Author Archive for Prof D Chandrasekharam


FAO 2019 report on food security

With growing population, increase in stress to live in rural areas, population in urban areas has grown steadily. Although technology has grown exponentially during the last decade, this has not impacted on food production, food security, poverty eradication. The technology remained in the urban areas with elite section enjoying the fruits leaving the poor in the rural areas to become poorer. This imbalance has caused major shift the way food is grown, distributed and consumed worldwide. Food security and poverty eradication are still catch phrases for the economically affluent countries. No one, concerned governments or the world financial institution,  is tackling these issues at grassroots level. 2 billion people in the world experience moderate or severe food insecurity. The lack of regular access to nutritious and sufficient food that these people experience puts them at greater risk of malnutrition and poor health.  It is unbelievable when this report says “moderate or severe food insecurity also affects 8 percent of the population in Northern America and Europe. If this is so, how about countries like Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia!! No one think about these countries even though these countries have enormous energy sources in the form of geothermal energy!! ( read 1) Chandrasekharam., et al. 2019.  Geothermal energy for desalination to secure food security: case study in Djibouti. Energy, Sustainab. Society, 9, 24-30.  and  2) Chandrasekharam, et al., 2018 Energy and Food security through desalination using geothermal energy: Eritrea. Arabian Journal of Geosciences 11:523 doi. 10.1007/s12517-018-3892-9.)

“”     Climate change and increasing climate variability and extremes are affecting agricultural productivity, food production and natural resources, with impacts on food systems and rural livelihoods, including a decline in the number of farmers. All of this has led to major shifts in the way in which food is produced, distributed and consumed worldwide – and to new food security, nutrition and health challenges“”  says a report recently published (2019) by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.Safeguarding against economic slowdowns and downturns.  )..

Setting targets to tackle such issues have no meaning when sincere attempts are not made to reach sustainable development goals (SDG).

“Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder, not only in scale but also in terms of multi-sectoral collaboration, involving the agriculture, food, health, water and sanitation, education, and other relevant sectors; and in different policy domains, including social protection, development planning and economic policy “ says the report. It absolutely true to the word. But are these financial institutions doing this when addressing these issues in economically downtrodden countries like Djibouti and Eritrea! One cannot blame the world economy in solving trivial issues like developing a natural resource that can provide succour to the millions in these countries.

“This will require accelerated and aligned actions from all stakeholders and countries, including tireless and more integrated support from the United Nations and the international community to countries in support of their development priorities, through multilateral agreements and means of implementation, so that countries can embark on a pro-poor and inclusive path to transformation in a people-centred way to free the world from poverty, inequalities, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms” says the report. This is the absolute truth!!

According to FAO water, energy and food security nexus are necessary for the benefit of human well-being, poverty reduction and sustainable development. No one denies it.  

“Water management for agriculture is a multidisciplinary study that cuts across science, technology and administration. This cross-discipline knowledge provides methods and technologies suitable to provide food security to countries like Djibouti that are living under the cloud of poverty for decades. Such countries are at the mercy of natural precipitation to support agriculture or heavily depend on virtual water trade for sustenance. With the increasing in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and consequent climate change, such countries are worst affected due to vagaries of monsoon. In spite of such hardships, Djibouti can mitigate adversities of monsoon and droughts using geothermal energy resources that is available in plenty. Rural population can improve their lifestyle, live above the poverty line and improve their socio-economic status. The local governments also should play an important role in advising the funding institutions to develop geothermal power projects to support agricultural activity and create employment to the rural population.” Says a report recently published (Geothermal energy for desalination to secure food security: case study in Djibouti. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 9, 24-30. Energy from geothermal sources is sustainable, and the desalination and power plants will operate for a long time (assuming a minimum life of 20–30 years for geothermal power plants). The primary target for financial institutions should be to develop these geothermal sites, and energy from these sites will put the country back on its development track”.


