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Alternative Energy Sources: A Collaborative Approach in Water Management

Introduction

With the increasingly high prices of gasoline in particular and fossil fuels in general there is a need to find an alternative source of energy. But at the same time the use of fossil fuels and the rapid increase in world populations is exerting pressure on natural resources. There is a need not only to find suitable alternative energy sources but also to develop water management strategies. In order to achieve these twin goals it is time to look another type of decision-making processes. In the past the top-down approach has proven to be ineffective because it does not allow for public participation a key ingredient when it comes to gathering the needed data to make correct decisions as well as to increase acceptance and support of policies and plans implemented in relation to the use of alternative energy sources as well as managing precious water resources.

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Renewable Energy Source

In recent years it was made clear to all that there is a limit with regards to the amount of fossil fuel that can be extracted from the earth. With a constantly growing global population and the continuing insatiable thirst for energy, more and more oil fields are being depleted. Prices are soaring high while the stability of nations dependent on fossil fuel – such as those in the Middle East – is being threatened. For instance, wars and rumours of wars can easily disrupt the supply of oil or cause another series of price hikes. Stability in terms of supply and crude oil prices are important issues because oil supply is dwindling. Even if new oil fields can be discovered in this century, the fact remains that there is a finite amount of fossil fuel buried underneath the earth’s soil and something radical has to be done in order to reverse the negative trend.

Once global oil supply reaches a critical level, disaster is merely a word that could not begin to describe the aftermath. But there is also another problem with regards to fossil fuel and it is the pollution it creates. It is an energy source whose potential can only be used by burning and therefore harmful by-products is released into the air. The combustion with oxygen releases the power stored in it and therefore it can now be used to power cars, factories, and power plants but at the same time carbon dioxide and other pollutants are being released into the atmosphere. So progress comes at a steep price. In order to sustain the high standard of living brought about by advancements in technology through the use of machines and electrical equipment, humans are forced into a corner and given no choice but to continually destroy the planet because there is no alternative that can help in reducing dependence on fossil fuel.

There is no other way to emphasize the importance of fossil fuel in this country. Looking around at the various industries and businesses that require electricity, this will easily convey the great need for a stable source of energy – it is needed not only in transportation but also in powering up factories and homes. There is also a need for fuels that will not add chemicals and pollutants into the air. According to Mark Jaccard and a host of other energy conscious researchers and scientists, the United States and other industrialized countries are completely dependent on fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas (2005: 1). Jaccard added that these are non-renewable resources that someday will be exhausted and perhaps much sooner than is expected. This type of pronouncement is nothing new.

In the 21st century there is also the concern not only about supply and pollution but also about global warming and its impact on the planet’s ecosystem. Without a doubt the solution calls for the development of alternative energy source. There is consensus right now among those greatly affected by the crisis that they had to either postpone the inevitable by maximizing fossil fuel supply or to totally become independent of the same – a 180 degree reversal of the current position. Now, it is not surprising to hear politicians and private citizens to be very passionate about these problems. It would be an important issue for any politician – energy security is equal to the economic security of civilized society. Aside from that the benefits of an alternative energy source – if well implemented and proven practical – are simply enormous; this will allow every stakeholder to reap some form of a reward in terms of savings and protection of the environment from environmental degradation.

The problem with fossil fuel does not only end with regards to shortage of supply and high demand. Many had come to understand the impact of global warming and an environment threatened by excessive pollution coming from burning fuel. There is now an urgency to develop alternative sources of energy. Two of the most promising areas in the field of renewable energy sources are in solar and wind energy (Berger, 1997: 171). Lakin and Patefield reported that solar energy belongs to the top of the renewable energy list (Dolan, Duffy, & Percival, 1996: 100). There are at least two major ways to harness the power of the sun. The first one is through the more popular method of designing photovoltaic cells (Gordon, 2001: 145). These are specially designed mechanisms that would convert the power of the sun into electricity. The second method is a more direct approach.

