Benefits and Downsides in Embracing Green Technology

Benefits and Downsides in Embracing Green Technology

This was a brief essay I had written as part of my application for the Honda Yes 2009 Scholarship. Even though, I was not a finalist, it was an interesting read nevertheless.


What are the benefits & downsides in embracing “Green Technology“? As a responsible citizen of this planet what should be your contribution & message to society, humanity & posterity when it comes to choosing appropriate technologies for a specific aspect of life?


Since the last two decades mankind has made considerable progress in all sectors of life, may it be transport, communications, space, science, energy and even the basic day to day household chores. The Homo Sapiens Race has indeed achieved skills and prowess to make his life highly efficient along with sustaining his development.

But all this does serve to flag up one classic dilemma of sustainable development: namely, what happens when an initiative aimed at meeting people’s aspirations and improving their quality of life runs slap bang into environmental limits? When the social and economic pillars of sustainability, in other words, come crashing down onto the environmental one?

In many of our books, we tackle the subjects of sustainability and the environment, but from a perspective that may seem odd to many environmentalists. It seems we are not the typical “tree hugger”.

Many protocols and Frameworks have been defined (especially the Kyoto Protocol) with regards to cutting out the green house gas emissions and reducing the usage of fossil fuels, some defined by the United Nations itself and some defined by the governments of the countries. Yet the ever escalating issues of global climatic changes remain in front of us threatening us always of a global wipe out of the human race- an apocalypse, unless only we begin the use of Clean Technology or Green Technology.

Most of the environmentalists, government panelists as well as scientists understanding the changing climatic conditions and the depleting natural resources, have held discussions on the topics ranging around one single point, which dominating technologies would prove to be an everlasting solution to the global warming problem. The results can be aptly derived by considering the problem at two different levels, by finding answers to two basic problems:-

1. How to meet the everlasting gigantic energy demand of any particular individual?

The answer to this question lies in the large number of small technology steps which are required to be taken on the individual level. These range from the government initiatives taken in Sweden to terminate the use of high voltage energy bulbs to the introduction of the new Plug-In Hybrid or Fuel Cell Automobiles.

The most basic shift that any individual can make towards the society and make his useful contribution towards the society and the world, is by regulating his use of electricity. By the above statement it is not only meant switching off the lights and fans when they are not required as these would prove to be too amateur measures. Taking cues from the Swedish government one can replace the high energy Light Bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL). It is said that

If every American replaced just one ordinary bulb for a CFL Compact Florescent Light bulb, … save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual  energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gasses equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars

CFL’s have long been seen as an effective way to save energy – they produce more light per watt and last many times longer, but not all that buy them have been satisfied with their experiences.

Downsides:
Incandescents have a much shorter material list than CFLs. Also factor in the cost of special cradle-to-grave handling and disposal/recycle for CFLs, besides the labor involved in twisting the glass by hand, manufacturing, gathering and soldering the discrete electronic components and hazards involved in coating the glass with phosphors and adding the mercury and other toxic gasses.

Compact Fluorescents still cost more than traditional incandescent light bulbs. Moreover Hazards such as Electro Smog Pollution, Mercury Poisoning, and Phosphorus poisoning along with UV radiation are common known. The lifetime of a CFL is reduced greatly when used in applications where the light is frequently switched on and off. Also sometimes they are unsuitable for use with dimmer switches, and they cannot be used as spot lights – they are better for lighting whole rooms.

Benefits:
CFL bulbs are around four times as efficent as incandescent light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. Therefore a 22 Watt CFL will offer the same amount of light as a 100 Watt incandescent bulb and will last for around five years. Considering the Low amount of Energy used, it becomes a potent weapon in the field of Green Technology.

Fuel Cells have long been known to light the space shuttles floating up in the orbit, but when the same technology is employed to the automobile sector than it creates a dynamic revolution in the field of Green Tech. A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid vehicle with batteries that can be recharged by connecting a plug to an external electric power source. It shares the characteristics of both traditional hybrid electric vehicles, having an electric motor and an internal combustion engine; and of battery electric vehicles, also having a plug to connect to the electrical grid.

