It is estimated that by the middle of this century the global energy demand will more than double from the current levels of consumption, with the maximum growth coming from the developing countries, primarily China and India. The often debated question is whether we have required energy in the planet in the form of fossil fuels, namely oil, gas and coal or are we reaching the ‘peak oil’ situation where the oil peaks out and then starts to decline.
Coal reserves are not a problem, but emissions are. Clearly, the need for clean energy becomes all the more evident as we move into a new renewable growth energy era with a sustainable development taking firm roots in the business.
There is no one single technology today that can replace the already mature fossil fuel industry. It is the energy mix of renewables like solar, wind, hydro, biomass and nuclear and oil that will provide the multiple solutions according to the geography, location and economics. Bio-fuels may work fine in Brazil while solar may make sense in another country and carbon-capture & storage may be right in another place. But as per the data provided by the BP in 2007, the combined output of geothermal, wind and solar – accounted for approximately 1% of global electricity generation. Other estimates are that the clean energy will be able to supply 30% of the total energy by 2050.The question then is how can we leapfrog into the future to affect change? Many experts believe that the following 2 main areas have the ability to fulfill the demand:
- Energy efficiency: Germany began its pursuit of clean energy almost 20 years ago and in the process has learnt to become highly efficient in its energy use. It has become a leader in solar and wind power installations also. Amory Lovins, of Rocky Mountain Institute, claims that currently we are using less than half of the energy properly. ‘While clean renewables are the answer, it will take another 3-4 decades to come to any scalable solution. What we can do is manage how we use energy,’ says James Sweeney, Professor at Stanford in the Management Science and Engineering department. The department itself is a combination of 3 different fields suggesting that we need an integrated approach in the energy issue.
- Cap’n’trade system: Putting a strong price on carbon will not only bring the use of fossil fuels down but also promote the use of clean energy technologies. Economist John Helliwell in a recent lecture at University of British Columbia said that what is needed is a wedge – between price users pay and less consumption. Carbon tax is very much a necessity now. But what is not needed are subsidies in clean energy- that is the not the right way to stimulate demand
The clean energy sector has potential to solve much of the world’s tangible problems by creating new jobs and skills and not to mention the good it will do to the environment as these technologies eventually become free once the infrastructure is in place. Global companies like Walmart, Steelcase are among the many that are generating their own electricity using clean energy. Rooftop solar panels, rechargeable batteries, LED’s, and mini wind turbines in homes are all are here to stay. But challenges to transform the energy sector are immense as complete business models of utilities will warrant change requiring careful alliances between governments, public policies, companies and individuals.
For more @ Rocky Mountain Institute: http://www.rmi.org/rmi/
Sustainability and Life Satisfaction: Talk by John Helliwell, Economist at University of British Columbia @ http://www.econ.ubc.ca/helliwell/