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Dependent on imported coal, Karnataka 'fails to promote' renewable energy sources

By Shankar Sharma* 
The heading and the conclusion for the article, “How Karnataka insulated itself from power crisis that hit many states”, seem to have been arrived only on the basis of what few in-service officials might have stated. One may expect nothing less self-aggrandizement from the serving officials.
A diligent, independent and holistic analysis of the electric power demand-supply scenario in the state may reveal many disturbing trends, which all need to be addressed holistically.
Whereas the state may have done better than other coal-dependent states so far in this summer, can we be assured that the things will be satisfactory for the remaining days of this summer? Are there any initiatives in place to contain the ever growing demand for electricity in the state?
What is the guarantee that coal supply will be adequate for all the coal power plants in a state which has no coal reserves of its own? We have been reading media reports about shortage of coal supply to such coal power plants very often. How will the coal supply issues be different this year?
How can we say that the state is well placed in meeting its ever escalating demand for electricity, if we are to rely on imported coal for 35% of our electricity generating capacity? Who can guarantee quality and quantity of coal to so many coal power plants in the state (there are six coal power plants in a water stressed state without any coal reserve of its own)?
We frequently read media reports that there was a coal supply crunch across the country, almost every other month, for one or the other reason. In such a scenario a non-coal reserve state like Karnataka cannot enjoy any preference in getting coal supply.
As a matter of fact, it may not be an exaggeration to state that there might not have been a single year in recent decades, when Raichur coal power plant had not faced coal supply shortage. Few months ago, there was even an advisory by the Union Power Ministry for the states to import coal to cater to 10-25% of the coal requirement.
With climate change's projected impacts on the increase in atmospheric temperature and on constraints in water supply, the optimal operation of coal power plants in the state cannot be insulated from the associated threats; and can only adversely impacted.
In this larger context, and also in the context that the article itself has indicated "the cost of production will go up to Rs 11 per unit due to imported coal,” how can the state ensure that there will be no need to import coal even though the demand for electricity will keep increasing every year?
With the growing preference for electric vehicles (EV), and of course, because of the continuous increase in commercial and industrial activities, both the peak hour demand and annual electrical energy demand will escalate every year in the state. We do not get to read about any associated advance planning to meet such increase in demand. Will the state continue to rely on coal power and build more coal power plants?
We also do not get to read about any concerted efforts in adequately increasing the capacity of renewable energy sources (REs) with the focus mostly on large size solar power parks with massive impacts on local population and ecology.
There should have been massive efforts to increase state level capacity of distributed type of REs, such as roof-top solar power units, and community based bio-energy units; which are deplorably absent. People of the state, especially the consumers, should have been experiencing all possible encouragements to become prosumers.
There are media reports that no answers have been forthcoming from the state government over the question of who pays for the electricity associated with water supply to all homes under Ganga Jal scheme across the state. Dedicated soar PV systems for individual supply entities can address the issue on an efficient and perpetual basis.
Similarly, solar powered IP sets across the state (even if fully subsidised by the state) will not only remove the associated concerns of unsatisfactory electricity supply to our farmers, but also will eliminate the need for massive annual electricity subsidies, the associated financial strains, and the low voltage issues.
The additional chief secretary (energy) is reported to have stated: "The RE variation impact on the grid could be better managed by large grid-connected storage systems in the form of pumped hydro storage and battery energy storage systems, where about 25% to 30% of the energy can be stored".
How can the state ensure that there will be no need to import coal even though the demand for electricity will keep increasing?
While the large grid-connected storage systems in the form of battery energy storage systems will be essential in the future, pumped hydro storage schemes are ecologically very costly to the state and are not needed. A diligent analysis of various associated issue, as in the case of the proposal for such a pumped hydro storage scheme within LTM sanctuary in Sharavathy valley, will reveal the enormous associated costs to the state, and suitable alternatives. Copy of a letter to CM, Karnataka, in this regard is enclosed for the purpose of elaboration.
Since the state has almost ran out of any potential hydel power sites, can the state rely on its hope to increase its hydel power capacity?
As demanded by a political leader few years ago, should the state ask for additional nuclear power plants from the centre which can come at enormous capital costs, risks and concerns?
It is almost impossible to notice concerted efforts on energy efficiency improvement, Demand Side Management (DSM), and energy conservation in the state.
Unless all such associated issues with regard to demand-supply of electricity in the state are diligently addressed with a strategic perspective, the state cannot take any consolation on its power sector performance.
In the overall context of state's true long-term welfare, the absence of a diligently prepared energy policy for the state for the next 20-30 years, similar to the deplorable absence of a national energy policy, is most disconcerting. Without such a strategic policy framework, it should be futile to expect that the state will insulate itself from power crises either in the short term or in the long term.
Can we soon expect such a diligently prepared energy policy for the state taking into objective account all the associated issues/ concerns/ strengths of the state, and the credible threats because of Climate Change, and also after having effectively involved all stake holder groups and domain experts in all decision making processes?
It is in the true interest of the state that leading media houses of the state should focus on such a strategic approach on various important issues for the state, instead of blindly accepting unsubstantiated statements from few officials.
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*Power & Climate Policy Analyst, Sagara, Karnataka

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