Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If Switching to Renewable Energy Isn't Easy, Why Should We?

In New Zealand they sell Electric cars for approximately NZD 70,000 where 1 NZD is approx Rs 52 (20Jun14). The Japanese imports on the NZ Ebay-equivalent, TradeMe, sell for NZD 25,000 while second hand petrol driven cars – the kind that cash-strapped folk buy, sell on the same site for under 5,000 dollars. Which one would you buy?

Cars with clean fuel don’t come cheap. Not yet. Hopefully, just like any new technology, like PCs in the nineties for example or cell phones more recently, they will soon start getting cheaper and flood the market.

Most governments see the problems of having to invest in new technology. Setting up the infrastructure would cost money. They also see the problems if they don't. Air not fit enough to breathe, soil not fit to grow our veges in and waters not fit to drink or fish in. Some governments weigh the air we breathe against the money they'd have to spend in favour of the latter. Others believe the most practical thing to do is to use both types of energy - renewable and fossil, while they gradually phase out fossil fuels.

India has a huge renewable energy sector. The only problem with India is that demand far outstrips supply. The government imports coal from outside to make up the deficit. But before that, the government is keen to extract as much energy - clean or otherwise as possible. If that means stripping our forests to get to the minerals, especially the coal buried underneath, so be it. If it means the slow desertification of our fertile land, we'll get to that problem when it happens. If it means displacing more people and turning them into desperate rebels, we'll handle them. If it means more people suffering from asthma, nausea, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, stiffness in their joints, they can't link that to the use of fossil fuels and what it spews into out air, soil and water.

Governments would rather not inform or educate the public about the dangers of using fossil fuels. Many NGOs do. Most NGOs are born out of the very human need to improve the lot of others less fortunate. There might be NGOs who have other objectives in mind. If that is proved beyond reasonable doubt, punish such NGOs by stopping their foreign funding. But don’t tarnish them ALL as happened recently. It is vitally important that our attention isn't deflected from the main issue - that of trying to understand what burning fossil fuels do and weighing our options.

Burning coal and petroleum releases gases like CO, CO2, SO2, NO2 etc into our environment (air, water, soil). What do these deadly gases do to our health, environment and quality of life. (Click on any one to find out)

In conclusion, to make informed choices
  1. we'd need to know the dangers to our health and environment of using fossil fuels
  2. the dangers of digging up our forests even more than we already have to get to the coal and minerals underneath. And
  3. we'd need to ensure our attention isn't deflected from the real issues.
If convinced that we do need to use less coal based energy there is ONE FINAL HURDLE to overcome. We’d need to be informed about the problems we’d face whilst switching. Making informed choices isn't easy. In India we've been used not to interfere with the decisions and policies of the government. It is too hard. There are too many hurdles. But, we like being informed.

David MacKay who doesn’t give us a lot of hot air about any of these 'clean' technologies like wind farming, solar panels, wave farming etc. discusses the practicalities of investing in such technologies. For example, to extract energy from wind farms we’d need a lot of land to put up huge infrastructure like a large number of giant windmills. In India we don’t have enough land to spare nor do we have large open spaces. Yet, windfarms do produce some electricity for us. We do have a lot of sunshine - solar panels are big business in India.

What David MacKay does make easy to understand are the numbers and figures – for example, how much energy does an average person use daily for their car and how much clean energy should be made available to carry on living without a change in lifestyle. Here's a synopsis of his book, aptly name, “Without The Hot Air” The end of this synopsis links us to his book of the same name. As you can see, the endorsements are from scientists, engineers, economists, industry leaders, politicians, environmentalists, historians, Americans and others. And he’s made it available free.

For that and for reminding us that we need a radical change in our consumption habits, i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - to greatly reduce pollution, thanks David MacKay. We, Indians are good at Reuse and Recycle but might need to work on "Reduce".

Possible further reading: Making Informed Choices


  1. I really liked your post about If Switching to Renewable Energy Isn't Easy, Why Should We?

  2. Thanks, Mita. It isn't easy, is it? On the one hand human activity causes so much damage to our health and on the other, it won't be all that easy to switch. The best is to start making those changes and have both types of energy in the interim. The worst is what we are doing right now - remaining apathetic about pollution.