Energy is a vital aspect for the functioning of life. But, what happens when we exploit our energy resources to the point of depletion? What are the implications caused by excessive energy consumption? What are the alternatives? Most importantly, what can we do to avert disaster?
Did you know that a UAE resident consumes 8,271 kilograms of oil equivalent energy (kgoe) every year? By comparison the per capita energy consumption in the United Kingdom and the United States is 3,254 kgoe and 7,164 kgoe, respectively while on an average Indians consume only 566 kgoe per annum.
What are the main sources of energy, here in the UAE?
The UAE has the worldâ€™s sixth largest proven oil reserves and the fifth largest natural gas reserves, making the country a critical partner and responsible supplier in global energy markets.
Oil and natural gas: Each emirate controls its own oil production and resource development. Abu Dhabi holds 94 percent of the UAEâ€™s oil resources.
Nuclear Energy: The UAE is pursuing a peaceful, civilian nuclear energy program that upholds the highest standards of safety, security, nonproliferation and operational transparency.
Electricity: Economic growth across the UAE has led to massive increases in the demand for electricity. Current estimates indicate that the domestic demand for power will more than double by 2020 – despite the global economic slowdown.
What’s wrong with the way we use energy?
Well, for one, our usage of resources is anything but sustainable!
Commercial and residential properties in the UAE are using 225% more energy than their European counterparts. The UAEâ€™s per capita footprint of 9.5 hectares is four times more than the global per person 2.1 hectares availability.
The UAE must step up management of its ecological footprint, in response to research which has revealed that the equivalent of 6.5 planets would be needed to regenerate resources and absorb carbon emissions, if globally everyone lived like the average UAE resident.
What happens if we continue using energy the way we do now?
Mining, drilling or exploration may occur on sensitive lands such as tropical rain forests, arctic tundra, coastal marshes, or sacred sites. When fuel is transported long distances, it is done at substantial cost, environmental impact, and security risk. The processes used to convert them to electricity or fuels generate large amounts of waste heat which often require water for cooling, and usually generate some combination of solid, liquid and airborne pollutants.
The number of deaths due to extreme weather changes would increase and diseases could have a greater potential to thrive. Rainfall patterns will change, causing huge agricultural disruptions as sea levels rise.
Other pollutants that are generated by the use of fossil fuels include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and a variety of heavy metals. These pollutants could cause smog, acid rain, and regional haze, as well as impact human health with an increase in illnesses such as asthma, lung cancer, and respiratory tract infections.
Finally, fossil fuels are finite. While global coal resources are very large, oil and gas reserves are far more limited; And it is clear that the atmospheric loading of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels is not sustainable at present, much less at increased rates.
Nuclear power plants require the mining, processing, transport, and disposal of nuclear materials. The processes used to generate electricity are relatively clean, and produce little air pollution, however large amounts of water are still used for cooling. Concerns regarding the environmental impacts of nuclear energy generally center on the transport and storage of nuclear waste, as well as on the potential for accidents. As a result, siting new nuclear plants has become a contentious issue.
IT IS TIME WE STEPPED IN TO REDUCE OUR CONSUMPTION OF ENERGY.
Hand in hand with development, over-exploitation of our energy resources continues at an alarming pace. In light of this situation, we must conserve our energy resources and overcome rampant usage levels before the sins of our overconsumption consume us!
The process of consuming has also become increasingly complex and stressful â€” with too many choices and ever more challenging technologies that we need to understand.
Why reduce consumption, when it can be substituted for a different form of energy?
Renewable energy technologies are much friendlier to the environment. They minimize the need for mining, drilling, extraction, processing, transport, and disposal in specially prepared long term waste depositories. They produce little or no emissions, and they are sustainable – that is, the resource is not depleted through its use.
However, there are still issues to be considered, depending on which technology or combination of technologies you choose. Most renewable energy technologies have a dynamic, time-varying characteristic to their behavior: the sun sets every evening, the wind is not always blowing, and biomass does not grow year around. Therefore, renewable technologies are often paired with other technologies in a hybrid system â€” such as a wind turbine paired with a backup diesel generator, or photovoltaic arrays paired with a battery bankâ€” so the impact of all parts of the system must be considered.
Hydrogen is a gas that may be burned as a fuel in an internal combustion engine or used in fuel cells to produce electricity. This process is clean because the only byproduct is water.
Today, hydrogen is predominantly produced by the steam reforming of natural gas. This is not an efficient process, and natural gas is not a renewable resource. In the future, hydrogen may be produced from coal plants, nuclear plants, or by using renewable approaches such as wind or solar energy. In each case, the impact of hydrogen production is associated with the technology used to produce it. By itself, hydrogen is an efficient and excellent source of energy, which has considerable potential in the future.
Which alternative fuels can replace fossil fuels?
In search for global warming solutions, people are suddenly asking for alternative energies. However, more than 80% of our energy is currently taken from the fossil sources oil, gas or coal. It is absolutely impossible to supply this much of energy from the alternative sources we know about now.
As a lesson from history, we should at the same time strive to maximize the share of renewable energies (wind power, water power, solar power, wood, biomass, etc.) and on the other hand minimize over time the share of non-renewable energy sources like oil, gas, coal and nuclear power. Otherwise our global warming solution will be just a pretentious one.
Therefore, we should ask how much energy is really required to have good quality of life, instead of taking our current energy consumption for granted. In the second step, we can then look for potential energy sources to fulfill this need.
The big question: how much energy do we need to live a ‘good’ life?
Scientific research has shown that the quality of life is dependent on the yearly energy usage of up to 9,000 kWh per capita. This value equals the energy contained in about 1,000 liters of oil. If a person uses less energy per year, life gets more laborious. Above this limit however, life quality is, in essence, independent of the energy consumption.
For good quality of life, according to our current standards in industrialized nations, a minimum yearly energy requirement of 10,000 kWh seems therefore to be a realistic assumption.
Get engaged in learning more and doing more. We must do everything in our power to make sure that the footprints we leave behind in the sands of time, are more than just carbon!
By Prekshaa Veeraragavan