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Caltech Presentation

The presentation by Nathan S. Lewis, Chemistry professor at the California Institute of technology, “Powering the Planet” is an eye opener to the need of switching to other energy sources instead of increased consumption of electricity, which is a secondary energy. The total energy is the sum of all the energy resources which includes oil, gas, coal, hydro, biomass, renewable and nuclear energy. Electricity is produced through the nuclear fusion which is only a small fraction of the total energy. And from one-third nuclear fusion, electricity is produced. Hence, it is a very small part of the total energy.


The presentation helps us understand how our daily routine acts consume and waste energy. We all eat food daily, but not many of us recognize the fact that the energy used in bringing this food to our table is around 10 to 25 times of the energy in the food itself. The target that is describes in the “Business as Usual” is to bring it to twice to the energy down to twice the level it takes to eat. And to arrive at this goal, along with the reduction in consumption and elimination of wastage, there has to be made substantial amount of energy that is clean, so as we are able to achieve this goal. This is one of the major problems that the entire human race and the planet are facing as a whole. Many major universities have set up infrastructure and centers to deal with the issue of energy sustainability. This has been done because of the growing awareness of the fact that there have to made advances in science and technology as well, along with the political will to be able to create clean energy. It is imperative to understand that we do not need to wait for the time when the resources actually come to an end. The right time to start an action is now. We need to look at the alternate energy sources and use them instead of the fossil energy as it creates a lot of combustion in the air, which is a huge threat to the planet. Also there is increase in the water pollution level due to fossil fuels3. The immense amount of CO2 that is being released in the air because of the fossil fuel energy is causing health and survival issues to all the living beings. Though there has been saving demonstrated in the last few years, this 2 to 3 percent saving of energy globally will be unable to contribute to lead us to a clean environment.

The primary energy is one which occurs naturally and from which the secondary energy sources are derived2. There are six chief renewable available that can be used as alternate sources but except for solar energy, no other source appears to be capable of meeting the requirement.

Hydroelectric shows no possibility of growth as we have already installed 0.6 TW at global level where economically we can get 0.9 TW.

Geothermal energy can potentially provide us with 11.6 TW. The process to dig deep to gather more heat is unsustainable as it will lead to cutti8ng down of the trees which will not be growing at the same rate.

Wind energy initiates with a controversy. The best that it is assumed to be able to deliver is 2-3 TW with all the windy lands on the planet combined. This is the fastest growing energy amongst the renewable. Hence, it should be used wherever it can be cost effective but we cannot choose this to be used widely as an alternate energy keeping in mid the low volume, cost and the effort that this energy requires.

Ocean energy combined for the world is not even close to the required energy.

Biomass energy is quite ineffective as plants cannot be used as machines to grow energy as they take time to grow. Also, taking off the land which is utilized for other important purposes, we are left with limited energy that can be used through Biomass.

The best alternate energy source that can be used and is available in substantial amount is the solar energy. Through sun, the energy received in an hour is more than the total energy that the entire planet consumes in a span of a year. This is the only source that can be used to fill the gap that may be created by elimination or reduction of the usage of fossil energy.

Solar energy, like other renewable sources of energy, also has its own problems due to which we have not been able to commence its widespread implementation. But these problems are the ones that can be worked at. The basic two focus areas are the cost and the efficiency. Production of solar energy is quite expensive. So increasing the efficiency of the solar energy along with the reduction in cost has to be focused.

Also, the storage factor in this energy is very important as this direct energy is not available after sunset. Hence, to make the energy supply possible all the time while using this energy source, we need to be able to find out ways to store this energy. There are methods available for the same but again, they are complicated and costly. Some of the methods are water pumping and large batteries banks. New methods such as superconducting magnets and flywheels can be implemented to check for effectiveness .There are several measures that are being taken to make it efficient and cost effective. There are efforts that are being put to store the energy in chemical bonds through creation of hydrogen economy unit. On e of the ideas of developing efficiency is the improvement in nanotechnology. As per theory, this approach is capable of achieving more than 60% efficiency.

It is the requirement of today’s time that due care and attention is provided to the energy consumption. Energy should be saved at every possible step and the concentration should be towards putting to use other energy resources which are renewable and cause lesser or no threat to the environment.

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