India's tropical location and low energy demand for majority of people, make the country most suitable to widen its renewable energy base and thereby reduce over-dependence on conventional sources of energy.
India has vast scope in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources
The recent IPCC report ‘Special Report Renewable Energy Sources (SRREN)’, which has projected a very critical role for renewable energy (RE) sources, shows the way for a paradigm shift in India’s energy policy.
Even though a strong push for renewable energy sources is much needed, not only to contain the GHG emissions but also to ensure sustainable development for all, the successive governments have continued to rely on conventional energy sources, such as coal, and dam based and nuclear based power. The outcome of this over reliance on conventional energy sources has been disastrous: about 40% of the population still has no electricity connection; the exploitation of natural resources including forests and rivers continue unabated; and the pollution of air, water and land have reached dangerous proportion.
As the international communities have unambiguously acknowledged the urgent need to contain the GHG emissions through reduced reliance on conventional energy sources, the government of India too proudly announced a National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) for this purpose. However, approvals being accorded to a large number of coal based, dam based and nuclear based power projects all over the country in recent years have clearly exposed the large gap between what the govt claims to do and what it actually does.
It can be hoped that the SREEN report by IPCC, which has projected that the renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energy supply within four decades, will galvanise the policy makers to initiate a paradigm shift in its energy policy. But it should be noted that the above projection by IPCC about RE is feasible only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power. The report has said that if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
“Developing countries have an important stake in the future – this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment.”
A very crucial point in this regard is that investing in RE to the extent (80% of world's energy supply within four decades) needed would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually, as against huge cost of about 25% of global GDP estimated to mitigate the impacts of Global Warming.
Ramon Pichs, co-chair of one of the key IPCC working groups, has said: "The report shows that it is not the availability of (renewable) resources but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades. Developing countries have an important stake in the future – this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment." Sven Teske, renewable energy director at Greenpeace International, and a lead author of the report, has said: "The IPCC report shows overwhelming scientific evidence that renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries, where over 2 billion people lack access to basic energy services and can do so at a more cost-competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources. Governments have to kick start the energy revolution by implementing renewable energy laws across the globe."
Even if a small percentage of the money that is planned to be spent on conventional power sources in next 20 years is invested wisely in encouraging the widespread usage of RE, the country’s move to low carbon energy pathway will be quicker, cheaper and smoother.
An earlier report by Greenpeace ‘Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable Energy Outlook for India’, had referred to this scenario. It had mentioned that renewable energy, combined with efficiencies from the ‘smart use’ of energy, could deliver half of India’s primary energy needs by 2050. Some of the highlights of the summary for the policy makers in IPCC report are worth mentioning in this context:
Recent data confirm that the consumption of fossil fuels accounts for the majority of global anthropogenic GHG emissions.
In addition to reduced GHG emissions and having a large potential to mitigate climate change, renewable energy (RE) can provide wider physical and environmental benefits.
In various settings RE options are already economically competitive.
The cost of most RE technologies has declined and additional expected technical advances would result in further cost reduction.
Various RE resources are already being successfully integrated into energy supply systems and into end–use sectors.
There are multiple pathways for increasing the share of RE across all end-use sectors.
RE can contribute to social and economic development; can accelerate access to energy, particularly to the people without access to electricity; RE options can contribute to a more secure energy supply.
The scientists have also predicted in this report that the RE will play a greater role than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage in reducing the GHG emissions by 2050. The calamitous path of the present govt to increase the nuclear power capacity from 4,800 MW to 275,000 MW by 2050; coal power capacity from 80,000 MW to 400,000 MW; and hydel power capacity from 37,000 MW to 150,000 MW by 2031-32, should be urgently reviewed in this context.
A draft report from Germany’s ethics commission on nuclear power has said, “The country could and should close down all its nuclear power stations by 2021.” Japan also is known to be reviewing its nuclear policy. It must be noted that both Germany and Japan have more than 25% of their power generation coming from nuclear power plants. Both countries are large importers of fossil fuels. Despite these constraints they are reviewing their policy of nuclear reliance. Many other countries are trying to come out of the shackles of their respective nuclear lobbies to review their own energy strategies. But it is rather shocking that India is still dithering on responding effectively to the global rethink on nuclear power. It is ironic that neither the UPA government at the Centre nor the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra thought it fit to respect the widespread public opposition to the proposed 9,900 MW nuclear complex at Jaitapur, amidst the genuine fears expressed by many nuclear scientists and engineers about the safety concerns.
The social, economic and environmental issues associated with other conventional forms of power generation, via coal power and hydro power, should be of equal concern, if not more, to our communities. Hence there is an urgent need for the country to implement a paradigm shift in the way we look at the demand and supply of energy, and accept the reality that only the renewables can provide sustainable development for our communities.
Since India is still in the developmental stage, and a large section of population is not dependent on commercial energy sources, it is in a comfortable position to move away from the calamitous path of over reliance on conventional energy sources without having to experience great socio-economic upheavals. India’s tropical location provides huge potential in RE sources. Even if a small percentage of the money that is planned to be spent on conventional power sources in next 20 years is invested wisely in encouraging the widespread usage of RE, the country’s move to low carbon energy pathway will be quicker, cheaper and smoother. This will be in the overall interest of the society too.
A quick appreciation of the huge solar energy potential provides a stark figure. Assuming that by the year 2031-32 about 7.5 crore houses in the country can install roof-top solar photo voltaic systems of 2 kW each, about 150,000 MW installed capacity of solar power in distributed mode is feasible at low additional cost to the society. If we also exploit a small percentage of the roof top surfaces available at schools, colleges, industries, offices, commercial and sports establishments etc the potential available through solar energy alone is gigantic. The real cost to society of this investment will be very small as compared to that of nuclear power.
The government should take the recent report by IPCC with utmost seriousness, and initiate adequate level of interaction between the policymakers and the civil society to determine the best way to implement IPCC’s recommendations. With IPCC report being so passionate on RE, the Union government has no excuse anymore to ignore the crucial role of renewable energy in our developmental path. If it changes course, India could be a leader in harnessing RE since our life style is congenial for low per capita energy consumption.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are
personal and do not necessarily reflect the
views of d-sector editorial team.
The author is a power policy analyst based in Shimoga district of Karnataka state. He remains passionate about renewable energy and environment.
Other Articles by Shankar Sharma in Physical Development
> Energy > Renewable Energy
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