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Akshay Urja Diwas: Why renewable energy is important

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By Nithin Sridhar

In 2004, the government decided to observe 20th August as “Akshay Urja Diwas” or “Renewable Energy Day” in order to increase awareness about renewable energy. It was subsequently celebrated in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Today, on 20th August 2015, let us revisit the basics of renewable energy and dwell on its importance.

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What is renewable energy?

In the high-school, most of us would have studied that energy and energy sources can be broadly classified into renewable and non-renewable energy. The energy which is derived from sources and get exhausted over time is called as “non-renewable energy”. Example: power generated using coal as fuel.

On the other hand, the energy generated from sources that remains non-exhaustible and hence does not deplete with usage is called as “renewable energy”. Example: power generated using sun light. The sun does not deplete with usage, but the coal does. Renewable basically means “renewed” or “replenished”.

What are the sources and extent of the usage of renewable energy?

Sunlight, wind, and water-falls are the major sources of renewable energy. Other sources include tides, waves, and geo-thermal heat.

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According to Renewables 2014 report, in 2012 the contribution of renewable energy to global final energy consumption was around 19%. The division of renewable energy consumption was: Traditional biomass (9%), non-biomass heat energy (4.2%), Hydropower (3.8%) and power generated from wind, solar, geothermal etc. (2%).

In India, the total installed capacity of grid interactive renewable power as on 30.03.2014 was 31,692.18 MW. Out of that, Small Hydro Power contributed 3803.7 MW, Solar Power: 2631.96 MW, Wind Power: 21136.40 MW, Biomass Power: 4013.55 and power generated from waste contributed 106.58 MW.

Why renewable energy is so important?

The most important advantage of using renewable sources of energy is that they are renewable. Hence they can be used always without the fear of depletion. Further, increased dependence on renewables, would mean decreased dependence on exhaustible sources like coal and oil. This in-turn will not only result in preservation of natural-resources but also will decrease political and economic conflicts and wars that are fought over owning the exhaustible sources.

Another important advantage in using the renewable sources is the reduction of air and water pollution and optimal usage of naturally available resources with minimal side effects. The coal-based or gas-based thermal power plants are one of the major sources of pollution. By decreasing the dependency on coal, gas, etc. these pollutions can be restrained. This will in-turn help in reducing the release of greenhouse gases and hence help fight global warming and climate change.

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Use of renewable sources of energy will also prevent any damage to life and property through nuclear disasters as happened in Fukushima Nuclear Power plant in Japan. If the cost of producing electricity from renewable sources drops further, then they may become more widespread and in-turn help in stabilizing energy prices.
At an operational level, production and maintenance in a renewable energy plant are much easier than in, say, thermal or nuclear power plants. The risks associated with an on-site job is also lesser. Also, the renewable energy systems are more resilient and reliable energy systems.

Therefore, in spite of having some constraints in using renewable energy sources (for example, they are not available in the same degree throughout the year), attempts must be made to increase the installed capacity of renewable energy systems and slowly the energy reliance should be shifted from exhaustible and polluting sources like coal to non-exhaustible and non-polluting sources like sunlight.

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Private Sector Companies Join Hands to Support Refugees’ Access to Clean Energy

Private Sector Joins Clean Energy Drive for Africa's Refugees

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Solar Energy
A miniature solar energy panel at the Refugee Forum in Geneva. VOA

By Lisa Bryant

In northern Ethiopia, tens of thousands of mostly Eritrean refugees are getting connected to families back home, partly thanks to last year’s peace deal between Addis Ababa and Asmara, but also to clean energy.

A Spanish alliance that includes three power companies is linking refugee camps in Shire, near the border with Eritrea, to the country’s energy grid, which largely relies on hydropower. The next step is equipping refugee households with solar energy.

“It’s a catalyst,” said Javier Mazorra, partnership coordinator for the group, Alianza Shire. “You need energy for health, for education, for protection, especially for women.”

Humanitarians hope what is happening in Shire will someday become the new normal, amounting to a game changer for refugees, 90% of whom have limited access to electricity, according to the United Nations. Indeed, energy access counted among key issues addressed this week at a global refugee forum in Geneva, with Africa considered a top priority.

“The current situation in Africa is pretty poor, pathetic,” said Andrew Harper, climate action special adviser for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which co-hosted the meeting.

Often refugees have a single solution, “which is going to surrounding forests, woodland, and cutting it down,” Harper said.

Greening Africa’s energy 

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Climate action special adviser Andrew Harper of UNHCR, which has launched a sustainable energy strategy for its refugee camps. VOA

The refugee agency has launched a four-year strategy to transition to clean energy in all of its camps, although Harper offered no fixed deadline or price tag for doing so. A UNHCR-sponsored report out this week also found renewable energy to be a cost-effective and reliable energy source for refugees.

For Africa in particular, the stakes are high — inside and outside refugee settings. Along with Asia, it has among the world’s highest rates of reliance on charcoal and firewood. Adding in charcoal exports, that has translated into massive deforestation in parts of the continent.

Firewood- and charcoal-based energy also carry myriad other problems, posing health risks from smoky fires and security threats for women collecting charcoal, and heightening tensions between refugees and host communities who also rely on the fast-thinning trees.

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Kathleen Callaghy of NGO Clean Cooking Alliance believes the private sector should partner with humanitarian efforts in bringing clean energy to refugees. VOA

Many of these problems can be seen in East Africa, home to some of the continent’s largest refugee communities.

“There are some energy solutions,” said Kathleen Callaghy, senior humanitarian program associate for Clean Cooking Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. “But the funding, the political will and the capacity of organizations in the humanitarian community is not enough to sustain or expand these projects over time.”

In drought-prone Ethiopia, the government launched a massive reforestation initiative that saw more than 350 million trees planted countrywide in a single day.

“This challenge is one of the prominent challenges we have,” he said, adding host communities are facing the fallout.

Convincing private sector

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Fisseha Meseret Kindie, of Ethopia’s refugee agency, says the country needs support to develop clean energy for the refugees it hosts. VOA

Transitioning to green energy in Africa will mean tapping a private sector that may be wary of investing in refugees and a continent deemed risky.

“Quite honestly, there’s very little in it for them right now,” Callagh, of the Clean Cooking Alliance, said, suggesting alliances with humanitarian agencies as the way forward.

But for Mazorra, of Alianza Shire, the payback is more than financial.

“There are a lot of incentives,” he said, including learning to operate in risky settings. “When you are struggling with really poor resource situations, innovation is key. And there are some innovations that could go back to Spain.”

Harper, of UNHCR, believes there’s another, broader case to be made.

Also Read- Smoking Declines among Men for the First Time: WHO

“We’re basically saying the market for this in Africa is not just 6, 7 million refugees,” he said. “It’s 1.2 billion people. We’ve got to look at it as much more part of the rural electrification process across the continent.” (VOA)