Explore the irony of solving global energy poverty through fossil fuels, which have driven climate change and its catastrophic effects. Read on to understand the impact of fossil fuel-fired energy on the basic development of nations and human beings since the industrial revolution in the blog ‘The Irony Of Solving Global Energy Poverty
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As the number of international calls for energy inquiries and scarcity increases, we will find ourselves at the bottom of a likely energy disaster in the next 30 years if not before. Petroleum will become one of the most highly-priced resources and scarce at the same time. Also, cutting-edge nuclear installations would have reached the end of their beneficial life.
With development and technical advancement, the percentage of people with access to electricity has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. In 1990, around 71% of the world’s population had access; by 2016 this had increased to 87%. This means nearly 940 million people (13%) did not have access to electricity in 2016.
However, our efforts to solve this energy crisis with conventional energy production methods has given birth to another challenge. Today, “Climate Change” is the main issue that threatens our surroundings, our current well-being, and the well-being of future generations. Energy production is responsible for 87% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Let us inspect this irony of sorts in little more detail:
The Challenge of Global Energy Poverty
Lack of access to modern energy services is referred to as global energy poverty. The ability to get energy is a requirement for human development. High-income countries – or countries defined by the UN to be ‘developed’ are assumed to have an electrification rate of 100% from the first year the country entered that category.
Therefore, the increasing global energy access has been driven by low and middle-income economies. In many countries, this trend has been striking: access in India, for example, increased from 43 percent to almost 85%. Indonesia is close to total electrification (sitting at almost 98 percent) – up from 62% in 1990. For countries with strong population growth, such improvements in the share of the population with access is even more impressive.
Whilst the trend is upward for most countries, a number are still severely lagging. At the lowest end of the spectrum, only 8.8% of Chad’s population has electricity access.
For some countries, significant improvements in energy access will remain a pressing challenge over the next few decades. In 2016, only 60% of the world population had access to clean fuels.
Access to clean fuels are lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where only 14% of households in 2016 had access. Progress has been much more significant in South Asia and East Asia over the last decade, with 18% and 16% of additional households gaining access, respectively. When people cannot obtain modern energy for cooking and heating, they rely on solid fuels, especially wood, manure, coal and plant waste.
In 1980 almost two thirds of the world’s population used solid fuels for their cooking. 30 years later this is down to 41%. Data shows that it is a problem associated with poverty.
In richer Europe and North America the share is much lower than in the rest of the world; and in the high income countries of the world the use of solid fuels is entirely a thing of the past.
The use of solid fuels is going down in all of the world’s regions. But the success of rapidly developing South East Asia is particularly impressive, where the share fell from 95% to 61%.
The health of people living in energy poverty pays a huge price due to indoor air pollution, which the World Health Organization (WHO) describes as “the world’s greatest environmental health risk.” For the poorest people in the world, this is the greatest risk factor for premature death and global death.
Health research shows that indoor air pollution causes 1.6 million deaths each year, more than twice the number of deaths caused by poor sanitation.
According to recent reports of the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO), using wood as a fuel is the most important factor in forest degradation. Wood provides more than half of the energy in East, West and Central Africa.
The Flip Side of Increasing Energy Access : Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The irony of the situation is that having greater access to energy means higher emissions of greenhouse gases. Evidently, it’s the wealthiest countries who have the higher emission footprints.
The energy production from fossil fuels has continued to decrease slowly since 2010, however it is still the single largest source of energy. In 2020, energy production from fossil fuels accounted for more than 50% of total energy production. Energy production from renewables has also gone up but its share in total energy production needs to increase significantly for long term sustainability.
The report by Ivanova and Wood states that in developed countries such as Germany, Ireland, and Greece, more than 60% of households have annual per capita emissions that reach 2.4 tonnes.
The world emits around 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year [measured in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq)].
To figure out how we can most effectively reduce emissions and which emissions can and can’t be eliminated with current technologies, we need to first understand where our emissions come from.
Almost three-quarters of emissions come from energy use; almost one-fifth from agriculture and land use [this increases to one-quarter when we consider the food system as a whole – including processing, packaging, transport and retail]; and the remaining 8% from industry and waste.
1. (electricity, heat and transport): 73.2%
2. Direct Industrial Processes: 5.2%
3. Waste: 3.2%
4. Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use: 18.4%
So How Do We Attempt To Reduce Greenhouse Emissions?
The World can not live without energy, and going further we will only need more of it, not less. Does that mean greenhouse emissions will continue to remain a challenge?
We can see numerous examples of countries, with high standards of living, which have been successful in reducing emissions. This is a clear signal that it is possible to make progress. But the key question here is probably not: “can we make progress?”, but rather “can we make progress fast enough?”. Here are some alternative solutions which can solve the problem of the global energy crisis:
Switch to renewable resources: The best solution is to reduce the world’s dependence on non-renewable resources. Most of the industrial age was created using fossil fuels, but there are also well-known technologies that use renewable energy, such as hydro, biomass, geothermal, tidal, solar, and wind energy.
Move to electricity driven transport: Some energy sectors are harder to decarbonize – for example, transport. We therefore need to shift these forms towards electricity where we have viable low-carbon technologies.
Green Hydrogen: Green hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources. It helps to stabilise the electricity and heat supply while also lowering CO2 emissions. It’s becoming more widely recognised as a valuable asset for transport decarbonization.
Develop low-cost low-carbon energy and battery technologies: To do this quickly, and allow lower-income countries to avoid high-carbon development pathways, low-carbon energy needs to be cost-effective and the default choice.
Improve Energy Efficiency: Renewable energy technology can help in achieving the greenhouse emission reduction goals but improving energy efficiency is the most cost-effective and the most immediate approach to reduce fossil fuels use. Some of the methods for improving energy efficiency are listed below:
1. Energy audits are one of the most effective techniques for industry to achieve energy efficiency.
2. Industries can monitor their energy consumption by using an electrical consumption system like ENERTEQ as reducing electricity consumption is one of the most effective ways to become more energy efficient.
3. You can reduce the waste and save energy cost by properly scheduling the use of machinery.
Using modern flue gas treatment technologies in the industrial sector: Flue gas treatment is a treatment for reducing the amount of pollutants produced from the combustion of fossil fuels at an industrial site. Along with this treatment, there are many modern technologies available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
1. Carbon Capture and Underground Storage: Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the technique of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial operations such as steel and cement manufacture, as well as fossil fuel combustion in power generation. The carbon is then transferred by ship or pipeline from where it was created and buried deep down in geological formations.
2. Methane Capture and Use process: Methane Capture and Use is the technique of capturing methane from landfills before it enters the atmosphere. Thus, methane is burned in order to generate electricity or heat.
Reduce, recycle and reuse: Recycling reduces energy usage, which helps to minimise greenhouse gas emissions. The use of recycled resources in the manufacture of new items minimises the demand for unused raw materials. This prevents the release of greenhouse gases that would otherwise come from the extraction or mining of raw resources such as copper, aluminium, lead, zinc and iron. It takes less energy to extract, transport, and process materials to produce items when we reuse them. Thus, the 3R’s will most certainly be critical in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect WorldRef’s views, opinions or policies.