Spotlight Series: SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy

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Can we continue to rely on fossil fuels for our energy production? Because they produce significant amount of energy per unit mass burnt, and their means of extraction are relatively cheap, many countries became dependant on them for their energy production.

However, fossil fuels have some very strong cons that stand between them and the future of energy. The main cons are: they are non-renewable in the short period of time, they emit massive amount of Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere when burnt in addition to radioactive material[1], and greenhouse gases. Finally, they play a main role in Climate change because most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”[2].

As a result, the way we produce energy and provide for the humanity needs to change and that is why the United Nations sets its seventh goal for sustainable development is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Reasons for this goal vary between political, economic and environmental. Some of them are: one of every five people lacks access to modern energy, 3 billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating, and finally energy is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 60 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.[3]

Leaders at the global summit discussed this goal and decided on, by 2030:

  1. Ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
  2. Increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  3. Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  4. Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
  5. Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
  6. Expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programs of support[4]

 

Alternatives for fossil fuels have always been there and in order to achieve a more sustainable future in terms of energy production, countries need to take into account renewable energies in their plans for energy production and aim to increase their presence in the global energy mix.

Probably, the most commonly known renewable energies are solar and wind energies. Increasingly, many countries start to get a great part of energy from them. Germany ranks the first place in the list of countries to use solar power with a production of 38.2 Gigawatts of energy[5]. In addition to that, wind energy is an efficient source of energy and China ranks the first place in energy production by wind power with 114.6 Megawatts.[6]

Other renewable energies include: Hydro power, geo thermal power and biofuels. China gets for example 6.7% of its energy from domestically produced hydropower[7]. By 2030, Kenya aims to have 5,530 MW of geothermal power or 26% of total capacity[8]. The United States produces the most biofuels in the world with 940 barrels per day.[9]

The challenge here is to get completely clean energy to stop the arguably main reason for climate change: atmosphere pollution with greenhouse gases. Some countries are on their way to achieve this goal. Sweden had achieved something extraordinary by running on fossil-free energies where all its energy comes from nuclear and renewable energies and it aims to run completely on renewable energy by 2040[10].

A vast number of countries have not been able to achieve despite their relatively high usage of renewable energies. The United States and China rank always the top three places in producing energy from renewables, but in the same time, they are the countries to emit the greatest amount of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. The reason for this contradiction is related to the large population each country has and debatably their lifestyle.

Finally, to answer the question I started with. “Can we continue to rely on fossil fuels for our energy production?”. It is not as simple as yes or no and it depends a lot on the country. We still get a massive amount of energy from fossil fuels that we use in all aspects of our life and many countries cannot move to renewable immediately.

So, as the UN also aims, we should aim to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels, find cleaner and more sustainable ways for energies extracted from fossil fuels and eventually move into renewable energies and increase the diversity of the ways we produce energy.

 

This is part 8/18 of a series on the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

 

Written by Wael Yakoub Agha

April 12th, 2017

 

[1]  http://fliphtml5.com/eenv/lyjx

[2] https://downloads.globalchange.gov/usimpacts/pdfs/climate-impacts-report.pdf

[3] “Energy – United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations. United Nations, n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

[4] Max. “SDG 7 – Access to Affordable, Sustainable and Modern Energy.” Millennium Development Goals. MDG Monitor, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.

[5] Harrington, Rebecca. “These 10 Countries Are Leading the World in Solar Energy.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.

[6] “Discover the Ten Countries with the Most Wind Power Capacity in 2014, According to the Global Wind Energy Council.” Allianz. Allianz, 05 May 2010. Web. 12 July 2017.

[7] Greenbang. “Which Countries Get the Most Energy from Hydropower?” STF. STF | Sustainable Technology Forum, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 July 2017.

[8] http://www.iaea.org/nuclearenergy/nuclearknowledge/schools/NEM-school/2012/Japan/PDFs/week2/CR6_Kenya.pdf

[9] Myers Joe Myers, Formative Content, Joe. “These Countries Produce the Most Biofuels.” World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 July 2017.

[10] Sims, Alexandra. “Sweden on Target to Run Entirely on Renewable Energy by 2040.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Oct. 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.

 

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