The nuclear lobby in India has been pushing nuclear energy as safe, clean and a solution to the country’s energy requirements. Now, going even a step further, it is undermining the potential India’s renewable energy sources which is alarming and unacceptable.

The news about Dr. Anil Kakodkar (Ex-Chairman, Dept. of Atomic Energy) heading India’s solar missions is disturbing and flies in the face of democracy and fair policy-making. Renewable energy sources are the main competitor to nuclear power. Even today, the total energy produced through renewables is much higher than nuclear, despite the miniscule R&D budget and subsidies that it receives in comparison to nuclear energy. Dr. Kakodkar, in particular, is known for his discouraging views on solar energy.

The recent issue of the Current Science journal has published an article by S P Sukhatme, Ex-Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, titled Meeting India’s future needs of electricity through renewable energy sources. Without mentioning the author’s nuclear links, the article first charts outs an inflated energy requirement for the country, then underestimates the potentials of renewable energy and concludes with strongly supporting nuclear energy !

Here is a rigorous rejoinder by Shri Shankar Sharma, a leading energy policy analyst, demonstrating how renewable energy sources, in a decentralised energy environment, are best quipped to provide a reliable, safe and more equitable solution to India’s real energy requirements.

Editor, DiaNuke.org 

 

 

Future electricity demand and the critical role of renewable energy sources

Shankar Sharma
Power Policy Analyst

[email protected]

Preface:
Many attempts have been made to project future electricity demand in the country. One such recent effort in the article “Meeting India’s future needs of electricity through renewable energy sources” by Dr. S. P. Sukhatme of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay is based on many assumptions, which appear to be unrealistic. The weakness with many of such articles is that they tend to base their inferences on just the dry statistics without really appreciating the context/message behind those numbers.

Assumptions/ inferences in this article, which seem to defy sound logic are:

  • the assumption that a projected per capita electricity consumption of 2,000 kWH/annum for India is very frugal;
  • the assumption that a per capita consumption of 2,000 kWH/annum would be needed to ensure adequate level of Human Development Index (HDI) in the country;
  • the inference that the projected total electricity production requirement of 3,400 Billion Units (or TWH) by 2070;
  • the inference that the total potential of various renewable energy sources in India is only around 1229 Billion Units /year (or TWh/yr) due to the limitation of the land area available for deploying solar PV panels; the inference that the various renewable energy sources can be of use only in grid interactive mode;
  • the inference that that around the year 2070, the balance requirement of 2171 TWh would have to come from fossil fuels and nuclear energy; eventually, about a 100 years later, the contribution from fossil fuels may be negligible and the balance would have to come from nuclear energy alone.
  • the inference that nuclear energy is safe, clean and of acceptable costs/risks to our society.

Whenever one tries to project the energy/electricity demand/supply scenario for a point in time 50- 60 years later the inevitable limit of the nature to support a huge energy demand, and the impact such a huge energy demand/supply will have on the social and environmental aspects of our communities must be factored in. Additionally, in Indian scenario (a developing country with huge population density & growth) the huge inefficiencies prevailing and the changing pattern of electricity/energy consumption also must be factored in. Most importantly we must objectively consider whether huge electricity production/supply (about 3,400 Billion Units per year) can be sustained and whether the associated Global Warming impacts are acceptable to our society. Sadly such considerations are not apparent in such articles including Dr. Sukhatme’s article.

The absence of a holistic and objective approach to the true welfare needs of our society in such articles can lead to dangerous policy decisions, as seen in unbelievable number of conventional power projects being proposed/approved/implemented in the country without having any due diligence process. Such ill-conceived power projects are causing untold hardships to the vulnerable sections of our society, and pushing the fragile environment towards a point of no return. Hence urgent course corrections are necessary in projecting the electricity demand on a rational basis so as to protect the interests of the vulnerable sections of our society and to safeguard the all important environment.

Fallacy of electricity demand projection based on per capita electricity consumption/high GDP growth rate:
The methodology of projecting future electricity demand/supply based on per capita electricity consumption alone is fraught with many dangers. It can give very wrong picture of the future demand/supply scenario ultimately leading to wrong policies. If one carefully looks at what constitutes the per capita electricity consumption statistics, and what are the issues with it, the problems associated with it may become clearer.

