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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 15. Energy problems, is 'Saving' the only answer?

by Eco Generation | 04-10-2016 13:59 Comments 0 recommendations 0

20 Must Know Series-Title

15. Energy problems, is 'Saving' the only answer?

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1. Problems caused by energy.

     We often hear about 'energy problems' or the 'energy crisis.' What on Earth has happened to energy? The first problem is depletion of energy sources. The world has developed highly relying on fossil fuels such as oil and coal, but these energy sources are limited in supply. As fossil fuels have been exhausted recently, the prices have been on the increase. Increased fuel prices produce inequality where those in need can't even get basic energy. There are even wars or conflicts occurring over these 'scarce and valuable' fossil fuels.

     The second problem is climate change. The use of fossil fuels has been blamed for causing climate change. Fossil fuels contain a large amount of carbon while fossil fuels are burned, carbon meets oxygen in the air and produces carbon dioxide. Mankind has already emitted a great deal of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide. As such, it is important to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible in order to decrease the impacts of climate change.

2. Beyond energy saving – Energy efficiency.

     International governments have made efforts to reduce energy use in order to prevent energy depletion and climate change: turning off unused lights and maintaining proper indoor temperatures, for example. Despite these efforts, however, energy use has continuously increased. The global economic structure has developed in a way that more energy is required, and more convenient products consuming more energy have been designed and rolled out. As people are used to carelessly consuming energy, including electricity, it is not easy for them to cut down. What we actually need is not coal, gas, or electricity itself but brightness (light), warmth (heating system), coolness (air conditioner), movement and transportation, the operation of equipment, and communication we can get by using energy. This is called 'energy service.' Therefore, what matters is enjoying the same energy service with less energy, which is 'energy efficiency.'

     LED bulbs, for example, have energy efficiency about 1.5~7 times higher than incandescent lights or fluorescent lights, which means LED bulbs consume much less electricity for the same amount of light. High-efficient appliances, thermal insulating materials that stop heat escaping, motion activated lights and heating systems in the bathroom, and coffee makers or radios that switch themselves off automatically if they haven't been used are all products with the concept of 'energy efficiency.'

     However, there are some unexpected problems in energy efficiency. Higher energy efficiency reduces energy use and prices for the same service, which makes people enjoy longer energy service. This results in more energy consumption after all. Even when the service is not necessary, they don't feel like saving energy let's say a person replaced an incandescent bulb with an LED bulb. He would think, "It wouldn't cost as much as before, so I won't bother to turn it off." This is called the 'rebound effect.' 'Jevons Paradox' also has a similar meaning. If energy efficiency is high in the process of production, the production costs decrease and the total amount of output increases. Ultimately, the total energy input is not reduced.

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3. Renewable energy.

    As a fundamental solution for energy problems, a different way of generating energy is getting more attention: using more 'renewable energy.' This is also to maintain the energy service as it is and solve existing energy problems at the same time. Renewable energy broadly means energy produced with resources alternative to petroleum. It is 'energy utilizing sunlight, water, geothermal heat, rainwater, or biological organisms.' Fossil fuels that we usually use take an extremely long period of time to be generated, but light and heat from the sun, wind power, and geothermal heat are not exhausted. In addition, renewable energy use produces few greenhouse gases. This is why renewable energy has become popular while climate change problems have gotten worse. These days, efforts of 'energy conversion' where unnecessary energy is saved.

     Energy efficiency is improved and renewable energy use is increased have been made in many regions and countries. You can easily find wind power plants in different countries. Each house can have mini solar generators on the balcony. Recently, an 'energy-independent village' that produces its own electricity through renewable energy has emerged. There are 'energy cooperatives' where many people get together to generate electricity using renewable energy as well. They install solar power panels or wind power generators to produce, use and sell electricity. All these movements aim to ultimately 'convert' mass energy production using fossil fuels it is to become 'energy farmers' who 'produce' their own electricity, beyond just energy consumers!

     Just because renewable energy has less environmental influence while it is produced and used than fossil fuels, it doesn't mean that it has no negative effects. While building and operating hydropower plants and tidal power plants, rivers and mudflats are destroyed. Construction of solar power plants also involves destroyed forests. Therefore, we should abstain from building renewable energy plants destroying the environment. However, there are still other problems to be solved:  wind power generators cause noise pollution, causing negative effects on birds' habitats.

     After all, there is no 'perfect' solution to energy problems. As such, we need to keep trying to come up with 'better' solutions. Improving energy efficiency and increasing renewable energy without reducing energy consumption is not everything. We need to save energy, use energy more efficiently and increase renewable energy at the same time even while enduring difficulties. In order to reduce the negative effects of renewable energy on nature and local communities, we need to listen to the opinions of regional experts and those who are most affected by the environment (local residents), and let them enjoy benefits from using renewable energy.

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4. What we can do.

     Most of all, we need to think about how to get 'energy service' with less energy consumption. Why don't you open the curtains and windows instead of switching on the light when you need 'brightness' in your room? Let's use tools that increase energy efficiency to stop unintended energy waste. Additionally, let's think about what kinds of renewable energy we can use at home and school, and how we can be 'energy farmers' producing energy.

Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


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