Technology & Sun – India's Green Future

India at Night from Outer Space
India at night from outer space -
already glowing with energy and light

To ensure India will have adequate energy and water supplies in the future…

The first step is to predict where India’s population will level off. Assume India’s population is going to peak at around 1.3 billion people. This may be somewhat underestimating reality, but everything that follows can be proportionately increased based on higher population projections.

Next, determine how many units of energy (expressed in millions of BTUs per year), and how many cubic meters of water per year, on average, are required to sustain the lifestyle for a citizen of a fully industrialized nation. Currently, on average, each Indian citizen consumes 25 million BTUs of energy per year and consumes not quite 500 cubic meters of water. In the European Union, which provides a useful comparison, the average energy consumption is well over 150 million BTUs per citizen per year, and just over 500 cubic meters of water.

It is safe to assume India will employ more energy efficient “leapfrog” technologies as she industrializes, meaning that it will not be necessary to achieve increases in per capita energy consumption all the way to the levels of the Europeans. This is also a safe assumption because much of Europe’s energy consumption is required for heating during their much colder winters.

…assume that India’s per capita energy production will need to get to at least 50% of that currently enjoyed by Europeans. Taking into account projected population increases, this means India’s total national energy production per year will need to quadruple from 25 quadrillion BTUs per year to 100 quadrillion BTUs per year.

India’s water production per person would not have to increase, but overall supply will still need to keep pace with population growth, meaning India will eventually need to divert 667 cubic kilometers of water per year, up from 500 cubic kilometers per year today. Bear in mind that abundant energy leads to abundant water, since a cubic meter of seawater can be desalinated for a mere two kilowatt-hours (ref. “Photovoltaic Desalinization”).



With India’s future water challenges, the problem isn’t so much one of supply, it’s more a problem of uneven distribution. The north and east of India enjoy abundant supplies of water, but the south and west of India are relatively arid. It is important to note that if the proposed aquaducts, reservoirs and pumping stations were built, India’s major river interlinking projects, through a system of reservoirs and aquaducts, (ref. India’s Water Future) could then move water in cubic kilometer volumes relatively cost effectively. Once the costs of the interlinking system are borne, the biggest ongoing cost is the energy required for the pumps. But to pump a cubic kilometer of water up a 250 meter lift, which is what it would take to get water from the Ganges basin to the Deccan Plateau, would only require 100 megawatt-years of power. To pump 50 cubic kilometers of water per year from the Ganges basin upwards 250 meters into aquaducts flowing south and west, which is more than the most ambitious of India’s current interlinking projects, would only require about 5 gigawatt-years of electricity. This amount of electricity represents only about one-half of one percent of India’s current total yearly energy production (all sources).

Water Required to Pump Water from the Ganges to the Krishna Basin
As the table indicates, it would take 3.8 gigawatts of electricity (representing about 2.7% of
India’s estimated 2005 electrical generating capacity of about 140 gigawatts), running constantly,
to pump water 250 meters uphill at a volume of 38 cubic kilometers per year. Put another
way, a 250 meter lift will require about 100 megawatt-years for each cubic kilometer pumped.

Water supply in India, regardless of whether or not there are a few interlinking projects on a national scale, will be managed, overwhelmingly, using decentralized solutions. Both innovation and traditional methods can combine and evolve, proliferating via an information enlightenment nurtured by internet communications, to produce thousands of water management projects: cisterns in buildings, contour berms to collect and percolate runoff, refilling underground aquifers with runoff, and smaller but numerous new reservoirs (ref. “Harvesting Water”).

It is important to emphasize that as India generates more energy, more uses for water will be required. India is challenged not only to redistribute water on a national scale, but also to use water much more efficiently.

…plant biofuel crops in the desert…
Lumber Truck in South America
Strip mining the lands for biofuel is driving a
new round of global deforestation – especially in
the tropics – of catastrophic proportions.

When forests are regrown, more tigers and other wildlife may survive. Equally important however is the role forests play in increasing water supplies.

One often overlooked but decisive contribution to water supply and storage is through reforestation. India has lost about 90% of her forest cover. Watersheds need to be reforested everywhere, and when they are, the springs will flow again, and the water tables will rise. Forests moderate heat, they increase cloud formation and rainfall, they protect topsoil, and they nourish aquafirs. Do you want more fresh water? Then reforest India.
(ref. “Profitable Reforesting,” and “Reforesting Brings Rain”).

Not only on the land, but just offshore, reforesting needs to be a priority for India. The best way to protect India’s coast from tidal surges is to replant the mangrove forests (ref. “Mangroves Stop Tsunami”). Mangrove deforestation has occurred on a massive scale worldwide, and can be reversed simply by planting more mangroves.

Most projections of India’s future energy supplies are almost completely reliant on increasing conventional energy production, and they are also far too low. An interesting side note is that India’s most ambitious plans for nuclear power don’t amount to more than about 3% of India’s projected energy production (ref. “India’s Nuclear Power”). India cannot plan to simply double energy production, they must quadruple it. To do this, conventional sources (including nuclear power) are not sufficient. A breakthrough is required, and that breakthrough is almost here.



