"We have completely ignored our biomass sector"

A M GOKHALE, secretary. Union Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources, in conversation with KUSHAL P S YADAV

Published: Tuesday 15 June 2004

For a long time, India has had a system to promote renewables. What have we achieved? Is the ministry happy with the progress?
We have made good progress in the wind and solar sectors. They have been supported well and the momentum for these sectors has been generated. Within the last one year itself we have added more than 600 megawatts of wind energy. As far as wind is concerned, we have indigenised almost the entire production cycle; most components are now manufactured in the country. In solar we have a long way to go and we are still heavily dependent on imports.

But we have completely ignored our biomass sector and its huge potential. Even the ministry has ignored biomass. Villages command biomass, but not much is being done in that direction.

How will you rectify this? In what ways will biomass be important?
70 per cent of the population in villages has no real access to commercial forms of energy. We have to provide energy to the 25,000-30,000 villages the grid will not reach. For these villages we are currently only pushing solar pv systems, with huge subsidies, and this only provides two lights. It is not the right solution. It will not achieve the value-addition we intend for these villages.

Biomass alone is capable of ensuring energy security in our villages. By energy security I do not just mean providing a single light bulb, but to meet the need for heat, electricity and other needs that enable value addition to agricultural commodities. Various biomass technologies such as gasification, digestors producing gas and biofuels will work in tandem to ensure energy-secure villages. The best part is that biomass is available all over the country, even in Ladakh.

Has your ministry any specific plans to promote biomass-based solutions?
We had formed a specific group, The Village Energy Security Programme Group, to work out the details of a biomass-based model. They have prepared an initial report, which is being circulated in the official circles. We have found that Rs 20 lakh is enough to make a village of 100 households energy-secure. All kinds of technologies will be used and villagers will have enough energy to meet all their requirements. In this, one component is a clear 10-hactare piece of land with permanent plantation for growing biomass, which people will use. The annual increment of growth on this land will feed your biomass plant.

My personal focus will be to make this happen. We have today a large number of plant species that can be utilised in the biomass programme. Technology -- that also indigenous -- exists. It is just about creating the right kind of system to empower villages.

The ministry was preparing a draft renewable energy policy for the country. What is the status?
The draft is ready to be considered by the group of ministers, but a major thrust on biomass is lacking. It is very general and talks of promotional measures and preferential tariffs. If 70 per cent of your population is going to be your target then that policy draft will have to undergo a change.

Some industrialised countries started later than us but have achieved faster growth in renewables
It is not the concern for the environment that is driving them. The main reason the West is going after renewables in a big way is that they are now really scared about fossil fuels. They know that within a few years the Middle East will be the only place left with oil and that scares them.

An international conference is taking place in Bonn in June this year. There is already talk about global targets for renewables. What is India's stand in this respect?
We do not agree to this targets business. They cannot tell us that this is what you have to achieve and within this time period. We already have an objective of having 10 per cent of additional capacity from renewables by 2012. This is something indicative. It is like an objective we have to work towards. But overall targets or global targets? No, we do not agree. That has been our stand from the beginning.

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