- The fight against global warming needs to happen in a viable way and with solutions that are realistic;
- Besides being beneficial to the environment, renewable energy has its geopolitical advantages for the countries that adopt it;
- As with any revolution, there are obstacles to a revolution in the energy matrix of countries.
Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, reducing bath time, and watching less television. There are countless advertisements that try to encourage people to live a more sustainable life. The problem is that these small solutions do not get to the heart of the matter, much less really make people aware of the much deeper environmental problems that the planet is currently suffering.
Furthermore, demanding that all human beings live a sustainable life is a utopian reality. It is undeniably humanly impossible to demand, for example, that everyone stops eating meat, that airplane flights end, or that everyone only uses public transportation, which, by the way, has been losing adepts throughout the world for countless reasons.
For some people, comfort is something they don’t want to give up, and leading a sustainable life may mean giving up some luxuries.
Even if public policies were created to force individuals to lead more ecologically correct lives, through the creation of laws and fines, it would still be difficult to implement them; many people would find a way to circumvent them and, again, this would not get to the heart of the matter.
Real awareness is needed for the population to understand the state the planet is in, as well as feasible changes, put into practice by those who have the power to make a difference on a large scale and to solve more complex challenges in the matter, such as large industries and national governments.
According to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the emissions of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) do not stop growing, and in order for global warming, which is already causing numerous problems such as melting, climate change, and ecological imbalance, to be limited to 1.5°C, they must not develop any further until 2025.
Although small changes in individual behavior are important in the process of improving climate change, one of the most realistic ways to have a large-scale impact and make a transformation, as well as striving for a greener reality is to bet on clean energy and sustainable energy matrices, because data from the IPCC itself points out that the largest carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil fuels and energy.
The Benefits of Sustainable Energy Beyond the Environment
Even if clean energy is something essential for the improvement of the world we live in, it is undeniable that in some governments, the interests of the state and their own country may end up overriding environmental awareness. However, having sustainable energy brings benefits to nations not only in environmental issues, but for the energy sovereignty of the country.
There are three pillars of a well-established energy sovereignty:
a. easy access to the energy that the country possesses: in this way, the country will not be dependent on others for energy supply in its territory;
b. good prices: essential so that the population, especially the poorest people, do not suffer when using something as necessary as energy;
c. be produced in a sustainable and renewable way: being almost self-explanatory, if the energy is sustainable and renewable the A and B pillars will be almost automatic, besides helping to mitigate the effects of global warming on the planet.
With tax laws for energy production, inflation on this type of product drops, a positive point for the less favored classes.
Furthermore, even though the implementation and production of renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuels in the short term, the long-term scenario is changing, because fossil fuels are scarce and more and more countries are committed to reducing greenhouse gases, making investment in renewable energy one of the most important points in the issue of energy sovereignty.
But besides the obvious climate benefits, there are also geopolitical benefits, since a sustainable and consolidated energy matrix increases energy sovereignty by reducing dependence on fossil fuel producing countries. And, reducing dependence on other countries in an issue as essential as energy is of utmost importance.
A clear example of this is the European Union, which has been seeking to gain its strategic energy sovereignty and end its dependence on Russia by implementing wind energy and importing from other countries.
With the Ukrainian War, tensions grow even more, because with energy dependence, the countries of the European Union become dependent on Moscow’s near-monopoly of supply, giving Russia an advantage, as it can make demands for concessions and agreements that perhaps these countries would not accept if they were not so dependent.
One of the greatest examples of the need for energy independence is the case of OPEC+, which was created in 1976 and is currently administered by 12 countries. This organization is able to control the price of fuel worldwide as it secures its production and export. Because of the war in Ukraine, Russia has decreased its oil exports, causing fuel prices to jump exponentially.
As the largest country in territory and population, China clearly has a great demand for energy and natural resources. Even though the country has one of the largest coal reserves in the world, China is seeking its independence from fossil fuels, developing technologies to obtain sustainable energy with emphasis on solar and wind power.
