issue7sub.jpgThe latest edition of Sublime Magazine is out (click on magazine preview). It’s an international lifestyle magazine, so if it isn’t in a newsagents or bookstore near you, then bother the manager and get them to stock it as it’s an excellent read.

The latest edition is all about New Energy and covers the obvious – articles about renewable energy and eco-sports cars – and the not so obvious – a peice about personal physical, emotional and spiritual energy. There’s also a fascinating look back to the oil crisis of the 1970’s, articles about contemporary architecture and fashion, and a rare interview with Radiohead.

Personally, I was requested to produce an overview of the renewable energy industry, an abstract of which is below:

Renewing Our Future

Increasingly, the desire to establish renewable sources of energy is an aspiration many hold. From eco-conscious individuals, to national government policy, and from isolated communities in sub-Saharan Africa, to international UN summits, all see renewable forms of energy as having the potential (at least in part) to resolve some pressing contemporary concerns. Unfortunately, such broad consensus dissipates when it comes to the details. The worlds of science and technology, politics, economics and environmentalism all converge on the issue of renewable energy with their conflicting opinions, concerns and agendas. The question of what to develop, and where, can revolve around such diverse issues as cost, efficiency, personal preference and rather ironically, environmental impact.

For most of us, talk of renewable energy takes place within the context of national concerns and initiatives. Though the technology is available to turn our homes into self-sufficient powerhouses of renewable energy, the reality is, few of us have ventured into the purchase of domestic wind turbines, solar roof panels and pellet stoves, or investigated the potential future investment of a biomass cogeneration boiler. This may be due to a combination of ignorance and doubts about their suitability and reliability. However, there is also an economic burden that is currently hard to bear for most. Depending on unit cost and installation fees, location, and the energy demands placed on it, it may take decades to recoup the money needed to invest in a domestic wind turbine. Similar cost-to-saving ratios apply with regards solar panels. Of course, other factors than pure economics are at play when people opt to generate their own light and heat. For the majority, the desire to reduce their carbon footprint is far more important than a reduction in fuel bills. Nevertheless, until the affordability of these domestic versions of their industrial-sized cousins makes them more viable, its hard to see wind turbines and solar panels becoming as ubiquitous in the urban landscape as satellite dishes.

Carbon footprints and carbon dioxide emissions are also a concern when renewable energy initiatives are scaled up to a national level. However, while renewables are synonymous with the need to face climate change head on, and reduce the human impact on global warming, there are other forces at work when it comes to investment in, and the growth of such technological marvels as wind turbines, solar towers, and wave power generators. With peak oil expected to be reached within the next two decades, there are very genuine concerns over energy security and independence that need to be faced. No government wants to wake up to discover the lights have gone out because a once compliant neighbour has turned off the gas main. Therefore, how best to exploit the natural and sustainable resources of one’s own country in order to produce heat, light and power, is a question keeping many a politician awake at night. Thankfully, through investment and rapid technological advance in most areas of energy production, the question as to which renewable to opt for is becoming far more obvious for most governments . . . . . .

Other than their green credentials, the beauty of the majority of the renewable energy technologies is that they allow for the decentralisation of power generation. That is, the reliance on a centralised national grid, which largely depends on fossil fuel and nuclear power stations, can be scaled down in favour of a system based on renewable energy, providing combined heat and power closer to the point of demand. This is a far more efficient approach to energy distribution and would not only reduce dependence on natural gas and other fossil fuels, it would also sideline the need for investment in nuclear power. For despite that fact that nuclear power is a low carbon technology, it requires a centralised system of distribution, something that makes little sense with the future so obviously moving toward a decentralised approach.

Though this ability of renewables to be used as a decentralised source of power will change post-industrialised countries, its greatest impact will undoubtedly be in the developing world. According to World Bank figures, globally, 1.6 billion people still lack access to modern energy services, and 2.3 billion people rely on traditional biomass, such as burning wood and dried animal excrement, in order to meet their basic energy needs, such as cooking and heating. This energy poverty is holding back the potential of billions of lives, preventing education, employment, cost-effective business practice, production of goods, community development and even causing premature death through indoor pollution. Thankfully, renewable energy technology, particularly the use of photovoltaic systems and wind turbines, are bringing usable, affordable heat, light and power to some of the most isolated communities on the planet. Indeed, it is estimated that more than a million households in the developing world now have electricity for the first time because of such technologies.