By John Warren
A good friend of mine who lives in Puerto Vallarta is 95. She was born in 1923 and is in excellent health. That’s part of the good news. When she was four years old, the world’s population reached 2 billion people, and now, in 2019, it is around 7.7 billion. That’s not so good.
However, help for Mother Earth is available from The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). It’s an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security, and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity. 160 countries are members, including Mexico, Canada, and the USA.
Its 2018 report shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency can, in combination, provide over 90% of the necessary energy-related CO2 emission reductions to meet the goals set at Paris in 2015.
The sources of renewable energy include the sun, which doesn’t shine all the time, the wind, which doesn’t blow all the time and the rivers, which don’t flow all the time. But new technologies are being used around the world which may solve some of our problems.
In Morocco, for example, much of the country is covered by the Sahara desert, and it has almost no fossil fuel resources. But it does have zillions of hours of sunshine a year and, soon, this country may be exporting energy. Its Noor Solar Power plant is the largest and most efficient solar power plant in the world and is due to be completed next year. Noor will supply a total of 1.3 million households with electricity from its 500,000 parabolic reflectors and will provide 52% of Morocco’s electrical requirement with renewable energy. Storage of power has always been a huge technical problem, but at the Noor plant, it will be possible to store solar energy in the form of heated molten salt, allowing for the production of electricity into the night. How cool is that?
The Sahara covers 3.5 million square kms (9 million square miles), amounting to almost a third of Africa, and the potential for generating electricity from the sun’s rays is enormous. All that those countries (Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia) need are peace, money, and vision. Solar energy could provide a tremendous benefit to them and the rest of Africa.
Another massive potential for the generation of solar power lies in the middle of the road – literally. In China, in the city of Jinan, two kilometers of solar panels have been installed as road surface, and this project is now feeding solar power into the grid. It is also designed to recharge electric cars wirelessly as they travel over its surface. The surface is no different to drive on than regular roads and can melt snow automatically. In a typical Chinese city roads take up about 40% of the useable space, so if the streets could be turned into renewable energy, the potential in China and around the world is vast. If the present problems of cost and strength of materials can be solved, road transportation around the world will be changed, and CO2 emissions will plummet.
There is also potentially good news about the future of nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants today use the process of nuclear fission, in which uranium atoms are split. Although these plants do not produce CO2, their radioactive waste is hazardous, and the potential for accidents is not to be ignored; think about the catastrophes at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. So fission may not be the way to go.
But, in Germany, people at the Max Planck Institute are attempting to create what the sun does naturally: to fuse two hydrogen atoms together. “Fusion not fission.” The good news about this method of generating energy is that there is no CO2 emission, no need to store dangerous materials and no risk of an explosion or meltdown. However, it’s a massively expensive solution to our insatiable demands for electricity and the potential for commercial production is at least thirty years away.
So the good news is that we do have the ability to reduce CO2 emissions. But do we have the political and personal will to do so in the time that is left?