In Canada, the energy matrix is already one of the cleanest in the world. More than 80% of its energy production has low carbon emissions or comes from renewable sources. Just like in Brazil, which has several sources of sustainable energy generation, such as rivers, wind and sun. In the United States, the International Energy Agency predicts that by 2023, 23% of the country’s energy production will come from renewable sources.
Steps to Creating Sustainable Energy
It is a fact that creating a clean energy matrix only brings benefits to the country that adopts it and to the world as a whole, but what possible steps can governments take to put it all into practice? Below, we list nine realistic steps for creating a fully sustainable energy system nationally and globally.
- Scaling up investment in full renewables based on the particularities of each country
If a country is determined to invest in sustainable energy, it is of utmost importance that the geographical characteristics in which it is located are considered, i.e. it is impossible to have a good source of wind energy in places that do not wind too often.
Below are some of the main renewable energy sources used and which nations use each one:
- Solar energy: created from a process that captures light and heat to generate electricity. Not only governments, but many households, businesses, and institutions are beginning to opt for this form of energy generation. There are three types of solar energy, thermal (which uses heat to warm up water), heliothermal (which generates the steam that powers turbines and creates electricity through the use of radiation heat), and the best known, photovoltaic (which transforms solar energy directly into heat through solar plates. Among the ten countries that most use this type of energy are: China, Japan, the United States, India, and South Korea;
- Wind Energy: is the energy generated by wind, where the wind speed is transformed into mechanical energy (of motion), all of which is converted into electrical energy. For the implementation of a wind energy system a large infrastructure is required, such as wind farms with at least five wind turbines, in addition to the geographical conditions of winds that travel at least six to eight meters per second and other specifications. Some countries that have large wind capacity are: China, United States, Germany, Spain, France and others;
- Hydroelectric: This type of energy is generated by water, which through its turbines activated by the current creates mechanical energy that is then transformed into electrical energy. They are divided into three types, which depend on the type of installation. There are flow power plants, which use the river current itself, basin power plants, which use the reservoir as a supply source, and storage power plants, which use two tanks of different altitudes. As examples of countries that use this type of energy we can cite: Brazil, Norway, Paraguay, Iceland and Canada.
- Geothermal: Probably the least known of the above, geothermal energy is formed from the heat coming from the Earth and its rock formations. The three countries that rely most heavily on this type of energy are: United States, Philippines and Indonesia.
- Expanding Investment in Energy Storage to Bring Stability to the Grid
One problem with most renewable energy sources is that they are dependent on forces of nature that are not constant. Therefore, the energy production from these sources may not be constant, which brings instability to the power grid. Therefore, having the capacity to store energy produced in excess is fundamental to compensate for periods of low or low production.
In times of drought, for example, it is important that a hydroelectric plant has stored resources. When winds are not so strong, wind power plants already need to be prepared with stored energy to keep the power grid constant.
There are four main ways to store sustainable energy:
- Reversible Hydraulic Pump: responsible for the energy storage of 90% of the world. Here the gravitational force generates energy, with a funnel pumping water to a reservoir in a higher region using surplus energy, this being released at times of great energy demand;
- Lithium batteries: these are the most widely used in technological devices, with their energy storage system working in a similar way to that of a battery in such equipment. Despite being very promising, currently its high costs prevent its large-scale use;
- Green Hydrogen: is more efficient than fossil fuels because it has the ability to create large batteries that store energy by separating hydrogen from the oxygen in water. It is capable of storing 30% surplus energy, and although it is gas-based, it does not emit any pollutants, only water.
- Thermal Storage: here the energy is transformed into chemical or thermal mechanical energy, making it stored in materials that allow its retention and that can be reused at any time.
- Investing in Traditional Nuclear Fission Power to Increase Grid Stability
Nuclear fission is the most common way of producing nuclear energy today. It is the breaking of a heavy, unstable atomic nucleus, which causes this to give rise to two medium-sized atomic nuclei. This fission releases neutrons and a large amount of energy. The one made from uranium is the best known.
