After Copenhagen - the globe is not yet doomed
You can reduce current GHG emissions by 10 percent in
The Copenhagen Summit on climate change came and it ended. It only
left an agreement setting out to keep global warming below 20C without
setting out any specific steps to meet it. Countries will be invited to
sign up to it and register what they will do to achieve it.
US$ 30 billion will be made available over next three years to help
the poorest countries cope.
The summit itself had been the bloodiest summit (a Venezuelan
delegate cut herself open shedding blood in protest) ever held on a
global issue and let us sincerely hope that no future summit would ever
be planned to be any worse.
The lamentations of different countries and delegates were a plenty,
accusations numerous and the same divisions appeared or even new
divisions erupted indicating that the world leaders do not yet see the
globe, in total, to be in danger at a level which would demand they shed
their differences or their current plans for their subjects aside and
unite to address the question of climate changes. Our own Minister of
Environment, Champika Ranawaka was entrusted with the task of making the
voice of the Governments in the South Asian region known at the summit
and demand the world leaders to work out a positive plan with target
dates and values for reduction in GHG emissions to avert the global
Data on global GHG emissions do indicate that the total global GHG
emission is about 34 billion tons CO2 e per annum out of which China,
USA and EU emit 51 percent of the total. On a per capita basis the
emissions would be highest for US and second for China.
On the other hand the industry-wide distribution would indicate that
the automobile transportation contributes 6.3 billion tons CO2e per
annum which is 23 percent of the total energy related CO2 emissions in
the world (IPCC Report III).
Looking at this data it is evident to us that we could reduce about
10 percent of the total CO2e green house gases emitted in a year by
adopting a technology for the tractive force of automobiles which would
not result in the emission of GHG’s during the operational phase of the
system. It is for this reason that we proposed a technology dependent on
solar radiation in September 2008 for this purpose.
It is our belief that these climate change discussions should be
dissociated from other divisions which are pronounced in global politics
like developing, developed, consumerism, socialist, capitalist etc.
When we discuss the climate change issues our first preference for a
solution should be for a solution which would not disturb the current
levels of development prevalent in different countries of the world. We
say this because the moment we talk about a solution which would disturb
the current levels of development in a set of countries, the solution
would not get the support of these developed countries and the solution
will automatically evade overall acceptance.
If we are genuinely interested only in the global warming and nothing
else, there should be no difficulty in looking for and agreeing on such
solutions. Such a solution shall be for pro-development for all
countries. Such a solution shall also favour our enjoyment of available
luxuries. If we can come out with a solution for reduction of GHG
emissions without having to compromise on the many comforts we enjoy
today such a solution should be preferred over a solution which would
prompt us to forego some of the luxuries we are enjoying to-day.
When we propose that solar energy shall be utilized for driving
automobile transportation we are mindful of this need to ensure
continuing enjoyment of luxury, while significantly reducing GHG
emissions. We are also mindful of the following needs of a source of
energy for automobile transportation.
a) Availability on the highways (b) Ability to purchase in quantities
to match the available financial resources (c) Ability to quantify the
amount received (d) Time for replenishment shall be in line with petrol
filling time. (e) The dashboard shall indicate (i)distance that could be
travelled with currently available resource amount or (ii) the amount
available (f) Match with currently available vehicles.
According to the National Geographic of September, 2009, total power
needs of the humans on earth is approximately 16 terawatts (16 trillion
watt). In 2020 it is expected to grow to 20 terawatts and the sunshine
on the solid part of the earth is 120,000 terawatts.
This is a clear indication of how much potential solar power has in
meeting our requirements. As we indicated in our original interview with
Ceylon Daily News on September 2, 2008 building of solar panel (Photo
Voltaic) extractors on highways is technically viable, financially
feasible, globally equitable. We, in an open letter to Barack Obama
President of United States as published in Asian Tribune of April 28,
2009 requested the US President to shape his infrastructure development
projects bearing this suggestion also in mind. In fact in his inaugural
address itself, the US President promised to harness the sun, the winds
and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.
As we mentioned in our original article, the photovoltaic extractor
collection efficiencies are increasing and as we reach 25 percent
efficiency these projects become very viable. Newer material to be used
as collectors with high collection efficiency, lighter weights and
easier installations are being developed all the time.
