Maanasa Mendu is relying on innovation and electric charges to tackle the global energy crisis. The freshman at Mason High School in Mason, Ohio, will travel this month to St. Paul, Minnesota, as a top 10 national finalist in the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. While there, she’ll present her invention that helps make wind power a globally applicable energy source. “Wind power is a powerful and popular form of renewable energy with enormous potential,” says Mendu in her competition video. “We need to make wind power an efficient and globally applicable energy source.” Mendu has created a device that uses piezoelectricity materials that are eco-friendly and cost-efficient to provide wind power to the world.
Mendu’s invention and passion for the future of energy generation are well in tune with the critical needs of the global economy. The adoption of renewable energy, generated from natural resources like sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth and geothermal heat, is a key strategy in combatting greenhouse gas emission-fueled climate change, which the World Economic Forum identifies each year as a serious global risk. Traditional fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum – which renewables seek to replace — contribute to the air pollution that causes global warming.
An article published this month by our parent publication, Knowledge@Wharton, explores today’s market for wind and solar power and the realities of climate change. Says Wharton business economics professor Arthur van Benthem: “The renewable energy industry has experienced dramatic growth over the last couple of years.”
Here are some fast facts shared by van Benthem and other climate change experts about the global challenge to deal with greenhouse gas emissions:
- Wind and solar power prices have plunged. As the cost of renewable generation nears the cost of fossil-fueled electricity, more people are likely to spend money to install this energy and use it.
- Projections about future wind and solar deployment have become more optimistic, especially in the U.S. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a company that analyzes the energy system, expects total installed solar will more than quadruple between now and 2022, on the strength of continued cost declines. And the projection made in the year 2000 by the International Energy Agency of how much wind power capacity there would be in 2040 has been revised upward, fivefold.
- Solar power use in the U.S. is on the rise in part because companies have found efficient ways to acquire customers, process the applications and install the panels on people’s roofs. SolarCity, based in Silicon Valley, Calif., is one of the country’s leading residential solar companies. Tesla, the electric-power car company founded by Elon Musk, is expected to acquire SolarCity in November.
- The power generation industry is only responsible for a part of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The other sectors combined — which include transportation, heating and cooling, cement making and industry — make up a larger share of emissions than power.
- As part of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, reached in December 2015, every nation pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Electric vehicles can help nations meet their emissions-reductions targets, but not everyone is convinced just yet that they need to buy an electric car. Sales of electric vehicles have been far lower than what some of the more optimistic observers in the industry had projected a few years back.
- Chevy’s Bolt and the upcoming Tesla 3 are expected to have ranges of 200 miles, for the same price at which cars were selling six years ago, which should help.
- In order for a true renewable energy revolution, governments need to cap fossil fuel emissions – designate a level above which emissions can’t exceed. The oil industry opposes this move, but experts believe such drastic measures will lead to more green innovations and emissions-abatement technologies. In other words, more and more scientists and entrepreneurs will think like Maanasa Mendu.
Can the growth in renewables like wind and solar alone solve the climate change challenge? Why or why not?
Do you have any personal experience with renewable energy? For example, solar panels on the roof of your house? Is renewable energy a topic of interest in your school or your community? What about the use of electric cars? Research some local strategies for fighting the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
Why do you think the oil industry opposes capping fossil fuel emissions? Similarly, The Obama administration attempted to cap emissions through the Clean Air Act, but the legislation is under review by the Supreme Court. Why would there be opposition to laws and changes that clean our air and help to save the planet? Discuss different dimensions of the relationship between business and the environment.
Using the "Related Links," research SolarCity. Who is Lyndon Rive? What did you learn about him and the business of renewable energy deployment, in particular solar power?