Author Archive for Prof D Chandrasekharam


Global hunger

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Act now and avert a climate crisis


 15 SEPTEMBER 2019

Act now and avert a climate crisis

Nature joins more than 250 media outlets in Covering Climate Now, a unique collaboration to focus attention on the need for urgent action.

………….””One of our articles reveals how countries are progressing towards their obligations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Sadly, greenhouse-gas emissions continue to climb, even as nations pledge to make substantial reductions. The one glimmer of hope is that energy from renewable sources is now growing faster than that supplied by fossil fuels. However, fossil-fuelled power continues to rise at a rapid rate, and its share of the global energy supply far eclipses that of renewables.””

Carbon free renewable energy that can support baseload electricity supply is geothermal. This is a fact that all of us should accept. We should also accept that solar pv is not a solution to mitigate CO2 emissions. To manufacture solar cell a large quantity of quartz needs to be processed from metallurgical grade to electrical grade. Both the processes are highly energy intensive. By the time solar pv cell emerges it has already emitted sufficient quantity of CO2 to the atmosphere. Solar  is not a glimmer of hope to battle carbon dioxide emissions and control global temperature rise. The more one promotes solar pv the more CO2 is emitted. Added to this is the storage batteries. Li or Cd batteries. These two are not a commodities that are freely available in nature that the battery companies can buy. These two elements have to be extracted from minerals and purified to suit battery standards. This process is again energy intensive. This energy has to come from fossil fuels only. The last phase……disposing solar waste. Wake up and think wisely and don’t be under the cloud that solar pv is a clean energy. Now the data is open and available to everyone on this earth. Sit back and calculate the CO2 emissions from the life cycle of solar pv cell. Apparently greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb. A business guy always masks this fact so that his business flourishes. But science is business for scientists. Act now and avert climate crisis.


What these countries discuss during the Conference of Parties ??

CoP 14 is going begin in India today (2 Sept. 2019) and will last for week. The parties will take stock of what has been discussed at Ordos, China…….The theme for the CoP 14 is combat desertification. Integration of sustainable development goal 14. The decision read like “” “Integration of Sustainable Development Goal 15 and target 15.3 into the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and land degradation neutrality 27. Background: By its decision 3/COP.13 and recalling decision 3/COP.12, the COP invited Parties that formulate voluntary targets to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) to ensure that their LDN targets and the activities to achieve these targets are directly linked to their national Sustainable Development Goal agendas and create leverage and synergies with their countries’ climate and biodiversity agendas. Furthermore, the Parties are invited to use the monitoring and evaluation approach adopted in decision 7/COP.13, including the progress indicators therein, and, as needed, add additional indicators to monitor, evaluate and communicate progress towards achieving the LDN target. 28. The same decision invited all Parties and multilateral and bilateral partners to scale up and facilitate effective financing for combating desertification/land degradation……………………” “ By its decision 3/COP.13, paragraph 3, all Parties are further invited to enhance the implementation of the Convention and Sustainable Development Goals by: (a) fostering national-level synergies among the three Rio conventions; (b) strengthening national-level coordination and cooperation among those responsible for addressing DLDD, socioeconomic development, finance, food and water security, agriculture, environment, etc., as appropriate; (c) seeking to leverage the cross-cutting benefits of sustainable land management (SLM) in national-level policies and programmes relating to poverty reduction, food and water security, agriculture, environment, finance, etc., as appropriate; and (d) engaging all relevant stakeholders………………………

All such meetings end with recording the minutes and open new agenda for the next meeting. What action is being taken is any ones guess. Ground realities are different from discussions in cosy comfortable conference rooms.

Reality: Take for example Djibouti & Eretria. Djibouti, except for the town, the rest of the land is desert. People live below poverty in the rural area. (Chandrasekharam D. et al. 2019.  Geothermal energy for desalination to secure food security: case study in Djibouti. Energy, Sustainab. Society, 9, 24-30.; Chandrasekharam, D. 2018. Energy and Food security through desalination using geothermal energy: Eritrea. Arabian Journal of Geosciences 11:523 doi. 10.1007/s12517-018-3892-9.). No water, electricity and food. What CoP should discuss is to pump funds to develop the geothermal energy in Djibouti and Eritrea and provide energy to the rural population. ). Solutions do exists. Attitude of the countries providing financial aid should be positive. There is no reason why these resources could not be developed? Technology exists. Europe, Iceland USA …..what are these countries doing?? Read the above papers to find solution to the energy-food- water problems.  If desertification has to be stopped, then make use of the existing energy sources (free and environmentally green and sustainable). This will give positive results before the next CoP.


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