Trace metals present in solar cells and panels and waste generated by 2050 (IRENA, 2016)

Besides CO2 emissions during its life cycle, the solar cells and panels contain considerable amounts of trace elements that are not environmentally friendly. Indiscriminate  disposal of solar panels after its use ( the current panels life span is about 5 years. The different solar cells and panels that are currently in use and the trace elements present in them are listed below (IRENA, 2016).

c-Si pv panels:  8% Al, 0.1 % Ag, and Pb

CIGS panels: 10 % Cu, 28% In, 10 % Ga, 52 % Ce

Cd Te panels:  Ni, Zn, Sn  > 0.26%

Besides these elements, one of the challenges faced by recycling of solar panels is removal of ethylene vinyl-acetate (encapsulant material). The recovery potential of all elements here is very low and even if one exists it is highly energy intensive (emitting large amount of CO2).

Now, while solar pv generated electricity is christened as “renewable” and low carbon emitting energy source, what is renewable here and how is this source environmentally friendly. No doubt the Sun Energy is renewable and low carbon emitter but not the media that converts this energy to electricity.

By the year 2020, 78 million of pv panel waste will be generated globally.

Instead of finding a solution for escalating global temperature this renewable energy source is causing increase in atmospheric temperature.


Now the solar pv ball is turning in the opposite direction!!!

Worldwide there is already 250 000 metric tons of solar panel waste and by the year 2050 this will jump to 78 million tons. Don’t have to believe this figure. You can work out the figures by yourself or give it to any 10th standard kind as a summer project and he will come out with this figure. We don’t have to wait for the International Renewable Energy Agency to publish this numbers. It is written black and white on all the walls of the countries. The market is flooded with cheap panels that works only for 5 years or less. The damaged solar panels leach out toxic elements into the environment. There is no way to recycle this waste……if you want to recycle it then your GDP will touch rock bottom!!!! This has opened up new area of research ……how to dispose solar waste!! Next to plastic solar panels is going to be a big issue to countries blindly promoting solar pv by compromising fertile food producing lands.

In addition to the high energy consumption and considerable CO2 emissions during its life cycle (see my post on 2 Feb 2019) solar PV (panels) is not a viable option for climate change. In fact it is regarding the climate. Who is  getting benefitted?? Of course the small scale ancillary industries in Europe (especially in Germany to certain extent USA) that supply components to solar pv panels. The Chinese of course have found easy way to manufacture (made in China) cheap solar panel. Both go hand in hand. Who are the sufferers?? India and other countries that blindly believe that solar pv is a god sent energy to solve issues related to CO2 emissions and related climate change. Countries talk (including India) about big numbers…..nothing less than Giga Watts. Those who talk about Giga watts have no idea about these numbers.

In fact people are ignorant about geothermal power……or they pretend to be. Countries with high geothermal potential too fall for solar pv. Surprising. It is not cost, it is not about technology but then ……..what makes them fall for this renewable that creates more mess than other renewables like hydro and geothermal? Well it is the business or trade politics. If the solar panels are not manufactured, the ancillary industries will collapse……throwing out millions jobless…especially in the developed countries. These countries at government level push solar pv by giving a rosy picture. It looks perhaps, the entire climate change meetings by countries have one common agenda……use solar to combat climate change. Japan, the country where climate change talks had started (Kyoto Protocol), recently warned that the country will produce 800,000 tons of solar waste by 2040, and it can’t yet handle those volumes.


Whose is bigger – KenGen’s or GDC’s?

Power producer KenGen and Geothermal Development Company (GDC) are locked in a supremacy tussle. About the largest electricity producing well!!!!! This is how geothermal development in Kenya today. Very healthy competition. The government-owned companies each claim their geothermal wells are the largest in Kenya and in Africa. This rivalry was again brought to light last week during the One Planet Summit in Nairobi meant to ignite discourse around green energy transition and climate change.

KenGen claimed its single most productive well in Naivasha’s Olkaria steamfields is the largest in Africa and among the top five globally with a capacity to produce 30 megawatts (MW) of geothermal electricity. This is  Olkaria OW-921, sunk five years ago at a depth of 3km underneath the ground.

On the other hand, the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) holds that the Africa title goes to its Well 1A at Menengai fields in Nakuru, since its capacity of 30.6 MW is slightly higher than KenGen’s best performing well at 30 MW. It is a question of 0.6 MWe!! It is like school children comparing their score cards.

