Why do we need sustainable solar energy?

The world population is growing and increasing numbers of people aspire to higher standards of living: we need more and more energy and food. We can only do this by producing energy and food in a sustainable way, which means creating less waste and lowering CO2 emissions. The sun is a source of energy that fulfils these conditions.

The world population has more than doubled in the last 60 years. In 2011 there were 7 billion people on the planet. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that this growth will continue and that in 2050 the population will have reached 9 billion. Most of this growth will take place in Africa. The expectation is that in 2025 about 6.5 billion people will live in the current developing countries, compared with 1.2 billion in the current industrialized countries.

The world’s biggest energy consumer

China today is a classic example of a country undergoing rapid economic development and parts of the population are experiencing a rapid increase in prosperity. The effects of this trend are now becoming clear: as a result of a sustained economic growth rate of 8-10%, in 2009 China became the world’s largest consumer of energy. Washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners are now common; one in ten city dwellers now owns a car and meat consumption has increased dramatically. Nevertheless, the average standard of living in China still lags far behind that of the rich western countries. The same is true for countries like India and Brazil, which are developing along the same path.

As prosperity continues to grow, we will arrive at a point where the demand for energy and food outstrips supply. The tendencies in the west of reducing energy consumption and consuming less meat do help to some extent, but are not enough: in the future we are going to have to produce more food and make more use of sustainable forms of energy.

Fossil energy sources are being depleted

According to estimates by the International Energy Agency, the world’s oil and gas reserves will decline by 40-60% in the next twenty years. Though there are still enormous gas reserves in the earth’s crust, extraction is becoming an extreme technical challenge. Our coal reserves will continue to last for a long time, but the use of this energy source results in high CO2 emissions, making this fossil fuel one of the major contributors to the greenhouse effect. Environmentalists argue that storing CO2 in sinks is not a sustainable solution, and should therefore only be regarded as a temporary measure. Uranium reserves are still plentiful. However, while this energy source does not lead to CO2 emissions, it is controversial because of the risks posed by radiation and long-term storage of radioactive waste.

Climate change

Emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is causing global warming, which in turn is leading to climate change and a rise in sea level. These developments are adversely affecting biodiversity, precipitation patterns, fresh water supply, agriculture and food supply, and the safety of those living in low-lying coastal areas. NASA has made a short film highlighting the effects of climate change on plant growth. In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) states that human activity is probably responsible for most of the global warming that has occurred in the past 50 years.

CO2 is the most important greenhouse gas. The use of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – makes a substantial contribution to CO2 emissions. This is why we need energy sources that will not lead to a further increase in the amount of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere, such as wind, hydropower, geothermal energy and above all: the sun.

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