A per capita consumption of 2,000 kWH/annum may appear frugal if it is compared with that of western economies which already have per capita consumption of more than 12,000 kWH/annum. But as compared to the present national average of about 780 kWH (as per Central Electricity Authority, CEA, for 2009-10) in India, the suggested per capita consumption of 2,000 kWH will be more than 2.5 times, and shall mean an increase in the installed power generating capacity many times more of the present level to allow for inefficiencies/outages/redundancies etc. If we assume that our society will be able to limit the per capita consumption of individuals at their residences to 780 kWH by 2070, the projected figure of 2,000 kWH at the national level can mean that other common consumptions such as industries, commercial establishments, services, agriculture etc. will go up by many times. Even though we may associate this increased consumption with higher GDP growth, the resultant pollution loading and the increased demand for natural resources such as land, water and raw materials etc. will be unacceptably high with disastrous consequences on our densely populated communities.

The assumption that per capita consumption of 2,000 kWH/annum would be needed to ensure adequate level of Human Development Index (HDI) is also based on inappropriate considerations. Even the present national average of 780 kWH per capita does not reveal the true energy injustice that is prevailing in the country. Whereas many of the metropolitan cities are recording much higher per capita consumption than the national average, the rural areas are getting electricity supply much less than the national average. This inequity has not been arrested even during the last few years, and about 40% of our population is still without access to electricity. A Greenpeace report “Still Waiting” has captured the fact that while the metropolitan cities like Bangalore have per capita consumption of about 2,500 kWH, an average village in the country may be getting less than 100 kWH per capita. The per capita consumption figure in cities has gone up by more than 50% in a decade, but more than 40% of the population, almost all in villages, is still without electricity. This report corroborates many other indicators of the fact that increase in the installed power generating capacity, and the increase in national average of per capita electricity consumption does not necessarily lead to an acceptable level of per capita availability for every person in our country.

We should view the significance of 780 kWH/annum per capita consumption in the backdrop of huge inefficiency prevailing in our power sector. A considerable part of such inefficiency is in the end use appliances. It is a generally accepted view that if the efficiency of the power sector (in generation, transmission, distribution and utilization) is taken to international best practice levels, a virtual additional capacity of 30 – 40% can be realized from the existing electricity infrastructure. If such saved energy can be made available to the un-electrified homes, the life-line energy of 30 units per month per family (as per Planning Commission recommendation) can be achieved. If the gross injustice in distribution of electrical energy prevailing between urban and rural areas is also reduced to an acceptable level, even 780 kWH per capita availability may lead to an acceptable level HDI in our rural areas also. Let us remember that our priority should be to lift the poor people in urban areas and the villagers from the levels of low HD we find them in at present, and not to take the HDI of the urban areas to the highest levels possible. An average middle class urban family in India has already a decent quality of life as far as energy consumption is concerned.

The divergence of views on the future demand for electricity is stark as illustrated in the table below. The enormity of the challenge of electricity demand projection can be gauged by the fact that Ministry of Power and the Planning Commission (in Integrated Energy Policy (IEP)) had projected a total electricity production requirement for year 2031, which is more than that projected by Dr. Sukhatme for the year 2070.

Divergence of projections for electricity demand in India

 

For the Year

Projection (BU)

(Billion Units)

Comments

Ministry of Power (as in IEP)

2031

4,793

For 8% GDP growth

Integrated Energy Policy (IEP)

2031

3,880

For 8% GDP growth

Dr. Sukhatme’s article

2070

3,400

For 2,000 kWH per capita

It is obvious that an attempt to estimate future demand for electricity based on a high GDP growth rate OR based on 2,000 KWH per capita alone, without taking other societal issues into objective account, will lead to grossly irrational projections as revealed in the three projections in the table above. In view of the many serious implications of unlimited energy/electricity demand there is rather an inevitable requirement to estimate objectively what is the least amount of energy/electricity needed to wipe out poverty, and how best to meet it in a sustainable manner.