Thousands of computer-controlled mirrors will help focus a concentrated ray of heat that will heat-up water from a furnace (Lakin & Patefield, 1998: 239). After heating up the water, the boiling liquid will produce steam and therefore move turbines that would in turn create electricity. The technology of using the sun’s rays to heat water and generate steam that will in turn move turbines to produce electricity is nothing new (Lakin & Patefield, 1998: 239). But this time there is renewed interest in this type of technology as fossil fuel supplies become erratic in the past few years. This time instead of solar panels those harnessing the tremendous power of the sun rely on mirrors (Jones, 2003: 15). These specially designed mirrors focus the power of the sun into one spot, heating the fluid and create steam.

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Another alternative source of energy that is clean and inexhaustible is wind power. Much better than solar power, wind power requires very little scientific know how to build and use. This fact has been demonstrated by the ancient use of windmills and sails (Chambers, 2003: 8). According to one report this is how many Americans and Europeans use this technology, “Wind turbines, like aircraft propeller blades, turn in the moving air and power an electric generator that supplies an electric current (Chambers, 2003: 8). Modern wind turbines fall into two basic groups: (1) horizontal-axis variety, like the farm windmills, and (2) vertical-axis design like the eggbeater-style” (Chambers, 2003: 8). This is a promising alternative energy source indeed.

While it does not require a rocket scientist to understand the importance of solar and wind power as alternative sources it is much harder to understand why there are obstacles to the development of these types of energy resource. In the case of solar power it is the significant amount of money needed to install and maintain highly-sensitive photovoltaic cells. Wind power energy on the other hand is less complicated than solar energy but the huge structures needed to harness the power f the wind can destroy the landscape and create noise (Wolsink, 2007: 2695). In order to ensure smooth implementation of renewable energy policies, government agencies must learn how to disseminate information and at the same time send and receive feedback from stakeholders (Mostert, et al., 2007: 1). One way to do this is to adopt collaborative approaches in decision-making processes.

Water Management

Aside from energy security a related issue is environmental degradation brought about by the exploitation of natural resources and pollution. As population growth and consumerism becomes an unstoppable trend in the 21st century, mankind will continue to feel the impact of pollution and environmental degradation and one direct consequence is limited availability of clean water. In this regard there is a need for better water management practices. But this is easier said than done. Just like the problems associated with developing alternative energy sources there socio-economic factors that must be considered before policymakers can create laws and for their constituents to follow the same.

This calls for greater cooperation and collaboration (Beierle & Konisky, 1999: 1). But again this is easier said than done. There are numerous problems associated with water management as there are numerous agencies and communities involved in the discussion (Hindmarsh, 2008: 189). In the case of renewable energy sources there are also many people that are involved in the decision-making process but when it comes to water management there is more at stake other than the pollution and economic factors. Many of the stakeholders can easily observe the impact of water management policies for they live near bodies of water affected by such policies.

Obstacles

Before going any further it is important to understand the various problems that hamper the development and adoption of renewable energy sources as well as the implementation of water management strategies. In the case of renewable energy sources, it requires a significant amount of scientific knowledge to build a system that will generate clean energy (Wolsink, 2007: 2695). This is especially true when it comes to those light capturing equipment that could convert solar power to electrical power, good enough to be used at home to power appliances, as well as to provide power for manufacturing plants and automobiles. The high level of technical knowledge needed means more expense as more people with specialized skills need to get on board not only in the building stage but even so in the maintenance phase of the operation.

Furthermore, alternative sources of energy in order to be successful require the support of consumers. It is impossible for investors and other stakeholders to finance and exert effort in the creation of alternative energy sources if no one will purchase the necessary equipment to harness wind or solar power for instance. Aside from the consumers it is also important to look into the reaction and the opinions of those who are supposed to operate the new facility or new equipment. In the case of factories and key installations that will use solar and wind energy, these people must not only have the required technical competence to operate the new equipment but they must also accept that this is the best way to improve the cost-efficiency of the facility. In many cases, it would require a significant change in the mindset of management and the various technical supervisors who will have to shift their orientation from the old way to a new method of doing things. It will be shown later why it can be a daunting task to incorporate solar power to an existing management scheme. And it has to do with solar power’s downtime – phases in the cycle where solar cells could not efficiently generate power.

