At the outset it may sound odd but in reality water and energy are two sides of the same coin and both industries have a great impact on global warming. Take such as, power generation industries. Two basic requirements for any power plant are fuel and water. It does not matter what kind of fuel is used whether it is a coal based power plant, liquid fuel based plant like Naphtha, and gas based plants using piped natural gas or LNG. We will consider only power generation involving conversion of thermal energy into electrical energy. Currently more than 80% of power generation in the world is based on thermal power including nuclear plants. All thermal power plants use steam as the prime motive force to drive the turbines, gas turbine is an exception but even, in gas based plants the secondary motive force is steam using waste heat recovery boilers, in combined cycle operations. The quality of water for conversion into steam is of high quality and purer than our drinking water. The second usage of water is for cooling purpose. The water consumption by power plants using once through cooling system is 1 lit/kwhr, and by closed circuit cooling tower, it is 1.7lit/kwhr. Only about 40% power plants in Europe for example use closed circuit cooling towers and the rest use only ‘once through’ cooling systems. The total power generated in 2010 by two largest users US and China, were 3792Twhrs and 3715 Twhrs respectively. The total world power production, in 2008 was 20,262 Twhrs, using following methods. Fossil fuel: Coal 41 %, Oil 5.50%, Gas 21%, Nuclear 13% and Hydro 16%.Renewable: PV solar 0.06%, PV thermal 0.004%, Wind 1.1%, Tide 0.003 %, Geothermal 0.3%, Biomass &others 1.30%. (1Twhrs is = 1,000,000,000 kwhrs)(Ref: Wikipedia).
The above statistics gives us an idea on how much water is being used by power generating plants in the world. Availability of fresh water on planet earth, is only 2.5% (96. 5% oceans, 1.70% ground water, 1.7% glaciers and ice caps, and 0.001% in the air, as vapor and clouds).The world’s precious water source is used for power generation, while millions of people do not have water to drink. The cost of bottled drinking water is US$ 0.20 /lit, in countries like, India. This situation is simply unsustainable. The prime cause of this situation is lack of technology to produce clean power without using water. The power technology we use today is based on the principle of electromagnetism invented by Michael Faraday in the year 1839. That is why, renewable energy is becoming critically important at this juncture when the world is at the cross-road.
Many countries are now opting for seawater desalination to meet their water demand. Desalination again is an energy intensive process. For example, 3-4 kwhrs of power is used to desalinate 1 m3 of water. This power now comes from fossil fuel fired thermal power plants, which are often co-located with desalination plants, so that all the discharge from both the plants can be easily pumped into the sea. Since the world is running out of fresh water, we have to look for attentive source of water. In countries like India, the ground water is being exploited for agricultural purpose and power generation and the ground water is getting depleted. Depleting water resources is a threat to agriculture production especially when countries depend only on monsoon rains. Unabated emission of greenhouse from fossil fuel power plants and transportation causes globe to warm. Draught and water scarcity threatens food security. It is a vicious circle. Recent delay in onset of monsoon rains in India have caused grave concern for Government and the people of India. Shortage of power and water has compounded the problem for farmers and suicide rate among the farmers is increasing at alarming rate in India.
“Globally, this seems to be one of the worst summers in recorded history. The global average temperature for May was the second hottest ever since 1880 – the year records were first compiled – US National Climatic Data Centre (NCDC) has said. Only 2010 witnessed a worse May. The NCDC said such a hot May was never recorded in the northern hemisphere.
No scientist will pin it on human-induced climate change – it is scientifically untenable to do so – but many affirm that these extreme weather phenomena is along predicted lines of rise in global temperatures
For India, the looming possibility of El Nino dulling the monsoon rains in July-August only means things could get worse. There is half a chance that the El Nino phenomenon will pick up intensity and hit the tail of the monsoon. Thirteen of the 20 times El Nino has been recorded, it has dimmed the intensity of the monsoon, causing widespread drought.
Already, the northwest region of India has suffered a rainfall deficit worse than the rest of India.
But the misery of rising heat is being felt worldwide with “normal weather” systems in disarray. If large areas of the western Himalayas in Uttarakhand have suffered raging forest fires, so has the US – more than 8 lakh hectares have been engulfed in flames. The March-May period for the US has been the hottest ever. Brazil is in the midst of its worst drought in five decades with more than 1,000 towns suffering. Heavy downpours and unheard of hail has hit China and flash floods have ravaged crops in Ethiopia. The Eurasian snow cover extent has been recorded at its smallest ever for the month of May since such records were maintained for the first time in 1967. The cover was 2.67 million sq km below average in May,the USNCDC said. The southern hemisphere, where winters prevail at the moment, too has recorded extremes like never before. The Australian winter has been exceptionally cold, with the fifth coolest winter minimum temperature in over half a century of record keeping. The Antarctic sea ice extent has gone above the 1979-2000 average. In contrast, the Arctic sea ice recorded a much smaller than average extent for the same period”. (Ref: The Economic Times).
The global warming has caused many natural disasters such as recent bush fires in Colorado springs in US destroying more than 300,000 houses and heavy storms in Washington causing power black outs for days together in sweltering heat. No country is immune to global warming and sea level rising. How the consequences of global warming will manifest in different forms affecting human beings and other lives is yet to be seen in years to come.
That is why distributed energy systems using Hydrogen as an alternative fuel is an important step towards sustainability. One can generate Hydrogen from water, using renewable energy source like solar or wind, and store them for future usage. The stored Hydrogen can be used to generate power, as and when required, at any remote location, even where there is no grid power. The water is regenerated during this process of power generation using Fuel cell which can be recycled. There is no large consumption of water and there is no greenhouse emission. It is a clean and sustainable solution. The same stored Hydrogen can also be used to fuel their cars in the near future!