Renewable energies: The first step towards a sustainable society

Authors: Patricio Velarde, Treyssi Mantilla, Angelina Velasquez

The seventh Global Goal of the Agenda for Sustainable Development is to guarantee access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all. In addition, this goal projects an increase in the global share of renewable energy, which would in turn tackle the repercussions of two significant problems humanity faces: dependency on fossil fuels, and the emission of greenhouse gases. Currently, 17.2% of energy consumption for transportation, heat and electricity comes from renewable energies worldwide. However, there are still a variety of factors which render its implementation difficult, including the cost of production (despite its reduction in recent decades), a lack of information, infrastructure and technology, and even the immaturity of markets in certain countries. (Yonsei University).

Figure 1. In 2017, electricity consumption in Latin America and the Caribbean had a higher share of renewable energy than the rest of the world (International Energy Agency, 2020, p. 78).

In Peru, more than half our consumption of electricity comes from renewable energy. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2018, 60% of the electricity consumed in Peru came from hydraulic, solar, wind and biofuel energy, while the remaining 47% came from natural gas and the last 3% from oil. Among these electrical sources, hydraulic energy sustains 55% of Peruvian electricity consumption, produced by hydroelectric complexes in various regions of the country. (International Energy Agency, 2020).

Yet, how are these sources of energy obtained? On one hand, the generation of bioenergy is carried out through the combustion of wood, animal waste and vegetable or animal charcoal. There are also modern methods that use plant-based biofuels such as bagasse, and biogases produced through the degradation of waste and other technologies (International Renewable Energy Agency, nd). In addition, hydraulic energy is produced in hydroelectric power station which operate without emitting greenhouse gases. Moreover, wind power stations use generators which do not require water to operate, nor emit greenhouse gases, and even leave much of the territory free, allowing it to be inhabited by animals or used as farmland (American Wind Energy Association, nd). Nonetheless, there are certain cases in which the generation of renewable energy sources do involve environmental damage.

For instance, biofuel production involves the use of nitrous oxide: a greenhouse gas used as a fertilizer (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008, p. 75). In addition, its consumption encourages the destruction of forests in order to expand cropland, reducing the capacity to absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis (Hanaki & Portugal-Pereira, 2018). On the other hand, hydroelectric power stations disrupt aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems by preventing a fluid passage from one side of the station to the other. Furthermore, they cause noise pollution and interfere with the natural cycles of river flooding, which alters the natural habitat of the species present in the surroundings (Small Hydro Energy Efficient Promotion Campaign Action).

Moreover, while wind and solar sources of electricity have a lower impact on the environment the infrastructure used to generate them has certain characteristics which do damage the environment. Namely, the elaboration of wind windmills - made of metal and cement - requires certain chemical processes that emit carbon dioxide, and uses plastics from mineral oil and glass, consuming non-biodegradable resources which contaminate ecosystems (Luvside, 2020). Furthermore, since it is currently impossible to recycle wind power station turbines, these accumulate in landfills, (Martin, 2020). On the other hand, solar energy makes intensive use of the land where photovoltaic and water consumption power stations are located. In addition, the panels often leak toxic materials, and its manufacturing process emits greenhouse gases (Union of Concerned Scientist, 2013) (Gunerham, Hepbasli, & Giresunlu, 2009).

Consequently, there are certain disadvantages to the use of renewable energies, however, these do not outweigh the benefits and should not be an impediment in promoting their adoption. Contrarily, these disadvantages should be perceived as factors to take into account in order to maximize the effectiveness in their implementation towards the future. Even if the production of renewable energy sources can create pollution at certain levels, the consumption of fossil fuels does so in a much greater extent, being one of the main causes of climate change. As a result, adopting a higher proportion of their consumption will be key to reducing the existing carbon footprint that damages our ecosystem. Renewable energy is on the way to changing the entire electrical industry, and our participation is key in making this change successful.



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