Combating Energy Crisis

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The two main crises faced by the world today are those of climate change and the energy crisis. While the climate crisis is causing frequent global disasters, floods, and weather events, and threatens economies, lives, livelihoods, food and water security; the shortage of energy impacts daily life, hitting manufacturing and factory work hard. Interestingly, both are interlinked as human activity of any kind needs energy. If the energy we use generates greenhouse gases, it warms the planet. This cycle needs to be broken.

The UN’s apex climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its latest report has warned that in order to keep global heating to below 1.5°C above the baseline levels of 1850, fresh global emissions have to start declining by 2025, reduce to half by 2030 and get close to zero by 2050. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), there is going to be nearly 50% increase in global energy use by 2050. We need to drive huge leaps in clean energy innovation to respond to climate change. To reach net-zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion, as per the IEA. The ripple effect of the transition will bolster economic development and create new jobs.

This is where India’s renewable energy sector has the potential. We can employ around one million people by 2030 whereby most of the new jobs are likely to be generated by small-scale renewable energy projects, according to a study by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ).

Solutions to tackle the crisis

Clean energy, green mobility, eco-friendly construction, climate-responsive urban design, afforestation, circular economy, repair of electronics, low power electronics design, switch to digital, climate laws, carbon capture & utilisation are the manifold ways being explored to enhance energy security, and to keep the planet from getting warmer. Researchers at the University of East Anglia, Stanford University and the Global Carbon Project have found in a study published in Nature Climate Change that 64 countries managed to cut their greenhouse gases emissions during 2016-2019; however, the rate of reduction needs to increase tenfold to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

Decisive action has been taken in India too. The government set up the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources in 1992 and renamed it the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in 2006, laying the foundation for renewable energy growth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi resolves to see India emerge as a leader in the renewable energy space. He has set an ambitious target of achieving 450GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. A 2021 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that costs for renewable technologies have been falling year-on-year–Concentrating solar power (CSP) fell by 16%, onshore wind by 13%, and solar PV by 7%. With lower costs, it will be easier to create sustainable pathways. As per recent estimates, India has over 1050 GW of renewable potential in wind and solar power energy. Even during the pandemic, our installed capacity of renewable energy crossed the 100GW target.

Sustainable design

The zero-emission trajectory must involve the digital sector, our partner of choice. The pandemic triggered a massive global digital switch, which was important for continuity in contactless times. According to a consulting company, the IT industry that was growing at around 5% prior to Covid-19 is now growing at 8-9%, due to acceleration in digital services. Digital technologies are being used to optimize resources, track climate change progress, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, opening the route to green production lines with additive manufacturing and digital twins. Though every search, click or streamed video depletes vast energy resources, the digital world must devise ways for low-power design, along with increasing the use of renewable sources of power, like solar, wind, tidal, and making them cheaper. Situational intelligence (like automatic turning to low power when not needed) may be employed by the digital sector with even greater frequency. As per a report by 451 Research (a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence), “moving applications to the cloud could compress the energy footprint of a workload to one-fifth of that of running the same workload in on-premises data centers.” Similarly, Artificial Intelligence can forecast demand and grid optimization. Blockchain tracks and reports on the carbon footprint of the choices we make, across the entire value chain. Geographic Information System (GIS) or location intelligence is helping in giving accurate analysis of resource base. Huge opportunity exists in the digital sector, in reimagining new pathways for sustainable growth.

Problem of e-waste

The increased switch to digital and electronics is leading to the problem of e-waste. A record of 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21% in just five years, according to the UN global e-waste Monitor 2020. Such e-waste comprises hazardous substances such as lead and mercury and also valuable substances such as iron, steel, copper, and aluminium. While the good must be recycled, dangerous chemicals in our landfills will impact both land and aquatic life. A circular economy that focuses on repair and sustainability, will help to retain the value of products for the longest time, and ensure greater resource security.

Unless sustainability is deeply embedded in our mindset, in our work culture, at the micro-level planning, right from the design stage of products, reflected in each person’s behavior, the kind of revolutionary change needed will not happen. Science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke had said “the future is not to be forecast, but created”. Our sustainability roadmap is a vision to create the future we want.