It’s no secret that since the onset of Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, we’ve loaded the earth’s atmosphere with the infamous GHGs. Anyone with a modicum of concern for the earth would know that GHGs stands for greenhouse gases that are responsible for the increasing global temperatures leading to the phenomenon of global warming. According to scientists studying ice cores in the Antarctica, greenhouse gases are now estimated to be at their highest concentration for 800,000 years.
It’s no secret either that the culprit for the rise of GHGs, especially over the last two centuries, has been our increasing dependence on fossil fuel which releases huge concentrations of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, besides other gases, creating a thick blanket over the stratosphere, such that it is impossible for gases to leave the earth’s atmosphere for space. We’re now 0.75°C (1.35°F) hotter than two hundred years ago and if we become 2 per cent hotter, the effect will be disastrous to our survival with islands and beaches drowning under the increasing melt down of the polar icebergs.
However, reading through literature on GHGs, there’s a refreshing breath of fresh air, on new technologies and policies on a global level to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and doing away with ‘business as usual’ and steer us away from the culprit of ‘climate change’ and the inevitable ‘climate crises’ and instead to invest in ‘climate protection’ and ‘climate opportunities’ with energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Technocrats and savvy leaders in developed economies such as the US are equating ‘energy efficiency’ with ‘cost efficiency’. President Barack Obama said in a recent speech that ‘energy efficiency’ would be high on his agenda because besides many other plus points such as curbing CO2 emissions, it will create new job opportunities.
For sustainable development to happen in the emerging climate crisis, ‘energy efficiency’ and ‘renewable energy’ are the emerging twin pillars of sustainable energy policies that will in turn revolutionize the 21st century energy crisis.
It’s an idea that stems from ‘negawatts’, a concept derived by the American physicist, Amory Lovins in the 1970s, meaning that energy needs should be met by increased efficiency and not increased production.
Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute points out that in industrial settings, “there are abundant opportunities to save 70% to 90% of the energy and cost for lighting, fan, and pump systems, 50% for electric motors and 60% in areas such as heating, cooling, office equipment, and appliances.” In general, up to 75% of the electricity used in the U.S. today could be saved with efficiency measures that cost less than the electricity itself.
Simple measures like proper placement of windows and use of skylights and other architectural features that reflect light into a building, can reduce the need for artificial lighting. Compact fluorescent lights use two-thirds less energy and last 6 to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. Newer fluorescent lights produce a natural light, and in most applications they are cost effective, despite their higher initial cost. Increased use of natural and task lighting have been shown to increase productivity in schools and offices.
Globally, governments are beginning to see that investments in ‘energy efficiency’ and ‘renewable energy’ will lead to innovation, new products on the markets and hence profits, and a sustainable environment to live in. After all, to enjoy the environment and the economy, we need to be alive.
Energy efficient policies
Far-sighted energy policies are necessary in our fight against climate threats, limited resources and supply shortages. Reading through Our Planet December 2008 issue, published by the United Nations Environment Programme, the European Union wants to generate 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from 6 per cent in 2005. President Obama is pledging US$ 150 billion in clean energy over the next 10 years, generating five million jobs and giving tax incentives for wind, solar and geothermal power energy production. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on the other hand, is investing in 7,000 turbines on and off shore to generate wind power.
Germany, under its Renewable Sources Energy Act of 2000 (EEG) has made impressive strides in curbing its climate-damaging CO2 emissions using renewable energies. In 2007, renewable in the country saved over 115 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from electricity generation, heat supply and transport. The feed-in system for electricity from renewable energies is targeting to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in its total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 over 1990 levels.
However, the current cost of renewable energies is high and paid by consumers; but they are expected to be more cost effective than conventional energy sources in a decade’s time.
Moving over to India, the world’s largest democracy is working on becoming the leading solar nation in the world, not only in production but also in focused research and development. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change launched on 30th June 2008 by the country’s Prime Minister, has the National Solar Mission on top of its agenda to shift the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and other traditional sources of energy to greater use of renewable energy. The sun is the solution. Its direct energy is inexhaustible and constantly renewable. Working on concrete figures, just one per cent of India’s land area can meet its entire electricity requirements by 2030, serving it quest for energy security and curbing the climate change crises.
Next door in China, a mix of government policies and the market has driven a renewable energy boom. Its landmark renewable energy law passed in 2005 that came into effect in 2006, has caused the immediate take-off of renewable energy industries such as wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), biomass and others. China primarily gets 7.5 per cent of its energy from renewable energy sources and the figure is expected to exceed 15 per cent by 2020 shifting its reliance away from coal.
Industrialized nations, writes Lalita Ramdas – board chair of Greenpeace International, need to make binding commitments to cut GHG emissions by 30 per cent in 2020 and 80 per cent in 2050 through domestic measures and to direct massive funds for decarbonisation to developing countries. The proportion of the sun’s rays that reaches the earth’s surface can alone satisfy global energy consumption 10,000 times over.