Thus, the possible consequences will not simply be limited to training personnel but a radical transformation of personnel management to overall management of factory equipment and resources. They have to adjust to the necessary change in adapting to a power source not coming from power plants fired up by oil or coal but to photovoltaic cells. While it requires cooperation and collaboration from various stakeholders to successfully change the current way of doing things – from fossil fuel to alternative energy sources – there is a need to change the current strategies when it comes to implementing a directive from government agencies. The top-down approach rarely works according to numerous studies (Wolsink, 2007: 2695). In this regard, it is time to look into the flaws of the traditional approaches to decision-making and find out how to ensure cost-effective means of implementing new policies that will increase the number of people and businesses that will use alternative energy sources.

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Top-Down Approach

At first it seems that there everyone is on the same page when it comes to the search and development of alternative energy source – that in spite of the obstacles linked to the use of non-fossil fuels, the commitment to break free from the use of oil and coal is a primary objective of all leaders in government and in business circles. But a casual overview of related literature and other reputable websites relating to this subject matter will reveal that not everyone is in agreement when it comes to the use of specific alternatives to fossil fuels. This means that everyone does not want the financial burden and the pollution that fossil fuel brings to the equation but there is disagreement on what type of alternative energy source must be used in the local community or even in the national levels.

In a desperate attempt to remedy the problems brought by fossil fuels, it is common to find government agencies to implement policies without consulting the public (Barlow & Clarke, 2002: 230). Those who are in-charge may find it more practical to develop strategies and implement it using top-down approach but more and more studies confirm the idea that unless stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process, the greater is the possibility of conflict with those who will be affected by their policies (Marshall, 2005: 37). It will also forestall the implementation of policies aimed to reduce dependence on fossil fuel as well as improve water management.

Collaborative Approach

The top-down approach is the normal way of doing things (Calder, 2005: 328). In civilized society, there is central authority wherein the bulk of policymaking is being done (Warner, 2007: 39). This is due to the need for cost-efficiency and supposedly to speed up the decision-making process (Innes & Booher, 2003: 34). There seems to be an assumption that consultation takes up too much time and at the end there is one person or one committee that will be the one to make the final decision (Koontz, 2004: 24). But years of dealing with failed projects and conflicts arising from disputes and miscommunication it is time to discover another model when it comes to developing policies and statutes regarding water management and renewable energy sources (Agranoff & McGuire, 2003: 76). One suggestion is to use a collaborative approach.

One example of a collaborative approach is to allow public participation. This will allow the greatest number of stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process. According to one study there are at least two positive outcomes when policymakers utilize public participation strategies and these are listed as follows:

  • Improve the quality of decisions by better defining priorities and by gathering local data, knowledge and solutions; and
  • Raise awareness and encourage stakeholders to work together and engage in a democratic process that will in turn lead to broad acceptance and support for the plans (Hopmayer-Tokich & Krozer, 2008: 247).

The key terms that must be highlighted are those that concern priorities, local data, awareness and democratic process. There is indeed a need to improve the quality of decisions and to go beyond the preliminary level of deciding to change current practices into one that is more complex and yet promises to preserve the environment and sustain Europe’s way of life. It is indeed hard work but worth the sacrifice and all the efforts and money expended on behalf of the initiative to reduce dependence on fossil fuel as well as to create sustainable practices when it comes to aquatic resources. But quality decisions can only be achieved if the correct strategies are implemented and have the assurance that the general public as well as stakeholders will be able to support it.

At the most basic level there is a need for awareness of the positive impact that can be achieved with regards to new policies and the adoption of new technologies (Capehart, 2007: 46). This is highly important because government agencies are dealing with a mindset that the use of fossil fuel is the most cost-efficient way of doing business (Capehart, 2007: 46). There are a lot of information dissemination campaigns that has to be completed before the general public and stakeholders will understand the long term consequence of adopting new technologies. This will require hard work and the utilization of already limited resources but there is no other way to do this. A top-down approach may bypass these activities and expenditures but it will not deliver the same results (Krajewski, Fletcher, & Mitchell, 2008: 46). Stakeholders, especially the consumers must make the decision to support new initiatives and it starts by convincing them that they too will benefit from supporting and complying with new policies regarding water management and alternative energy.

