Power to the environment

India needs to rethink its power generation strategies for the sake of environment

Published: Wednesday 30 November 2005

Power to the environment

-- If humans desire to live for many more centuries to come, they have to take desperate steps to protect the environment. The socio-economic health of civilisations depends on it. A case in point is that of the power sector. India faces a huge energy deficit: till 2001, only 44 per cent of Indian households had access to electricity. But consumption's galloping: between 1947 and 2001, India's per capita power consumption rose from 15 to 592 units.

If India has to move ahead economically, it must find ways to bridge the deficit. The generation of energy, however, exerts significant environmental impacts. The efficiency of a thermal power plant, for instance, averages about 33 per cent, which makes it necessary to release -- externally -- about 2 kilo-watt (kw) hours of energy for every 1 kw hours of electricity generated. It is in this external release of power plants that we find contents of potential atmospheric pollution and release of greenhouse gases (ghg). In fact, the power sector in the country accounts for 51 per cent of India's total ghg emissions. India also happens to be the fourth largest emitter of ghg s in the world. Is it possible to meet the growing demands of an energy-driven economy and yet ensure that the environment is not harmed?

India is a signatory to Kyoto Protocol. But under the protocol, there is little incentive for far-reaching climate protection measures in countries like India. The Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (cdm) can only finance low-emission projects, and currently has no means to support emission-reducing policy changes; therefore, it cannot deliver society-wide programmes. It is not obligatory for India to reduce emissions of ghg s immediately, but the country should demonstrate a moral commitment to solve this environmental concern by taking care of emissions due to its generation of electricity. India needs to develop alternative energy sources.

To be fair to our planners and administrators, we have begun making the moves. The Environmental Impact Assessment (eia) notification, 1994 has been introduced to check irreversible damage to environment by large projects. The Energy Efficiency Act was passed in 2001, and a Bureau of Energy Efficiency under the Union ministry of power has been constituted. A separate ministry now looks after non-conventional (renewable) energy sources, and rural electrification has come back to the political centrestage. The Electricity Act, 2003 has been passed to allow a much larger role for market forces in the power sector. It imposes a deadline for unbundling and corporatisation of all state electricity boards, and enables the setting up of parallel transmission and distribution lines within the same area as the existing monopoly.

But the potholes persist. Efficiency, decentralised generation or switching of fuels are not integrated in our power planning process. Implementation of the eia methods is deeply flawed. India has set a target of generation of 10,000 mw through renewable energy by 2012, but a us $3.43 billion worth of investment is required to fully exploit this sector. Currently, the Indian government invests a meagre us $0.20 billion.

India's problem is that it mostly relies on conventional power generation plants. Its plans focus on quick addition of generating large capacities and concentrate on finding financial resources for rapid expansions. The required investment is mind-boggling -- around Rs 90,000 crore per year. India's plans tend to ignore other options, especially those of energy conservation.

What is required in this scenario is integrated resource planning (irp), which will enable all available options for power generation or saving to be treated at par. Along with coal, gas and hydro plants, the portfolio of options that can be considered includes decentralised power generation such as windmills, wood gasification-based peaking plants, distributed micro-hydel plants, substitution of electricity with gas, or energy conservation in homes, shops, farmlands and factories. irp works out the potential as well as the costs of all these options. It is estimated that adoption of irp can reduce capacity addition -- by 40,000 mw -- and increase supply.

Clearly, India cannot shrug off its environmental responsibilities.

Prabhakar Singh is a student of the National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.