Sustainability and economics with renewable energy
The more I get involved in the renewable sector, the more I realize that there are some key issues that need to be looked at, and they are not necessarily on the subject of renewable energy. After engaging in projects in this arena, I have come to realize that attitude plays a major part in whether people are interested in adopting or investing in renewable energy. It is often not the product in particular that effects the decision but more about the adoption of a change in thinking from short term to long term. The main objective in writing this article is to encourage as many people to adopt and incorporate more sustainable solutions, not just for the planet but for our own abundance and preservation. But soon I realized that this will naturally happen. Consider this world to be run like a business.
The same principles that run a successful business are the same principles that we should be adopting to sustain our own planet, for instance if we had to keep taking money out the till and spend it carelessly we would not have money left to buy new stock and eventually the business would run at a loss and fail.
If you stick to a 5 to 10 year or even 20 year plan you will make sure you stay on track to expand your vision and execute the plan at key stages along the way. So the same applies to the way in which we should be sustaining our own planet. Now this is a clear example of how long term planning and action is needed to sustain any system. When it comes to nature we think that we are under the perception that everything is for free, but this attitude allows for us to be misguided and take things for granted, and has led to contributing to the degradation of natural systems that support us. These systems include polluting air, land, rivers, and sea. These are very systems we rely on to survive. With the rapid growing population and everyone needing resources that are now being depleted, it seems very likely that it will be a rocky road for the next generation, unless some key visionary decisions are made. And as we can see from the result of COP17, we cannot rely on government and institutions to adopt any major changes in a hurry. So every time we drink a cup of coffee, a glass of water, shower, eat, take a breath of fresh air, climb in the car to go to work or any other basic thing that we take for granted, we are creating a footprint, and using natural resources that are running out. So we need to start asking ourselves how and what we can do to lessen our impact or put back resources. Every small effort we make, in a unified effort will make a big difference, and contribute to sustaining our current and next generation of activities on the planet. A couple of cents added up over a year can add up to a couple of thousand rands, does this make cents?
Some major shifts are already happening world wide and as the natural resources decline, the cost of natural resources like food, water, coal, oil, gas, metals, paper, wood, increase in price. And as the prices increase, the cost of renewable and saving energy becomes more affordable which then leads to more investment bringing the prices down further , creating more opportunities and leading to more product efficiencies and in turn creates more jobs. So as you can see all of these stages will happen naturally. At this present stage there are a vast number of business opportunities that are currently profiting from this industry, and needless to say are the fastest growing industries in the world today such as solar voltaic, solar heating, wind, hydro power, biogas, batteries, and numerous ways of saving, storing and recycling energy. Let’s take a look at some of the advancements that have already been made with technology.
Solar Voltaic –This technology has been around since the 1950s but has showed little progress on a large scale due to its high cost and low efficiency put it into the bracket of the elite only. Now there are all kinds of breakthroughs in the production and efficiency of the actual cells including the announcement of a 3d solar cell with estimated efficiency of 25% and more using the current technology of silicone to keep the prices down every time there is a break through in technology, it brings the prices of old technology down changing the cost to payback ratio. This will lead to more affordable systems that people are eagerly awaiting. There are many new and exciting technologies that are making break-through's in this field which will keep this technology moving forward into the future.
Solar Heating- This is the most popularly adopted and widespread technology involving the heating of water from the sun, this is one of the more simple technologies of heating water directly from the sun instead of the artificial method of heating water with an element, that is very inefficient. The biggest adoption of this technology is incorporated with concentrated solar technologies like parabolic dishes and storing the energy in various methods to create 24/7 renewable energy for the first time without batteries. This technology already has efficiencies of 25% and above which make it more attractive than photo voltaic cells. Since both efficiency and storage problems are resolved. This is a hot investor’s choice and I am sure we will continue to see growth and lower prices entering the market. Solar trackers are making both solar technologies more efficient but the extra cost has to be justifiable
Wind – There are many different ways to harness wind and just about any type of wind harnessing device has been thought of and made, some more successful than others. The advantages of wind, is that they can harness large amounts of energy when conditions are favorable and can run day and night. Unfortunately these conditions are not predictable and to supply energy to the grid you need vast areas to harness the wind and energy. Those areas need to be in the right location and feasibility studies with 2-3 years of wind data records and many other factors need to be taken into consideration, before it can be set up. Maintenance can also be expensive during the lifespan of the turbines. Even domestic installations need approval and noise pollution can also be a problem. You need the right height to harness the more constant and stable wind systems, making wind an expensive option. Some of the latest products in this field are high flying inflatable kite like turbines that do not take up as much land space and can capture wind in the right places, making this also more avian friendly. Even though there are challenges facing wind farms there are many successful installations through the world and the industry is growing rapidly, making a positive contribution to the renewable energy mix.
Hydro Power- Hydro power has been successfully adopted in many countries and is a relatively cheap and easy way of harnessing energy once it has been set up. It also has the added benefit of giving large amounts of constant electricity production. This has made it a feasible and reliable contributor to renewable energy. The downside of hydro power is the limited amount of dams and lakes that can support this method. During the establishment of a dam for this particular method, can result in whole ecosystems being damaged.
Energy Saving- this is a very broad market, and can be adopted in many different ways , from simply switching of unused appliances and devices, or controlling the switching on and off with modern senses and electronic devices, to a wide range of energy saving products, including geyser blankets, timers, more efficient motors, shower heads and lighting.
Batteries play an important role in energy storage especially for solar voltaic and wind in home and business systems so they are an integral part of storing energy for use when needed. They also play an important role in the development and refinement of the electric car, motorbike and bicycle and are therefore also in the forefront of technology with many breakthroughs being made every month with refining the current technologies to new methods altogether, this is an exciting and revolutionary market with all kinds of possibilities coming to the surface.
More and more companies are starting to invest in locally manufactured products and there are now local manufacturers producing solar panels, solar hot water systems, wind turbines and L.E.D Lighting helping to keep the technology local.
Due to fluctuations in exchange rates, the cost of transport, damages and import duties, with long waiting periods make importing an expensive and risky business, but as long as there are a wide selection of quality products at a good price available, there will always be an importing market. Even large corporations will choose to use countries that have inexpensive and highly productive methods of manufacturing products, to ensure low prices and volumes to meet demand. Until local manufacturers can offer the same quality experience and price ratios, we will continue to see imported products.
We are still far from going off the grid completely, but if the grid itself can be continually supported and upgraded with renewables, by bringing in many different sustainable energy methods, and adopting more efficient products, appliances and methods of saving energy. We can move towards phasing out our reliance on none sustainable fossil fuel and gas to generate electricity for the masses. This in turn will help move us towards a cleaner way of sustaining the grid for us and future generations. Localized production of green electricity in each area should be a priority in order to maximize efficiency, localize responsibility and maintenance, making each area more self reliant. With the help of more and more individuals and businesses creating their own green electricity, and feeding back to the grid with excess, we can create an evolved self supporting system with many different areas contributing and helping each other to make a balanced grid of green energy. In this way we will eradicate black-outs that affect many areas, due to inefficiencies and shortages. Knowing that our future generations do not have to suffer the consequences of our continued reliance on none sustainable methods and harmful effects, we can empower ourselves for a cleaner greener future.