From “Go Green” to “Going Blue” may be a gradual transition but most desirable. Let us understand why we should move from GREEN to BLUE.
1.0 Carbon Based Economy:
The present economy is a carbon-based economy. By that, we mean that all energy requirements of the economy are met by the burning of fuel whose major component is carbon. This carbon in the fuel undergoes an exothermic oxidation reaction in the presence of oxygen-producing heat and carbon-di-oxide. The heat so generated is then used either directly for heating and cooking or as a motive force as in the case of internal combustion engines or is used to heat other fluids that may finally be used to generate energy in the form of electricity as in the case of steam turbines.
Hence basically, the complete economy is dependent on the burning of carbon in various forms for its energy needs. This carbon may be in the form of coal, petrol, diesel, natural gas, biogas etc. and 71.47% electrical power is generated using these carbons.
These technologies produce carbon-di-oxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) which are leading to global warming and climate change. This is the biggest challenge being faced by our generation. In addition, the combustion of carbon-based fuel like coal, petrol and diesel leads to the generation of noxious gases like Sulphur di Oxide, Nitrous Oxides and unburnt particulate matter. All these add to air pollution and various associated diseases in the population.
2.0 Low Carbon & Zero Carbon Economy:
A low-carbon economy is simply an economy that causes low levels of GHG emissions compared with today's carbon-intensive economy. 'Carbon' refers to carbon dioxide, the GHG, which contributes the most to climate change. The low-carbon economy can be seen as a step in the process towards a zero-carbon economy.
"GO GREEN", a well-known environmental buzzword indicating the pursuits for more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions and lifestyles to protect the environment and sustain its natural resources for current and future generations.
A green economy is defined as low carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economical structure that promotes natural capital as a critical economic asset and a source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods depend on natural resources.
Now, the shift has already started from a carbon-based economy to a zero-carbon economy through the push for Renewable Energy.
There have been commitments made by the Indian government at various international fora for reducing the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in keeping with the requirement to control global warming. As a result, there has been a push towards renewable energy including PV solar.
3.0 Is PV (Photo Voltaic) solar technology completely green?
Though India started its tryst with solar power with both Photovoltaic (PV) as well as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), there were major problems faced in the implementation of CSP projects with just three projects commissioned to date.
As a result, PV technology has appeared as the technology of choice. In fact, all of the aforementioned 100,000 MW energy is planned to be generated using ground-based and rooftop PV solar power plants. There have been problems with the implementation of PV solar systems as well. However, the technology is simpler, and designs are faster to build. Also, the projects are usually in smaller ticket sizes, hence one can learn by erring also. This has led to the learning curve being faster. All these have been further supported by the fast pace of cost reduction of PV panels globally.
However, it is pertinent to mention that the PV technology is not carbon-free and completely green (as per Professor Dustin Mulvaney). The reasons are as follows:
The majority of solar cells are made from quartz which is extracted from mines and is a cause of silicosis in the miners.
A huge amount of heat is required to produce metallurgical grade silicon from quartz. Most of this is produced using carbon-based heating systems.
The conversion of metallurgical grade silicon to polysilicon produces a by-product silicon tetrachloride. Though this by-product can be recycled, the process is very expensive and most of it is dumped. When silicon tetrachloride comes in contact with water it produces hydrochloric acid which may pollute water bodies and land. Interestingly, for every ton of polysilicon four tons of silicon tetrachloride is produced.
Another major issue is the energy (carbon-based) that is used in the production and transportation of these PV cells from their manufacturing bases and their installation centres.
Hence, we can see that Photo Voltaic solar energy is not as green as it is made out to be. Over the life cycle of the photovoltaic cell, which includes manufacture, operation and maintenance and decommissioning, the PV systems emit greenhouse gases in the range of 25-35 g/kWh.
4.0 What about hydro-power or nuclear energy?
An option to clean up the environment holistically is to move away from the carbon economy. Hydro energy produces a large amount of Methane which is generated by the flora submerged and decaying under the huge water bodies that are created as a necessity to generate hydropower.
Nuclear energy is an option with one of the lowest carbon footprints, 6 g/KWh, but it has other associated issues, especially regarding radiation safety. Also, the technology’s image had to bear the brunt of the accident at Fukushima.
5.0 So, what is the option?
A very good option is to replace the carbon-based economy with a hydrogen-based economy. If Hydrogen is burnt, it produced just water. Hydrogen can be used either for direct combustion or in fuel cells to produce electricity. Direct combustion of Hydrogen may not be a very efficient way of generating energy because of its low calorific value, but fuel cell is a very good option. This technology can be used to power personal transport, power generators, military vehicles, conventional submarines, transport vehicles, railways etc.
6.0 The way Forward:
The final destination would be to have a hydrogen-based economy where hydrogen is produced in a carbon-neutral manner.
Though the idea may look nice and feasible, its implementation is going to be difficult as it is going to be completed through a gradual, shift from a carbon to a hydrogen-based economy. In order to make a shift from a carbon economy to a hydrogen economy, a huge amount of infrastructure changes would be required.
To conclude, I must say, though difficult but not impossible. Maybe in near future, we will be able to witness a total shift from GREEN to BLUE.