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Alternative Energy Sector: The New Source of Energy

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Arun Sharma:

The world just witnessed one of the biggest summits on one of the most important issues faced by the mankind — climate change. Just a few days back I talked to my parents back in Punjab, India, who told me that it’s just mildly cold out there when it used to be chilling cold just 6-7 years back when I was a teenager. July showers were observed in late August and winter peak is expected only after mid-January and that too for a very short period.

Working on a project on the financing of renewable energy sources with a major bank here in Singapore, I realized that the nations are yet to understand the urgency of this issue. It was correctly pointed out in the latest Hollywood flick, Avatar that “there’s no green in our world. They kill their own mothers.”

Industrialization of the nations and a race to get ahead of everyone else spoiled the sons of the land who never cared about clearing the forests for setting up industries that further polluted and depleted the environment. From my childhood, whenever I’ve been asked to draw a factory, it always had a smoke chimney releasing black smoke at the top of that factory and a water pipe releasing waste acidified water at the bottom.

Thankfully, we are much more aware about the consequences of our actions now. Environment ministries world-over have sprung into action and given confidence to the people that it’s in their own interest to help in putting a barrier to this climate erosion. One of the most important steps in this context is the encouragement being given to Renewable Energy projects that have got an equally overwhelming response from the private sector. There are various kinds of tax benefits that are being provided to the renewable energy projects in different forms by respective countries. In US, it is the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit that is the form of tax benefits to RE projects. India and China also have similar tax credit schemes along with power purchase agreements (PPA) for the RE projects. Today, India is one of the leaders in Solar Power in the world and is catching up fast in Wind Power.

Companies like GE Energy, Vestas, Suzlon and Mitsubishi have come up in the forefront to invest heavily in R&D to develop efficient wind turbines for the world. Since the largest damage was done by the industrialized countries like US and European nations, they were the ones who had to take the lead to reverse the trends, and they rightly did so. Today, Germany and US are the largest wind power producing nations in the world. But the developing world, as mentioned earlier, has not remained far behind in the league.

Besides wind and solar energies, another source of alternative energy that has become popular recently is the nuclear energy. Though India isn’t in a very good position in terms of nuclear energy, China already has planned to construct at least 100 nuclear reactors by 2020. The US also has a considerable number of nuclear reactors under construction and even countries like Pakistan are working towards the same. Nuclear energy, as is obvious, has a very high upfront capital cost. But the new parameter that has evolved to measure the relative performance of power projects is Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) which is an indicator of the per unit electricity cost from a project over its lifetime. On this measure, nuclear energy projects are just as economically viable as any other source of energy. This has given a boost to the investments in this sector with many private players entering this arena as well.

Another major milestone in the journey of alternative energy development or the clean energy initiative was the carbon trading that was conceptualized and legalized in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The major constraint of this carbon trading is that US, the largest emitter of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, is not a signatory to Kyoto Protocol and hence, is not a participant in the carbon trading. If Copenhagen would’ve been successful in persuading US, under the regime of Obama, the carbon trading would’ve become stronger and encouraging factor for the world markets. Though the risk of speculations and exotic derivatives is attached with this form of trading, but returns are much higher than the risks. A major chunk of the revenues of RE projects is being provided by the carbon credits earned, that earns somewhere in the range of $15 to $25 per ton of CO2 avoided.

There are supporters and critics to the carbon trading in the market, but then there’s no technology, no innovation, no celebration in the world that doesn’t attract criticism. I believe that the road that we have chosen is correct but the destination is moving at a faster speed away from us than the rate at which we are moving towards it. We have an obligation to prove it to our future generations that there is a green world out there, out here, out everywhere.

Rest id up to you? Drop in a comment below or mail us at info@youthkiawaaz.com, you can also tweet us at @YouthKiAwaaz.

The writer is the Singapore correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz.

image: http://blog.tmcnet.com/next-generation-communications/2009/06/next_generation_self-sustainable_wireless_networking.html

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  1. Arun

    Just a little mention for the readers: The carbon trading started through Kyoto Protocol is technically known as Clean Development Mechanism [CDM].

  2. Azneo

    Great piece. Information of this sort on alternate sources of energy was necessary. You have missed out on mentioning anything about biofuels. May be a good topic for a future post.

