Fossil Fuels: Pollution and Solutions
Today air pollution has become the bane of human existence. Most cities around the world have unacceptable levels of air quality; recently Beijing had to issue a pollution red alert as a relief measure to its citizens who were literally choking with every breath.
Fossil Fuels Rule
Fossil fuels like petroleum, coal and natural gas, contribute more than 80% of the world’s energy needs. Apart from being non-renewable sources of energy, they are also the largest contributors of air pollution, unleashing a host of harmful compounds in the air like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic matter, heavy metals and radioactive matter which cause acute respiratory illnesses, cancer and even deaths. Apart from the direct pollution, such emissions also result in the greenhouse effect which has caused the earth’s average temperature to rise beyond acceptable limits, which was also the central point of debate in the recently held world climate conference COP21 in France.
Exploring Alternatives In the Indian Context
There are a lot of alternative and renewable energy technologies being implemented all over the world, and India has a distinct advantage in many of them like solar power, wind energy, and bio-fuels like ethanol and bio-gas. India being a tropical country with abundant sunlight and land area is ideally placed to tap solar power as a primary energy source. Presently the installed solar capacity in the country is around 4500 megawatts with a planned additional 10000 megawatts by 2017. The government of India has significantly increased its thrust in this area, targeting an investment of $100 Billion and an installed capacity of 100 gigawatts by 2022. The government also provides subsidies and soft loans to manufacturers who produce solar power systems, and to individuals and organizations who procure them, both of which are expected to stimulate both supply and demand of solar systems.
India has a long coastline, large land masses at high altitudes, and also in areas which are home to cyclonic winds, all of which are very suitable for extensive wind farms. Although a new entrant in this field, today India has the fourth largest installed wind power capacity in the world. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has pegged the potential of wind power in India at a staggering 300 gigawatts, which can be more if higher altitudes are also taken into account.
India is the second largest producer of sugarcane in the world, and thus has the potential to make great use of Ethanol. It is a by-product of the sugar industry, and a type of bio-fuel with a high oxygen content resulting in fuel efficiencies as well as reduced emissions. Presently 5-10% of petrol is being blended with ethanol and serious research is being done on making alternative fuel with 85% of ethanol content.
Electric and hybrid vehicles are other major technological innovations, which although are very good examples of green energy, have surprisingly lagged behind in their widespread use. Such vehicles are still prohibitively expensive, and more thrust from all the stakeholders is desired to make them affordable to the common man.