By Eric Gitonga
Before any discussion is brought forth on the pros and cons of fossils, it would be logical to first get a crisp understanding of what fossil fuels are. Fossil fuel can be defined as a fuel formed by the anaerobic decomposition of dead organisms over a long period of time under intense pressure and heat.
They contain high proportions of carbon and include coal, petroleum and gas. Coal accounts for 27.4% of the total electricity production in the United States, illustrating a significant drop from the year 2014. Petroleum finds a span of uses ranging from motor vehicles to industrial machines to basic households for lighting and cooking purposes.
Natural gas finds applications such as electricity generation, heating, cooking and fueling locomotives. These applications go deeper to illustrate how useful fossil fuels are in driving the economy at the commercial level as well as at the household levels.
With the oil peak demand expected in the late 2020s and 2040s according to the International Energy Agency, most countries are shifting their focus to the renewable energy sources to counter the anticipated effects.
The combustion of fossil fuels for the generation of electricity, heat and transportation is a major source of carbon (iv) oxide, a greenhouse gas, which leads to the heating of the earth in what is referred to as the greenhouse effect after the ozone layer gets slowly replenished. Therefore, replacing these sources with renewable sources is paramount.
As at now, humanity has already at its disposal chunk of means of generating energy via clean methods. Oil and natural gas account for 85% of the global energy while wind and solar energy make less than 2% combined. Hydroelectric power is the most common renewable energy source standing at 7% of the total world’s energy. Hydropower seemed a very effective renewable energy source over a couple of decades when rainfall was reliable.
Over the course time, with the change in climatic conditions attributed to the Greenhouse effect and the high commissioning and installation costs associated with the construction of mega-dams, scientists are looking for better alternatives.
Geothermal energy has lately been on the rise as it gives a more stable and reliable source of renewable energy with fewer infrastructural costs as compared to hydroelectric energy. The overall effectiveness has been seen in the decreased cost per kilowatt-hour.
The step towards clean energy production looks like an inevitable path but filled with many challenges.
The first major challenge lies in the rules and regulation regarding the generation of electricity. In most countries, despite the availability of plenty of wind and sunshine, individuals are held back by a couple of regulatory backdrops including hefty taxes which in turn make the projects not feasible economically.
The respective governments ought to give subsidies to local citizens who intend to use renewable energy sources rather than connection to the national grid. Another challenge has been in the nature and structure of the grid network. Most countries have a compact electrical grid which means that power can only be relayed from the grid and not injected into the grid.
This phenomenon poses challenges as individuals with renewable energy sources cannot inject the excess power back into the grid at agreeable rates with the power transmission companies. However, in developed countries, power providers have incorporated net metering for individuals with renewable energy sources in place which ensures that they draw power from the grid and excess electricity from their system feeds back to the grid.
During the day when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, the consumer utilizes wind and solar energy and when the renewable resources are not available, electricity from the gird supplies the needs. This eliminates the expense of costly storage batteries. The payment made to the power provider is calculated as the difference between what they used and what they produced.
In the transportation sector, trains have witnessed the greatest shift from diesel-powered locomotives to electrically propelled trains. More and more companies are venturing in the production of electric vehicles to move away from gasoline-powered vehicles.
There is immense research trying to work out the viability of fully green energy sources replacing fossil fuels in the economy. The slow march towards purely renewable energy sources has gained some more momentum over the last decade and looks like the only way forward if we want a carbon-free world.