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Govt of India still holding on to coal citing lack of storage for renewable energy

Counterview Desk 

Power and climate policy analyst Shankar Sharma, in a representation to the Prime Minister, with copies to vice-chairperson NITI Aayog, Union Minister for Power and Renewable Energy, Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, among others, has expressed serious concern over the decision to auction/open more than 100 additional coal mines, which, he says, will have “enormous deleterious consequences (social, environmental and economic impacts) to our communities.”
Despite this, says Sharma, it is “highly deplorable” that none of the concerned authorities (NITI Aayog, Power Ministry, Central Electricity Authority, Powergrid, Power System Operation Corporation etc.) have considered it necessary consider clarification concerns of the civil society on this, “or even to demonstrate the necessary sensitivity/ civility to satisfactorily respond to specific queries/ representations from civil society.”


May I request you to ask the concerned authorities to deliberate effectively on various issues associated with very serious concerns on energy sector policies/ practices, as highlighted in a few paragraphs below?
The apparent lack of a holistic approach to energy sector policies/ practices, from the overall welfare perspective of our people, is an escalating concern to the rational observers of the energy sector in the country. Whereas, the country has announced ambitious targets for the renewable energy capacity, there are no supporting/ enabling policies to achieve the same, or the confidence building measures to assure the public that the associated policies/ practices have been effectively deliberated on, and that they are the best options available to our country.
In this context, the clear absence of adequate confidence, in the minds of our authorities, in the ability of renewable energy sources to meet most of our electricity needs, if not all, even by 2050/60 is exemplified by the fact that more than 100 additional coal mines are being auctioned/ opened, which can only be associated with enormous deleterious consequences (social, environmental and economic impacts) to our communities. The so-called "intermittency", OR "the inability to provide round the clock supply" associated with solar and wind power technologies is being projected as the primary reason for such a lack of confidence in fully harnessing the humongous potential of renewable energy sources in the country.
It can be stated with deep anguish that it is almost impossible to notice any serious efforts to effectively deploy all the associated technological advancements/ possibilities to harness the optimal capacities of renewable energy sources in the country. Such a poor focus of our authorities has been the primary reason for multiple social, environmental and economic problems being faced by our people; at least in the energy sector. There has been no official policy/ discussion document to clarify as to why all the associated technological advancements/ possibilities to optimally harness the renewable energy sources have not been deployed across the length and breadth of the country. The absence of an exhaustive policy to optimally harness the roof top solar power potential and the distributed solar powered agricultural pump sets, along with the indifference to prepare a diligently prepared National Energy Policy, can be cited as two such major policy lapses.
Whereas, the lack of adequate storage capacity for storing electricity produced by the renewable energy sources is being cited as the reason for continuing to invest massively in coal, gas and nuclear power technologies, our authorities have refused/ failed to explain why the large size energy storage batteries with grid interactive capabilities are not being deployed in adequate numbers to optimally make use of the potential of the renewable energy sources. Whereas, this technological feasibility, as reported from Australia and elsewhere, were brought to the notice of the concerned authorities many years ago, there seems no due diligence to study why the same has not been adopted here.
A recent report from Australia says that a massive increase in the energy storage battery capacity is being implemented to revitalise the energy market, leading to an estimated ten fold increase in storage capacity.
"Eight large batteries to store renewable energy will be built around Australia to support the grid and help keep energy prices down, the federal government has said. The batteries will come online by 2025 and together would be big enough to power Tasmania for about three hours. They will range from 200-300 megawatts each and have grid-forming inverter technology, which provides stability to the grid usually offered through coal and gas. The federal government has also unveiled further details about 58 community batteries to be rolled out in regional and urban areas, worth up to $500,000 each. Electricity providers will use them to store energy generated by solar panels on residential homes, which could then be used by other nearby households. An extra 342 will be set up after consultation."
According to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the sum value of the projects is $2.7 billion and the eight batteries will have a capacity of 2.0GW, or 4.2GWh, marking a ten-fold increase in grid-forming electricity storage capacity in the NEM. This important policy level initiative in Australia should be a serious lesson for India to resolutely move towards sustainable energy transition, which is critically and urgently needed, and which will eliminate/ minimise the so-called necessity for a lot more conventional technology energy related investments, and which will also assist in minimising the social and environmental burden on our people.
