The Financial Express

Renewable energy needs greater attention  

Renewable energy needs greater attention   

This format of energy is generally defined as energy that is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale. Renewable energy projects in many developing countries have also demonstrated that it can directly contribute to poverty reduction by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment. Renewable energy technologies can also indirectly support in alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting. Renewable energy can also contribute to education, by providing electricity to schools. It can also play an vital role in the rural areas in creating necessary support for re-charging mobile phones.

It may be noted that renewable energy is derived from natural processes that are replenished constantly. In its various forms, it derives directly from the sun, or from heat generated deep within the earth. Included in the definition is electricity and heat generated from solar, wind, ocean, hydro power, biomass, geothermal resources, bio fuels and hydrogen derived from renewable resources.

This form of energy is functional in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation and rural (off grid) energy services. Based on a recent Renewable Energy Report, renewables contributed 19 per cent to global energy consumption of humans and 22 per cent to their generation of electricity. This was explained by the International Energy Agency through the fact that renewable energy flows involved natural phenomena such as sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth and geothermal heat.

Renewable energy resources and significant opportunities for energy efficiency exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to other energy sources, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and technological diversification of energy sources would result in significant energy security and economic benefits.

It also generally agreed that it would reduce environmental pollution such as air pollution caused by burning of fossil fuels and improve public health by reducing premature mortalities due to pollution. Renewable energy consumption, as of now, according to scientists include 9 per cent coming from traditional biomass, 4.2 per cent from non-biomass, 3.8 per cent  from hydro electricity and 2 per cent from wind, solar and geothermal sources. 

In international public opinion surveys there is strong support for promoting renewable sources-- particularly solar power and wind power. Statistics indicate that at the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20 per cent of their energy supply requirement. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond, and some 120 countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy, including a 20 per cent target of all electricity generated for the European Union by 2021. Some countries have much higher long-term policy targets of up to 100 per cent renewables.

Outside Europe, a diverse group of 20 or more other countries are targeting renewable energy shares in the 2020-2030 time frame that range from 10 to 50 per cent.

Economists and environmental activists have also been forecasting that national renewable energy markets will continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond. Some places and at least two countries, Iceland and Norway are reported to be generating almost their entire energy requirement using renewable energy. Denmark, following their example has also decided to switch its total energy supply (electricity, mobility and heating/cooling) to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

It may be noted in this context that while many renewable energy projects are based on large-scale implementation, it is also now agreed that renewable technologies can be considered as suitable for rural and remote areas. This would be predominantly applicable in the case of developing countries, where energy is often crucial for human economic development. We need to understand that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity. This belief is now being translated into reality through proactive measures of our present government.

As a result, in Bangladesh as well as in India, efforts are underway to ensure that renewables not only provide electricity but that through renewable energy deployment, in conjunction with further electrification, electricity is converted to heat without loss. This then enables the reaching of even higher temperatures than fossil fuels. In India, China and Korea, this measure is helping to convert the heat not only into mechanical energy with high efficiency but also ensuring that it is clean at the point of consumption. This process is also seen as beneficial in terms of cost as it leads to a significant reduction in primary energy requirements, because most renewables don't have a steam cycle with high losses-- as is true of fossil power plants that usually have losses sometimes of up to 20 to 25 per cent.

This important aspect as well as factors related to climate change and global warming concerns are promoting greater awareness about the need for increasing government support in the formulation of increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialisation. This trend can also be noticed in our country in the approach being taken by both the public as well as the private sectors with regard to their spending, regulatory measures and policies. Available data indicate that nearly 5 million households in our country are now using solar power. That has also helped to create greater connectivity between the rural and urban sectors and promoted educational opportunities after sunset, trade, agriculture, employment and health care.

The IEA has correctly observed that the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries' energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource. It will enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global.

Biomass can also be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and bio diesel. Rotting garbage, agricultural and human waste, and crops, such as corn and sugarcane, can be fermented to produce transportation fuel, ethanol. This is being done in Brazil. At present, biomass is also being used for electricity generation through forest by-products, such as wood residues, in the United States and agricultural waste (sugar cane residue and rice husks) in Southeast Asia. Animal husbandry residues, such as poultry litter, are also commonly used in the United Kingdom.

Bangladesh, like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria and some other countries is also moving ahead in using biomass and bio-gas. At present, according to available data, nearly 44 million households world-wide use bio-gas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cooking stoves. This dynamics is also taking place gradually in the rural areas of Bangladesh. The capital expenditure required for such installation is normally generated in Bangladesh through micro-credit.

Renewable energy technologies are getting cheaper through technological change and through the benefits of mass production and market competition. From this point of view, it has indeed been a welcome step that Bangladesh's Ministry for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources has established three new Administrative Divisions pertaining to coal, renewable and independent power producers. This, it is hoped, will facilitate smooth implementation of energy projects.

The potential of producing wind energy in the coastal areas and the off-shore islands is also under study. Denmark has already come forward to assist Bangladesh in this regard.

We are passing through an important phase in our national life -- particularly so, in view of our earlier commitments. India, through Public-Private Partnership is now producing nearly 10.0 GW renewable energy and aiming to reach 100GW by 2024. If they can do it, we also can. That is closely associated with our energy security policy.

Our public as well as private sectors now need to show, especially after the current COVID crisis, their will and commitment to move forward in an integrated manner so that we can make  use of renewable energy as a viable means to benefit our next generation.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.


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