The dangers associated with exaggerated demand for electricity should not be ignored. A large number of coal based power projects (totaling about 700,000 MW) are reported to be in various stages of approval/construction (as per Prayas Energy Groups survey: “Thermal Power Plants on the anvil”). IEP itself has projected that the hydro power capacity has to increase to 150,000 MW by 2032 (from the present level of 36,000 MW). Department of Atomic Energy has an ambitious plan to have 275,000 MW of nuclear power capacity 2050 (DAE document of 2008 is “A Strategy for the Growth of Electricity in India”).  A modest understanding of the social and environmental impacts of such conventional power plants will reveal the gravity of the situation facing our society with so much additional conventional power capacity being planned. Such a large capacity addition planning has happened only because of the recklessness seen in projecting the future electricity demand.

Electricity demand projection based on a high GDP growth rate also is fraught with serious dangers.  Such high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to: setting up of more factories/manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials; unsustainably increasing demand for natural resources such as water, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the govt. to divert agricultural/forest lands for other purposes; huge demand for energy; clamor for more of airports, air lines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc.  Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total GHG emissions, will also reduce the ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests to absorb GHG emissions.

Hence there is an urgent need to question the objectivity of the methodology adopted traditionally in our country in projecting the future electricity demand. The question that needs to be answered objectively is: if adequate level of Human Development, which is basically removing the poverty, can be achieved with a per capita electricity production of 1,000 kWH per annum/ or less, why should the STATE aim for per capita electricity production of 2,000 kWH per annum, which can come only at a huge cost to the society and which is unsustainable?.  In view of the huge impacts on social and environmental aspects of demand/supply of energy, the primary objective should be to achieve adequate level of Human Development at much lower levels of per capita electricity production.

 What constitutes true demand for electricity in India?

A practical example can illustrate better the fact that the present national average of 780 kWH per capita is not small in the Indian context. The author is living in a village of about 200 houses, and the monthly electricity consumption from the grid of his family of three at present is about 60 Units, which he finds to be of adequate level as demonstrated by the comfortable life style he has (with a water pump, TV, computer, CFLs for lighting, an exhaust fan, two ceiling fans, phones needing electric charging, and a CD player). This works out to about 240 kWH per capita /annum.  Most of the rural house in India will not have so many gadgets demanding electricity. Hence an average per capita of about 150 kWH /annum can be seen as adequate for rural population, who basically are looking for electricity/energy for lighting, TV, fans, and one or two power plug points for charging appliances like Cell Phone. Also a typical family size in villages is generally higher than that in urban areas. On an average it may be between 5 and 6 per family.  As of now it is difficult to imagine how a rural household will need more than this level of electricity consumption for a decent life style and to improve its HDI. Even if we assume that some of the rural houses may have to use electric stoves for cooking and electric geysers for bathing purposes a per capita electricity usage from the grid of 240 kWH /annum should be more than adequate for an acceptable level of HDI.  The society can and must make concerted efforts to minimize grid electricity consumption in applications where LPG or bio-mass or solar energy is feasible, at least in rural areas.

As compared to this low electricity consumption in villages, the average monthly electricity consumption of a family of 4 people in cities like Bangalore and Mysore is known to be in the range of 160 to 200 Units.  If we look at the common  appliances used in such urban houses (i.e adequate lighting, water pumping, fans, mixer/grinder, TV, radio, computer, electric geysers, electric stoves, refrigerator, washing machines, VCPs etc.) one can say that these houses already have a high level of comfort and an acceptable level of HDI. The only issue seems to be that the reliability of electricity supply is bad. Assuming on an average 4 people in a family this monthly consumption of 200 units amounts to 600 kWH/annum of per capita consumption for an average urban family. Allowing a higher per capita consumption needs in hotter urban places like Delhi/Jaipur during summer, and lower consumption in cooler places like Mysore/Ooty etc, it may not be out of place to assume that per capita of 600 kWH per year should be adequate for domestic purposes in urban areas.  Let us remember that this is for only about 35% of the population which is living at present in urban areas.  The projections are that by 2050 about 40 to 45% of our population may live in urban areas. Assuming that it will be about 50% by 2070 we should assess the minimum electricity requirement at the national level.  On this basis of 50% population in urban areas and 50% in rural areas it may be safe to assume that a per capita consumption of 420 kWH/annum (= 0.5*600+0.5*240) at the national level for domestic usage can be expected to provide an acceptable level of HDI.

