Renewable hope on renewable energy

When I was a kid, solar energy seemed to be many years off from being put into full commercialisation. It looked novel but could produce only a meagre amount of electricity compared to other forms of energy raw materials such as coal and oil. Yet the latter are fossil fuels which are the source of pollution and greenhouse gases that have had detrimental effects on the climate. To reduce greenhouse gases, we have all come to agree that it is almost impossible to ask billions of the world population to alter their behaviours. Given the continued increase of the world population and the growth (minus COVID-19) of the emerging economies, demand for energy will not fall. Thus, there has been some convergence internationally that the way out is to develop renewable sources of energy which do not pollute the air and give out greenhouse gases.

Over the years, we have seen continued efforts to produce solar cells on an industrial scale. Several countries started allowing private entities with solar cells to sell and distribute the excess solar energy produced on their rooftops to the national grids. Domestic hot water began to be powered by rooftop solar cells. But these examples were tiny. We could not have achieved the goals of reducing fossil fuels at that rate.

However, the hope has been renewed. In last week’s edition of the Economist, the article on solar energy is heartening. At present, in Britain, solar energy represents almost 30% of the UK’s electricity supply. This is a sizeable proportion. When I was a student in the UK about ten years ago, if I’m not mistaken, the figure for renewable energy (with solar energy included) was in the range of 20% of the total electricity supply. While one needs to be aware of the caveat that the almost 30% occurred on a day when there was a decline in demand and thus there was lower-than-usual demand for electricity produced from coal and gas, what it tells us is that solar energy is becoming more mainstream. The article also provides some light on how to improve efficiency of solar cells even further by delving into the intricacies of technical details.

The same edition of the Economist also suggests something that interests me. During periods of lockdown in many countries, there were accounts of clear blue skies signifying low level of pollution in large cities across the world. Yet one cannot deny the devastating economic impact from COVID-19. Millions of people have been out of jobs and many more will join in the next few weeks. The way to alleviate this, the Economist suggests, is by refocusing some priorities at the policy level and turn those who are out of jobs to help making renewable energy such as solar power more effective and efficient. This can be done by retraining some workers. If this is successful, we will probably be able to shorten the time it takes for renewable energy to take up the majority of electricity supply.

Thus a renewable hope on renewable energy.