Solar energy, Sustainability and Economic poverty

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According to World Energy Outlook 2008, an annual report published by International Energy Agency (http://www.iea.org/), China and India would account for around 50% of increase of total world primary energy demand. This is based on the reference scenario ( we would discuss the assumptions of the reference scenario in another article) of IEA.
The reference scenario’s main assumptions are
1) world energy demand grows at 1.6%/p.a. from 11, 730 Mtoe to 17010 Mtoe ( million tons of oil equivalent),
2) Cumulative investment of 26 Trillion USD ( at 2007 USD rate)
3) World supply to rise to 106 million barrel/day from 84million barrel/day4) Oil import price ( at 2007 real USD ) at 100 USD between 2008-15 and 120USD ( reflecting the supply constraints) between 2015-2030
If we rely on this scenario, the two largest nation ( population wise), which are nowhere near the developed countries’ per capita consumption of energy, would be the largest consumers of world’s energy and the largest contributor to the rise in green house gases ( GHGs).

What this has to with sustainability and poverty? Lets take an example from India.

One woman in village not far from a metropolis in India, sometimes has to go as far as 10 miles to collect wood and sometimes miles to get clean ( supposedly) water for the family’s daily requirement. Even in a town having water pipelines, people have to waste time to either wait for 30 mins of water supply in a day or get diesel generated pumps to draw water from underground ( also reducing each year the ground water level, which further increases the energy usage for pump).

So people are either using time or fossil fuel energy to just get the basic requirements of their daily need. So the opportunity for the woman, who could have either gone for education and increase her prospects of earning or better her earnings, is lost. She is stuck with her economic status and her social standing too.
The person from the town is spending money and time for meagre fulfillment of daily water needs.
Now lets consider a megalopolis like Shanghai. Rapid pace of development all using conventional energy, adding to the cost and pollution of that city. The heat generated in development adds further to the urban heat phenomena, prompting an increased usage of electricity for cooling. This also increases pollution from coal generated power ( China heavily relies on coal) somewhere in the countryside. This cycle is vicious.
An individual and a city loses money, loses time, increases pollution. Further to contain and reduce pollution more money is spent.
To sustain the growth, countries like USA enters into needless wars and spends billions, which could have been used in development of infrastructure and education. With war comes further deterioration of of economic and social misery, which adds to the cost of the oil.
Hence, cost of pollution, war, diseases and socio-economic strife should be added to the cost of fossil fuel, specially oil to determine the “real” cost of oil.
Now lets take an alternative way of producing the same energy. Solar energy. Available in most parts of the world, becoming cheap every year, clean, pollution free and promotes cooperation amongst nation rather than wars. Look at the companies and policies of major nations in renewable and solar energy. The companies are spread across the world, China, Germany, India, USA, Spain, Australia, Japan.

Solar energy in particular can be used independently, saving billions in transmission losses and fulfilling the basic needs of people without electricity. Its sustainable too, requiring no wasteful resources. Besides that potential for clean water consumption also increases ( reducing water borne diseases and saving precious lives). Water borne diseases like diarrhoea are common cause of disease and death. Water can be drawn from underground as in countryside of Turkey, India or China or purified from desalinisation process in cities like Chennai, India.

Fulfilling the basic needs families and individuals and finally societies and countries can concentrate on development and bettering the lives of billions as in Africa or Bangladesh.

World would find new possibilities and a more equitable and sustainable way of living.

Thus solar energy would contribute to a sustainable living for vast majority of billions, reduce poverty thus socio-economic conflict and focus on development issues. So what are we waiting for ? Oil or our inertia towards change?
Note:More quantitavive version of above would be discussed in another article later.
Sun smile Pranay

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