Ride on Renewable Energy, Not Pollutants

Posted on May 28, 2010 in unEarthed

Satvik Shrivastava:

Automobile has been perhaps the greatest invention by man in the last century. It has comforted us to an extent, never imagined before. During the start of the 20th century, automobiles were exclusively an expensive affair, but Henry Ford, the automobile czar, revolutionized this industry. He exploited the urge of the people for the need of an affordable and luxurious mode of transport. His organization, Ford motors is till date a phenomenal success. Following the same ideology adopted by Ford, many new major players such as General Motors and Volkswagen entered this segment. The industry boomed to towering heights and the customer base expanded all over the world. However at the dawn of the century, a major environmental issue cropped up. The issue of global warming, mainly pushed forward by the eminent environmentalists of the 1980’s and the then prime minister of England, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher.

Their protocol was, that Carbon dioxide , a major greenhouse gas was evidently responsible for Global warming , and the automobile industry had a direct link with it. It was indeed, a gigantic contributor.

Ever since the direct link-up with environment issues, several players have entered the industry with promising new ideas which benefit the environment. Reva, an Indian start-up of the 21st century is already a major manufacturer of electric cars. Their vehicles are much smaller in size for compactness on the Indian roads and the core idea is for short distance travelling within a city. The car is equipped with rechargeable batteries and the vehicle gives a fairly decent performance overall. It is still on its way to make a more prominent mark in the sector. The company owners agree that it will take time for the Indian buyers to be accustomed with the idea of electric vehicles. They believe that with the realization of the impact of gas and fuel emissions , the customers can be more familiar and comfortable with this concept and automatically turn to environment friendly vehicles.

With increasing competition from such new start-ups , the dominant players of the market have also come up with various models of their pre-existing cars and other new vehicles which are farther more fuel efficient , with lesser fuel consumption which makes them highly cost efficient and easing their impact on the environment . The government too is doing its bit to the cause by having initiated CNG vehicular transport which has only rare traces of carbon dioxide and sulphur emissions .Metro rail projects have also been signed for several cities including Delhi and Bangalore where the constructions are being carried out in full vigour. These projects would severely emphasize on usage of public transport and unanimously help towards reducing pollution.

In the recent past , the introduction of Tata motors’ Nano , termed as the people’s car , has been highly debated. At a time where there is a major stress on usage of public transports and reduction of fuel emissions, the Nano appears to be turning the table around. Priced at just little over Rs. 1lakh, the vehicle is obviously affordable to the major masses of the country, something precisely the makers aim at. Their direct targeting the lower and middle income classes is set to create havoc. A Vehicle affordable to such huge numbers, would vastly magnify our environment issues alongside creating a menace on the roads. The Nano , predominantly poses an inescapable threat to our already growing global concerns.

Scientists in the western nations and Japan have long been proposing the usage of hybrid fuels. These are mainly water and oxygen based fuels which are highly efficient. They have mainly been derived from the fuels used in space programmes for space shuttles and rockets. The most important factor for stressing on the global usage of such fuels is that the only residue they leave behind after combustion are merely oxygen gas along with traces of water. Major experiments on vehicles are being carried out in the laboratories of major car makers to test the marketability of these fuels. Another such proposition is solar energy based cars . These vehicles are equipped with solar cells which can be charged all throughout the day and the vehicle operates entirely on solar energy. The only limitation is that it can only be successfully used in areas which receive sunlight for most parts of the day.

With such new ventures coming up and the global bend towards alternate fuels, the industry is poised to become a major contributor for a safer and healthier environment whilst meeting its primary aim for an even more effective transportation with the rapid advancement of technology.

image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vscript/3625754702/


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Shruthi Venukumar

Recently I had a chance to attend a conference on renewable energy sources where prominent Indian & Australian speakers put in their voices and joined forces. A point was made there … that of the concept of electric automobiles being over-rated. These vehicles are recharged using AC mains, in simple terms, electricity. In a country like India, electricity is produced from thermal-power plants which use fossil fuels for operation. Thus, even electric cars in the Indian scenario are not really “green cars” as the source of energy can ultimately be traced back to fossil fuels. Running a battery-operated car has several steps of energy conversions. Thermal (from coal) to electric to chemical (in the battery) to electric again. At every stage, there is some unavoidable loss of energy. The battery is able to tap much less energy than what the coal used to generate it originally had. Whereas in direct use of fossil fuels, energy efficiency is much more. (Also keep in mind the low efficiency of our thermal power plants.)

In countries where electricity generation is based on solar/nuclear energy etc, electric cars are a brilliant idea. Till India switches over to cleaner electricity production, electric cars should wait.

Satvik Shrivastava

Yes Shruti but we also need to keep in mind that there is a major shift towards hydel power plants in our country. That is helping, at least in some way to contribute to the growing need of the hour.

Shruthi Venukumar

You are right. There is a shift towards hydel power plants but not something that I would call a paradigm shift. At present, 75% of electrical energy generation in India is by thermal power plants running almost entirely on fossil fuel. Hydel power plants contribute 21% (& Nuclear power plants pitch in 4%). The percentage is bound to increase gradually, but until then, battery-operated cars may not be as feasible as it is made out to be.

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