The purpose of the collaborative approach is not only to gather data and to understand the sentiments of those who are on the receiving end of new technology but also to provide feedback and access to various forms of resources so that they can formulate informed decisions (Wilkins, 2002: 104). In the case of alternative energy, stakeholders must understand the cost and impact of adopting new technology. In the case of solar and wind power they must be informed regarding not only the cost but the level of technical competence required to operate devices and equipment related to solar and wind energy.

Aside from educating the general public and providing them the needed information to make informed decisions there is also a need for government agencies and government officials to gather local data and knowledge only available to ordinary citizens living near affected areas. This is evident when it comes to managing water sources near factories and other bodies of water and river systems that are being threatened by man-made structures. These people are the best sources of information when it comes to the impact of pollution and the displacement of the population when it comes to the creation of dams and other structures that the government plans to build in a particular area.

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If government agencies and those involved in the creation of dams, hydroelectric power plants and other structures that alter the landscape and the flow of water will not master collaborative strategies when it comes to making decisions then they can create laws that will be detrimental to the lives of these people. Thus, they will not support it and initiate activities that can easily hamper the success of the project. This means waste of time, energy, and money on those who are directly affected by the said policies. It would be better for government agencies to do it right the first time and before implementing any major changes, they must consult with the stakeholders, most especially to local people who will greatly benefit from alternative energy sources and better water management strategies if the correct statutes and strategies are created in the aftermath of discussion, data gathering and more collaboration.

Conclusion

There is no indeed a great need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Pollution and high gasoline prices are just some of the negative effects on the Western world’s dependence fossil fuel. There is indeed a great need to develop alternative energy sources. But this is easier said than done because there are many obstacles that can hamper the implementation of new policies and new initiatives. In order to minimise these problems it is important to apply collaborative strategies for decision-making processes. Using this approach government officials and policymakers will be able to gather local knowledge and receive feedback that will allow them to create laws and policies that stakeholders will support and make it easier for them to comply.

References

Agranoff, R. & M. McGuire. (2003). Collaborative Public Management: New Strategies for Local Governments. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

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Berger, J. (1997). Charging Ahead: The Business of Renewable Energy and What it Means for America. CA: University of California Press.

Beierle, T. & D. Konisky. (1999). Public participation in environmental planning in the Great Lakes region. Resources for the Future.

Capehart, B. (2007). Encyclopedia of Energy Engineering and Technology. FL: CRC Press.

Chambers, A. (2003). Renewable Energy in Nontechnical Language. Tulsa, OK: PenWell Books.

Dolan, G. M. Duffy, & A. (1996). Physics. Chicago: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1996.

Gordon, J. (2001). Solar Energy: The State of the Art. London: James & James Ltd.

Hindmarsh, R. (2008). Environment, Water and Energy in the 21st Century: The Role of Delibarative Governance for the Knowledge Society. In Hearn, G. & D. Rooney (eds.) Knowledge Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century. UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., 189-203.

Hopmayer-Tokich, S. & Y. Krozer. (2008). Public participation in rural area water management: experiences from the North Sea countries in Europe. Water International. 33(2): 243-257.

Innes, J. & D. Booher. (2003). Collaborative Policymaking: Governance Through Dialogue. In M. Hajer & H. Wagenaar (eds.). Deliberative Policy Analysis: Understanding Governance in the Network Society. UK: Cambridge University Press.

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Jones, S. (2003). Solar Power of the Future. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.

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Fletcher & A. Deletic (eds.). Data Requirements for Integrated Water Management. UK: Taylor & Francis.

Lakin, S. & J. Patefield. (1998). Essential Science. Oxford: Nelson Thomes Ltd.

Marshall, G. (2005). Economics for Collaborative Environmental Management: Renegotiating the Commons. London: Earthscan.

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Wilkins, G. (2002). Technology Transfer for Renewable Energy: Overcoming Barriers in Developing Countries. London: Earthscan.

Wolsink, M. (2007). Planning of renewable schemes: Deliberative and fair decision-making on landscape issues instead of reproachful accusation of non-cooperation. Energy Policy. 35: 2692-2704.

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