Humans consume 221 tonnes of coal, 1,066 barrels of oil, and 93,000 metric cubes of natural gas per second.
These materials were wonderful for the industrial revolution that started in Britain in the 18th century and made use of “new energy” sources such as coal and petroleum. At the start of the 21st century, however, it’s time to reassess the notion of “new energy”. Fossil fuels have no place in any long-term sustainable energy solution for the planet. It needs to be replaced with renewable energy sources. But which ones?
Sooner or later humanity needs to get its head around the fact that the only long-term sustainable energy solution is solar energy. This is simply borne out by the immense amount of energy potential that the sun can provide versus any other renewable resource such as wind, nuclear, biomass or geothermal. To place that in perspective: the theoretical potential of solar power is 89 terawatts (TW), which represents more energy striking the Earth’s surface in 90 minutes (480 Exajoules, EJ) than the worldwide energy consumption for the entire year 2001 (430 EJ) from all other resources combined.
Off-grid solar should be Africa’s energy future. Off-grid simply means a system where people don’t rely on the support of remote infrastructure, like connectivity to a centralised electricity transmission line, but instead use a stand-alone independent power supply. Such systems are perfect for people living in rural areas. Access to energy should be a basic human right for the 620 million people across Africa deprived from it. To achieve this, one should look beyond the grid for future power solutions.
In my years of teaching an advanced level sustainable energy course, it’s clear that the ‘sustainable energy’ solution requires a multidisciplinary approach and needs expertise from the fields of chemistry, biophysics, biology and materials engineering.
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