Having recognised the electricity needs of domestic consumers, let us look at the electricity needs of common services such as industries, agriculture, commercial establishments, common services like water pumping, street lighting, water pumping, sewerage treatment, railway traction, govt. offices, schools, colleges, public places, entertainment etc. as long we keep under check the wastages.  Of the present national average of 780 kWH/annum of per capita the remaining 360 kWH per capita after accounting for domestic sues (780 – 420 kWH) should be able to meet a satisfactory level of common services requirement as being experienced now.  We should bear in mind that even with a low per capita national figure of 780 kWH (as compared to the world average), India is already recognized as a major economy indicating that its impact through industrial and commercial development is not small.

Even if we assume that these common service requirements (other than domestic consumption of electricity) have to increase by a considerable margin to provide acceptable level of economic growth and life style by 2070, the total electricity consumption at  the national level per capita of about 850 kWH/annum should be adequate, keeping in view that our population is growing, and the electricity available for such common service requirements can also increase substantially between now and 2070 when the population is expected to increase from 1.2 Billion now to 1.7 Billion. The huge inefficiency prevailing in all segments of the power sector clearly indicate that much higher level of common services requirement can be achieved even at the present per capita of 780 kWH.  As recognized in IEP there is a scope for reducing the electricity demand by about 25%. High level estimation indicates that taking the efficiency of various segments of our power sector to levels of international best practice, the overall savings can be of the order of about 40%.  This basically means that the present per capita of availability 780 kWH can become as effective as about 1,100 KWH.  Even if the per capita production of electricity is increased to 850 kWH per annum in 2070 without improving the overall efficiency of the power sector, the additional electricity made available for such common services for a population base of 1.7 Billion to be huge (about 730 Billion Units per year (@ 850-420) per capita, as compared to the actual generation in the country for 2010-11 of 811 Billion Units).

Considering the fact that we already have a considerable industrial and commercial base, and considering the fact that there is gross inefficiency and wastage in the end use applications it may not be unreasonable to project that about 850 kWH of per capita consumption for the population in 2070 should be a reasonable target. This increase from the average of 780 kWH per capita for a population base of 120 Crore at present to 850 kWH in 2070 for the population base of 170 crores should be able to take care of all the additional energy required for the non-domestic uses of the nation. Also, the rural population will not need as much energy consumption as the urban population.  If we take all possible steps to minimize the urban migration, the average per capita consumption of 850 kWH at the national level will allow a lot of electricity for non-domestic usage.

However, keeping in view the growing passion to use the electrical and electronic equipment in domestic and commercial sectors, and the growing tendency to deploy mechanization and automation in agriculture and industries the projected demand for electricity production by 2070 can be assumed as 1,000 kWH per capita, though all possible efforts should be made to reduce this per capita figure as less as possible.

As mentioned earlier if the efficiency of the power sector (in generation, transmission, distribution and utilization) is taken to international best practice levels, a virtual additional capacity of 30 – 40% is feasible. As of today the T&D losses are about 25% against the international best practice of less than 5%. By deploying efficient ones in place of the most commonly used domestic appliances 30% energy in that sector can be saved (according to Prayas Pune report of 2010, which is not surprising). The efficiency in industries, agriculture, streetlight, commercial establishments etc. have considerable scope for improvement. The union govt. has voluntarily committed to the international community to reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 25-28% by 2020.  All these facts indicate that there is a huge scope for efficiency improvement.

Hence the economic and welfare benefits, which our society can reap from the careful usage of electricity @ per capita production of 1,000 kWH at the national level by year 2070, can be adequate for an acceptable level of HDI, and at the same time may be able to conserve our environment at a satisfactory level.  In this context it seems credible that the projected per capita electricity production of 2,000 kWH/annum by 2070 by Dr. Sukhatme is not only not frugal, but cannot be seen as sustainable. Most importantly, it is not necessary.

In this context the comparison of per capita consumption in our society with that of developed countries should not be an option at all, because it is already being felt that the energy consumption in the developed countries is not sustainable, as can be seen in the Global warming debate. Hence even though 1,000 kWH/annum as average per capita consumption will appear much less as compared to that in developed nations, all out efforts should be made to reduce it even further keeping in view the nature’s limit to support high energy demand, and the impact on our society and the environment of setting up a large number of conventional power plants.  The main focus must be to minimize the energy consumption through highest levels of efficiency, and by minimizing the wastages and luxury usages.