    Could you provide references for "India is one of the leaders in Solar Power in the world and is catching up fast in Wind Power"?

  3. ArUn ShArMa

    Hi Azneo. Thanks for the comments. Though this is a well known fact that India is amongst the leaders in solar power and is developing its wind power muscle as well, but since you asked for specific reference, here it is.

    "India tops with US in solar power", by Chittaranjan Tembhekar, 26 Oct 2009, Economic Times, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/energy/power/India-tops-with-US-in-solar-power/articleshow/5161932.cms

    I hope that answers your question. Please feel free to discuss this issue on this forum. 🙂

  4. aditya

    Hiii Arun … Great articles … a lot of knowledge gained …
    As mentioned in the comment, you could have covered more number of renewable resources and their status of development throughout the world.
    One more thing, your article seems to champion the use of nuclear power. Can you please share some data about Levelized Cost of Energy from different resources. It is must to know because if Nuclear Power has no such hidden costs then why India, despite of having all resources, isn't going ahead with development of major Nuclear Power projects?
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  5. ArUn ShArMa

    Thanks Aditya for your views. As far as India's investment in Nuclear Power is concerned, it is more of a political issue rather than an economic one. Procurement of nuclear fuel is very contentious and needs a lot of safety and security. In absence of competent technology, nuclear plants can cause more damage than they can be of use. Also, form security point of view, nuclear fuel needs to be guarded well.
    Regarding the LCOE of nuclear power, according to a report published by Credit Suisse in January 2009, the cost of Nuclear Power is around $62/MWh compared to $55/MWh of coal-power Thermal Power Plants. At present, I am also working on estimating the LCOE of various other technologies for US, India and China. So, I'll be able to provide more insight once I'm done with my project.

    Keep writing. 🙂

  6. mylifemyviews

    Nice article …One of main reason the big MNCs are moving towards the alternative Energy sources is the Tax benefits and government support!
    They are ripping the benefits of government aid and building a stock of IPR and patents…
    I think the developed world should join India's demand that Clean-Tech patents should be kept in public use and IPR shoudn't hinder the progress in this sector.Today the most highest growth rate of patents is in Clean-Tech !That may be a good thing but on the other hand if they are not under the public use then MNCs will again establish a monopoly in this sector which wouldn't be a good sign.

    I think new and innovative start-up should play a important role in progress of this sector but fact is that the A larger portion of patents are coming from the R&D labs of MNCs .

    For India to be leader ,Government should promote the SMEs for the development of Clean technologies.

  7. Azneo

    One interesting fact that readers might like to know is that Russia's biggest peace effort has been supplying fuel for nuclear power by reducing it's nuclear warheads. If I'm not mistaken, some of this nuclear fuel has also been used by America.

  8. Vijay Vaidyanathan

    Hi Arun,

    Very Nice post 🙂

    It is really good that countries around the world are investing more in 'Green Energy'. But somehow, I always have doubts about how 'green' these technologies are. Once upon a time, Hydro power was touted as one of the best forms of renewable energy. But after years of investing heavily on hydro power, people have come to understand the environmental damages caused by it. Same is the case of the much touted 'Bio-fuels'. I'm personally so against Bio-Fuels.

    If you are interested, go through some of my blogs on this subject:
    http://mythoughtwaves.blogspot.com/2008/05/greendex.html

    http://mythoughtwaves.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-many-planets-do-we-need.html

    You have rightly pointed out those lines from Avtar. All through the movie, I was filled with such thoughts only.
    http://mythoughtwaves.blogspot.com/2009/12/avatar-parallels-to-our-dark-side.html

  9. Arun

    Hi mylifemyviews, it's a noble idea to have patents publicized in the field of clean technologies. But then the very purpose for having a market for carbon credits and similar financial initiatives that I mentioned, is beaten. If the companies do not have any incentive to spend resources into R&D for RE technologies, why would they do so?

    Vijay, thanks for bringing out this point. As a part of my research, I found out very recently that the CO2 emissions over lifetime by Solar PV (371.5kg/MWh) is also near to those of Coal Plant (630kg/MWh) and Natural Gas (450kg/MWh). If this paper is to be believed, we have absolutely no reason for providing such incentives to these technologies and encourage them further. Issue needs to be debated, for sure. 🙂

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