It is well accepted that the world needs to reduce its carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic warming of our atmosphere. Like it or not, we are in a race against time to develop sustainable low carbon energy sources. We need to find ways of satisfying the world’s need for power without pushing global warming to the point of no-return.
Of course, reducing the demand for power by insulating buildings and cutting down on unnecessary power use is a part of the answer. Population growth is also an issue which shouldn’t be shied away from. Stable populations and less wastage will not supply the whole solution though. For one thing, developing nations need more and more power as they aspire to the living standards of the developed world.
So trying to curb the demand for power, even if it is achievable, will not be enough. Developing renewable power sources that produce less harmful emissions is a necessity.
One ‘green’ technology after the other comes to the fore, but they often show problems over time, and many are more suitable for some locations than others. It seems that for now, it makes sense to let the different technologies develop, so that each can find its own niche. Hopefully, governments will find the resources to foster these vital new industries, so that the individual problems of each can be resolved as far as possible.
Some technologies may not find a place in the eventual mix, but they all need to be given a fair chance. This is a brief look at some of the main contenders.
Critics of wind power claim that it is inefficient, and incapable of producing enough energy to justify its costs and environmental impact. Its defenders put those objections down to over-sensitivity to visual effects and imaginary health problems. In the UK, large off-shore wind-farms are gradually emerging to take their part in the energy jigsaw, and they are meeting less resistance.
The initial promise of bio-fuels has faded over time. It diverts land to grow energy crops at a time when the world looks set to get hungrier, and more food crops are badly needed. It is not a fossil fuel as such and it is renewable but it still produces carbon emissions. Bio-fuels have lost a lot of credibility after initially being promoted as the great answer to all the world’s energy problems.
Solar power has a lot of potential both on a large scale and for domestic installations feeding into the grid. At present, it plays a fairly small part in spite of government incentives, and the potential in the UK is limited for obvious reasons.
This is a developing technology which taps the heat energy at the earth’s centre and it shows a lot of promise. It is not widely used in the UK, as until recently its use has been limited to areas near tectonic plates. However the technology is improving and deeper wells are now possible.
Geothermal energy can be used to produce electricity or to use higher temperatures at the earth’s core directly as a source of heat.
Unlike wind or solar power, geothermal energy does not depend on variable weather, so you are not left with the problem of storing energy to use over periods of low production. It is sustainable, in that the amount of heat tapped makes no appreciable difference to the resource, and it is relatively clean, as the emissions produced are much less than those created by fossil fuels.
Wave and tidal power
These power sources should be ideal for a northern maritime nation like the UK. Various technologies designed to exploit the immense power of the seas which surround us are being developed but sadly they are hardly used at present. Environmental worries put an end to a major project in the tidal river Severn in the South West of England.
This is one area of green technology that is crying out for development.