A modern economy and a modern way of living depend on a sustained, dependable supply of energy. There are the obvious examples, of course: computers and all sorts of other devices require energy in the form of electricity, and many vehicles use energy in the form of fossil fuels. But in other areas, the dependence is more oblique. Many medications require refrigeration or else they become inactive, schools need light or else students cannot read and study, and cooking without modern energy provisions requires hours of gathering fuel. Unfortunately, 1.3 billion people globally lack the electricity to even light their homes, and nearly 40% rely on wood, charcoal, raw coal, or dung to cook their food or heat their homes. Many of these people live in rural areas, and even if they had access to an electricity grid, they would lack the means to make payments for the energy. As it is, they have no access to an energy grid, and to construct the power plants and infrastructure necessary to reach them would be highly inefficient and expensive. Furthermore, even in highly developed nations, energy costs have risen due to dependence on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, and the environmental toll of these means of energy production have been well documented. Therefore, in resolution 65/151, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Coinciding with this was the launch of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, and it was later announced that 2014 would mark the beginning of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.
What Is Sustainable Energy?
Sustainable energy, also referred to as renewable energy, is defined by the SE4ALL initiative as “energy that is produced and used in ways that will support long-term human development in all its social, economic, and environmental dimensions.” This essentially means that the energy is reliable, plentiful, self-renewing (or impossible to deplete), and not detrimental to the environment. Several common forms of sustainable energy are discussed below (though the list is by no means complete). Currently, by far the largest contributor in terms of sustainable energy comes from hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric power uses the force created by running water to generate electricity. While it is certainly reliable and self-renewing, hydroelectric power encounters issues when other aspects are considered. Its use is entirely dependent on there being a large river nearby. Furthermore, hydroelectric plants require the construction of a large dam to control the water flow. This has often caused controversy due to the destruction of areas affected by the dam’s reservoir, as in the case of the Three Rivers Gorge dam, or due to objections by nations downstream from the dam, as in the recent case of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam. Solar power is one of the most iconic types of sustainable energy. Solar energy is appealing because of its versatility and potential ubiquity: there are precious few places on Earth where there is no access to sunlight. Solar energy production can range from individuals using small $100 panels that run a fluorescent light to large arrays of panels providing energy for a large area. Solar energy’s current biggest challenge is its low efficiency; top commercial models convert only 20% of incoming solar energy to usable power. The last source of sustainable energy offered for consideration is biofuel. Biofuel is a cover-all name for fuel sources composed of organic material, which is converted to energy by combustion. Technically, trees and several other energy sources not thought of as sustainable fall under this category, so it must be pointed out that the biofuel is considered sustainable only if production outpaces