Whereas, it has been mentioned time and again that such large size energy storage batteries installed at major nodal points in the national power grid can assist in the accelerated integration of renewable energy sources, the logical extension of the same technology must also indicate that a carefully adopted policy initiative to commission suitably designed and grid interactive energy storage batteries at most of the substations at sub-transmission level (such as 66 kV, 33 kV and 22 kV) can revolutionise the accelerated integration of the massive solar power capacity in the country through effective harnessing of rooftop solar power technology and the solar powered agricultural pumpsets. Such a policy will not only encourage the public to effectively participate in solar power capacity building efforts, but will also drastically reduce the need for high capacity power transmission lines.
It will be a sad reflection of the overall accountability of the concerned agencies of the Union government if they (the officials in NITI Aayog, the Power Ministry, and other agencies of the Union government) have not already deliberated on the massive technical and economic benefits of such a strong focus on distributed solar power capacity utilisation at the national level. The projected targets such as non-fossil fuel sources to meet 60% of India's total electricity demand by 2030 cannot be realised effectively unless the distributed kind of renewable energy sources are deployed across length and breadth of the country. The humongous additional capital cost of Rs. 2.4 lakh crores to commission the necessary interstate transmission system (and the associated societal level costs of diverting agricultural and forest lands to set up the additional transmission lines), as reported in one of the newslinks, is entirely avoidable through the optimal usage of the distributed kind of renewable energy sources along with suitably designed and located energy storage batteries.
If such diligent computer model studies and cost/ benefits analysis of various options available to our society have not been undertaken already, few civil society groups/ individuals can effectively participate in such deliberations to share their own knowledge and expertise.
Policy initiative in Australia should be a serious lesson for India to resolutely move towards sustainable energy transition
In this larger context, what is highly deplorable from the perspective of civil society is that none of the concerned authorities (NITI Aayog, Power Ministry, Central Electricity Authority, Powergrid, Power System Operation Corporation etc.) have considered it obligatory on their part to provide satisfactory clarification to all the associated concerns of civil society; or even to demonstrate the necessary sensitivity/ civility to satisfactorily respond to specific queries/ representations from civil society on many related topics. It will be highly unfortunate if such authorities choose to ignore the stark reality that there are vastly more experienced and knowledgeable persons in civil society, including many who have retired from government service in recent years, who can effectively contribute to such policy level/ technological deliberations. It will be a sad reflection of the welfare perspective of the government not to make use of the service offered by civil society on such strategic policies/ practices.
Many such issues of serious concern to our country should be objectively viewed from the larger context of the havoc the fossil fuels are heaping on our communities, even if we choose to ignore the growing international pressure on India to start reducing the country's GHG emissions. As a credible news report indicated recently: "Global warming is taking a big bite out of the planet. Unprecedented severe droughts dry up major commercial waterways and extreme conditions have either diminished or partially decimated many crops in the US, Europe, China, Australia, the Indian subcontinent and throughout regions of Africa."
Some of the recent media reports, as in the weblinks below, should help to highlight the gravity of the situation to our own people before worrying about the global population, as can be expected for a Vishwa Guru:
It would be unrealistic to expect that an increasing number of such media reports, on serious concerns associated with social and ecological implications of investing more on fossil fuels, including the allegations of corruption at high levels, will go away without urgent, demonstrable and suitable policy initiatives. Can the people of this country hope to see the honest implementation of a suitable action plan to avert/ minimise the societal level impacts of climate change before it is too late? Such a set of climate action plans is certainly feasible in the energy/ electricity sector, if our authorities are made to demonstrate the necessary levels of societal level accountability.
In this larger context, may I request that various associated concerns for civil society in the energy/ electricity sector should be asked to be diligently deliberated on by the concerned authorities/ agencies, by keeping in proper focus the legitimate energy/ electricity demand of our people, natural resource constraints in the country, long term welfare considerations of our people, and our obligations to the global society?
It will not be an exaggeration to state that in this larger context, the rational observers in civil society are likely to view the continued absence of the associated, urgent and effective policy interventions as a serious let down of our people.
Many domain experts in civil society will be too pleased to contribute to various associated deliberations; just as an obligation to the larger society.
May I expect suitable responses from one or more concerned authorities in this regard; at least on this representation to the PM?



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