Green Revolution or Evolution
For years we have all heard the pleads to go “green” and to start protecting the planet by using renewable and eco-friendly energy sources and products. According to the latest reports it seems like we’re finally turning to the green revolution.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has reported in its Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review that the number of jobs in renewable energy increased by 5% in 2015 to a total of 8.1 million. The prediction is that there will be 24 million employed in renewable energy by 2030. A feature of the report is that these jobs increased in contrast with the depressed labor markets in the broader energy sector.
While the traditional fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal have been suffering from depressed prices in the past year, investment in alternative energy sources has been attracting increasing interest resulting in the creation of new jobs in the sector. For the first time in the United States more people are employed in the green or renewable energy sector than in the fossil fuels industry. The green sector in the U.S. grew jobs 12 times faster than the overall job market during 2015, according to IRENA.
Green or renewable energy sources can broadly be divided into the following groups: biofuels, geothermal power, wind power, hydropower and solar power and most of these sources can be tapped using labor intensive methods therefore increasing employment.
Biofuels and Biomass
Biofuels and biomass as the name implies are derived by biologically processing organic material such as plants, decaying vegetation and with new processes that have been developed, from waste or garbage. The use of crops which are grown for the specific purpose of biofuels such as sunflower or soybeans for the manufacture of biodiesel is interesting because the crops require water and sunlight for growth, an indirect use of hydro and solar power. The processing of waste or garbage is another fuel manufacturing method that has the added advantage of reducing the amount of garbage in landfills. An invention by an Israeli company has resulted in the mass manufacture of small bio-digesters that turn waste food products into gas which can be used for heating and lighting. This has the added advantage of bringing power to parts of the world where electricity is not available and now becomes almost unnecessary. A disadvantage of biofuels is that they also produce greenhouse gasses as they are burnt up.
Geothermal energy is naturally stored within the earth’s crust in the form of superheated matter dating from the time the earth formed which moves continually upwards from the center of the earth. This results in a continuous conduction of thermal or heat energy which can be tapped and used to generate power. The thermal energy can be used in the production of electricity and is a cheap continually renewable method of operating power creating turbines. This has proven to be a cost effective method of energy generation and will no doubt be more widely harnessed in areas where geo-thermals appear to a far greater degree.
Generally speaking there are three main methods in which water can be harnessed for the generation of power. The original concept of hydropower was for turbines to be driven by flowing water in rivers and in some cases by erecting the turbines in such a way as to harness the water flow of waterfalls. This method of power generation is still very much in use and is being expanded in many areas. The other and newer usage of hydropower has come from harnessing the waves in the ocean to drive turbines. These power generators are being used mainly to power desalination plants to supplement scarce global water resources. Tidal power is the least harnessed of the hydropower sources, but is becoming increasingly important as a method of power generation.
Wind Power very simply uses the prevailing winds to drive electricity generating turbines that are erected like old fashioned windmills in areas where there are regular winds. They are very cost effective as once the wind power generator has been installed it takes up very little space and requires a minimum of maintenance. The land where the generators are installed can still be used for agricultural purposes such as crop growing or animal grazing. This method is coming into increasing use to insert additional power into power grids which also lowers the unit cost of electricity production. Wind power generators provide around 40% of the total electricity needs in Denmark and this can be replicated in other countries. Australia is another country that is making extensive use of wind power generators and is now producing a significant portion of its needs from this source. A big plus is that there is no pollution from wind generators and they are almost totally environmentally friendly.
Solar power is one of the most widely used and most easily visible form of power generation from a renewable source. Very extensive use is made of solar energy to provide heating of water for residential water heaters as an extremely cost effective alternative to electrically powered water heaters. Solar energy is converted into electrical power by using photovoltaic units that are fitted where there are large expanses of roofing such as on factories and warehouses. The large number of cattle stables in Israel has resulted in most of the dairy companies installing solar generators onto the stable roofs and either using the power for their own purposes, or selling it to the main power supplier by pushing additional power back into the grid. Direct solar heating to drive electricity generating turbines is also widely used.
Renewable Energy is the Future
The advantages of using renewable forms of energy provision are numerous from cost efficiency to reduced pollution and most importantly in the creation of an entire new spectrum of employment opportunities. The world is moving away from fossil fuels at an increasing rate because they are costly, and in many cases inefficient and above all are the biggest culprits contributing to pollution and the emission of greenhouse gasses.
Data provided by the International Energy Agency shows an ever increasing shift away from a dependence on fossil fuels for power generation. Leading the way is Sweden which says it will soon be generating 100% of its power requirements from renewable energy sources and has challenged other industrialized nations to do the same. In Scotland wind power generators provided 97% of the country’s residential power needs in 2015 while in the same period Germany has been able to meet 78% of its need for power. African countries such as Kenya have plans to generate the bulk of their power needs from renewable sources while at the same time creating employment and increasing industrial activity as electricity becomes cheaper and more readily available.
China which produced 21% of its electrical requirements from renewable sources in 2015 is by far the world leader in quantity, having produced 1,300 terawatt-hours per year (2014 data). The United States in 2014 was the second biggest producer with 539.8 TW-h/y and totaling 12.8% of its needs in 2015. These two countries, because of the huge demand for power, produce as much as the next eight countries in the top ten producers of electricity from renewable sources.
From a global labor perspective, the International Energy Agency forecasts 24 million jobs will be created by 2030, an increase on the 8.1 million number for 2015 which means that the output of power from renewable sources should increase by almost 400%. The U.S. Department of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has released the results of a study which indicate that renewable energy could produce as much as 70% of the U.S. energy needs by 2030.
On an international level, energy researchers working at the University of Delaware and the Delaware Technical College have found that renewable energy could power a huge electrical grid at 99.9% of today’s energy cost. The implications here are very encouraging in respect of global industrial development and a reduction in the huge pool of unemployed people around the world.