Economists and Engineers on the Dire Need for Renewable Energy Resources
One of the theories doing a quiet round since the time of Dimitri Mendeleev is that fossil fuels did not originate from decomposed biotic matter at all but from abiotic elements that had undergone chemical transformation under extreme pressure and heat in the deeper regions of the earth’s mantle.
According to Russian petrochemical engineer, Vladimir Kutcherov, “All kinds of rocks could have oil and gas deposits.” With this idea in mind, he carried out an experiment in 2002, where calcium carbonate was super-heated in the presence of iron, water and 30,000atm of atmospheric pressure, which resulted in 1.5% of the material to transform into hydrocarbons and another 10% into heavy oil. While this may look like a scientific breakthrough and give the impression that we will never run out of oil, the fact remains that no oil company has yet discovered such reservoirs. The global oil crisis still stands and Kutcherov’s method, for all its success, is not economically viable to support even a quarter of a nation’s energy needs.
Economists have also time and again pointed out that the expenses involved in laying out infrastructure for renewable energy production is too exorbitant to be practical. To be fair to this statement, the cost of building windfarms and solar fields is indeed high; add to that, the distances across which the power would have to be transported, annual maintenance of the structures irrespective of their energy output and, of course, laying out of efficient grids. The initial capital involved is so enormous, it tends to drive away investors who would be willing to take up such projects. All these preliminary hiccups make the price of green energy far greater than traditional sources, as seen in Denmark, Germany and Britain.
Talks of covering large areas of the Sahara with solar panels has tantalised many environmental enthusiasts and, if undertaken with courage and determination, can solve the critical energy crisis of the African continent to a great extent. Incidentally, if we look at the larger picture, the costs incurred in relying on non-renewable energy is actually far greater in the long run, as we end up with a host of other expenses in the form of medical necessities, environmental clean-ups, and the growing fear of oil extinction.
However, even if we leave aside idealistic dreams of converting the Sahara into a solar energy zone, it is not at all impossible for individual buildings to incorporate solar power generation as a primary source of electricity. Many cities around the world, specifically in Canada, Germany, France, Australia and Northern America, are pushing for higher implementation of “green roofs” on commercial buildings. These not only help curb air pollution, but also absorb rain water runoffs, increase the efficiency of heating and cooling a building as well as provide an ecosystem for urban birds to survive in.
All said and done, the biggest roadblock in the way of sustainable energy generation is the economic motives of investors and shareholders associated with oil companies. The economies of many countries, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, thrive on the bartering of liquid gold in exchange for their robust national development. The oil owners will go to any lengths to inhibit the growth of renewable sources so as to keep the money coming for oil.
Increased reduction in the price of oil and gas is diverting the interests of even those people who had taken to green fuel due to earlier high petroleum prices. This has been a severe blow in the face of green development, says David Goldstein, the co-director of NRDC’s energy program in San Francisco. Cheaper oil is also indicative of low grade oil, for instance, the kind that is produced from tar sand along the Arctic and Canadian belt.
These leave a considerably higher carbon footprint than other oils and cause untold damage as large numbers of people opt for cheaper options for their vehicles. To limit the pollution caused by vehicular emissions, several car companies have come out with vehicles that are capable of running on alternative fuels such as CNG, hydrogen, biomass and other forms of biodegradable fuels. While these implementations are being executed, the government needs to carry out frequent checks for pollution control upgrades on older existing vehicles and levy high legal fines for non-conformists.
Environmental degradation occurs slowly, as a result of which we fail to perceive it as a potential threat. Corporations worldwide are locking our attentions through economic gameplays of rising and falling oil prices and discouraging environmentalists by inducing a sense of false calm in the global population. We only need to look around our immediate surroundings to notice the changes that have already taken and are continuously taking place. It would do well for governments and policy makers to look past economic opportunities and wake up to the very real problem of environmental crisis that we are slowly heading towards.
A literature student for life, Manali Pal just completed her masters from the University of Delhi and is taking time off to expand her knowledge in Indian folklore and indigenous cultures for future research. A hopeless dreamer, she writes extensively, reads voraciously, and wishes she could spend more time on painting and learning the guitar. Her ultimate academic goal is to get an insight into the world view of the nomadic people of the world – the gypsies, tribes and travelling communities. She loves storms, rain and animals, and wants to build a home in the mountains.