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Energy security: a prerequisite for sustainability

Economic development is governed by energy security, i.e. the uninterrupted equitable accessibility and availability of energy sources at an affordable price. India has more than 24 crore households spread across the country. Of these, about 14 crore households are yet to be electrified and 10 crore households do not have LPG connections, forcing them to use firewood, coal, dung-cakes etc. as their primary source of cooking fuel. The smoke thus generated causes respiratory diseases, in addition to pollution. However, in the absence of any other fuel, it is difficult to justify to villagers why they should not burn firewood.

The limited access to LPG is being mitigated by improving cook stove efficiency and by increased penetration and sustainability through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), a government scheme launched in 2016. The scheme aims to provide households with a clean cooking fuel (LPG), so that women & children don’t have to compromise their health while cooking in smoky kitchens or wandering in unsafe areas to collect firewood.

In rural areas, the fixed cost for newer technologies is greater than actuals, thus presenting the need for subsidies, either in terms of cost or otherwise. In most cases, capital is available in the market and investors have the intent to invest but they are hindered by the absence of an appropriate mechanism to do so. In such a scenario, the government should develop an appropriate framework and provide opportunities for investment. Experts feel that the future seems to be promising from an investor’s perspective.

Currently, holistic policies do not exist that take into account both coal and energy. Despite its detrimental effects, in the absence of a sufficient substitute, we need to accept that coal cannot be eliminated from the economy completely and it will be a major source of energy in the future. Instead of eliminating it completely, it is important that an appropriate transition plan to better, more efficient fuels is developed and implemented. The ideal way forward is not to pick one energy source over the other, but to work towards hybridization. Additionally, all new technology is expensive to begin with and is not easily accessible, hence experts advise that hybrids should be used to begin with, before looking for complete substitutes.

Electricity consumption shows inter and intra state inequalities. Additionally, distribution companies are not efficient. To attain a higher quality of life, it is essential that we create access to more energy than we currently use, which will be aided by the fact that there has been a considerable improvement in efficiency on the demand side in recent years. For e.g., increased awareness has led to consumers demanding energy-efficient appliances, thus forcing manufacturers to produce in more sustainable ways. Similarly, experts state that it is even possible that India will make the leap from LPG cooking into induction cooking entirely.

Future challenges include the provision of round-the-clock services for all, inclusion of the remaining 14 crore households under electricity coverage, and clear policy guidelines for grid extension and mini-grid connection. Dr Anand Rao from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Mumbai shared an interesting acronym for sustainable energy – ACCESS, which stands for Abundant, Clean, Cost-effective Energy Systems for Sustainability. Additionally, the acronym as a word on its own also signifies that for an energy system to be sustainable, it must be accessible.

One of the strategies suggested for energy security was to use non-fossil hydrogen, which yields three to four times more biofuel than regular fuels. Dr Baldev Raj from the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) at Bengaluru shared that unlike popular misconception, some amount of radiation is necessary for human beings. Thus, nuclear energy may be explored as an alternate source of energy. Additionally, energy sustainability, balance of payments and climate change concerns, all point toward the need for an increased focus on thorium and solar energy.

In conclusion, it is important that in our consumption of energy, we treat it as a service, not a product. The need of the hour is smart solutions that are convenient, interoperable, incentivised (in terms of pricing) and controlled. The future needs to be smarter – by using information and smart systems to give smaller, increasingly local, niche solutions that can be piloted and eventually scaled up. Sustainability is not an option anymore; it is a compulsion. As Dr Rahul Tongia, from the Brookings Institute at Bengaluru shared, it is now a question of when we attain sustainability, not if.

Content by Natasha DLima

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