Now or never

India must seize the opportunity to promote clean energy technology

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Fuel cells have arrived. Or perhaps they haven't. From all appearances it seems these technologies have failed to deliver. Nothing could be further from the truth. Available evidence indicates that renewable and clean energy technologies like fuel cells have lived up to many significant expectations and public policy goals. Are fuel cells the victims of policy and politics? (see p32-39: 2H 2 + O 2 = 2H 2 O + energy).

A major reason for the slow penetration of these technologies in the market has been the downward movement of the cost of fossil fuel power generation. This price is likely to move even further downward encouraged by energy policy initiatives by various governments especially in the usa. Gas is so cheap in the us that alternatives turn out to be too expensive for the tastes of the public.

It is obvious that fuel cells, desperately need a framework of policy measures to promote their use. Present policies are keeping them out of the energy markets. The us is not keen to pursue any such policy. Its investments will be badly affected if it promotes the use of alternative fuels. Therefore there seems to be no urgency to take any action. Unfortunately there is.

Many developing countries have embarked upon ambitious growth plans and are showing high rates of economic growth. They are going to be using more and more energy in the decades to come and it is imperative that they do not get locked into a carbon trap like the industrialised nations. Developing nations are expected to make major investments in their energy sector in the years to come. India should try and grab the lead in this area, but progress has been very slow in India. Research is insufficient and policies are indifferent.

Governments all over must be prepared to orchestrate a supply push and a demand pull to make renewable sources of energy like fuel cells more competitive. Recent energy policies have locked out what is good for the long-term solution of the climate change problem. Oil companies are also getting into fuel cell research, so that they can use the same fuel to power these cells. This is an unhealthy trend and must be discouraged.

It is vital that commitments under the Kyoto Protocol - the first legally binding commitment of the North to combat global warming - are not met by subsidising the coal and oil industry. Instead a framework must be set up by which the North can pay its ecological debt to the South by funding technologies that can help it leapfrog into a clean future.

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