The advantages of this method are the greater control of the chemical process, which does not occur in nuclear fusion, and the greater stability of the electrical network, because the generators generate a large amount of energy. However, it is a process that generates a large amount of radioactive atomic waste and the risks of accidents are high.
Last year, Finland, a country that has nuclear power plants as the producer of 30 percent of its energy, opened a tomb for the disposal of atomic waste that promises to last for at least 100,000 years. The Nordic country’s concern further underscores the concern when it comes to using this form of energy production.
This power generation process is also used in the production of atomic bombs, such as the hydrogen bomb.
- Continue Investment in Nuclear Fusion Technology
The production of energy via nuclear fusion commercially is still under development. This is because nuclear fission and nuclear fusion are different things. In nuclear fusion, two atoms are combined to form a third, heavier element, and it is at the moment of formation of this third element that energy is released.
As advantages, nuclear energy has no carbon emissions and no generation of toxic and radioactive waste, besides the fact that its reagents are present all over the world and are practically inexhaustible, this type of energy production being sustainable and of enormous socioeconomic relevance.
Investment in nuclear fusion has mobilized several nations and public or private initiatives, the most famous project being ITER – International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor – which has a reactor under construction in France. In addition, a tokamak-type reactor has been tested in England. The reactor called the Joint European Torus (JET) was able to maintain a five-second fusion process.
However, nuclear fusion has its critics. As promising as it is, there is no guarantee that its proposal will be successful, and given the global warming scenario, critics feel that it might be better to invest in wind or solar power.
- Electrification of Everything that Can Be Electrified in Everyday Society
If we consider that the first steps will be to transform all the world’s energy generation into something clean and renewable, the best way to take advantage of this would be to electrify everything that can be electrified, completely replacing fossil fuels in such equipment.
Some examples of replacements that could become a reality are:
- Cooling and Heating: For cooling, the good old air conditioning is already widespread. For heating, both for houses and water, electricity should be used for this process, not gas. The technology for this already exists.
- Transportation: Instead of using gasoline and fossil fuels, means of transportation can be sustainable if they are transformed into electric ones. Today there are many options, such as electric cars, motorcycles, small trucks, trains, tractors, small boats, small airplanes, and small drones for self transport. However, some means of transportation are too large to use battery power alone, such as passenger ships and airplanes. This is where hydrogen comes in as an alternative, and we will talk more about this below.
Electric transportation brings optimistic numbers. The sale of electric cars, for example, has grown 43 percent worldwide. In China, in Shenzhen, a city with just over 12,000 inhabitants, all of its buses are electric.
- Using Green Hydrogen for Energy-Hungry Activities That Cannot Be Electrified
Unfortunately, not all activities that consume fossil fuel can be electrified. In transportation, this is the case for large trucks, airplanes, large ships, and transport vessels. Also, metallurgical activities, mining, gas and oil exploration, and some industrial activities that require very high energy cannot be electrified.
So how can these activities become more sustainable?
The answer is: through green hydrogen. It is produced from the electrolysis of water and uses renewable or low carbon energy to make it. Furthermore, green hydrogen is essential for countries that are committed to reducing the environmental impacts that are aggravating global warming.
Some companies and countries are already pursuing this alternative. Airbus, the famous European aircraft manufacturer, has already entered into a partnership with an Australian mining company, with the goal of putting a green hydrogen aircraft into operation by 2035.
In the maritime environment, Maersk is already developing vessels that use green methanol as fuel, produced from biogas or green hydrogen. Being one of the largest waterborne transportation companies, this is a big step in the development of this technology.
In addition, countries that have large tubular transports, used to transport oil and gases (gas and oil pipelines), can use their structure in the future to transport green hydrogen. Currently, the United States has the longest total length of tubular transport.
- Short-term Measures That Can Be Taken While the Technology Mentioned Is Not Ready
It is a fact that a sustainable revolution cannot happen overnight. The steps and processes for creating green energy matrices – global and national – are slow and gradual. Because of this, it is necessary to do damage containment while the transition takes place, because the planet Earth is already calling for help and global warming reaches extremely high peaks every year.
