Greening India's Energy

We have just posted a feature story by Avilash Roul entitled “India’s Solar Power” on our home page, where the reader will find an in-depth survey of the current state of solar power in India and the efforts of India’s government to develop solar power.

In our introduction to that story, we point out the dauntingly small base from which non-hydro, non-nuclear, non-combustible renewables have to climb. In the world in 2006, for example, according to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel accounts for 80.3% of the world’s energy production – oil (34.3%), coal (25.1%), and gas (20.9%). Add to this “combustible renewables,” mostly wood (10.6%), and you have 90.9% of the world’s energy coming from combustion. Add to that nuclear power (6.5%), and hydro-electric power (2.2%), and you have accounted for 99.5% of the world’s energy. Of the remaining one-half of one percent, 80% of that is, surprisingly, geothermal power, with the final 20%, one tenth of one percent, roughly split between solar and wind power.


How does the world’s energy mix compare to India’s energy mix? It is surprising how difficult it is to find this information – but from the U.S. Energy Information Administration we located 2001 statistics for India: Coal (50.9%), oil (34.4%), gas (6.5%) – bringing fossil fuel up to 91.8% of all energy produced. Add to that India’s hydro-electric power (6.3%), and nuclear power (1.7%), and you have accounted for 99.8% of India’s energy. In 2001, India’s geothermal, wind and solar power, all together only amounted to two-tenths of one percent. Conspicuously missing is a percentage for “combustible renewables” probably because the EIA considers those to be off-market, off-grid activities. Clearly these figures could be more comprehensive, and have changed in the past few years, so if anyone can point us to a reputable, up-to-date source for this data, please let us know…

No matter what the latest figures may be, however, there are two things that are clear: (1) If a country like India, with over 1.0 billion citizens, is going to continue to experience economic growth at a percentage rate in the high single-digits, their energy production will need to increase, even if efficiencies are gained. (2) CO2 emissions in the world will not be significantly reduced if economies such as India’s and China’s, and others, continue to grow as they have been to-date.

Energy from combustion provides the overwhelming percentage of all energy production, and that will take at least a few decades to change. Subjecting the CO2 produced from energy combustion to sequestration may sound good, but will cost too much and is completely unproven – there could be awful side effects to trying to process all this CO2. Better for now to clean out the dangerous particulates and pollutants out of fossil fuels, something that is affordable, and look to other ways to address climate change – possibly by taking another look at land use which is grossly under-emphasized in popular climate models. From this perspective, for example, biofuel could well be the worst thing that has ever happened to the earth’s climate – as literally millions of square kilometers are wiped out to grow it – and aquifers are drained away to water these crops. Perhaps instead of trying, above all else, to stop burning fossil fuel, we would be better off putting rainforests back where biofuel plantations stand. Read “Biofuel or Biohazard” for commentary and links on this important topic – something environmentalists are just beginning to grasp.

Against these realities, the greatest source for optimism could be the rapid progress that solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies have made. They are truly on the verge of competing with conventional energy. Given the primary raw material required to produce photovoltaics is electricity, which they themselves produce, we cannot dismiss the possibility that the photovoltaic sector will grow faster than the wildest dreams of their proponants. But they have a long, long road to travel before they truly begin to replace fossil fuel.


10 Responses to “Greening India's Energy”
  1. Dear Sir,

    Congratulations for the nice and educational story, “India’s Solar Power: GREENING INDIA ‘S FUTURE ENERGY DEMAND.”

    The story is very well planned and well laid out.

    It is really a concern that share of renewable energy is not going to be far diffrent from the pathetic level today. The problem is so because in the face of rapid growth, demand for energy is skyrocketing. Planners are finding it very hard to meet the demand supply gap. In such a situation they are forced to resort to unsustainable practices of non-renewable and more dangerously on fossil fuel based energy systems.

    Then coming to environmental cost, is one sq km is too large an area to generate 60 MW energy? My answer is an emphatic ‘no’! Hirakud reservoir, one of the largest in India, spreads over 746 sq kms and has a generation capacity of how much? Mere 347.5MW. Thermal plants do not come into equation, but we have not other way but to depend on that.

    The author is absolutely right when he said that agriculture has the potential to be the largest driver of solar energy. When that will happen? On one hand a section is crying of too much subsidy to irrigation sector, they conveniently forget power supply situation of rural areas, where farmers wait endlessly for power supply to run their motor pump.

    Then coming to Orissa, a province in the eastern part of India which aims to become the energy capital in the whole South Asia region by resorting to large scale coal fuelled energy generation. That state generates only 0.27 MW through solar system? Its shameful. Consider vast barren and fallow areas that Orissa has think of the potential of a very clean energy source. Situation is Rajasthan is even more pitiable. When we talk of space constraints, WB can be taken as example. WB is one of the most thickly populated state in India, yet it is leading in solar energy generation.

    The story is a very good one. Congratulation again.

    Thank you very much.

    Bimal Prasad Pandia
    Sambalpur, Orissa , India

  2. jitu says:

    Very informative article. Most of what the author has written, I firmly agree to it. However, seeing the demand and spending capacity of India this solar energy is of expensive proportions. Despite giving subsidies on various solar products it’s an expensive affair… Unless these technologies can become cheaper for common man use, it won’t be possible to move ahead with solar technology.

  3. Animesh Roul says:

    Would like to congratulate Avilash and the Ecoworld for this timley in depth article on solar energy. Hope it will spur further debate on the most urgent issue of our time.

  4. Sandeep Pattnaik says:

    The piece of article is very relevant and contemporary as world is facing severe energy crisis. This is the apt time to invest in alternative sources of energy i.e. solar energy to avert an energy crisis the world has ever experienced before. Government should make serious plans to invest adequately for solar energy production.

  5. Yuya Joseph says:

    Avilash,

    Great work my friend!!! India will have a healthy, sustainable economy if she develops IT and clean energy systems, and will emerge as a benign 21st century power.

    Yuya Joseph

  6. Nitin Phansalkar says:

    Nice, encompassing article about solar energy in India. Please read my article on “How to live a Sustainable life without compromising on the quality of life” at http://practicallysustainable.blogspot.com

  7. raj says:

    I NEED TO BUY SOLAR. Please send me some info so i can buy…thank you…Raj

  8. jaipal says:

    Very Nice article about solar power, it becomes heart of India if its cost come in budget of every person. Kindly let me know any Solar invertor introduces in market.

    If any please share the same, and I want to buy a solar system for my house, please send me information about that, any subsidy is liable in rural area in Haryana.

  9. Its a great effort to change from other sources of power to Solar Power generation which is lot cheaper and all can have it. In villages and town no problem of its installation and running cost is nil.
    India and Republilc of China could a lot in this field with their expertise and surely will benefit the entire region. Pakistan and other smaller countries will follow the foot steps of two major powers of South Asia and by setting up an example will surely credit two giants.
    Good luck. I am surely going to install Solar Power generation in my home in Pakistan. I love this idea and not much of the equipment to get the benefit of energy needed when power cuts occurs.
    Best of luck.

  10. Basiru Jobe says:

    I have found the article quite interesting and educational. It shows the enormous importance attached by the Indian Govt. and industries to the rapid development of the solar energy sector. I am confident that the success of the efforts in India will spur enthusiasm in solarisation right around the developing world. Thank you so much for a worthy and useful piece of information.
    Basiru

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