India is a parliamentary democracy, very much like England. The President, even though designated as the commander in chief with important constitutional powers, is largely ceremonial. Since becoming the 11th President of India in 2002, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam has sought to change this by seeking the role of a visionary statesman. In any year, the president has two opportunities to speak directly to the Indian people, on the eve of the Republic day (26th January) and the Independence Day (15th August). Dr. Kalam, himself an engineer, used his opportunity yesterday to envision energy security for India.
Today on this 59th Independence Day, I would like to discuss with all of you another important area that is "Energy Security" as a transition to total "Energy Independence". Energy is the lifeline of modern societies. But today, India has 17% of the world's population, and just 0.8% of the world's known oil and natural gas resources. We might expand the use of our coal reserves for some time and that too at a cost and with environmental challenges. The climate of the globe as a whole is changing. Our water resources are also diminishing at a faster rate. As it is said, energy and water demand will soon surely be a defining characteristic of our people's life in the 21st Century.
The language is chosen such that Energy Security than an complete independence is sought. In my personal opinion, energy independence is only a pipe dream for any nation which uses abundant quantities of oil. So, no energy independence is possible unless all primary energy is derived from renewable resources such as wind, biomass, or solar. The President explained what he meant by energy security.
Energy Security rests on two principles. The first, to use the least amount of energy to provide services and cut down energy losses. The second, to secure access to all sources of energy including coal, oil and gas supplies worldwide, till the end of the fossil fuel era which is fast approaching. Simultaneously we should access technologies to provide a diverse supply of reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy.
... Energy Security, which means ensuring that our country can supply lifeline energy to all its citizens, at affordable costs at all times, is thus a very important and significant need and is an essential step forward. But it must be considered as a transition strategy, to enable us to achieve our real goal that is - Energy Independence or an economy which will function well with total freedom from oil, gas or coal imports. Is it possible?
Hence, Energy Independence has to be our nation's first and highest priority. We must be determined to achieve this within the next 25 years i.e by the year 2030. This one major, 25-year national mission must be formulated, funds guaranteed, and the leadership entrusted without delay as public-private partnerships to our younger generation, now in their 30's, as their lifetime mission in a renewed drive for nation-building.
Thus, according to Dr. Kalam, energy efficiency, energy accessibility, and development of sustainable energy technologies are the cornerstone of energy security, but that does not stop him from using the rhetoric of energy independence.
I find the use of the phrase the end of the fossil fuel era which is fast approaching rather interesting when President's own speech highlights a three fold growth in coal use in the coming twenty-five years. It is not that Kalam does not recognize this fact.
Even though India has abundant quantities of coal, it is constrained to regional locations, high ash content, affecting the thermal efficiency of our power plants, and also there are environmental concerns. Thus, a movement towards Energy Independence would demand accelerated work in operationalizing the production of energy from the coal sector through integrated gasification and combined cycle route. In 2030, the total energy requirement would be 400,000 MW. At that time, the power generated from coal-based power plants would increase from the existing 67,000 MW to 200,000 MW. This would demand significant build-up of thermal power stations and large scale expansion of coal fields.
...We should operationalize a 500 MW capacity power plant using integrated gasification and combined cycle route within the next three years from the existing pilot plant stage.
It is not clear if India is willing to commit to integrated gasification and combined cycle (IGCC) technology as a cleaner coal technology. All President Kalam is urging is to start building a small IGCC power plant to learn from the experience. At the same time Kalam stressed that he would like to see no natural gas in the electricity generation sector by 2030. If natural gas costs continue to stay at high levels ($8.5 per mcf), then such a plan might sound good, but I am not sure about relying on less dirty coal technologies while doing away with cleaner gas.
Dr. Kalam sounds very optimistic about solar power and wants to add about 56GW of solar capacity by 2030.
