An integrated energy policy is long overdue

However, the social, economic and environmental impacts of its demand/supply are so great that only a holistic and objective consideration of all the related issues would enable the formulation of a sustainable and effective national policy.

In this context one would have expected that the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP), as developed by the Planning Commission, to consider all these issues objectively. Sadly, this document, when viewed from society’s perspective, reveals that many of the crucial issues have been ignored while projecting huge growth (about five times from the present level) in the installed/production capacity of various conventional electrical energy sources by 2031-32.

IEP has implicitly or explicitly adapted the GNP maximising paradigm to estimate energy demand rather than trying to estimate the least amount of energy needed to wipe out poverty, and how best to meet it in a sustainable manner. Because of this approach it has failed to take note of the limits of nature, and has projected an increase from the present level of about 1,60,000 MW to about 8,00,000 MW by 2031-32, comprising increase of coal power capacity from about 80,000 MW to 4,00,000 MW, hydel capacity from about 36,000 MW to 1,50,000 MW and nuclear power capacity from about 4,500 MW to 65,000 MW.

IEP’s huge projection in the total installed power generating capacity will mean the addition of about 25,000 MW every year, which is neither feasible on the basis of what has been achieved in successive five year plans nor acceptable because of huge implications.

Issues such as unbearable pressure on agricultural and forest lands, increased stress on the already stressed fresh water sources, unacceptable levels of displacement of vulnerable sections and deterioration of atmospheric pollution will indicate that there is a need for serious concern. Despite an enormous increase in the installed capacity of such energy sources since independence, about 40 per cent of households are still denied electricity, and the rest do not even get quality supply. Whereas there will be pressure on natural resources associated with a huge growth projection, the long term impact on the fragile environment and bio-diversity have not even been discussed in the IEP. As a policy document, the IEP has failed to meet the expectations of a welfare society.

What the country needs is a totally different and Indian cultural-biased approach, similar to the one recommended by late Amulya Kumar Reddy in the mid-80s. In view of the social, economic and environmental impact of fossil fuels, and their limited availability, India is in urgent need of a paradigm shift in the way it views the energy sector. The legitimate demand for energy must be objectively considered in the correct context of greater needs of the society such as clean air, water and healthy food, and the inescapable limits of nature in supporting an ever increasing demand. It is obvious that the conservation and enhancement of our environment and bio-diversity must not be compromised in order to meet the unabated demand for energy. Within the energy sector, there is a critical need to: clearly differentiate our needs from wants/luxuries; recognise that fossil fuels are fast running out; focus on improving energy efficiency to international best practice levels; effectively deploy all the alternatives available to meet the legitimate demand; and harness the renewable energy sources to the optimum extent.

Right time to act

In view of local environmental issues and global warming impacts of fossil fuels, it is the right time to lean towards non-conventional energy sources such as solar, biomass, wind and other renewable sources. Decentralised systems, meaning small power stations catering to local needs, will reduce transmission and distribution losses, and also help reduce the unacceptable levels of urban-rural disparity.

Electricity being a precious national resource, suitable tariff policies, including a feed-in-tariff for renewable energy sources, should be implemented urgently to heavily discourage its wastage, and to encourage very high efficiency in production and usage. There shall be no supply to any consumer without accurate metering.

International best practice level efficiencies must be adopted at all stages of energy cycle by 2020. Aggregate technical and commercial losses should be brought down below 10 per cent. The plant load factor of each coal /nuclear power project should be improved to a minimum of 90 per cent. Besides, the efficiency of end-use applications, including agricultural pump sets, should be comparable with international best practices.

From a societal perspective, the concept of cost and benefit analysis should become an integral part of the mandatory approval process for all power projects. Most of the coal power plants, if found essential, should come up only on the sites of existing old/ inefficient power plants and should be of much higher overall efficiency and with low pollution footprints.

The ‘polluter pays principle’ is a novel idea put to practice with the desired effects in several countries and it is best applied at the stage of mining and electricity generation. A suitably designed carbon tax should be applied early to each tonne of coal, litre of diesel/petrol, kilo-litre of water and kWh of energy produced/ consumed/ generated so as to minimise the use of these resources for commercial purposes by 2020.

Instead of focusing on GDP alone, the vulnerable sections of the society should be at the centre of our energy policy to enable adequate human development. In this context, effective public participation in applying the much required course correction to IEP and in developing a sustainable and people-friendly energy policy is long overdue.

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