There is only one source of renewable energy that can quickly get built and installed and can produce 50 quadrillion BTUs or more per year, and that is solar energy, photovoltaic energy in particular (ref. “Power the World With Photovoltaics,” “Photovoltaic Powered Cars,” and “The Photovoltaic Revolution). India needs a photovoltaic array on every rooftop. Today photovoltaic cells, in the whole world, produce at most 10 gigawatt-years of electric power per year, which at 3,416 BTUs per kilowatt-hour, equates to only .3 quadrillion BTUs. Given worldwide energy production is over 400 quadrillion BTUs, photovoltaic power today is a drop in the bucket. But that is about to change.

Key Variables in China, India, the United States, and Europe
India’s terribly inefficient energy intensity (BTU’s per unit of GNP)
is reason for hope – through more energy efficiency, quantum
increases in energy output may not be necessary for India to
achieve first world per capita economic status

Photovoltaic manufacturing relies on supplies of polysilicon, which have never been reliable. But there are new designs that require far less silicon, or no silicon at all. These next generation photovoltaic cells are called “thin skin,” a catch-all term describing several technologies which all use a far thinner coating of photo-electric material. There are companies claiming to have this technology all over the world, including India. (ref. “Thin Film Photovoltaics,” “Crystaline Photovoltaics,” and “fuels/the-photovoltaic-boom.html). It is vital that photovoltaic technology be the top priority of India’s alternative energy research and development community, as well as for investment in manufacturing. There is no other plausible way to produce, within a decade, a quantity of energy sufficient to lift the Indian economy to sustainable prosperity. Even if the thin film breakthroughs don’t occur, India should invest in polysilicon manufacturing for the production of conventional crystaline photovoltaics. Even at current costs, conventional photovoltaics make long-term economic sense, and the greatest cost to their manufacture is energy, which can be produced by photovoltaics themselves. Conventional photovoltaics now have an energy payback of 20+ to one.

View of Asia from Space
India can have a green and prosperous future

Other than photovoltaics, solar electricity via solar-thermal arrays is surprisingly cost-competitive and space-efficient (ref. “Solar Thermal Power,” and “Saharan Solar Power”) The space-efficiency of solar energy collection units (electric and thermal) enables decentralized energy development. Alternative technologies in general support the design of each home or building being adapted to collect and store solar, wind, or even geothermal energy. In a modern green structure, thermal energy from any source can be stored on-site and converted back into electricity, as well as used for space heating and water heating. Thermal energy can even by used as an energy source for refrigeration. Clearly the design of buildings to acquire and store energy is another area where technology, tradition, and innovation can significantly address India’s future energy challenges.

Just as the potential for nuclear power to address India’s energy needs may be overstated – as well as the risks therein, the potential for biofuel is overstated as well, and the risks of biofuel are decidedly understated (ref. “IPCC Report & Deforestation,” and “Biofueled Global Warming”). Biofuel can provide an important supplemental fuel, but even at 2,500 barrels of oil per square kilometer per year – which would be an excellent yield – there is not enough land in India to begin to rely on biofuel to replace conventional fuels, let alone provide the fuel necessary to quadruple India’s energy output. As it is, biofuel crops are beginning to crowd out food crops, pushing up the price of food. Biofuel crops also can provide the reason for further deforestation. Biofuel crops make sense as a supplemental fuel, not as a comprehensive energy solution. Biofuel crops make sense in arid regions where any crop is a welcome bulwark against desertification, and biofuel will eventually be extracted from virtually all municipal waste, but under no circumstances should a forest be cut down just to grow biofuel.

India’s green and prosperous future will require education, infrastructure, innovation, pluralism, and enlightened, adaptable environmentalism.

Addressing India’s energy and water needs requires servicing five interrelated industrial sectors; agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, buildings and shelter, and waste management (ref. “The Electric Car Revolution,” “Clean the Ganges,” “Organic Farming in India,” and “India’s Energy Future”"). In all these areas, green technology and high technology, working together, can provide answers. Often solutions will embrace traditional practices as much as adopt scientific breakthroughs, and working synergistically within all these dimensions is necessary to quicken progress. It should be a source of inspiration that India can complete the process of industrialization today, meaning she can leapfrog obsolete legacy technologies that often hamper innovation in the west.

To produce so much more energy, to collect and distribute so much water, India’s challenges are daunting but achievable. The key is to balance large scale projects that are often costly and difficult to manage ecologically, with smaller projects that can be adopted at the scale of individual homes or communities. And at both scales, the solutions will be easier if there is a faith and reliance on India’s world-class intellectual and scientific community to provide assistance through high technology.

Ed Ring Portrait

About the Author: Ed “Redwood” Ring is the Editor of EcoWorld, reporting on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems. This story was originally published in the January-March 2007 issue of “TerraGreen” Magazine, published by the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, India ( In his spare time, Mr. Ring grows and gives away trees, especially his beloved Redwoods.

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3 Responses to “Technology & Sun – India's Green Future”
  1. very nice information green technology. it is one of the necessity of today’s world. we are supposed to do work with green technology.


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