we neglected them. When an aboriginal of Australia said “we belong to earth and earth does not belong to us” we failed to listen to them. We(people) became bigger than They (environment).

In pursuit of a new energy source one must be extremely careful in examining Nature and how she operates so that we do not make the same mistakes of the past. As we develop renewable energy as a potential energy source of the future, we should be aware of the life cycle of such a system and their impact on environment. Renewable energy requires hardware that uses exotic metals, catalysts, polymers, new Carbon sources and glasses. As we switch to Carbon free economy, we should make sure that there are no emissions in developing renewable energy sources and if necessary impose Carbon tax on such emissions and, to develop recycling technologies to recycle that hardware safely and environmentally friendly manner. It is critically important issue as we move forward. According to an article published in Chemical engineering News

“The potential quantities of waste are enormous. By 2025, waste batteries removed from electric vehicles will total 95 Giga watt hours, according to an estimate by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That pile will weigh roughly 600,000 metric tons.

A similar amount of old solar panels will have accumulated by then, according to projections by the International Renewable Energy Agency. IRENA anticipates solar panel waste could reach 78 million metric tons by 2050. And Europe could see 300,000 metric tons per year of decommissioned wind turbine blades in the next two decades, says the trade association Wind Europe.

Each year, approximately 300,000 metric tons of lithium-ion battery waste is generated around the world, says Sheetanshu Upadhyay, an analyst with India’s Esticast Research & Consulting. Most of those batteries come from mobile devices, but that waste will soon be overshadowed by old electric car batteries. Sales of plug-in electric vehicles are expected to surpass 2.6 million in 2020, according to Navigation Research.”

The above data shows the amount of CO2 emission associated with implementation of renewable energy sources soon. There is a potential for large scale recycling industries on renewables, but it will come with a price and environmental issues. Right now, the main problem is the CO2 emission and the only way to tackle this problem is impose Carbon tax on emissions while encouraging industries with low emission technologies. It should be possible for UN to pass a unanimous resolution among the nations to address climate change by imposing Carbon tax uniformly across the nation. By such resolution UN can bring all those countries to the table who are currently reluctant to be a party to the Paris accord. Countries can use “Carbon rating” similar to “energy ratings” currently used for measuring energy efficiencies in appliances such as Heaters and air-conditioners. The lowest emitting technologies will get the highest Carbon rating while high emission technologies will get the lowest Carbon ratings. By using such a method country who are reluctant to act on climate change will be disadvantaged; they will not be able to compete in international market or export their goods to low emitting countries based on Carbon ratings.

 

Recycling PV solar panelsRecycling renewablesRecycling wind turbines

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Sustainability can be defined as the ability to meet present needs without disturbing Nature’s equilibrium by a holistic approach while not compromising the ability of the future generation to continue to meet their needs. Holistic is “Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole” (Wikipedia). Mathematically and scientifically any exponential growth or consumption will not be sustainable and such growth will eventually be curtailed by forces of Nature. Unfortunately current models of sustainability do not take a holistic approach but focus only on a continuous growth or expansion to meet the demands of the growing human population thus disturbing the Nature’s equilibrium. The holistic approach is essential because our world is interconnected and any isolated growth or development in one part of the world will affect the other part of the world. Such a growth is counter-productive to human civilization as a whole. At the same time Nature’s equilibrium is critical for the survival of humanity and science should take into account this critical issue while developing solutions to problems. Otherwise such a solution will not be sustainable in the long run.

Nature maintains a perfect equilibrium (dynamic equilibrium) while maintaining reversibility. Both are intricately linked. If the equilibrium is not maintained then it becomes an irreversible process and the entropy of such a system will only increase according to the second law of thermodynamics. The order will become disorder or lead to chaos. Moreover any human interference to nature’s irreversibility and equilibrium by human beings will need energy. Any energy generation process within the system will not be holistic and therefore will not be sustainable.

For example, reverse osmosis (RO) is a major industrial process now used to desalinate sea water/brackish water to potable water. This process is reversing the Nature’s osmotic process by applying a counter pressure over and above the osmotic pressure of the saline water using high pressure pump. This requires energy in the form of electrical energy or thermal energy in the case of distillation. When such energy is generated by burning fossil fuel then the entropy increases because combustion of fossil fuel is an irreversible process. It is clearly not sustainable.

Energy is directly connected with economic growth of the world, but Governments and industries failed to adopt a holistic approach while generating energy by simply focusing only on economic growth. The fossil fuel power generation has resulted in the accumulation of GHG in the atmosphere and in the ocean changing the climate. Power generation by nuclear plant (Fukushima) has spilled radiation into the ocean and has crossed the Pacific Ocean to shores of North America. These are irreversible changes. The human and economic costs from such pollution will easily dwarf the ‘the economic growth’ of the world. It is not holistic because the emissions caused by one country affects the whole world; then it becomes the right of an individual to object to such pollution and it is the obligation of the Governments, United Nations and the industries to protect people from such pollution. Right now all these agencies are helplessly watching the deteriorating situation because they do not have the solution or means to reverse the situation whether it is an advanced country or a poor country; we always measure growth only by income and not by the quality of air we breathe in or water we drink or the environment we live in.

The demand for energy and water are constantly increasing all over the world; and we are trying to meet these demands by expanding existing power plants or by setting up new plants. When we generate power using fossil fuel the heat energy is converted into electrical energy and the products of combustion are let out into the atmosphere in the form of CO2 and Oxides of Nitrogen. It is an irreversible process and we cannot recover back the fossil fuel already burnt. Similarly the electricity generated once used to do some useful work such as lighting or running a motor etc cannot be recovered back.  The process of electricity generation as well as usage of electricity is irreversible. Similarly when it rains the water percolates into the ground dissolving all the minerals, sometimes excessively in some places making it unsuitable to drink or irrigate. This process can be reversed but it again requires energy.

Both the above processes are irreversible and thermodynamically they will increase the entropy of the system. Any energy generation process will have cost implications and therefore irreversibility and entropy are directly linked with economics. Fortunately renewable energy sources offer hope to humanity. Even though the entropy is increased due to its irreversible nature there is no depletion of energy (sun shines everyday). Only Nature can come to human rescue to our sustainability. Science and powerful economies cannot guarantee sustainability irrespective of the size of the budget. There is a myth that billions of dollars can reverse the irreversibility with no consequences.

It raises question on the very basis of science because science depends on “observation and reproducibility” as we know. The biggest question is: “Who is the Observer and what is observed”? When sages of the East such as Ramana Maharishi raises this question, the Science has clearly no answer and the world is blindly and inevitably following the West to the point of no return.

 

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