Clean Energy

The debate on clean energy transition

The exacerbating climate change crisis has led to a serious debate on sources of energy production, and the advocacy of using clean energy is gaining momentum. To understand what clean energy is and how traditional energy sources (fossil fuels) harm the environment, we have to contextualize the present conditions.

There are four major sources of clean energy namely, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy, solar energy and wind energy. In the past, various concerns have been raised on the usage of nuclear and hydroelectric energy due to excessive environmental costs, however solar and wind energy are widely accepted. Solar energy only requires sunlight to produce energy, while wind energy uses windmills and channelizes wind to produce energy. Presently, India’s energy needs are largely dependent on coal and this has significantly increased air pollution in our atmosphere.

Solar energy - A Ray of Hope

Solar energy is produced using the medium of solar panels which help in converting sunlight into electricity. India significantly needs to transition to solar energy and recently, Rajasthan has emerged as India’s leading producer and user of solar energy. Since Rajasthan’s significant landmass is covered in desert, it enjoys abundant sunlight.

Rajasthan government’s initiative ‘Solar Energy Policy 2019’ pledged to invest 10,000 crore rupees into solar energy. Through this policy, the government also provides subsidies to industries and businesses to transition into solar energy.

A fresh breeze of wind energy

Wind energy is a clean source of energy that neither pollutes water nor air. It uses windmills and turbines to produce energy. The turbine works as a fan and generates power.

Regions with excessive and frequent winds have an advantage in installing windmills. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Tamil Nadu has the highest capacity to produce wind energy in India.

Improved Cooking Stove - Care India’s clean energy initiative

Care India is an NGO based in New Delhi. This organisation primarily works with women and engages on the issues of economic and social empowerment.

It works towards the empowerment of women from lower castes and marginalized communities. Traditional ways of cooking food that uses coal and wood are extremely harmful to women.

Women have to bear the brunt of indoor pollution. Care India spreads awareness on the issue of clean energy within communities and assists in the acquisition of cooking stoves that run on clean energy.

Care India’s Improved Cooking Stove or ICS harnesses solar energy in cooking and deters indoor pollution. The NGO also provides financial and technical solutions.

To transition to clean energy, the participation and support of men from the community are equally important and they play a pivotal role in the process. Care India thus prepares households to safely transition into clean energy.

How does India produce its energy?

India is the third-largest carbon-emitting country in the world after China and the US. There are two main reasons for this, the first being heavy dependence on fossil fuels and the second is low production and use of clean sources of energy. Most of the electricity in India is produced using fossil fuels.

More than 70% of the electricity in India is produced using fossil fuels. Around 50% of electricity is produced from coal and the rest is produced by oil and natural gas.
Renewable energy sources in India only fulfil 20 – 25% of the electricity needs, of which, nuclear energy contributes to 1.7% of the total energy produced.

By 2030, India aims to produce at least 50% of energy using clean and renewable sources. Within renewable energy, 70% of the energy requirements can be met using solar energy and 28% using wind energy.

Conundrums of Clean Energy

In Glasgow, during the COP 26 climate talks in November last year, emphasis on clean energy was on the agenda for many countries. World leaders of more than 50% of countries present in Scotland agreed and pledged to adopt clean technologies during this crucial decade.

Shifting to clean fuels and technology is essential and better for the environment, however, is it an easy task ahead? Let’s find out about Clean Energy and the conundrums it unfolds!

What is Clean Energy?
Clean Energy is a form of energy that does not emit carbon while in use or after use. You may ask what is carbon and why reducing carbon emissions matters? Carbon is a greenhouse gas, and like all other greenhouse gases, if it is frequently emitted into the environment, it can result in devastating unrepairable effects like climate change, global warming and depletion of the ozone layer. Hence using clean energy has become extremely important in today’s world. Wind energy, Hydro energy, Solar energy, etc. are various types of clean energy.

But does the story stop here?
No, there are also some forms of clean and renewable energy that, for some reason, still harm the environment even if they are not emitting carbon. For example, hydropower is a clean form of energy, but obtaining this energy often requires heavy infrastructural activities like building dams. Hydropower dams are often built on rivers after removing human settlements and clearing land for its formation. Clearing lands here ultimately leads to deforestation which further adversely affects the environment. So Hydropower, which is a form of clean energy can still harm the environment and cannot be called ‘Green Energy”.

Solar Waste - A Sunny Challenge!

Solar power is considered to be one of the cleanest sources of energy that doesn’t pollute the environment. However, the story is incomplete at best. Every source of energy needs proper waste management and it is no different in the case of Solar Power.

While the solar power potential of India is getting better and better each day, the amount of solar waste generated by our country is also increasing. The waste generated by solar power plants is mostly solar panels and these panels consist of heavy toxic metals like lead, arsenic and cadmium. If dumped in landfills, these metals can disrupt the ecosystem and degrade the groundwater that we all consume directly or indirectly.

Solar Panels have produced 2.85 lakh tonnes of waste so far and it is predicted by the International Renewable Energy Agency that the amount of solar waste can go up to 78 million tonnes by 2050. Considering that solar panels have a life cycle of 25 years, this problem is definitely going to grow.

Clean Energy / Renewable Energy Facts

1. India is currently running the worlds’ most extensive renewable energy expansion programme, where a potential 175 GW of energy can be generated every year. It is planned to be completed in 2022.

2. In Iceland, 100% of their energy is supplied through geothermal and hydropower sources.
3. Solar energy can become the world’s leading power source by 2050.