Early this year Mercedes released their thought of the green future with an E-Cell which was a pure Electric Car and a F-Cell based on fuel cell technology. Even Audi, Toyota, Hyundai, Tata Motors are plunging into the PHEV market realizing the impact Green Technology is making in the world. The big motor industry has managed to squeeze out the battery concept in between the financial meltdown crisis. Hybrid Car and Motorcycle Races are extensively carried out for the image enhancement of the new technologies. In Sweden we recently have seen that when the ethanol prices went up the ethanol usage went down proportionally and you may question if these car owners really do this because of their inner green higher purpose? Do not think so because there has to be a financial incentive to it. That is true but green will not happen unless there is a financial benefit of going there. It is sad but just human.

Benefits:
Analysis suggests that if you drive 20000 km/year you would save roughly 1800 Euros per year that you can buy something nice for. The service costs are also lower on an electric car including battery life time, just because it is simpler and there are fewer parts to break. Considering then of course to put a wind power turbine on your roof top and you are greener than ever. A recent EPA analysis found that if plug-in hybrids had a 30% market share by 2025 (and maintained it until 2050), they could reduce emissions of up to 11,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from now to 2050. Low noise reduces another kind of pollution called noise pollution which has started to be seen as a common cause of stress and irritation in today’s lifestyles.

Downsides:
Today, most of the hybrid cars that are available in the market are super expensive which ranges from $20,000 and above.
Unlike the conventional ones, hybrid cars leave greater pollution when they are created primarily because of the extra components required in manufacturing it. Some people who have tried hybrid cars would agree that most of the models are slow. This is because they have slower acceleration as well as lower top-speed compared to the conventional ones. Many people also consider the complicated system as a major disadvantage of hybrid cars because the regular mechanic cannot handle it once something goes wrong along the way.

Most of the people also consider that solar paneled roofs can prove to be a major solution to the daily heating and cooking problems in the households which on their turn utilize a large amount of fossil fuels and electricity. But the solar panels still are highly expensive to be purchased by laymen. Government Incentive Programs definitely helps and for example in Sweden government pays for 60% of the total material and installation cost which makes it almost worth it and you don’t at least loose a lot of money. Incentive programs also boosts production and volumes that enables further cost reductions. Increased production in china and world financial crisis has over the last year dropped the price of Crystalline silicon base material in todays most common production technology. This will most likely shortly lead to a drop of solar cell price by 50%. Nuclear electricity production is also on a strong march forward over the world and they are, unfortunately, getting very good. This is perhaps the biggest threat to solar power since it produces so cheap electricity that it removes the need for the solar investment.

Bio-computing is the most recent bird in the bush in the march towards Green Tech. Green computing or green IT, refers to environmentally sustainable computing or IT. It is “the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated subsystems—such as monitors, printers, storage devices, and networking and communications systems—efficiently and effectively with minimal or no impact on the environment. Green IT also strives to achieve economic viability and improved system performance and use, while abiding by our social and ethical responsibilities. “

The above question comes down one basic parameter- Carbon Footprint. A carbon footprint is “the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product”. An individual, nation, or organization’s carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment. Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it. The mitigation of carbon footprints through the development of alternative projects, such as solar or wind energy or reforestation, represents one way of reducing a carbon footprint and is often known as Carbon offsetting.

“We lowered our carbon footprint…..before we even knew what a carbon footprint was.”

-Shaymus Kennedy

2. How do we provide enough renewable energy for this requirement?

Solar Thermal Generated Electricity:

Some of the most innovative applications developed in this field apart from the normal solar paneled roof tops include the Solar Towers with Updraft wind turbines, Concentrated Solar Power Plants, Parabolic Dish solar thermal collectors, Fresnell Reflectors, etc.

Downsides:
Complexities and Costs are the major concerns. Most require special kind of mirrors and reflectors which require a lot of technology in turn for their development.

Benefits:
High Temperatures are obtained which in turn produce High efficiency.

