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Finding renewable energy and water resources

Posted on: June 12, 2009


By Ravichandran D.J Paul Bernama – Thursday, June 11

KUALA LUMPUR, June 11 (Bernama) — Finding renewable energy and clean water resources are vital for any sustainable community especially when both resources are increasingly being depleted over time.

Energy and water are intimately linked to another vital element needed by humankind – food. Therefore, access to renewable energy and clean water is fundamental not only for sustainable development of nations but also for the very survival of humankind.

The topic on “Food, Water and Energy” that was discussed in depth during the World Chambers Conference here last week analysed the effects from depleting energy, water and food resources on sustainable development.

The world’s consumption of energy continues to increase at around 2-3 percent a year representing some 530 EJ at present but concerns have been raised on the fossil fuel supply constraints that could give rise to an era of ever higher prices of fuel with knock-on effects, affecting sustainable development.

On water, humankind will need eight billion cubic metres of water by 2030 but only half of the amount is renewable meaning this resource too is going to get depleted with time. The climate change has invariably manifested itself through water – rising sea levels, droughts, floods, melting polar caps and glaciers.

CAN WE FIND RENEWABLE ENERGY

Communities all over the world will remember the buzz over renewable energy like bio-diesel, ethanol, solar power and etc when crude oil price spiked to AS$150 per barrel sometime last year. But all the euphoria died as soon the crude oil prices crashed due to the economic crises that began unfolding late last year.

Now the question remains whether renewable energy is something achievable or it’s just another distant dream?

One of the speakers during the plenary session Tan Sri Megat Zaharuddin Megat Mohd Nor, whose 30-year career with Shell provided him with vast experience in the petroleum sector noted that renewable energy is achievable.

“I would like to think that this should be achievable if timely development of supply diversity takes place and the Holy Grail in energy production is to find affordable and easily usable forms of renewable energy, among them the bio-fuel.

“However, there remains skepticism whether some types of bio-fuel are worth it because it is estimated that by 2030, liquid bio-fuel (excluding traditional biomass) could be contributing only 30 EJ (equivalent to 14 mil barrels/day), still a small fraction of the total energy needs,” said Megat Zaharuddin who is currently the chairman of a bio-fuel company, Platinum Energy Global.

He also pointed out that alternative like bio-fuel is not yet cheap to produce. And second generation bio-fuel, for example from algae, are some way to go. At certain crude oil prices and without subsidies, production of bio-fuel can be challenging.

“So, in the fledgling renewable energy and specifically the bio-fuel industry that I am a participant, I am excited by several things coming into place among others; new technologies and/or economies of scale that will make cheaper to produce bio-fuel; more producers of various types of bio-fuel; distribution infrastructure being rationalised to reduce cost; and the best engines for various bio-fuel are being designed so that not just energy use is optimised but cleaner emissions will result.

WATER SUPPLY IN DANGER

Now how about water when even today at least half of the world’s population lack adequate water supply or sanitation? By 2030, it could be a bleak picture with half of the world’s population or 4 billion people living in water stressed areas.

Water is increasingly being depleted, as pointed out by experts, much due to population growth, urbanization, deforestation, industrialization and wastage. The problem is to be further compounded by the climatic change. Agriculture accounts for approximately 70 percent of all water withdrawn for cultivation of food and crops.

Problems related to water was highlighted during the same plenary session by Jack Moss, Senior Water Advisor, AquaFed, France, where water has always been his passion.

He noted that `water is much more important than people recognize’ and there has been a serious shortfall in the management of water supply and sanitation that leads to wastage and loss of usable water.

“There are two underlying factors, first lack of political commitment that leads to poor leadership and control over water and sanitation systems and the second being the absence of industry style management.

The threat of water shortage is real as can be seen from what happened to Barcelona in Spain that recently ran out of water and had to import water from Marseilles, France.

“The world water crisis is one of mismanagement and the accumulation of local crises. The only solution is that water must be conserved and used efficiently to ensure the security of supply. Government and stakeholders need to take integrated approach on international water planning and policy incorporating sanitation as well,” he said.

THE EFFECTS OF ENERGY AND WATER ON FOOD

Meanwhile, on the question of meeting the future challenges on food that is intimately linked to energy and water, it was revealed during the plenary session on “Our Global Challenges” that arable land is being used to plant crops for bio-fuel instead of food.

The Region Head for Nestle Malaysia and Singapore Sullivan O’ Carrol noted that a 5 percent substitution of fossil fuel by bio-fuel would mean doubling of fresh water withdrawals meant for food production.

This trend will be disastrous for fresh water supplies, which are needed to supply more food to the developing world where recently the increase in food prices pushed an estimated 100 million people into severe poverty.

Food prices are rising in large part because agriculture suppliers can barely keep up with today’s demand. So what is the world doing? Reorienting land away from food production and toward plants cultivated for energy needs?

He said there should be a green revolution and productivity increases from harnessing new technologies. Increasing agricultural productivity is only part of the solution. The real crux to the problem is to encourage the responsible use of water.

Today, water for agriculture is underused or misused because there are no cost consequences for the farmer. The same is true for water used in industry and household purposes.

Right now, the urgent issue is water and thus the local governments must to take heed of the water issue and address the related problems urgently.

— BERNAMA

PR CR

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