Wanted: A Blue Revolution India and sections of her people have benefited from the ‘Green Revolution’ and the ‘White Revolution’. It is time now to bring about the same convergence of policy and action to execute a quantum jump in the generation of energy. For want of a better hue from the palette, we will term it the ‘Blue Revolution’. The need for energy today is as stark as the need for food grain and milk once was. Energy is an imperative for economic growth and well-being.
The per capita consumption of electricity – the cleanest form of energy is recognized as a barometer of a country’s development and prosperity.
Unfortunately, even six decades after Independence, India fares poorly in the energy race. Our per capita consumption of about 700 KWHrs gives us the unenviable distinction of being in the league of 40 LDCs. The figures are revealing: global per capita consumption is about 2,600 kwhrs; developed nations enjoy a level between 10,000 and 20,000 KWHrs.
China, whose total power generation capacity until mid-’70s was comparable with India’s, now boasts the world’s second largest power generation capacity – 700,000 MW.
Its per capita consumption is currently around 2,000 KWHrs – three times as much as India’s, and set to surpass global averages by 2011. Every region and state of India is starved for power – only the degree varies. Today, the lack of power is identified as the single biggest roadblock to India’s economic growth. No segment of the economy — be it industry, agriculture or service can do without power.
Often government agencies claim that India’s peak time power shortage is about 12%. This is unarguably one of the most misleading pieces of disinformation going around as it is premised only on load shedding data.
It does not take into account potential or unrealized demand from consumers who just do not have access to the grid. Interestingly, power is one industry in which demand follows supply. In Plan after Plan, the government encouraged new industrial units to be set up in rural India — away from mega cities. But at the end of the day, little is achieved due to the absence of basic infrastructure inputs like power. Where do we go from here, and how fast can we move? Do we follow our neighbor China’s model or do we create one of our own?
We must recognize that power is a form of energy derived from various natural sources: fossil or renewable. Do we have a large enough bounty of resources or the wherewithal to boost our per capita levels to those of developed countries? Simple arithmetic tells us that if India were to match US energy consumption levels, our power generation capacity would need to grow to 3. 6 million MW from the present level of a mere 175,000 MW. That is a tall order. When India determines its model of ‘power sector’ development, we can be discerning and choose with the wisdom of hindsight.
We can select contemporary technologies and adopt enlightened energy usage practices and thus set per capita targets which are affordable and sustainable. India can certainly aspire to be among the leading economic powers and assure a good standard of living for its citizens if it could achieve an average per capita power consumption of around 3,000 units by 2027. If one assumes that the adverse impact of growing population will be neutralized by improving utilization of the existing and new capacity, India could target a total generation capacity of about 700,000 MW by 2027.
In other words, this would mean an average annual addition of 25,000–27,000 MW of new capacity for the next 18–20 years. Is this too high a target, given our past record? Not quite. The enactment of Electricity Act 2003 has opened the power generation and distribution sector to private players and recent years have seen a great deal of interest from the private sector. Some of the private companies are set to become among country’s largest utilities. The next few years may see an addition of 15,000 to 18,000 MW every year, and the rate could easily be ramped up to 25,000 to 30,000 MW by the end of 12th Plan.
Power sector reforms including free access to transmission networks, energy trading markets, development of fuel sites, land & water acquisition will be critical to achieve the new capacity growth targets. In this context, when we are setting our ambition levels, it would be pertinent to ask what really limits our growth. The most critical of the limiting factors are the two Fs — financing and fuel. India has multiple resources but none in sufficient quantity to enable us to rely on it totally. That means we need to harness each and every possible resource available.
It is estimated that India’s exploitable resource potential from hydro and wind is 150,000 MW and 50,000 MW respectively out of which the total capacity set up until the end of 2008 is about 45,000 MW. So even if we exploit 80% of the total capacity during the next 20 years, India would need to add 450,000 MW of thermal and nuclear capacity to achieve an aggregate capacity of 700,000 MW. India does have large deposits of coal and an increasing amount of natural gas and both needs to be exploited for the speedy growth of the power sector.
India’s present coal-based generation is about 120,000 MW, which needs about 350 million tones of coal from its own mines. This capacity will need to go up at least three times, i. e. , up to 1. 2 billion tones to realize our target of about 400,000 MW from coal alone. The remaining 50,000 MW capacity will be contributed by natural gas, biomass and nuclear. It should be recognized that coal will remain the mainstay of our energy sources. This is the most dependable resource because it is locally available and its output can be controlled.
Although external pressures will mount in view of environmental concerns, India will have to manage such pressures by adopting the most environment-friendly technologies to convince the global community about India’s unequivocal commitment to ecology. As regards growth of India’s nuclear power, it remains uncertain due to external pressures and dependence on external resources for supply of fuel. This segment, which is environment- friendly, still deserves to be probed into with all seriousness.
India also needs to cut short the total gestation period for execution of nuclear plants which as per the current standards take anywhere between 7-8 years to go critical. A significant level of development has taken place in the wind-based power projects. India has started off well within this domain but needs to do a lot more by adapting practices of countries like Germany and Spain which draw over 25% of their generation capacity from wind alone. India’s coastline is over 6,500 km long and offshore sites have a lot more potential to offer than the sites onshore.
Solar is another emerging resource which is quite effective at the micro level usage, particularly in the residential segment both in urban and rural locations. The utility level production of solar based electricity is still in a very early stage and its role in India’s future energy management should be seen as a positive upside. Energy saved is energy generated. While we focus on augmenting our generation capacity, we must at the same time induct a sense of responsibility in usage. Reckless consumption is myopic and would have a catastrophic long-term cost to society.
We should align our consumption norms with our long-term energy plans. Use of energy saving devices has to be mandatory and tariff structure has to be designed in a way that it discourages and prohibits wasteful consumption. We must constantly remind ourselves that regardless of ownership or access, every natural resource is a national asset. Generation and subsequent transmission and distribution have to be executed in a manner that these processes do not themselves consume most of the energy.
Thermal power plants should be located close to the coal mines and colossal amount of energy required to move coal to the user point should be avoided. Energy conservation if implemented can certainly contribute equivalent to about 150,000 MW of power. The ‘Blue Revolution’ and an attitude of responsible usage are two domains India needs to focus on. While we draw lessons from our own experience as well as the track record of others around us, we need to conceive our vision with an enlightened sense of self-interest, and implement it with tenacity and an uncompromised sense of urgency.
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