Exploring possible solutions to global warming
Global warming for many prominent scientists is considered as an irrefutable fact rather than a mere theory. Despite vast volumes of data supporting the notion, many feel that the raise in global temperature is due to an ancient cycle. The argument is that similar temperature increase was experienced during the middle ages, however far more gradual compared to the present rate. The purpose of my article is not to dispute the validity of the global warming. Instead I aim to showcase potential solutions to it. Even if we believe that the global warming does not have the effect we have feared, there is no doubt that we are polluting the planet and reducing this negative impact is most definitely a positive step. I have identified three areas where we can target and effectively reduce our impact on the planet.
The problem of global warming arises from the greenhouse effect which is the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is an unwanted by-product of combustion, occurring during combustion of fossil fuels to produce electricity. So the simplest method is to reduce using fossil fuels which would reduce emissions significantly. Nonetheless planes and cars do still produce CO2.
1. Solar & Wind
These are the two possible sources which receive the greatest media attention of the green energy solutions. Sunshine and wind are both abundant on earth however, both are unreliable. We have no control over how much (light intensity and wind speed) and when we can get this energy. For example peak solar output is during midday. Unfortunately peak consumption is in the evening. This means that electricity will have to be stored which is currently inefficient. The power provided by these sources is very small in comparison to fossil sources. The Charanka Solar Park in Gujarat, India is the largest solar farm in the world. It produces a respectable 214MWatts which is comparable to a small coal power station. The problem is that to produce this energy, the park takes up 4,900 acres. If it happens to be a dull cloudy day then there will be a shortage during peak consumption making it infeasible as a primary power provider. Windmills have the problem of being an eyesore and so cannot usually be erected on land without local protests. This means we have to build them offshore and the cables transmitting the electricity introduce increased losses. Having said this, these renewables can be useful as a supplement to the national grid. It is also very useful in difficult to reach places where there isn’t grid coverage.
This is a very promising renewable source. It works by burying pipes deep into the ground and extracting the heat from the core. It is used widely in Iceland and New Zealand however isn’t prominent in many other countries. Although not primarily for producing electricity, it can be used domestically or industrially to heat water. This would reduce electricity consumption overall.
This is an excellent renewable source. It produces significant quantities of power at any time we require and can be switched on and off quickly, unlike coal or nuclear power plants. The world’s biggest power production plant is the Three Gorges Dam in China with a capacity of 22,500 MW which is almost 3 times greater than the largest nuclear power station. The only downside is that it cannot be built anywhere. Only where there is a large body of water at a high location, relative to the surrounding water table hydroelectric plants can be built. It is in use at many locations around the world.
This is the most controversial power source, which is not strictly renewable. However I include it in my list as it does not emit CO2, hence does not add to the greenhouse effect. It is a viable alternative to coal and it is able to produce huge power. The well-known negatives have given it a bad reputation and so doesn’t have widespread public support. Greater investment in the development of fusion technology may make it the future of our energy needs, until then it is an unpopular option.
1. Carbon capture and Storage (CCS)
Instead of primarily changing the way that we produce energy one option is to remove the harmful by-product (CO2). Although this sounds very simple, removing CO2 is a difficult process which we have yet to perfect. Sandstone formations in the North Sea we estimate to be able to hold 150 billion tonnes of CO2. This is a method of reducing the damage that has already been caused. A small variation of this is to capture the carbon dioxide before it is being emitted. By removing the harmful gases after combustion, we could effectively make coal and gas power stations carbon neutral. This process is unfortunately energy intensive and reduces the efficiency of the power station hence is not yet widely applied.
There are a few problems with this method, primarily from tectonic activity which may cause the CO2 from the sandstone to be released. Also by locking away colossal amounts of harmful gases, we are inadvertently depleting the oxygen from our environment which may in time adversely affect the ecosystem.
This is the most natural way to solve our greenhouse problem. On average we have removed over 11,000 hectares of tropical forests every year. Deforestation is suffocating our planet by slowly reducing the oxygen regeneration capability. Although it would be slow, our long term plan should be to reduce deforestation completely and to re-establish vast expanses of forests. This sounds simple enough, however we need to look at the reasons why we need to deforest in the first place. Primarily we need the wood for paper, furniture and other products. We also are in need of the land for agricultural and living space. This means we need to prioritise our land use and find other areas for expansion other than forests.
There is no one answer to the problem of global warming. It will take a combination of methods being applied to make an impact upon the gargantuan problem we have created. If we do not change our current pattern of operations we can be sure that we are headed for catastrophe, so the changes we make must be swift and decisive. I have explored just a handful of methods we can use to minimise the effects. There are many more methods, a few of which may be instrumental in fighting global warming.