Centralised V/S decentralized renewable energy sources

The need to move away from the conventional energy sources such dam based hydro, fossil fuels and nuclear is being increasingly acknowledged all over the world. The social, environmental and economic impacts of these conventional sources; the global warming impacts; and the finite nature have all made them ineligible for long term usage.  New and renewable energy sources (N&RE) are the only ones deemed suitable for use on a sustainable basis.

Dr. Sukhatme’s article considers nuclear energy as environmentally benign, and hence assigns a huge role for it in the Indian scenario by 2070. As a resource constrained and densely populated society, we cannot ignore society’s concerns on nuclear energy such as the huge costs, both direct and indirect, to the society, carbon foot print in the nuclear fuel cycle, unacceptable levels of risks associated with nuclear accident etc.  Hence, nuclear power technology, as a source of conventional power cannot be considered on the same footing as that of new and renewable energy sources.

The multifarious problems associated with electricity demand/supply as at present are because of the over-reliance on grid supply with large size centralized generation sources.  In the present scenario of a complex grid based conventional power plants, the main objectives are to minimize the total electricity generating capacity, reduce the cost of supply, and increase the reliability of supply. If we can reduce the pressure on the existing power network all these issues will become much more easily manageable.

In all such discussion on demand/supply of electricity, it should also be noted that many of the applications with low energy requirements such as lighting, TV, computing, domestic water pumping etc. can be met by solar PV panels on roof top. The grid load due to consumption by electric water heaters can also be minimized by the usage of solar water heaters in residences, hospitals, hostels, hotels, nursing homes etc..  Bangalore city, which is known as solar water heater capital of India, is known to have reduced the effective load on the power grid of Karnataka by about 1,000 MW by deploying solar water heaters alone on the roof tops.  Grid electricity consumption by many of the common services such as streetlights, traffic signals, building lighting, park lighting, communication towers etc. can be minimised by effective usage of solar PV panels. Since lighting load alone is estimated to be consuming 16 – 20% of the total electricity consumption at the national level, such migration of loads from the grid to roof top mounted solar PV panels may reduce the grid load substantially, probably by about 20% taking  the T&D losses into account.

There are many other applications at present which are being fed by the grid power (such as small size domestic and agricultural water pumps, agricultural drying process, large scale cooking, dairying applications etc.) which can be fed satisfactorily from isolated renewable energy sources such as community based combination of two or more of the sources such as solar power, bio-energy units, small size wind turbines.  Through such means the effective load on the grid can be reduced considerably along with huge benefits to the society.

The other flawed assumption in Dr. Sukhatme’s article is that only the grid based renewable energy sources are considered. Obviously the issue of huge land surface required for land based solar power sources becomes a severe constraint in fully harnessing the renewable energy potential.  Instead, if we objectively consider the huge potential available with the roof top solar PV power, wind turbines and bio-energy units at community levels the enormity of the relevance of renewable energy sources to our society becomes evident. Through an innovative mechanism known as ‘feed-in-tariff’ excess electricity produced in such distributed renewable energy sources, can be fed back to the grid.  This technology, which is already in vogue in many countries, can revolutionise the grid power management with enormous advantages to the society.

As compared to the present grid based system of large conventional power plants, the distributed renewable energy sources have many advantages:

  • Will greatly reduce the effective demand on the grid based power supply system; will drastically reduce the T&D losses; and vastly improve the power supply to those consumers essentially needing the grid supply; much better voltage profile; leads to much reduced spending on grid management;
  • Will drastically reduce the need for fossil fuel based, dam based and nuclear power stations and the associated transmission & distribution network; reduced complexity in system operation;
  • Will assist in drastically reducing the GHG emissions and other pollutants;
  • Will provide a sustainable, environmental and people friendly energy supply model;
  • Will accelerate the rural electrification due to shorter gestation period of individual projects;
  • Will lead to increase in rural employment opportunities, and hence assists in minimizing urban migration;
  • Will require negligible or nil additional resources such as land and water;
  • Their impact on the environment will be minimal, and they are inexhaustible;
  • Leads to much reduced growth in demand (CAGR) for grid electricity;
  • Avoided costs of recurring fuel expenditure and of peak load power stations;
  • Absence of the need for people’s displacement.

