IN THE UTOPIAN world of today’s climate campaigners, wind and sun will energise the earth. The air conditioning in your home and the boilers in the factory, cars on the road and even planes in the sky will be powered by harnessing the sun’s heat and the wind’s might, tidal and geothermal power, and biofuels. No more digging the earth to excavate coal or drilling the seabed to get petrol. Humans will not be pumping tonnes of carbon into the air, and therefore, global temperatures will not rise. A net zero-emission and 1.5° Celsius (temperature rise) will be attainable.
The green dream is tempting. But everyone, including its campaigners themselves, know that it is unattainable with the technology and consumption patterns of today. They might frown upon India for refusing to detach its development needs from coal and gas, but the truth is that solar panels and windmills alone cannot lift India into an economy that matches those in the west. Worse, there is a cost to pay for these alternatives. Indeed, just how green is green energy?
Renewable energy sources, as of today, face the problems of scalability and storage. Regular supply is another problem. For instance, if a photovoltaic cell says it has a capacity of 10KW, it means the cell will generate that energy when it is new, and also when the sun is at its brightest. Given the wear and tear of panels, and the fluctuation in sunshine during the course of a day and across seasons, the actual energy generated by that cell will be much lower, said Gurudas Nulkar, economist-turned-ecologist and author of Ecology, Equity and the Economy: The Human Journey.
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