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Can civil society afford to ignore disastrous Govt of India decisions on energy sector?

By Shankar Sharma* 

Whereas the ongoing global crises, as a consequence of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, can be represented by a sort of energy crises leading to vastly increased usage of fossil fuels and a lot more focus on nuclear power, which can only mean furthering the global climate emergency, what is critical for the global community is not lose the much-needed attention on the climate change front. Whereas these crises seem to have given another opportunity to a few vested interests among the global corporate world to make money through these old and costly energy technologies, there are also few developments to indicate that a diligently planned and honestly implemented action plan towards net-zero target at an early date will bring massive benefits not only for the local communities, but also to the global society. Some of the associated news links are as below.
But the trillion Dollar question is whether our political leaders, having chosen to adopt a myopic view of economic development, and the bureaucrats, who seem to be too happy to toe the political line of their bosses, will really care to objectively consider these developments, and make honest efforts to modify our action plans accordingly? In their obsession with the high GDP growth rate paradigm, they seem to be completely ignoring the harsh reality that the unabated demand growth for materials and energy, is the root cause for most of the global crises, and certainly for the global climate emergency.
They should be repeatedly reminded that it is techno-economically feasible, people friendly and sustainable to aim for early green energy transition and/or net zero carbon emission target.
Germany and Japan are reported to be considering reviving some of their nuclear power plants, which were destined to be closed down. China is reported to be only increasing its ambitions on nuclear power. Our own NITI Aayog "experts" are advocating for widespread usage of small modular reactors (SMR) to provide a considerable percent of electricity through nuclear power without considering the overall costs, risks and impacts on our communities.
The global societies seem to be more than keen to accept any associated risks and costs in investing more in such technologies, instead of reducing their energy demand slightly, and to modify their lifestyles; even though some of these risks can be life threatening in nature. Whereas, a modest reduction in the overall energy demand (and hence in material demand) is socio-economically feasible & hugely attractive, and is vastly more sustainable and green, the increased usage of fossil fuels and nuclear fuels seem to be the most preferred options for our authorities. Costs and risks to the larger society seem to be of no concern to them.
For example, a 10-15% reduction in the AT&C loss in India's electric power network is both essential and techno-economically attractive, a considerable reduction in the legitimate demand for electricity (say 20-30%) is both desirable and socially acceptable. By doing so with all the seriousness possible at all levels of our society, our country can completely eliminate the need for any nuclear power plants (including the existing ones), and can drastically reduce the total number of fossil fuel power plants in the next 10-15 years, and to eliminate most of them by 2040-50; certainly much before 2070.
Some of the recent newslink, as below, should drive home the need for urgent actions in this regard.
Many computer models and academic studies have been acknowledging this techno-economic feasibility/ attractiveness (early green energy transition and/or net zero carbon emission target) repeatedly in recent years. But our authorities are offering many lame excuses for not going ahead with this concept.
In the Indian context, there seems no credible study to challenge such techno-economic feasibility. So, our communities are being burdened with the disastrous BAU scenario, without any clear plan and without any cohesive policies, and only based on multiple, unsubstantiated and myopic policy decisions: such as more of coal mines and coal power plants; the controversial mandate to states to import coal; irrational policies on unacceptably high cost nuclear power plants and hydel power plants, and large size solar/wind power parks. Can civil society afford to continue to ignore such disastrous approaches in the critical energy sector ?
It should be highlighted that way back in 2017, Professor Mark Jacobson and colleagues from Stanford University published a scientific paper outlining a roadmap for 139 countries to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Prof Jacobson, an expert in renewable energy and climatology, describes how this paper, along with many other studies, make up a "body of work, carried out by over 85 authors and 35 peer-reviewers, [which] is further supported by an additional 30 peer-reviewed studies that find it is possible to match demand with supply with 100 percent or near-100 percent renewable energy systems."
It may be termed as a serious let down of our people that none of the authorities, whether it is NITI Aayog, or Ministry of Power, Or Central Electricity Authority, have deemed it a critical need, from the overall welfare perspective of our people, to closely examine such global reports or simulation studies, and seriously undertake similar studies to reflect our specific conditions, constraints and strengths, so as to hasten the action plan towards the much needed green energy transition. The so-called net-zero target of 2070 for India, as announced at the global platform of COP26 with much fanfare, will undoubtedly be too small and too late.
It should be a matter of great concern to all right thinking intellectuals in India, that the absence of a diligently prepared energy policy, and an effective action plan to achieve early energy transition for the country should indicate the callous indifference towards the need for a cohesive set of enabling policies and a serious lack of concern to the long term welfare of our people.
Hence, the haunting question: why are our governments continuing to pour our meager resources into opening more coal mines, coal power plants, and nuclear power plants? As a significant part of a responsible civil society, shall we not make earnest efforts to ask the concerned authorities to provide satisfactory explanations in this regard?
---
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst

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