Hence it becomes evident that any credible projection of electricity demand for the medium and long term future must take into account the huge potential in distributed renewable energy sources, without which the projection becomes illogical.

How much is the true potential of renewable energy sources?

The true potential of renewable energy sources will become obvious only if we take a holistic look at the welfare of our society.  Whereas the table below provides an overview of the grid interactive power potential, the true potential of renewable energy sources is enormous if we take potential in distributed renewable energy sources.

A conservative estimate of roof top solar PV potential will provide an indication of the huge scope of distributed renewable energy source. Assuming about 7 crore house holds at present in the country (about 25 % of the total households) to be suitable and economically able to support roof-top solar photo voltaic systems of 3 kW each,  a minimum of 210,000 MW installed capacity of solar power in distributed mode is feasible as of today. If every one of such installations is connected to the grid through bi-directional energy meters and suitable protection system (which is techno-economically feasible) the advantages to the integrated power network will be enormous. This figure can be many times more by 2070 keeping in view the economic development of ordinary house holds that is expected to happen.  If we also take the huge potential available to effectively use the roof tops available on schools, colleges, offices, industrial houses, govt. buildings, commercial establishments etc. for converting the plenty of sun light to electricity, the resulting generating capacity can be very huge.

                                                                N&RE potential in India

                     Potential (Grid interactive power only)
1. Wind energy  50,000 MW (Onshore potential only) /100,000 MW as per World Institute of Sustainable Energy (WISE)
2. Small hydro   15,000 MW
3. Solar   Over 5,000 trillion kWH/year potential (estimated to bemany times more than  the total energy  needs of the country)CSP based solar power generation = 200,000 MWSolar PV based power generation = 200,000 MW
4. Bio-mass         > 50,000 MW
5. Ocean Wave

With about 7,000 kM of coastal line it  should be huge, but no estimates        available

                                                                      (Source: MNRE, Govt. of India)

Similarly, solar, wind turbines and bio-mass plants at village/community levels developed/implemented with care can transform the energy scenario in the country.  Such holistic considerations may provide many times more renewable power capacity than the 574,984 MW projected in Dr. Sukhatme’s article.

The negative connotation with which many article on the subject, including the one by Dr. Sukhatme, view the ability of the renewable energy sources to meet the future electricity demand of our communities is in sharp contrast to the huge confidence reposed on these energy sources by international reports.

In this context a Greenpeace report deserves special attention.  This report titled “energy {R}evolution,  A SUSTAINABLE INDIA ENERGY OUTLOOK” with international authorship has dealt with the Indian energy scenario in good amount of detail, and has come up with a credible set of solutions. An important point highlighted in this report is the huge potential available in reducing the demand for energy without adversely affecting the legitimate needs of our society. This projection indicates the feasibility in reduction of about 38% in demand by 2050 as compared to the reference scenario of International Energy Agency (IEA).  The study report is confident that by adopting suitable measures “by 2030 about 35% of India’s electricity could come from renewable energies” AND “by 2050, 54% of primary energy demand can be covered by renewable energy sources”.  The report states: “A more radical scenario – which takes the advanced projections of renewables industry into account – could even phase out coal by 2050. Dangerous Climate Change might force us to accelerate the development of renewables faster.”

A survey report “Access to Energy for the Poor: The Clean Energy Option” by OilChange International, ActionAid and Vsaudha Foundation has highlighted the need of renewable energy sources in India.  This report highlights the following facts regarding clean energy access:

  • Fossil fuels and other conventional energy sources have negative externalities, including pollution and public health impacts, and fossil fuel extraction has been shown to correlate with higher levels of poverty, child mortality and malnutrition, civil war, corruption, authoritarian governance, and gender inequality.
  • Clean, decentralized renewable energy is often the most appropriate means of providing holistic energy services in rural areas that support both economic and social development, and these decentralized energy services can be more reliable than conventional grid based energy for providing energy access.
  • Clean energy for access is economically feasible in comparison to conventional technologies, particularly for areas at a distance from the grid. The cost of decentralized, renewable energy can be less expensive than conventional, grid-powered electricity for areas at a distance from the grid.
  • Improving demand-side, or end-use, energy efficiency can be one of the most cost effective ways of providing energy services.