And going to Silicon Valley, the future of motoring is cars that will be recharging in the solar carport at no cost and free of carbon emissions. The state of California on its own has a three step plan for new energy resources: energy efficiency, renewable electric supplies and lastly, fossil fired power plants.
Renewable energy is becoming more economic as cutting edge technologies develop which are easier, cheaper and more accessible. Fossil fuel on the other hand is fast becoming known as ‘dirty power’ and the cost of carbon trading to offset carbon emissions is not the most effective measure (although indispensable since growing trees to absorb one’s carbon footprint is better than nothing) and lastly, government policies and businesses should work in tandem to curb climate change.
Set against this global backdrop of emerging 21st century revolutionary energy sources to curb the climate crisis, we will look at what is happening in Africa in our future issues. So keep reading as we investigate the opportunities and challenges faced by the corporate and industrial sectors in step with policies, programmes and investments to shift gear into energy efficiency and renewable energy, the twin towers of sustainable development.
What Can You Do?
Become Energy Efficient
The traffic in our cities is a nightmare. Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicle travel because it may take up to one year for one tree to fix the amount of CO2 found in 3 litres of gas. How? Reduce vehicle travel, increase fuel economy and lastly switch to fuels with lower life-cycle carbon content.
Reduce your electricity use
•Unplug your cell phone charger, TV and other electronics from the wall when you are not using them since they still use energy when plugged in or on standby. The process can be made easier if you have everything plugged into a surge protector with its own switch.
•Turn off lights and other energy-sucking devices when they are not in use.
•Replace older light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent light bulbs are a little more expensive, but much more efficient – they use about a seventh of the power and last about 12 times longer.
•If you’re leaving your computer for a while, put it on stand-by. You’ll be able to restart it quickly, and it’ll take less energy than shutting it down and then restarting it.
Take corporate action
Tell the companies you invest in that you care about global warming and you will pull your investments if they do not address the issue. You don’t like a company’s stance or silence on global warming? Attend the annual general meetings and speak up!
What else can you do?
Making a difference through your choices
Many a self made millionaire or billionaire became that way from one habit – saving and spending prudently. The same concept can be used in the world of energy spending; use less, spend wisely and save more even if you’re in the corporate world. Some really simple habits can go a long way in cutting back on our reliance on energy and hence saving the planet from overheating. Here are a few tips for starters:
E-conferencing: It is great to travel the world for meetings and conferences but limit the frequency by embracing e-conferencing. Use technology to cut back on CO2 and other green house gas emissions.
Energy brainstorming: Have a meeting at work to figure out homespun ideas on energy saving. Use the internet and magazines to educate yourself. There is plenty of literature to help you go ‘green’.
Car Travel: Our public transport is not the best but it is no excuse either not to network in the office and try to pool your travel logistics or have a company bus pick and drop off its employees.
Taps and Water: Don’t let the water run while you’re busy chatting with friends or brushing your teeth. Make sure that you close the taps properly. Every drop counts and especially when you remember that we are more than 6 billion people on earth. Think of it this way; six billion drops per second for 24 hours! It is shocking to realize how wasteful we can be.
Get your employer to be as energy efficient as possible: Invest in energy saving devices from fluorescent lighting to taking the staircase instead of pressing the buttons at the lift. Climbing stairs is the best aerobic workout and it is free. Don’t forget to switch off the lights when you don’t need them and switch off the mains on appliances like the TV and electric kettle. It cuts not only cost, but the amount of power needed to generate the energy for an idle appliance. You could be saving a lot of water from a river.
Recycle, reuse and reduce what you can from paper to paperclips: You will be saving forests, sending less to the garbage landfills and saving natural resources from becoming depleted faster.
Find where you can send your old computers, mobiles and such for recycling: There’s nothing as disgusting as being on a beautiful golden beach and the next minute seeing trash being washed ashore. A lot of trash dumped in the sea can be recycled.
Use less of the plastic stuff like disposable plates and glasses: It may be time saving to throw them out as garbage but in the long run, glass and steel crockery are better for the environment.
You don’t have to print out every single thing: Save what you can on the laptop.
Read the label for what’s produced ‘green’ or eco-efficiently: Support manufacturers that are manufacturing stuff in eco-efficient ways when you are shopping.
Manage your time: Get to work earlier or leave earlier or late if it helps in beating the traffic jam. What is the point of wasting time stuck in traffic while polluting the earth?
Tell us what your company is doing!
Be creative in becoming energy efficient and send us what you have done that has helped save energy and build profit. Below is an example:
‘Zero Emissions’: The Tunweni Sorghum Brewery – Namibia
Examples of zero-emission processes at the Tunweni site include:
•Fibres from the spent grain are recovered for the cultivation of mushrooms
•Earthworms that feed on the left-over proteins are sold as chicken feed
•Marketable algae are produced in the alkaline waste water
•Methane gas is produced from industrial and human wastes using a bio-digester
•’Waste’ streams are also used to farm fish in a constructed pond.