Moving a nation out of darkness

By Emily Luck:

The future of energy in India is bright, but they have an awful long way to go. Policy makers are now, more than ever, recognising that they face a complex problem with no easy solution.

Currently, the Modi Government is aiming to substantially augment the amount of electricity the nation is generating using a mixture of sources. Within the next five to ten years it is estimated that the government will introduce a significant amount of coal, solar, wind, nuclear and hydro. Amity University Professor and member of the Indian Government’s Department of Science and Technology and the Ministry of New Renewable Sources, Dr V. K. Jain explains, “We are currently researching how we can reduce the cost of solar energy by increasing the efficiency or changing the process. In our country we have a plan, our Prime Minister has announced that in the coming five years we will have 100,000 mega watts of power generation by solar and 75,000 from wind power. Every year we have targets and we are meeting these targets. Right now the share of solar is probably no more than five or six per cent but with the current plan, it will increase to around fifteen per cent.”

Photos: Global Wind Energy Council, http://ehealth.eletsonline.com/, www.thehindu.com

Photos: Global Wind Energy Council, http://ehealth.eletsonline.com/, http://www.thehindu.com

Despite the huge amount of energy poverty in India, the country is still the fourth biggest energy user in the world. The population is just that big. Professor Greig describes, “They are going to add ten Australia’s worth of energy in the next five to ten years and they will still have a long way to go.” Lifting the entire nation out of energy poverty is going to be a very complex long-term operation. Infrastructure, accessibility, sustainability, pollution and affordability will all play a massive role. These plans see a significant move towards clean and renewable energy resources in conjunction with non-renewable resources, such as coal with somewhere in the vicinity of eighty-five new coal plants currently being constructed. Yes, there is a huge focus on clean energy but the focus on coal is just as much, which has a significant effect on the global carbon budget.

Of course this is of huge concern for both the Indian and global community. Climate change is a very real concern, as is the vast amount of energy poverty in India. Without non-renewable energy solutions, at this stage, there simply will not be enough energy to reduce the energy poverty in India. Professor Greig continues, “It’s a very interesting dilemma, on the one hand you have serious issues around a moral obligation to not obstruct them from taking their people out of poverty and on the other hand we’ve got a global problem, which is climate change. The main challenge India faces is simply providing enough energy of any form, it doesn’t matter if it’s coal or transmission or gas or uranium or large-scale renewables or distributed renewables. They need them all and they need a lot of them as fast as they can.” Energy poverty is a global issue and access to electricity is definitely something that many developed nations take for granted. Could you imagine your life without electricity? How many of your everyday tasks would be compromised?

Because coal remains an essential element of the electricity mix in India, a huge issue arises in the development of cleaner coal technologies. This is an area in which India is currently lagging. Many of the coal-fired power plants being built in India today are not the latest technology. Although these newer technologies by no means eliminate the risk to the environment, they do make a significant difference. UQ Researcher, Dr. Sarma Kanchibotla is currently working on a project that focuses on developing these technologies in India, “What we are trying to do is minimise the pollution from power plants by looking at the entire operation; from what is in the ground, how we can minimise waste in mining, washing the coal properly and then what can be done to efficiently burn it.” This type of thinking really has the potential to bridge the gap that exists in India, allowing them to increase the supply of electricity in a less harmful way. “This technology acts as a transition. Our whole project is what we can do in India to minimise pollution from their existing coal fired power plants by implementing better technology throughout the value chain. Coal will still be a significant portion of energy production in India. Health benefits are the key motivator behind our proposal, if they can spend a little bit of money to clean the coal up, they will start to save ten times that in health benefits.” These projects are in the works and all signs indicate that they will be implemented in the not too distant future allowing India to achieve their goals in a far more sustainable manner.

India is without a doubt a huge global influencer, however when it comes to energy the country is playing a massive game of catch-up. For India, there are no easy or fast solutions and a combination of non-renewable and renewable energy is undeniably going to be needed, at least initially.

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