In this transition, industries and governments will still emit a lot of polluting gases, even to produce material for batteries and new transportation that can use electricity and hydrogen to get around. But eventually it is necessary to remove all this carbon released into the atmosphere, and there are two good options for how to do this:
- Large-scale reforestation: research has been done and the results are available on Global Forest Watch, if forests regenerate naturally by the year 2050, about 8.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide can be absorbed from the atmosphere. Currently, the forests that already exist absorb about 30 percent of annual emissions of the gas. The absorption process is simple and is done through photosynthesis;
- Carbon capture: reforestation alone will not supply the needs of the planet, which is daily bombarded by more gases. Because of this, another option is carbon capture, a technology that can capture up to 90% of the gas releases produced in the world.
First the carbon is captured through various chemical processes, then it is transported through pipelines, and finally it is stored in geological formations that lie beneath the earth, such as coal beds, aquifers, or gas reservoirs.
- Reducing Methane Emissions in Food Production
This is an arduous problem to solve, taking into consideration that food is something essential for our survival and needs a detailed process in order for us to consume quality things.
However, there are possibilities for this decrease to occur gradually with regard to animal protein. There are three groups of technologies that can be used to make this happen: those that improve soil, those that improve cattle genetics, and those that work on feed.
In the first group there is emphasis on the planting of forests, with the objective of recovering pastures that have been degraded for cattle raising. Thus, the absorption of carbon by the soil increases and so does cattle feed, concomitantly.
In the second group we have the development of more nutritious forages and the selection of animals that have potential weight gain or milk production. Thus, the methane rate per kilogram of meat or milk produced would decrease.
Finally, in the last group, the feeding, it is essential to add supplements that reduce the emission of methane in the rumination phase when the cattle are feeding.
These three groups were pointed out at the Methane in Livestock Forum, held in São Paulo, Brazil.
But all these solutions would not completely reduce the methane emissions, being a short term option. Something that could really change reality would be to substitute a large portion of the animal protein we consume for vegetable protein, because the production of animal protein generates, alone, more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions, besides the agro bringing other environmental impacts, such as exacerbated waste of water.
- Impose Regulation Ban on Large-Scale Cryptocurrency Mining
Many people are still in doubt about what cryptocurrencies really are. Basically, cryptocurrencies are a digital asset, meaning that they only exist virtually. Currently, there are more than 20,000 types of cryptocurrencies.
When a technology comes along it is natural for humans to be delighted, but the fact is that the negatives of cryptocurrencies outweigh any positive points that this asset may have. In addition to facilitating money laundering and organized crime, cryptocurrencies also have an absurdly negative impact on the environment. Therefore, even if this type of investment had some real return for the population, the environmental damage it causes would not be worth it.
The so-called cryptocurrency mining, where computers compete against each other solving puzzles, cracking codes and algorithms that give Bitcoins as prizes, needs to be done with powerful, high-level machines. These computers are usually located in sheds with a power supply and are on 24 hours.
Thus, with most energy generation still being done by fossil fuels, the environmental impacts are severe. It is estimated that the Bitcoin network, one of the most famous virtual currencies, alone consumes more energy annually than the whole of Argentina, according to Cambridge research.
Furthermore, each Bitcoin transaction generates more than 270 grams of electronic waste, which is almost 31,000 tons per year. This waste contains materials that can contaminate the soil and water where it penetrates. Finally, technological materials are still disposed of incorrectly, bringing about loss of resources such as aluminum, silver, iron, and gold, and causing more of these materials to be mined.
In short, it is impossible to take steps to create a more sustainable planet with rampant cryptocurrency mining.
3 Obstacles to Implementing Realistic Climate Policies
- Technology Still in Development
One of the biggest challenges in implementing a sustainable energy matrix is the technology that has not yet developed sufficiently to meet the needs, which are great, of the countries.