We, Sri Lankans, are in a way fortunate that we have very high
quality silica in significant quantities and silica is a material which
is used as raw material in the manufacture of photovoltaic solar panels,
of course, newer panels with higher efficiencies use other raw material
In order to evaluate the pros and cons of this proposal vis a vis
other options we carried out a decision analysis exercise using Pugh
Matrix and the outcome is given below. In this we have considered five
different options outside the current fossil fuel oil driven automobiles
and used 10 criteria which we thought would be relevant and appropriate.
The options considered are given below.
Option A - Grow different types of plants which would produce crops
containing hydrocarbons to be processed to yield combustible liquids.
Option B - Use a battery to create power for the automobile and this
battery needs to be charged at home after running for a specific number
Option C - Here again the automobile is powered by a battery which
gets charged using solar panels fixed on the automobile itself.
Option D - Use hydrogen, generated from LNG or other sources as the
Option E - This is what we propose and the proposal has the following
a. The Automobile is driven by a battery, but the automobile has more
than one battery and these batteries do get discharged/utilized
b. The highways do have solar panels laid above and along the highway
and these panels are connected to battery sheds situated at a distance
of about two km from each other wherein the batteries are charged using
power from the solar panels. This does not mean that you have to change
the battery every two kms; in fact today’s batteries can do upto about
200 kms/per battery without recharging.
c. The automobile would drive into these sheds and get their spent
batteries replaced by recharged batteries the same way one would get a
new gas cylinder by returning the empty cylinder.
The Pugh Matrix clearly indicates that the option E is definitely
more advantageous than the other options. So it is in the interests of
all nations that somebody or some country takes the initiative to
implement the concept on a pilot plant scale. In fact, the champion
country could get more accurate costing done, all the
Options Criteria Arable O A B C D E F G
1. Land usage for generation 0 -5 -1 5 0 5
2 Transportation of fuel 0 0 -2 +5 -2 3
3. Limitations on reach 0 0 -4 -3 0 0
4. Ease of conversion with 0 -1 -2 -2 -1 -2
5. Impact of weather on 0 -2 0 -3 0 0
6. Weight of the vehicle 0 0 +2 +2 0 +2
7. Generation of GHG gases 0 -1 -1 +5 -3 +5
8. Availability of power on 0 0 -4 -2 0 0
9. Purchase ability in minute 0 0 -4 0 0 -2
10. Replenishment time 0 0 +3 0 0 0
Total Rating 0 -9 -13 7 -6 11
O- Current fuel oil system
A - Biofuel
B - Battery driven Recharged at home
C - Battery driven by own-solar panel
D - Hydrogen fuel
E - Solar this proposal
unknown factors identified and computed etc.
In case somebody wants to add more options or more criteria, he/she
could do so and help in the process of identifying the most appropriate
technology to be adopted. Or on the other hand if somebody disputes the
figures given they are welcome to do so and make this approach to
identification of the optimum solution for good transportation worldwide
a logical solution.
Although the most widely used alternative upto date is biofuels, the
studies of net carbon emission saving due to use of biofuels by
well-known environmentalists like David Tiluan of University of
Minnesota and former Environmental Defense Attorney and Princeton
Scholar Tim Searchinger has indicated that (a) all biofuels excepting
that from sugar cane would lead to net increase in carbon emissions and
(b) clearing grasslands and more densely grown areas for biofuel
manufacture would have environmental payback periods in excess of 90
years [Time Magazine of April 7, 2008]
So what we suggest is that we request for US$ 1.5 billion out of the
total US$ 30 billion allocated for the least developed countries (I know
that we don’t belong to this category) for their efforts in responding
to global warming and use this fund to do a pilot stretch of 150 km (say
the Southern Expressway) and show that this could be done on a
commercial scale. When the pilot stretch succeeds we would be paving the
way for a reduction of about 10 percent of green house gases by 2020 and
the petroleum industry giants could get involved in the infrastructure
needed for this concept and earn revenues and profits similar to what
they earn today.
This concept could also be used for the Railways as well; or rather
much easily since the ownership of railways lies with the Government.
I welcome constructive criticism of this proposal so we could achieve
our objective of reducing 10 percent of GHG by 2020 without compromising
the luxuries we enjoy today and request not to throw the proposal to the
dustbin simply because it has a few weaknesses in some areas. In fact
there are advanced methodologies like TRIZ methodology to generate
alternative design concepts when we face contradictions in respect of
When we do this we could register Sri Lanka as the first country to
come out with a specific workable solution to achieve a significant (say
at least 10 percent) reduction in GHG emissions and this would be a
definite way of showing the world that we could be a Knowledge Hub.