New Internationalist Issue 284
* WHAT IT IS *
from one form to another. This is known as the FIRST LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS.
With every conversion of energy from one form into another,
conversion losses occur. Because of these losses, heat and other emissions are released
that bring disorder or entropy.
This is known as the SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS.
A QUARTER OF THE WORLD'S POPULATION - IN THE NORTH - CONSUMES MORE THAN 70 PER CENT OF THE WORLD'S COMMERCIAL ENERGY WHILE THE REMAINING THREE-QUARTERS - IN THE SOUTH - CONSUME LESS THAN 30 PER CENT.1
Two billion people in the South have no access to electricity.2 But a combination of industrialization and population growth in the South is set to increase global energy consumption by 60% by the year 2020.3
Fossil fuels - oil, coal and gas - currently provide the world with most of its energy. But burning these fuels is the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming.
At this rate the global temperature is set to rise 3-4 oC by 2100, causing a rise in sea levels of 66 cms and the disruption of the world's climate. The low-lying Maldive islands, in the Indian Ocean, would disappear entirely.5
In 1992, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that a cut of 60-80% in human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is needed to stabilize the world's climate.4
MOST RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT MONEY GOES TO FOSSIL FUEL AND NUCLEAR INSTEAD OF TO CLEAN, RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGIES.
In 1990 the US Government spent less on solar technology development than the cost of one transport plane, a B-1B bomber or a single nuclear missile.6
*International Energy Agency
VEHICLES ACCOUNT FOR HALF THE WORLD'S OIL USE.
THE COST OF DIFFERENT ENERGY SYSTEMS IS SKEWED IN FAVOUR OF FOSSIL FUELS AND NUCLEAR BY PAYING THEM HUGE SUBSIDIES.
- According to World Bank estimates, direct fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $220 billion worldwide in 1991. Solar and other renewable energy subsidies are virtually zero.3
One of the arguments against renewable energies is that they are uneconomic. But this is wearing thin as the price of electricity generated from renewable sources comes down and the technology becomes more efficient.
- In 1995 the cost of electricity generated from gas and coal was 3-4 cents per kilowatt hour, from nuclear was 10-14 cents, from wind was 5-7 cents, and from solar photovoltaic was 25-40 cents.
- But by 2030 wind, solar and biomass power may be cheaper than fossil fuels or nuclear.
RENEWABLE ENERGIES HAVE A TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL WHICH IS BARELY BEING USED.
- Wind: Land-based turbines could provide 20,000 terawatt-hours of electricity per year - or twice as much as the world consumed in 1987.8
- Biomass: More than 50 Third World countries would be able to produce as much energy from the residues generated by sugar production as they use now via imported oil.9
- Hydro: Less than 5% of the world's small- scale hydro power potential has been exploited so far.10
If solar photovoltaics were deployed wholesale today in homes and offices, they could generate two-thirds of the UK's current production each year. 7
The sun can produce at least 1,000 times more usable energy than we currently need
- In OECD - or Western industrialized countries - the usable solar harvest is 170 times more than needed.
- In the CIS - former USSR countries - the ratio is 400
- In the South - or Majority World - it is 950
- Peter Harper, Renewable Energy and the Future, paper 1996.
- Understanding Global Issues, Solar Power, London, 1996.
- Christopher Flavin, Nicholas Lenssen, Power Surge, Earthscan, London, 1995.
- Greenpeace International, Fossil Fuels in a Changing Climate, Amsterdam, 1993.
- United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- Herman Scheer, A Solar Manifesto, James and James, London, 1994.
- Greenpeace, Unlocking the Power of our Cities, London, 1995.
- Proceedings of the European Wind Energy Conference in Amsterdam in 1992.
- Cynthia Pollock Shea, Renewable Energy: Today's Contribution, Tomorrow's Promise, World Watch Paper 81, World Watch Institute, Washington DC, January 1988.
- Godfrey Boyle, ed., Renewable Energy; Power for a Sustainable Future, Oxford University Press and the Open University, 1996.
- Robert Hill, Phil O'Keefe and Colin Snape, The Future of Energy Use, Earthscan, London, 1995.
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