In another article titled “A path to Sustainable energy by 2030” in Scientific American in November 2009, the authors have illustrated a plan as to how wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels and nuclear power.  It has quoted a 2009 Stanford University study which ranked energy systems according to their impacts on global warming, pollution, water supply, land use, wildlife and other concerns. The very best options were wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric power— all of which are driven by wind, water or sunlight. It was found in this analysis that the nuclear power, coal with carbon capture, and ethanol were all poorer options, as were oil and natural gas.  Such a plan calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installations.  The report says that though the numbers are large, the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle; society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956 the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.

The IPCC report ‘Special Report Renewable Energy Sources (SRREN)’, which was released in May 2011, has projected a very critical role for renewable energy sources, and hence deserves greater attention for enabling a paradigm shift in our energy policy to eliminate the chances of Nuclear Accidents. This report has projected that the renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades. 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.  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.”

Earth Policy Institute, Washington had looked at ways and means of reducing the CO2 emissions to contain Global Warming. After a detailed examination of the energy resources and the existing technologies available throughout the world, this study has projected the feasibility of drastic reduction between 2006 and 2020 of the conventional electricity sources such as coal based, dam based and nuclear based technologies.  This report highlights the fact that as per the study by International Energy Agency the demand for electricity by 2020 can be reduced below the level of 2006 by ramping up energy efficiency alone. It is also important to note that Earth Policy Institute has come to the conclusion that keeping in view the huge costs involved in disposing nuclear waste, decommissioning the worn out plants, insuring reactors against catastrophic failures building nuclear plants in a competitive electricity market is not simply economical. This plan called as “Plan B energy economy of 2020” will see 90% drop in fossil fuel-generated electricity and five fold increase in renewably generated electricity. This report recognises the need for massive and rapid mobilisation of resources to achieve the goal, but considers it necessary and feasible to view it as a war time emergency.

The common view of all such reports is that it is eminently feasible to meet all our electricity needs in a sustainable way through renewable energy sources without compromising the interests of some sections of our society.  What is required is an honest and responsible attitude from all the concerned.  In this context it becomes evident that while projecting the future demand for electricity the legitimate interests of all sections of our society, including the flora, fauna and environment must be objectively considered.  It will be irresponsible not to consider various societal  issues in such analysis.

The real significance of such international reports should not be lost on a densely populated country such as India. Without taking such objective consideration of the enormous potential of renewable energy sources, it will be dangerous for our society to advocate even a small role for nuclear power in the coming decades. 

Conclusions

In summary, it can be said that it is possible to restrict the legitimate electricity demand in future years at manageable levels, and to meet most of it though a good combination of small scale isolated renewable energy sources and grid based renewable energy sources.

Our society has to take such long term view and tough decisions in order to meet the legitimate electricity demand of all sections of society while keeping the damage to environment minimum.  There seems no option other than managing the electricity demand at manageable levels, and putting all possible efforts to harness the renewable energy sources fully.

The article by Dr. Sukhatme also says: “The implications of this conclusion are that around the year 2070, the balance requirement of 2171 TWh would  have to come from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Eventually, about a 100 years later, the contribution from fossil fuels may be negligible and the balance would have to come from nuclear energy alone.”  One wonders whether Dr. Sukhatme was pitching the argument for a major role for nuclear power, without objectively considering the huge risks/costs to our poor communities associated with nuclear power.

In view of the enormous potential of a good combination of small scale isolated renewable energy sources and grid based renewable energy sources to meet our future electricity demand, the society should seek a carefully derived action plan to do away with all the conventional power plants, including nuclear power plants, in a definitive period, say by year 2036, so as to achieve a smooth change over to renewable energy era. In this context the real need for every power project, which is either being proposed or built, must be objectively reviewed from this long term plan.  If such an objective review is undertaken, it is highly likely that most of these projects will turn out to be unnecessary.

Our society needs much more holistic look than Dr. Sukhatme’s article seems to provide in order to move towards a sustainable action plan for the welfare of all sections of our society.   We can choose either a carefully thought out strategy of responsible demand side management and sustainable energy supply options, OR allow the things to drift by the unlimited energy demand, and face all the associated serious consequences.

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