As exemplified in the topics above, many things are still in the testing and creation phases, such as most transportation based on green hydrogen as a fuel.
Even though the technological evolution is already happening gradually and can evolve further with the rise of nuclear fusion, we know that the demands of the planet are urgent. Because of this, the lack of sufficient technology to make a sustainable energy matrix expansion happen is a huge obstacle.
- Throwing Responsibility to Others, or NIMBY
NIMBY is an expression that means “Not In My Backyard”. You know when you have that neighbor who even accepts changes in his neighborhood that will benefit everyone, but doesn’t want anything to be changed in his own backyard? That’s basically it. In the case of geopolitics, the nations are the neighbors, and this is another obstacle in the creation of a sustainable energy matrix. The non-cooperation between countries.
As much as nations pass off their image as environmentally friendly, the reality is that many are selfish, and even though renewable energy has many benefits, the small headaches that this style of energy generation could cause are already deterring countries from agreeing to implement these services in their territories.
For example, it is common for countries to agree that the construction of nuclear power plants is important, but still do not want it on their territory. They want hydroelectric power plants without the bureaucracy of building them, among others.
It is necessary that countries and the population as a whole learn to cooperate to reach resolutions that collectively benefit, because the environment is an issue that affects everyone globally.
- Finding Common Ground on Climate Policies of the World’s Leading Polluters
According to a new 2019 survey by Carbon Brief, the countries that have polluted the most since the Industrial Revolution in 1850 are, in descending order: the United States, China, Russia, and Brazil. All this taking into account that the main emissions are in the area of energy production.
In Brazil, about 50,000 deaths per year are the result of exposure to pollutants in the air we breathe. As the world’s fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the country is home to much of the world’s largest rainforest, with trees that play an important role in capturing carbon from the air.
Under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, greenhouse gas emissions have reached the highest peak since 2006, according to data from Inpe – the National Institute for Space Research. In addition, deforestation rates have increased even in conservation units.
In 2013, China was living in a horror scenario regarding pollution, having ten times more pollutant particles present per cubic meter in the air than what is recommended by the World Health Organization. It was in the last year of President Hu Jintao’s mandate that the country began to make changes, replacing its main source of fossil energy with renewable energy.
Currently, the country plans to build about 150 nuclear power plants for $440 billion, and in 2021 began construction of new nuclear plants, Tianwan and Xudapu. The nation with the world’s largest population is also a leading seller of electric cars.
In the United States, the current administration of Joe Biden seems a little more concerned about environmental issues than that of Republican Donald Trump, who in 2017 withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement and in 2021 overturned a law created by Barack Obama created to combat climate change.
Currently, the US federal government has signed the largest climate package in the nation’s history, which amounts to $430 billion. The main point of the text is the promise to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
The country that is home to the city of Krasnoyarsk, which has some of the most polluted air on the planet, has always had environmental problems. According to 2018 estimates by Greenpeace, Russia produces about 70 million tons of waste per year, with a small portion being incinerated or recycled, and is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases.
In a speech at the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in Scotland, Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the country’s commitment to neutralize gas emissions by 2060.
However, the country’s invasion of Ukraine is not only causing social and economic problems, but also environmental ones, such as noise and air pollution. Residues of heavy explosives are spreading through the air, triggering serious respiratory problems in the population. Furthermore, more natural resources will be extracted to rebuild cities, animal species risk extinction, and key water resources become contaminated.
Besides talking about the most polluting countries, it is interesting to talk a little about the issue of the European Union, which even with several agreements between them still competes a lot with each other. The creation of an Energy Union for the countries of the economic bloc to collaborate among themselves and create cooperative strategies to combat global warming and generate sustainable energy, investing in the necessary equipment and technology.
These were nine viable steps towards creating a sustainable energy matrix, one of the best ways to deal with global warming.
Solutions like these, which have little negative impact on the economy and people’s quality of life, are the best ways to deal with the climate crisis in a pragmatic and effective way. In other words, they are our best bets.