As the world is undergoing the transition to “green energy” a lot of business opportunities arise in the names of “green and sustainable” technology. This paradigm may be making things worse if people do not adopt the right strategies and have the correct fundamental understanding of energy conversion and thermodynamics.
Typical power plants have achieved only around 40% efficiency. A lot of energy may be wasted in going green if an energy converter is introduced unnecessarily. Every converter acts as a heat engine that generates heat due to limited efficiency in energy conversions. The dissipated heat increases the entropy.
A technology that runs on energy is composed of at least one component of heat engine that consumes energy from the input fuel, a portion to do the required work/operation with the remainder being discarded as heat along with other waste matter as by-products of the fuel conversion process.
Besides the greenhouse gaseous (GHG), the amount of heat that gives rise to global warming is the key element to be considered and that depends on energy efficiency (EE) of an engine or energy system. If we address emission of heat, keeping in mind to minimize it, we hit three birds with one stone, i.e. we are led to reduce energy usage or consumption EU, reduce energy wastes EW which carries away part of the heat and improve energy efficiency EE. Global warming is due to both the heat generated and byproducts of fuel combustion (e.g. GHG from fossil fuel, geothermal & nuclear wastes). Hydrogen fuel may produce clean by-product (water) but the process of producing the fuel may involve inefficient use of energy such as electricity.
We know that technology has helped improved lives, but technology that consumes energy cannot escape from production of heat and waste matter the cause of the problems related to energy crisis and climate change. There is technology that consume almost no energy and does not produce environmentally hazardous wastes such as air filter (catalytic converter) and water filter . However, some form of energy and environmentally hazardous processes may be involved in producing the technology, and at the end of lifespan the technology may end up as environmentally hazardous waste. Even solar, wind & marine energy exploitation need extraction of buried resources (that are not inexhaustible) as raw materials to make energy devices, such as rare-earth materials. Thus, the making of the green technology itself may not be green but this can be well-compensated by prolonging the benefits through maximizing the robustness and hence the lifespan of green technology.
While we cannot avoid using technology, we can use less technology that consumes energy while switching to greener technology.
Thus, in developing green energy solutions, emissions of heat and not only GHG, need to be minimized to mitigate global warming by using less energy and improving efficiency where possible.
While we go green, we also need sincere collective and long-term commitments to reduce the extraction of resources with high-carbon content (CC) from Nature for energy combustion, particularly to reduce the production and combustion of any fuels that emit GHG.
The right strategy is to harness green energy directly from nature (solar, wind, hydro, ocean), convert just what is needed to electricity and store the excess energy in an efficient and non-chemical-based energy storage systems like green batteries or fuel cells and hydrogen. Conventional batteries have limited lifespan and will end up adding more hazardous chemical wastes, and not supposed to be considered as green energy source. Green hydrogen fuel may be regarded as a viable storage of excess energy but it is truly clean or green, only if it is produced directly from GREEN energy like solar, wind, ocean waves. Hydrogen fuel that is produced by electricity, like any battery as energy backup/storage or secondary energy source, should not be regarded as a primary green energy. Green hydrogen is supposed to be generated directly at hydroelectric power plant.
Any other ways (using combustion of mass with carbon content or what we dig out from the earth) would not be sustainable or green due to emissions of GHG and limited geological deposits. We need to look into the best approaches to harness energy from nature in a more seamless manner, i.e., using minimum infrastructure with sufficiently high efficiency to acquire the optimum amount of energy. Here, optimally means that the amount of energy we harness from the natural resources just need to be sufficient for our needs and not excessively. We should use less energy, maximize efficiency to produce less heat and emissions/wastes.
The above discussions show that it is necessary to reflect on Climate Change whenever we do Green Energy, and vice-versa, as both are inter-connected because heat produced from technology affect the local and global temperature. We have been hit by natural disasters due to Climate change in recent years and we should reflect on the impact of the pervasive technology we have been using.
Greenhouse gases are the hetero-molecules with large heat capacities, like NO, NO2, SO2. Carbon-based molecules CO and CO2 are not the only culprits, although they are the most abundant molecular by-products of fossil fuel combustion processes. The “decarbonization” effort of removing CO/CO2 from the atmosphere and depositing carbon-content (CC) back to nature requires technology which consumes energy to do the work, and more heat would be produced. It is best to let nature does the decarbonisation work, if possible.
If we do not do it right in creating, managing, and using the green technology, we may be creating more mess. Instead of actually solving the energy-climate problem we may be creating more new and hidden problems. For example, “Is recycling truly green?” Consider how much GHG and heat a lorry creates in making one trip just to pick up discarded cardboards/cartons for recycling compared to CO/CO2 emitted from burning the cardboards on the spot and use the heat to generate electricity. Also, how much energy is needed to recycle the cardboards/cartons compared to the adapting it for reuse?
What everybody can do is to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) smart technology with sensors and optimization planning for judicious use of energy. For example, vehicle users can reduce fuel consumption in several ways:
- “Dropping” weights – if we do not need it, do not carry
- Efficient logistic planning of routes and timing
- Reduce the use of vehicle braking, especially when going downhill — use gravity and inertia/momentum to save fuel.
- Switch off engines when vehicles are not moving – this can avoid unnecessary wastage of fuels
- Lubricate wheels and engine parts regularly to reduce frictions
We need a comprehensive plan to transform our transportation sector from petrol/diesel to solar-electric. It is easier to start with electric motorcycles or moped (now a reality in China).
At the same time, we can have “Fuel Efficient Plan” focusing on research, development, and service for maintaining efficient engines and cleaner combustions, especially in commercial vans, trucks, lorries that emit black smokes.
Understanding the right green and sustainable principle and uphold it, be more mindful and environmentally conscious in the way we develop technology and how we use technology as responsible planetary citizens are important to avoid making a colossal mistake and harm to planetary health. Investing on technology that can harness excess energy (heat recycling) with the help of AI and smart information-communication technology (ICT) is a promising possibility that can save a lot of energy and mitigate global warming.
NATURE provides FREE resources. Efficient and robust technology and infrastructure were put in place to continuous harness what is needed and not what we want would ensure affordable, cost-effective or even free energy for green and sustainable living.