A standard well on average yields only five megawatts 4 to 5 MWe. This means  KenGen’s and GDC wonder wells are each equivalent to six wells. Drilling a single well costs an average $5 million (Sh500 million). Some wells turn out dry, returning losses to investors in terms of sunk costs. But such wonder wells compensate the losses. Other super wells are those in Indonesia (40 MWe per well) and California.

GDC is fully owned by the government while KenGen, which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Kenya is currently ranked the ninth largest producer of geothermal electricity in the world and the leader in Africa with a capacity of 690 MWe.  Kenya’s power demand hits 1,832 MWe. Hydro power is other major source contributing to meet this demand.


Solar Cells ………..are they really green energy cells??

Solar photo voltaic is classified as renewable energy source because it captures the SUN’s energy and “converts” it to electricity. So SUN’s energy is renewable and not the energy converters like solar cells! Let us understand how solar cells are manufactured.

A life cycle of a solar cell starts from the mining and processing of materials. This material is basically silica in the form of minerals and rocks like quartz and quartzite.   Then comes the solar cells that are made from the refined silicon from these mineral and rock. The cells are then fixed in modules, generally a metal  made from naturally occurring material. From the solar panels the flow goes into storage system like lithium based batteries. The lithium is mined from open cast or underground mines or extracted from minerals like spodumene or lithium bearing mica. Everything has to come from earth!! Once the solar panels and batteries complete their function, they are decommissioned and the materials some times are recycled or disposed of. The cost associated with the manufacturing of the cells to batteries are embedded in the cost of electricity that the cells generated from the Sun. But there are other costs known as the external costs. They included environmental, health and societal. These costs are well quantified by European Union’s series of “ExternE” (External cost of Energy) projects. This includes emissions generated from the manufacturing of cells, atmospheric dispersions and respiratory issues associated with such dispersions. They are not imbedded in the cost of electricity. This ExternE helps in policy decisions by the energy and transport sectors. In the latest ExternE report published by the European Commission states that photovoltaic installations in Germany has 30% higher health impacts than natural gas and Green House Gas emissions of 180 g CO2 equivalent/kWh generated is 10 times higher than the electricity generated from nuclear fuels. According to the ExternE report, the results are based on greater than 15 years old solr pv installations and module production technology. Similar study by Australia showed that solar pv emits about 100 g of CO2 equivalent/kWh of electricity generated.

A paper published by Fthenakis and Alsema in 2006 (Prog. Photovolt: Res. Appl. 2006; 14:275–280) states that the 94% of the PV system modules in 2004 that were installed to generate about 1250 MW were made of silicon. These authors with the cooperation of several European and US photovoltaic companies carried out extensive study on the life cycle inventory data that represent the present status of production technology of crystalline silicon modules (mono and multicrystalline) for rooftop pv systems. The results of the study by Germany and Australia are similar (Fig 1) very similar. The ExternE cost for health and environment estimated for solar insolation of 1700 kWh/m2/yr is about euro 0.18/kWh and for solar insolation of 1300kWh/m2/yr would be euro 0.23/kWh. This study reports that the CO2 emissions under the above conditions vary between 21 to 59 g CO2 eqi/kWh. Although this emission is less than that emitted by coal based thermal power plants, it is significant when GW are considered. At 15 % efficiency a 1 KW solar pv will emit 75 kg of CO2 during its life cycle.

Basics of solar pv cells

Manufacturing of solar pv cells is an energy intensive process, starting from mining of material, transportation, smelting, processing and manufacturing. In the entire cycle of production the main energy source is either coal based thermal power plants or electricity generated from hydroelectric power stations. Thus preparation of solar cell is closely associated with CO2 and other gases emissions as quantified above. Manufacturing of a single solar cell is associated with a large number of ancillary industries. Mining, metallurgical, electronics and other metal manufacturing industries are closely associated with the manufacturing of solar cells. By not promoting solar pv all these ancillary industries will collapse and the country’s GDP will dip….especially some of the European countries that are vehemently promote solar pv!! To prepare 1 m2 of sc-Si module the electricity required is 4620 kWh. To generate 4620 kWh 2.17 tons of coal is required (40% efficiency) and the CO2 emission is 5810 kg. To generate 1 MW of electricity nearly 14000 sc-Si modules are needed that will occupy about 4 acres of land. Thus to generate about 1.368 million kWh of electricity, the solar cells, during its life cycle, will generate huge amount of CO2. This does not include the batteries ( lithium) needed for storing the electricity generated.


