Can the world shrug off its dependence on carbon fuels? Over the past year or so there have been many developments, especially in the solar field, that have prompted discussions in this direction. And these become more relevant in the context of the increasing pollution levels across India. However, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, leading physics professor and neurotechnologist at the Australian National University, says it is difficult to put a timeline on this, especially when governments continue to subsidise and encourage the fossil fuel industry. Among other things, Jagadish has been involved in developing lightweight solar cells with increased efficiency.
“Reduction of pollution is good for everybody. If we can do it, then the quality of life will be improved significantly. That is where we need to have non-fuel based solar cells as well as a wide variety of energy sources,” says Jagadish. He is clear that there is no single source that can be the panacea and the world will always end up using a multitude of sources to meet the needs of the global community. Jagadish, who was in Delhi when pollution levels were at its peak, wants everyone to look for a range of low-impact technologies to offer a better world for our future generations.
Australia already has some remote communities that have gone off the grid with solar and battery banks. But, Jagadish says there is a good reason why we have to think beyond energy generation and factor in storage as well as utilisation in order to be more efficient. “If for instance we continue to use incandescent lamps we will be wasting 90% of the energy in the form of heat. If we can replace all these lamps with more efficient LEDs then consumption goes down—remember, about 20% of all energy is still used for lighting applications.”
If you didn’t know, about 5% of the world’s energy is used for the Internet. And this is growing at a faster rate as everyone is trying to get connected. “We need to look at the green Internet which is faster but uses less energy,” says Jagadish, who was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), the country’s highest honour, for eminent service to physics and engineering, particularly in the field of nanotechnology.
Jagadish says that since our population is also growing at a fast pace, to stay ahead we need to think about how we can be more energy efficient in whatever we do. He says the issues in a country like India are different and technologies need to be developed for local needs. Also, one should take into consideration the local cost levels. He advocates community-based technology solution for India to bring in significant change, citing the example of solar charging stations manned by rural women which are playing an important role in improving health and education of those people. “Some of the battery technologies, like the ones developed by Tesla, need to be adopted for Indian needs,” he says.
Jagadish is happy that the Indian government has been talking about the right things and moving in the right direction. “But a lot more can be done to give clean and reliable energy to people in all parts of the country,” he says, adding that stability of electricity is also important and people should not be depending on stabilisers and UPS.
Jagadish, who along with his wife offers an endowment for students from developing countries like India to come and use the world class facilities at the ANU, says we have to encourage creative thinking at all cost and exploration of idea. “The moment we cap creativity then new technologies will not evolve,” he highlights. In fact, Jagadish has backed the Neutrino Observatory at Tamil Nadu and is of the opinion that projects like these ultimately lead to the kind of technologies we use in day to day life. “If people are used to creative thinking, then they will flourish when there is a problem and solve it easily.”