Is there really an alternative to oil?

WHETHER it's driven by high fuel prices or a desire to look to eco-friendly alternatives, the timing seems just right for renewable energies to finally take the lead. But governments, and businesses, instead seem to be plowing money into the research, development and implementation of alternatives such as nuclear energy and the so-called "clean coal".

Published: Mon 4 Aug 2008, 12:08 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:54 PM

Nuclear energy presents as many problems as it claims to solve. Firstly, nuclear power plants take years to develop. And to start from a scratch, power cannot be produced for more than a decade and even then wouldn't produce enough energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Whether or not it is environmentally friendly is another issue. The process involves nuclear waste, which takes forever to break down. Storing this nuclear waste is a controversial issue with few keen to have it in their backyard and leads to the risk of it being dumped without the necessary safety measures.

Another popular alternative is "clean coal" whereby coal companies are busy developing coal sequestration, a technology that allows the emissions to be captured, compacted and stored. You can compact and squish and store it away for as long as you like, be it carbon emissions or nuclear waste, but the problem isn't going to go away — "clean coal" should not be a preferred alternative.

The industrial revolution, charging ahead on coal and fossil fuels, changed the face of the world and has been largely blamed for global warming crisis we face now. But even in the 19th century, Auguste Mouchout, the inventor of the first solar motor, prophesised that fossil fuels would be depleted and in 1860 he invented a solar powered steam engine. His engine fell by the wayside as coal prices dropped.

About a century later, in 1953, the first photovoltaic cell was created, but again it was too expensive compared to fossil fuel generated energy. In the 1973 oil crisis, solar energy suddenly became widely discussed and researched. Again, oil prices dropped and solar energy was no longer competitive. Today, developments in technology have seen it become an affordable alternative and its take-up has increased dramatically in countries such as Japan.

Pressed by both fuel prices and global warming concerns reaching high, surely now solar energy — one of the earliest discovered renewable energies and the most suitable for the UAE — should be seriously pursued.

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