FAR from the shrill cut-and-splice medley of liberalisation, reform and the free market highway to economic growth, some experts have been advocating an alternative approach to alleviating poverty and dealing with energy scarcity in India. They banded together in Bangalore recently to suggest a bioresources strategy for India.
Bioresources, essentially energy and raw materials obtained from plants and animals, have sustained human civilisation for ages. Biomass, comprising wood, wood-waste such as lops and tops, grasses and shrubs, agro-wastes and residues, aquatic biomass and livestock wastes, continue to be the most widely used single source of energy in rural India.
According to A N Chaturvedi, senior research fellow at the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, "The annual consumption of firewood in India is about 150 million tonnes (MT). Of this, more than 100 MT are procured by 'liquidation felling' -- in which case there is no regeneration -- either by the total destruction of forests or a reduction in their stocks."
M S Swaminathan, India's foremost agricultural scientist, says, "Bioresources are fundamental to life and they are renewable. But the present patterns of use are destroying the very basis for sustaining them."
The irony is that while the industrialised countries want to increase the use of biomass fuels, the developing countries want to do the opposite. Developing countries are actually vying with each other and the industrialised countries to increase their use of fast-depleting conventional energy sources.
There has already been a fair amount of painful soul-searching regarding set development patterns and their impact on the environment. Says Piers Clark of Northwest Water Ltd in the UK, "The new young generation has a heightened environmental conscience. They are aware of the destruction that is occurring around them locally and globally and they are prepared to change their lifestyle to improve conditions."
Delegates from India and abroad participated in 2 day workshop. Says Amulya Reddy, the founder-president of the Bangalore-based International Energy Initiative and the convener of the meet, "In India, there has been an abundance of policy but no goal or strategy for development and utilisation of bioresources. The country is at a stage where the negative consequences of ignoring the environment are beginning to show."
Ravindranath observed, "Our objective should be to develop a good strategy document with statistics that would provide a quick reference to policymakers." Says Mukunda, "We should endeavour to make the biomass strategy a statement applicable to a wide segment, giving clear choices of competing energy sources and technologies."
The experts emphasised that there is a high potential for obtaining energy from biomass: thankfully, India has vast land resources virtually on tap -- both in terms of deforested areas and barren wasteland; second, present patterns of bioresources use are inefficient, but their efficiency can be increased.
Wasteland around villages can be used for growing biomass. Mukunda holds that if these lands were to be put to use for growing forests with multiple outputs that yield commercial, food and fruit value, incomes could reach as high as Rs 20,000 per ha per year.
Mukunda has developed a model where a typical village is powered by 20 kilowatts (kw) of electricity from biomass gasification, at a cost of Rs 450,000. If 400,000 villages in India are covered under this system at 20 kw per village, the total cost of setting up 8,000 megawatt (mw) capacity would come to about Rs 180 crore. The cost of setting up 60,000 mw capacity in the conventional sector is approximately 10 times as much.
K S Jagadish of ASTRA, however, foresees resistance to this strategy by those with a vested interest in the current development pattern. He says, "Even with liberalisation, the present mindset is against bioresources strategy."
Some experts advise caution in the adoption of the bioresources strategy: it must, they say, develop "forward and backward linkages". Hari Sharan, president of the Switzerland-based Dasag Energy Engineering Ltd, says, "A bioresources strategy has to clearly enunciate how it would fit into the framework of existing development policies." He sees the proposals floundering without adequate support from the industrial and financial sectors, for which there has to be a continuity of policy.
B P Ghildyal, the Delhi representative of the International Rice Resources Institute, suggests that a bioresources strategy should promote agroforestry, "where small farmers utilise their holdings to meet their food, fuel and other requirements, using entirely natural methods".
This could lead to a conflict of interests between the needs and concerns of the industrial areas and the food and fuel needs of the poor. Says Ravindranath, "There will be a conflict between policy and field-level concerns unless there is an optimal mix of biomass plantations for industry and growing biomass for local needs."
The strategy also requires radical changes in the way technology is viewed, especially technology promoted with international aid. Says Ashok Khosla, director of the Delhi-based Development Alternatives, "Largescale technologies are the root cause of many of today's problems. The projects financed by agencies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are too large for administrative convenience. There is a need to promote smallscale self-sustaining projects."
With all these diverse but equally valid arguments, the forum could not come to a consensus on what the bioresources strategy should seek to achieve. While some experts advised its absorption into the present development policy framework, others argued that the strategy should clearly chart a new development paradigm. While some saw efficient bioresources development as the best way to supply decentralised energy for rural areas, others visualised a greater role for large biomass plantations fuelling gasifiers that could generate electricity on a giant scale or produce liquid fuels that would power transport.
|Estimated potential for energy from biomass (in million tonnes)|
|Total quantity||Available for conversation||Energy equivalent|
|Livestock residue (wet)||860||540||628.1|
|Fruit and vegetable processing waste||35||10||83.5|
|Total energy potential :||3.45x1012Mega jules|
|Current energy consuption :||4.73x1012 Mega jules|
|Percentage of biomass energy potential based on current energy consumption :||77 per cent|
|Percentage of share total energy :||40 per cent|
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