The current high capital costs of solar power stations can be reduced by grid-locked 100 MW sized Very Large Scale Solar Photovoltaic (VLSPV) or Solar Thermal Power Stations. In the very near future, breakthroughs in nanotechnologies promise significant increase in solar cell efficiencies from current 15% values to over 50% levels. These would in turn reduce the cost of solar energy production. Our science laboratories should mount a R&D Programme for developing high efficiency CNT based Photo Voltaic Cells.
We thus need to embark on a major national programme in solar energy systems and technologies, for both large, centralized applications as well as small, decentralized requirements concurrently, for applications in both rural and urban areas.
Dr. Kalam also wants about 65GW of capacity addition by 2030 to take place is other renewable energy sources such as wind, ocean and biomass. To what extent this optimism is justified is anybody's guess, but there is no doubt that the vision is quite appealing. Surprisingly, nuclear power receives just one paragraph in the speech, although it is well known that Dr. Kalam is a staunch advocate of nuclear power in India.
Dr. Kalam also touched upon losses in T&D in India.
The loss of power in transmission and distribution in our country is currently in the region of 30-40% for a variety of reasons. Of about one thousand billion units of electrical energy produced annually, only 600 billion units reach the consumer. This is the result of transmission loss and unaccounted loss. We need to take urgent action to bring down this loss to 15% from 30-40% by close monitoring of the losses, improving efficiency, and increasing the power factor through modern technology. By this one action alone we will be able to avoid the need for additional investment of around Rs. 70,000 crores for establishing additional generating capacity.
The unaccounted loss is a euphemism for theft. In addition, it is a well known fact that political interference in the state electricity boards is rampant, and politicians do not think much before announcing free power for farmers schemes.
When it came to transportation and oil use, President Kalam had only two ideas to push: Biofuels and Hydrogen.
We have nearly 60 million hectares of wasteland, of which 30 million hectares are available for energy plantations like "Jatropha". Once grown, the crop has a life of 50 years. Each acre will produce about 2 tonnes of bio-diesel at about Rs. 20 per litre. Biodiesel is carbon neutral and many valuable by-products flow from this agro-industry.
...India has a potential to produce nearly 60 million tones of bio-fuel annually, thus making a significant and important contribution to the goal of Energy Independence.
...The other critical options are development of electric vehicles; hydrogen based vehicles, electrification of Railways and urban mass transportation.
In the recent times, industry leaders like Arun Firodia of Kinetic group have come forward to advocate biofuels. Biodiesel from plants like Jatropha are certainly one of the ways to go forward, but they far from a panacea. The environmental implications of large scale biomass development for fuel production are not yet well understood.
As for hydrogen, I feel comfortable saying that Hydrogen fuel cells will have no impact in India by 2030. I continue to believe that transportation and oil will prove to be the major challenge in the quest for a sustainable energy system, and for now there are no easy answers on the horizon. If price of oil continues to increase from the current levels, rapidly growing economies such as India will be most at risk.
With all of these concerns in my mind, I do not know what to make of Dr. Kalam's aim of making India energy independent by 2030.
By 2020 the nation should achieve comprehensive energy security through enhancement of our oil and gas exploration and production worldwide. By the year 2030, India should achieve energy independence through solar power and other forms of renewable energy; maximize the utilization of hydro and nuclear power and enhance the bio-fuel production through large scale energy plantations like Jatropha.
We need to evolve a comprehensive renewable energy policy for energy independence within a year.
... Energy security leading to Energy independence is certainly possible and is within the capability of the nation. India has knowledge, natural resources; what we need is planned integrated missions to achieve the target in a time bound manner. Let us all work for self-sufficient environment friendly energy independence for the nation.
While I am all for putting together a comprehensive renewable energy policy within a year, I think that the rhetoric that goes with it needs to be a lot more realistic. That being said, and I never thought that I would quote Ayn Rand any day,
Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.
or better still Maxwell Maltz:
You may live in an imperfect world but the frontiers are not closed and the doors are not all shut.
P.S. Kiran at The Indic View has some comments.