WEN Platform


Geothermal and food security


Climate change and the Gulf and Sub-Saharan countries. : Discussions at CoP 24 at Poland and other countries.

Along side the main CoP 24 conference in Poland, several side discussions are being held to focus current issues related to reduction of CO2 emissions. One such discussion being held in Washington, DC is related to the preparedness of Arab countries to tackle climate change. All the gulf countries and sub-Saharan countries will be the most affected regions of the world due to climate change and weather vagaries. Among the most affected are countries like Djibouti and  Eritrea and oil rich countries are no better than these countries.  These countries are vulnerable to food and water security in the near future due to climate change. For Eritrea agriculture contributes 12 % to the country’s GDP. Soil erosion is the greatest problem for the country that is decreasing the cultivable land for agriculture. Several dams have been constructed to store surface water and several bore holes have been drilled for irrigation. Due to poor rainfall such exercises have proved futile and the country is heavily dependent on food imports. Although estimated groundwater potential is about 500 x 106 m3,  the demand is much higher than this estimate. It is around 2540 x 106 m3. Oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia has increased its wheat imports from 1.9 to 3.1 million tonne. But fresh water is needed for the live stock and Date farms (agriculture contributes 3% to the GDP!).. The country heavily depends on desalination using fossil fuels. Not economical at all. The desalinated water is costly but for the Govt. subsidy is sold at 0.03 US$/m3. While the average global cost is 6 US$ / m3.

The side discussions/conferences may be attended by top official with strong academic tags but the ground reality is to use renewable energy for desalination. So the entire focus of the Gulf countries (including sub Saharan countries) to find out methods to increase the production of desalinated water using renewable energy (with low carbon foot print) and reduce dependency on food imports. This what should be preached at such conferences by the educated elite.  Countries with geothermal energy resources should augment the process of development of this energy source for desalination there by securing country’s food and water security.


Geothermal energy projects showing upward swing (IEA)


According to the recent report (2018) published by the International Energy Agency, geothermal energy capacity is set to grow by 28% amounting to 17 GWe by the year 2023. More and more countries are exploiting their untapped sources to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and control the use of fossil based electricity. China alone has shown the largest growth of 2 GW in the last couple of years. Indonesia followed by Kenya are the leaders in expanding their geothermal base, increasing to the tune of 30%. Although pre-development risks are still the barrier for development, such barriers can be overcome by skillful planning and good data interpretation. In addition the drilling cost are showing downward trend due to technological improvement. In future, with the advent of plasma drilling and development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems, growth of this industry will see exponential rise. Low CO2 emissions, baseload power, high efficiency and small lad foot print are some of the factors that is attracting the geothermal sector in several developing countries. Soon this sector will add additional 20% amounting to 900 MW. The main additions are from Kenya ( 180 MW) and Indonesia. Philippines and Turkey will be add another 70 MW. Countries like Japan, England, China, France and Germany have initiated EGS projects that are at different stages of development.  Direct application projects are showing a surge due to technological development in ground source heat pumps.


Saskatchewan geothermal project…it is hapenning

What a marvellous achievement by DEEP, the Canadian Geothermal Developer. The entire work went unnoticed. 3 Km deep drilling and extracting heat usig submersible pumps to generate initially 5 MWe and after the testing will be escalated to 10 MWe. Saskatchewan- is the location where this project is coming up. DEEP is planning to drill upto 3.5Km in 25 days. The temperatures are expected to be around 126 C. A total of 5 wells are planned —–three production and two injection wells.

According a news release a news release from the company says the plant would generate renewable and zero-emission power. It would also offset 27,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by producing five megawatts of electricity, which is the equivalent of taking about 7,400 cars off the roads annually. The oil and gas drilling industry discovered this site and the resource.
. According to the CEO of DEEP this power will out beat solar and wind since operating and maintenance cost will be less than  the other renewable sources. No one expected that Canada will be geothermally powered. Sask-Power signed a power purchase agreement in 2017 which would enable the Crown corporation to buy power from the plant, and help reduce emissions from by 40 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.