Forget oil

Create a culture that places a premium on human power

Published: Saturday 30 April 2005

Forget oil

-- India's total energy requirement has doubled over the last three decades: from 147.05 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) to 437.69 mtoe. I t's of course well known that indiscriminate burning of hydrocarbon fuels causes much global warming. According to several press reports, several Europeans died of oppressive heat last summer, many glaciers vanished from the face of the Earth and even the height of the Himalaya was reduced. But we haven't learnt much. Last year, the director of the Oil and Natural Gas Commision noted that "the per capita annual energy consumption of India is merely 0.32 toe; the corresponsing figure for the us is 8.55 toe." The ongc chairperson stressed that his corporation's goal was to bring India's energy consumption on par with the us. One shudders to think what environmental catastrophe might ensue once India's energy consumption is at par with that of the us.

Many suggest use of alternative energy such as solar power, wind power and tidal power stations as laternatives. But these non-conventional energy sources are quite expensive. Moreover, mini-hydel power stations are restricted to areas such as hilly tracks, where there is sufficient rainfall to support them.

But there is another non-conventional energy resource apt for Indian conditions: biogas. Let us not forget that we have a population of more than a billion and the country's livestock numbers more than 450 million. When a toilet is connected to biogas plants run on cattle dung it produces good cooking fuel. A biogas plant that generates 2 cubic meters of biogas every day costs Rs 15,000. The effectve fuel value of 1 cubic meter biogas is 2,828 kcal. And it requirres very little running cost.

Human power and oil Let us assume that a person consumes food equivalent to about 2,440 kilocalories (kcal) of energy. Of that 800 kcal is utilised for routine body movements. 800 kcal is expended in physical and intelllectual labour and the remaining 800 kcal are discharged as excreta. In Sangli-Tasgaon area, the average daily wage is Rs 60. In other words, the value of human power is Rs 60 per 800 kcal of energy.

Let us now compare the value of human power with that of petrol and diesel. Presently, they cost Rs 29 and Rs 42 respectively. The respective calorific values of these fuels are 2,940 and 3,470. If human power has to be given due justice or taken as a bench-mark, petrol and diesel will have to be sold at Rs 220 and Rs 260 per litre respectively. Conversely, if the fuel values and the present day cost of petrol are to be taken as benchamrk, the daily wages should be fixed at Rs 11.40 or Rs 6.70.

All this, we know, is highly impracticable. This is mainly because the government and a few people who consume oil in bulk manipulate their prices. Our planning strategy should be reoriented so as to not depend on these energy resources. Huaman and animal power should be given the highest preference.

We should then review the projects underway in view of fiscal returns, the quantum of oil they consume and the environmental degradation they cause. Such evaluation will force us to drop a few of the projects -- or at least slow them down. The money thus saved could be used in undertaking labour intensive projects such as constructing bunds around agricultural lands, afforestation programmes, biogas plants and creation of decentralised electricity generation systems. In urban centres biogas plants based on public toilets should be built and run on a pay and use basis.

Our strategy of developomental activities based on oil and other conventional sources of energy should be diluted and a new beginning should be made on the basis of human and animal power.

VR Joglekar is director, Shivsadan Renewable Energy Research Institute, Sangli, Maharashtra

Subscribe to Daily 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.