The Energy Enigma-1

The two major crises [ie. other than the economy] ailing the world today are the food crisis and the energy crisis. There is a serious shortage of food among the producers/exporting countries and as usual there is and will always be a shortage of energy. I am not touching topic of the volatile present day economics. In this post I want to talk about the ever increasing energy needs and the ways we can conserve energy, or even better, find alternate sources.

We are incessantly depending on energy to fuel our basic needs in our day-to-day lives. The majority of the energy demand is for either electricity or fossil fuels. Let me show some fancy stats to reiterate my point. The global electricity consumption in 2005 was 16,830,000,000 MWHr approximately. And the present day oil reserves are to be present only for the next 40 years before they go dry. Mind you, this situation is going to be very much in our lifetimes. [Hopefully..! assuming the mortality rate doesn’t increase all of a sudden!]

One thing is for sure, the consumption is only bound to increase by the day. So what can be done about this?

1. We can conserve whatever little is left and prolong the period of the fossil fuels running out/avoid wastage of electricity or

2. Find alternate sources.

There are basically 3 different conventional sources of electricity-

1. Hydro-electric power: as we all know, this is generated by water injected at high pressure that drives turbines which are coupled to generators. The high pressure is achieved by storing water in dams/reservoirs. This is the most popular means of power generation. There are many hydel projects that are very successful, Itaipu dam, that’s located between Brazil and Paraguay is a good e.g,.

2. Thermal power: this is generated by BURNING coal. I just can’t digest this fact. The heat energy thus produced is used to heat water, thereby producing steam to drive turbines. Thermal power stations are becoming unpopular as the wastage is pretty high.

3. Nuclear power: the concept is similar to thermal power except that nuclear fuel is used to heat water instead of coal. Nuclear power is supposedly ‘clean fuel’. Lots of precautions have to be taken to ensure there is no leakage of radiation. [remember Chernobyl??]

There’s the ‘Why’ and ‘What’. Now let’s go to the ‘HOW’…

Energy Conservation—

1. Charity begins at home they say. Aptly said. Firstly, we must put off all equipments when not in use. [at home or work]. A monitor or TV on standby mode uses 50% of its rated power.. its not just about your electricity bills, its about how much energy all of us can save together. The amount of electricity wasted by one of us in a week or so maybe enough to power someone’s house for at least a day. And that shouldn’t be denied. Because, it all comes at a price.

2. Energy efficient equipments should be used; Lighting at homes, or high power equipments in industries.

3. Buildings should be built keeping energy conservation in mind. That is minimizing the use of artificial lighting and air conditioners; and incorporating rain water harvesting etc.

4. And lastly, urban farming can also be adopted. This is a technology newly followed in Japan [ I don’t know much about this] using this, the environment where the farm is situated can be kept cool, thus minimizing the usage of electricity.

The above mentioned 3 sources of energy are not renewable. So there is a dire need to find alternate sources. There are already popular methods –

1. Solar energy: there should be many more solar fields set up like the one in Spain. Here arrays of mirrors are aligned with the sun to reflect and concentrate sunlight on to the top of a tower. There is a differential gradient and the mirrors align with the sun throughout the day. There are a set of pipes that circulate water in and out of the point of concentration. Thus the heated water is converted to steam and used to produce electricity. A very small land area is used to set up these arrays of mirrors. The investment is one time and the returns are high. The electricity thus generated is enough to power an entire city..! For more info on this please watch ‘planet mechanics-solar paella’ or ‘megastructures-man made sun’ episodes. This is ideal for tropical countries which receive ample sunlight that can be tapped.

2. Wind energy: there is a lot of scope for wind turbines to be set up in many countries. Denmark satisfies 33% of its energy need from wind sources. This is the largest in the world. An international commission can be set up to identify specific areas where this can be incorporated. The installation and operation can be given on a contract basis or outsourced.

3. Tidal and geothermal energy are yet to be tapped commercially and need a lot of technical development.

Other than these, more and more companies should be given carbon credits, so that they are encouraged to reduce pollutants.

I shall talk about the alternate sources for fossil fuels in the next post…

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15 comments

  1. Job well done! i’ve something to say tho.Lets limit the production of automobiles.. say 2000-3000 per year.That way we can keep a watch on pollutants and try to minimise pollution.More importantly, it would keep the traffic in check especially in bangalore, thereby giving more breathing space for authorities to improve infrastructure.

  2. @Hari- that’s a very idealistic solution. Though there is a rule in some countries like Singapore to limit the number of vehicles coming on road every year, that is difficult here with cars becoming very affordable for the middle-class citizen. Also, any check on the number of vehicles will be opposed by the manufacturing companies, and they’ll ultimately bribe the government to have things go their way.

  3. @Hari and Nikhil- good point hari, but haven’t dealt with automobiles and fossil fuels.. that’ll be in continuation to this post. and as Nikhil says, anything can be made possible in India.. 🙂

  4. @nick-Thats always there.Im not telling that noone should buy the 2001th or 3001th car.Let them sell their products phase by phase. Its like a financial year having four quarters! If someone books the 2001th car at the end of the quarter,the car will be delivered to them only after six months. Jus like how telephone connections those days took more than three months for installation and activation.In such a case no one would ever complain!!

