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'Irresponsible': Niti Aayog favouring energy technologies sans cost-benefit analysis

By Shankar Sharma* 

Whereas most of the recent projections done by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for India (by 2030), should have been clear to any modest observer of the Indian energy/ economy scenario, some of the data mentioned in this scenario projection should be of lot more concern to our people as compared to what has been said so far by the domestic media houses on the topic so far.
Some of such disconcerting facts, as highlighted by IEA, are:
  • India is likely to see the world's biggest rise in energy demand this decade, with demand climbing 3 per cent annually due to urbanisation and industrialisation.
  • While the push for renewable energy will see it meeting as much as 60 per cent of the growth in demand for power, coal will continue to meet a third of overall energy demand by 2030 and another quarter will be met by oil.
  • Even though India continues to make great strides with renewables deployment and efficiency policies, the sheer scale of its development means that the combined import bill for fossil fuels doubles over the next two decades, with oil by far the largest component.
  • Coal generation is projected to continue to expand in absolute terms, peaking around 2030, though its share of electricity generation falls from just below 75 per cent to 55 per cent over this period.
  • Gas imports will double to reach nearly 70 bcm by 2030 before growth moderating to reach 90 bcm by 2050.
As has been the case in the past, IEA focuses only on such dry statistics without bothering about the social and environmental consequences of such a huge growth in energy demand. IEA, rarely if ever, has discussed the social and environmental consequences to the larger society from the technologies it had advocated.
For many decades it had advocated fossil fuel technologies; and now it is advocating the nuclear power technology; in both cases it has been proved to be less than responsible. This practice can be seen as a typical Western style approach to the welfare of a society, which rarely, if ever, focuses on environmental impacts.
It should be a matter of great concern that our authorities, especially NITI Aayog, also are adopting such irresponsible advocacy on energy technologies without diligently considering costs and benefits, and hence are failing in public expectations.
But the communities in India cannot and must not commit the blunder of ignoring the social and environmental impacts. At a high level, it suffices to say that the social and environmental impacts of such a massive growth in demand for energy, are most likely to pose very serious problems to our communities across the country.
Such problems are already life threatening to many sections of our people; but sadly, it is also true that our officials and ministers are refusing to acknowledge the same. Pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil, are already clearly visible, and the annihilation of forest and fresh water resources are being reported regularly from different parts of the country.
The IEA projections that India's energy demand growth will be the highest across the globe cannot be a matter of any pride. Such a massive energy demand growth shall only mean unacceptable demand/ impacts on our natural resources (agricultural lands, forests, fresh water resources, clean air, biodiversity etc.), and consequent health and social welfare issues.
For many decades IEA had advocated fossil fuel technologies; and now it is advocating nuclear power technology
It is not only critical that as a welfare oriented and responsible society, we need to do all that is feasible to minimise such energy demand growth, but its is also essential that we start immediately to embark on clean energy transition pathway; that too by responsibly taking into account the total costs to the society of every technology/ practice needed to meet such a demand for energy on a sustainable and equitable basis. But sadly, our bureaucrats and political leaders cannot be seen as demonstrating adequate care in this regard.
In the true context of many such concerns, there is an urgent need for civil society to initiate rational debate at various levels of our society on the very issue of high GDP growth rate paradigm, which is being pursued by successive governments, and which is synonymous with the ambition of 10-30 trillion Dollar economy in the next few decades, and which will definitely lead to unsustainable demand for energy and materials at unacceptable costs to our communities.
In the larger context of true welfare of our people, it is left to civil society groups to take the necessary initiatives, such as providing credible feedback to the concerned ministries on various policy documents/ announcements, such as draft national electricity plan (2022-27/32).
The policies, omissions and commissions in the national energy sector are critically important for our future, because it is estimated by credible global agencies that about 75% of all the global GHG emissions can be directly/ indirectly attributed to the energy sector.
Hence, the highest possible efficiencies and true accountability must become the basic tenets of our energy/electricity policy. But sadly, they are the least important mandates in our governance structure.
Some of the recent news reports of importance in the larger context of consequences of high energy demand and the associated technologies, are as in the links below.
A society can continue to ignore such unambiguous signals of calamitous threats only at it own peril.
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst



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