Lighting up India

By Emily Luck:
For most Australians it is hard to imagine a world in which you are constantly, completely engulfed by a crowd of people. Whether you are shopping, driving or simply walking down the street India’s capital city, New Delhi is completely packed to the rafters.

Upon arriving in Delhi any notion of personal space goes out the window as you sit in a traffic jam for hours upon hours with cars, buses, trucks, bikes and rickshaws closer than you thought humanly possible. Although this phenomenon may be hard to grasp, it is hardly surprising when you take into account that the population of Delhi alone (18.2 million) is in the same ballpark as that of the entire population of Australia (23 million). As shocking as the statistics sound, they simply do not prepare you for the reality of a country filled with 1.25 billion people. Delhi is certainly not a city for those afraid of crowds or small spaces.

As a comparatively advanced and prosperous city, the capital attracts between 200,000 to 300,000 people from other states in India each year. It is predicted that by 2020 the population of Delhi will increase by up to forty per cent. With twenty-five per cent of the India’s population currently living in energy poverty, it seems almost unfathomable to be able to provide energy for such an exponentially growing population – let alone clean energy. Dr Paul Dargusch of the University of Queensland explains, “In India the demand for energy is increasing really rapidly, so a big issue becomes how do they provide energy to the people who want it and how do they provide it as a means to keep getting more and more people out of poverty.”

The electric power infrastructure throughout Delhi is complete chaos and power lines seem to be placed anywhere and everywhere.

It is hardly surprising that these systems are not the most reliable and often fail to keep up with the huge demand for electricity, making power cuts a fairly frequent occurrence across the city. Noida resident Samiksha Mehra explains, “There is not a constant supply of power in Delhi. Depending on where you are there can be power cuts for anywhere from half an hour to an entire night. They don’t happen everyday but become far more frequent in summer. We all have inverters and generators that can take over when this happens so we do not really notice.” These generators and inverters are a so much a part of everyday life that those who can afford them often have them operate automatically to prevent interruptions.

Professor Chris Greig, the director of the UQ Energy Initiative further explains, “Even though New Delhi is advanced and uses lots of energy, the suburbs of New Delhi could experience up to one third of the day with power cuts. Someone who would consider themselves electrified can have interruptions to power for large parts of the day due to shortages and power rationing. There’s simply not enough energy and not enough capacity. The interconnection systems are fragile and not robust and reliable like they are here.” This produces a huge challenge for India, as not only do they have a huge amount of power to supply, the channels through which they supply it are already struggling to keep up with demand. Using these back up generators and inverters is not a long-term solution. Professor Greig continues, “Diesel generators have a significant carbon footprint as well. They lead to capital cost, fuel cost, and environmental cost.” Having to buy these on top of the cost of energy, in a nation that has such vast poverty is unsustainable and the effect it is having on the environment has the potential to become a huge issue.

Clean air is definitely something Australians take for granted. One truly has to see the pollution in Delhi to believe it. The thick air often means that the blue sky is either completely grey or covered in a haze. Given it’s population size, it is hardly surprising that India is currently the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, the United States and the European Union. This poses both a serious threat to the environment and the health of the nation. Not only have studies found that Indians’ are developing compromised lung functions in comparison with other parts of the world, outdoor air pollution alone accounts for around 620,000 early deaths each year making it the fifth largest killer in the country.

The demand for energy in India has never been higher and the need for the implementation of some kind of clean technology is inescapable.

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