  5. Hey good post. Try to include a few more tips which people can do in general to help the scenario in your next post 🙂

    @Nikhil– the blame game can go on forever. companies do that cos of the demands. Every newly employed person buys a new vehicle. 80% of coll students ‘ve vehicles.
    also its difficult to rely on public transport always in a place like bang.The auto meter runs faster than our pulse rates:-)hope the much hyped “metro rails” ‘ll be of help.

  6. @hari – I completely agree with you man. Keeping a check on automobiles is one of the most ideal ways to not only save fuel, but also to reduce pollution; the only point I was trying to make is that its very difficult to implement it. Of course, you gave a good solution to that problem as well, but when buying vehicles is so convenient now, as compared to earlier, why would anyone want to wait till the end of the quarter?

    I feel the best way to keep ppl away from using vehicles is an EFFICIENT public transport system, as emphasized by Sri. The local trains of Mumbai are considered to be the lifelines of the city. No wonder there are very few two-wheelers in Mumbai. Such a transport system should be implemented in all the major cities. After all, if someone can conveniently travel from one place to another at a very nominal fee, then why would he waste his money on fuel?

    Pls voice your views on this. Sounds like a good topic for discussion 🙂

  7. @Hari, nikhil – hari, Thats a good solution, but i think its difficult to implement practically, with the likes of Nano coming, ppl are encouraged to BUY vehicles, and if this is done, i dont think ppl will be patient enough to wait that long. moreover, the quarterly targets of manufacturers will take a huge beating..! whats good for the system— what u ve proposed is the best solution.. but it is possible only in a dictatorship kindof environment.. in our environment, public transport s/m shd be strengthened[as nikhil and sridevi have pointed out]

    @sridevi- thanks 🙂 i ll try to give some solutions in my next post.. and abt the auto meters running rate… 🙂 . i feel bangalore’s autos are the cheapest in this part of the country..!!! the buses are costly tho.. i’ve had bitter xp with autos in chennai.. go thru my post sometime.. its way too costly in chennai and coimbatore.. i dunno much abt other parts of india..

  8. hey! Good post yet again 🙂
    ok, solar power is properly is the best alternative solution. But the solar panels are expensive. And right now in India, I don’t think saving energy is one of their main concerns. There are many other problems that still have to be solved ( poverty and corruption to start off with)
    Even in spore, the government was not able to afford to invest in solar panels to a large extent. So they came up with is solution having solar panels on top of parking light sign boards only( these parking signs are there in almost every main street.) This actually proved to save a lot of power and therefore they are considering expanding the use of these panels. Well, long way to go for India before it reaches that stage.
    Like you said, lets start off with what WE can do.

    @hari- hey! Well talking about automobiles, limiting the production will affect the manufacturing sector badly.(considering that a significant part is made up of automobile manufactures).
    I live in Manila now. And they have a traffic rule here that I though was very good but what really amused me was what the people have done to come over the restriction. It’s called ‘color coding’. All vehicles (except public transport) are color coded. According to this rule, vehicles that end with a certain number are not allowed to be taken out on certain days. So if your car number ends with a 1 or 2 it is color coded (it should be called number coded…anyway) on mondays.3 and 4 on Tuesdays and so on and it ends with 9 and 0 on Fridays. No restrictions on weekends. This reduces traffic and pollution by a large extent, which is obviously very good. The people here, therefore, buy 2 or 3 cars to make sure they have a vehicle they can take out everyday.
    So if the “6mth later” idea that you mentioned is brought in with the color coding, ceteris paribus (corruption of traffic offers etc..),pollutions will reduce to a LARGE extent!

  9. @Bhargavi – thanks.! 🙂 Firstly i think all the present day problems shd be taken up simultaneously. if they are queued up, it’ll take ages to actually come up with a solution. development of higher capacity solar cells are actually happening, read it somewhere, so in that case, the same area of panels can produce more power.
    and abt the limiting the automobile production, have proposed some ideas in the next post. and haha, at manila, ppl can afford to have three cars.. in india, there is no such affordability, so i think it may work here.. 🙂

  10. “Present day problems shd be taken up simultaneously”
    Agreed fully! They SHOULD be…but they CANT be. There are many basic problems that should first be solved. The root of all this is having a good government with young people in it. A man who is 80 and can’t carry himself will not be able to support an entire nation! Well, you can argue about experience, but still. WE NEED YOUNG PEOPLE! Ashwin….consider politics 😀 (I shall stop right here. this has nothing to do with yr original post:P)

    Well, with the 100,000rs car…i think India will VERY soon be in the same position as Manila where every other middle class household owns at least ONE car.But the major metros should have the color coding rule.

  11. @Bhargavi – Nothing’s impossible. Issues can be taken up simultaneously. All we need is efficient planning and properl chalking out of the tasks to be done. things can be pipelined.
    abt the 1 lakh car, i have also expressed a similar opinion in the post ‘the energy enigma 2’ and have tried to give alternatives.
    and politics..! I dunno if am built for politics.. Its not my mug of beer..!

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