Wind Power Generated Electricity:

Downsides:
Most of the common solutions in this field such as the Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines require a large amount of operating space and high wind velocities which make them operative only in fields which are open for large distances. Moreover the efficiency of common rural wind mills is so low as compared to solar power that the electricity generated becomes practically miniscule, when compared to the power generated using same amount of effort in the traditional sources. Most of the windmills require a push to start off with which becomes almost impossible to deal with.

Benefits:
Low production costs. Completely Clean Energy. Given the above common means and methods for the utmost utilization of our technological skills and scientific prowess, yet we see that progress in this sector has been restrained to bare minimum, and at many times this growth has slackened a lot. Although the new financial meltdown scenario had showed in some light, the mob will turn back to the old means once the recession period is over.

As Chris Goodall had suggested, all the efforts that have been taken are simply not working till yet. One of the major reasons is the mindset of the Homo sapiens. One of the simplest examples is that they would not like to dry their clothes on the cloth line using the natural sunshine, which would take the entire day out as well as taking the dripping clothes to the washing line which would take 15 minutes, and a tedious labor. Instead they would just drop them in the dryer of the washing machine which would take only a couple of hours, although the former alternative is more nature friendly. The cost of the electricity to power the dryer will be around 25 pence (US$0.50), and the labor saved may be half an hour or more. As a result, the rational person who values his or her own time has little choice. Homo economicus slams the door of the dryer shut, feeling only a little guilty that another kilogram of CO2 has been added to the communal atmosphere.

The basic idea: Boosting the cost of anything containing carbon – the main greenhouse gas – would compel industries and consumers to seek cheaper alternatives. They’d switch to cleaner fuels or consume less – either by adopting more efficient technologies or simply reducing their activity. Presumably, the alternatives would be better for the environment.

The problem: No government appears willing to impose a cost high enough to actually change behavior. And while several industry groups argue pricing carbon is a good idea, their enthusiasm is less than it seems.

“I think the trick with clean energy is not to be able to charge more. Because you can’t see global warming, I don’t think people are willing to pay more for it. It’s got to be a viable investment if it’s going to be successful.”

-Branson

There are no practical downsides in embracing Green Technology, as we see it. The limitations are posed only due to the fact of our limitations in the progress in the development of technology, which is cost effective as well as advanced to the level to be able to substitute completely the use of fossil fuels, and the current traditional technologies.

There are no effect-free solutions. We need to guesstimate the effects of all potential solutions, measure their real effects if we put them into practice, and compare alternatives to the best of our collective ability.

-David Douglas

The significance India will have on the world in the future will be extra-ordinary; we’ve only scratched the surface. India will be an economic powerhouse, and could be a leader in green business if they choose to be. The direction that business takes in India will have massive impact on the world. If business leaders there recognize the vast potential that green business has, and then decide to invest time, money, and effort, the world would only benefit. India is in a very unique position right now, they could either lead the world, or potentially aid in its destruction. The leaders have begun to realize these issues and have begun taking steps in these directions. Use of green-technology will become mandatory in Special Economic Zones (SEZs)—the tax and duty free industrial enclaves—with the commerce ministry drawing up guidelines for use of equipment using renewable energy sources like solar power in the zones. The Green Centre of ITC and its subsequent following buildings by IT Major Wipro just are the mark of major changes coming around.

As one alternative, one can even work out on the development on special express highways which would have vehicles running on them to operate completely on electricity. Special roads can be built out specialized only for such vehicles. As Magnetic Levitated Trains work only on special tracks laid out by them and not on the common railway tracks, such vehicles could help in speedy transport of goods and a steep decrease in fuel consumption and the GHG production along the highways. Though development of such special tracks is too far-fetched and requires a lot of technical endeavors as well as monetary requirements along with time.

As an individual, one must work out on the basic methods described above and help in the awakening and renaissance of the society towards the adoption of these technologies. Basic day to day small step methods always strive to remain suitable, and even a small drop in this large ocean helps to change the world.

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