Low carbon economy vital

INDIA'S ENERGY NEEDS : An important task is to reduce the use of conven-tional sources and find a reliable and sustainable alternative source of energ

The recent India-Japan Civil Nuclear Cooperation Deal is both economically and strategically important for India.

This agreement proves new Delhi’s credible use of nuclear energy for peaceful purpose despite the fact it is not a signatory country of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India’s energy needs are fast growing along with rapid economic development. It is envisaged that India will soon become the third largest importer of oil next to USA and China.

This is because India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world but it severely faces energy crisis due to its over-dependence on coal and fossil fuels which have highly impacted on pollution of its cities and also inducing climate change.

India has witnessed the increasing gap in energy supply and demand with the mounting scarcity and unequal distribution of fossil fuels. In the absence of sustainable backstop technology, over dependence on fossil fuels have significantly contributed to climate change.

Nuclear energy seems to be a major substitute to the conventional sources of energy for future economic needs. However, its capability is questioned based on the existing immeasurable risks. Further, the incompetence of renewable energy sources in meeting the future energy demand is highly unsustainable.

In this context, India’s existent energy mix is unsustainable and energy gap is expanding with multiplier effect influenced by the recent economic growth. Therefore, India’s thrust for low carbon economy (LCE) through lesser emission and high energy yield makes the case for promotion and expansion of nuclear energy production.

Even though energy sector constitutes a relatively modest share of the Gross Domestic Product of about 27%, its impact on the economy is viewed as highly remarkable. That is because energy is an important input to the production of nearly every goods and services in the economy and it decisively acts on economic productivity and environmental sustainability. Therefore, energy security and climate change are identified among the five biggest challenges faced by India, the remaining are food security, water security and managing urbanisation.

Considering the towering energy security, the Government of India has placed high priority in channelising investment for securing energy needs by reducing demand and supply gap in 12th five year plan. India is trying to emerge as one of the largest economies of the world by pursuing high average growth rate of around 6 to 8%. To sustain high growth rate and create modern, as well as diversified industrial and services sector, India badly needs a world class infrastructure particularly in energy security. This is to attract FDI while gradually phasing out emissions from fossil fuels.

Energy being one of the key drivers of development, rapid economic growth has put increased pressure on India’s energy infrastructure and it is one of the country’s weak spots. Access to clean, safe, sustainable and affordable energy sources can ensure “inclusive growth” by meeting energy needs of rural India. 

The importance of energy for economic growth is precisely observed by Peter Voser, Chief Executive Officer and Energy Community Leader, World Economic Forum, 2011, in the report ‘Energy: The Oxygen of the Economy’. He said: “without heat, light and power, you cannot build or run factories and cities that provide goods, jobs and homes, nor enjoy the amenities that make life more comfortable and enjoyable”. In contrast, mounting energy requirements prolong the growth, limits environmental stability and impoverishes wellbeing.

Currently, India ranks fourth in electricity production after USA, China and Russia, with the installed capacity of 236.38 Giga Watt (GW) in 2012 recording an increase of 14.46% over that of 2011. Captive power plants generate an additional 36.5 GW. The primary energy mix of India comprises of both renewable and non-renewable sources, but is heavily skewed towards fossil fuels especially coal, accounting to conventional sources.

Conventional sources

This clearly indicates that a large chunk of the total energy supply is met through coal and crude oil. Considering huge growth in demand for modern energy services, existing energy sources alone cannot meet future energy demand in India. An important task in this regard is to reduce the use of conventional sources and find a reliable and sustainable alternative source of energy.

Availability of nuclear fuel in India ensures the feasibility of nuclear power production in the economy. The potential for nuclear energy innovation and production is enormous with the availability of sufficient inputs (thorium and uranium) and favourable low-carbon energy source, provided that concerns about safety and waste disposal are adequately addressed.

Nuclear energy is capable of evolving into a revolutionary energy source because of its high-energy yield, low carbon emission and availability of state of the art technology. It also helps India to put a step forward towards green economy that allows development path ensuring energy efficiency. It can reduce growing energy demand and supply gap, and dependence of majority of households on fuel woods, dung and other agriculture residuals to realise low carbon economy.

In this direction, India’s recent agreements with world powers to have a peaceful and civilian nuclear power generation and its vision to become world leader in nuclear technology stems from its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle that can direct its ambition to enhance nuclear capacity to 14,600 MWe by 2020 from current production of 5,302 MWe and realise to have 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

Nuclear energy can turn “brown economy” – which is highly subsisted on wealth created by finite and high carbon intensive fossil fuel – into “green economy” where nuclear energy enables faster economic growth, poverty alleviation and mitigate climate change risks, and energy security for India. However, there is a serious need to change the mindset of citizens to understand the importance of nuclear energy for sustainable development.

(The writer is Associate Professor and Head, Centre for Economic Studies and Policy, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)

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