Innovate or perish
India has the natural resources to build an energy system
based on clean energy technologies. What is needed is the will to undertake
wartime mobilisation to create a low-carbon energy economy and achieve energy
autonomy, feels G.M. Pillai, Director-General, World Institute of
Sustainable Energy, Pune.
India has made rapid economic progress in the last decade.
Our current GDP is $1,103 billion, making India the 12th largest economy in the
world. With 9.4 per cent growth in GDP in 2006-07, India is one of the fastest
growing economies. Energy is the basic engine of economic growth. Growth of
electricity generation in India has been phenomenal. From a miniscule 1,360 mw
in 1947, installed capacity for electricity generation grew to 132,330 mw at the
end of the 10th Five-Year Plan i.e. by March 31, 2007. Out of this, 65 per cent
is thermal, 26 per cent hydro, 6 per cent renewable power and 3 per cent
nuclear. With accelerated economic growth and increasing population, we are
facing serious peaking capacity shortage. Capacity addition is also falling
short with achievement in the 10th Plan being only 50 per cent of the target.
The inability to achieve targets is not just a case of laggard implementation or
red-tape. There are real and serious resource constraints too.
Worldwide, there is a major transition under way in the energy sector. It is
happening due to the following three major reasons:
1. A decline in fossil fuel availability, their predicted gradual extinction in
the next few decades, and the resultant price volatility due to demand-supply
2. The need to drastically cut global emissions for mitigating climate change.
3. The need for energy autonomy.
The world is in the throes of a paradigm shift towards sustainability.
Innovation is the key for transitioning towards a sustainable energy economy.
The developed world has taken heed and is abuzz with innovative initiatives to
herald change. 'The State of the World 2008' report published recently by
Worldwatch Institute says: "We come away from this project with a strong sense
that something large, perhaps even revolutionary, is struggling to be born… much
innovation has been unleashed by the wave of concern about climate change that
has broken across the world in the past year…" Policymakers, researchers,
entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, business leaders and the civil society are
innovating to design the architecture of a new world. At the core of this is a
transition to clean energy technologies.
Many developed and some developing countries have laws facilitating an
accelerated transition to a clean energy economy. Many of them have also
introduced eco-taxes, feebates (a combination of fees and rebates to promote
clean technology), congestion pricing in cities etc. China, in 2006, enacted a
Renewable Energy Law which has transformed the sector. Sweden is another good
example of a country innovating at a fast pace. The country charged a fee on
power plants in the early 1990s for emitting nitrogen oxide and redistributed
the revenues to least polluting plants. In 2006, a special commission appointed
by the Swedish government recommended a plan for making Sweden oil-free by 2020.
Australia pledged early in 2007 to ban incandescent light bulbs before 2010 and
replace them with CFLs and LEDs. The US and Europe are developing renewable
technologies at breakneck speed. Even the oil exporting countries in the Gulf
have begun the transition to renewables.
Is India innovating enough? Sadly, no; we are still treading the beaten track.
We are obsessed with unsustainable double digit growth rates, and see
securitisation of external supplies of fossil fuels as the route to achieving
the same. That is why we continue to acquire foreign oil, coal and gas fields -
all fossil resources whose production is predicted to peak soon and then
Foreign purchases are now extending to acquisitions (by IOCL, BPCL and HPCL) of
sugarcane fields in Brazil to produce ethanol! It is well known and well
established that such acquisitions are highly unsafe and unstable, because, as
the resource crunch tightens and as governments change, foreign investors are
thrown out mercilessly. Venezuela has done it recently. Such external
securitisation strategies may help in the short-term, but will only add to our
long-term energy insecurity.
India should try to achieve the goal of a transition to a renewable energy
system by working on a target of 10 per cent by 2012, 20 per cent by 2020 and 50
per cent by 2050 (or even earlier) of RE power in the mix of power generation.
For this, there is a need for strong policy and regulatory initiatives.
Legislative actions like a renewable energy law are urgently required. Mandatory
targets need to be fixed for the country as well as for states considering the
RE potential in each state. India needs to evolve RE power plans for each state
to accommodate these sources in their portfolios. Worldwide, policy measures
like preferential feed-in-tariff and mandatory quotas of purchase of renewable
power through RPS targets supported by effective legislation have made huge
changes in this sector. We just need to change our mindset, and embark on
wartime mobilisation of research, commercialisation, policy measures and
financial resources to achieve this much-needed transition.
[May 19-25, 2008]