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India 'ignores' renewable energy, approves $3.9 billion hydro projects off China border

By Shankar Sharma* 

Our bureaucrats, ministers and political leaders do not seem to believe in learning from our past mistakes and from the best practices reported from all over the world in order to efficiently meet our legitimate demand for electricity/ energy. The enormous social and environmental costs associated with large size dam based hydel power plants seem to have been completely ignored by our authorities, even though we have a plethora of examples of huge societal level associated costs in our own country.
In order to be seen as very responsible, they may quote the reason for properly utilising river water from the eastern Himalayas through Tibet and China, in the case of hydel power plants in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. But they conveniently ignore very many benign options to meet the growing demand for electricity; such as distributed solar and other renewable energy (RE) projects.
Australia, which has very little hydro power share in its energy basket, is reported to be witnessing a scenario wherein the rooftop solar alone is soon set to eclipse total coal power capacity, as such installations reach more than 20GW. “It’s understandable that we lead the world in per-capita uptake of solar”, said one industry leader in Australia.
At more than 1.2kW of per capita solar rooftop installation, this scenario in Autsralia must be a hugely relevant lesson for India. Such a per capita solar rooftop capacity, can meet more than the entire residential need for electricity in India; and will also have surplus to meet many other essential needs such as street lightsing, municipal applications etc.
Along with the effective usage of distributed solar power for agricultural pumping needs (which is also techno-economically very attractive with mostly rooftop solar), the solar power alone can meet most of the basic need of electricity needs of our people in India. The special characteristics of such widepsread usage of solar rooftop scenario in Australia is the correspondingly vast deployment of energy storage battery systems.
Hence, the very need for large size hydro, coal, nuclear, and even the solar and wind power parks, as is being pursued by our authorities in India, can be and should be techno-economically challenged in India. In this larger context, the social and environmental costs, and, hence, the resultant overall societal level economic costs of such large size power projects to our people should be unacceptable from any perspective.
Without diligently considering the vast potential existing in the country in the distributed king of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass, and in the appreciable ability of energy storage batteries to supplement such RE potential, our authorities are implementing scores of high cost and high impact conventional technology power plants based on large size hydro, coal, nuclear. Scores of them are also being planned. The associated social and ecological consequences on our communities can be catastrophic, to say the least.
Australia is reportedly witnessing a scenario wherein rooftop solar is soon set to eclipse total coal power capacity
The latest decision by the Government of Karnataka to invite bids to procure 1,000 MW of power from pumped storage projects is the example of many such irrational and ghastly decisions in our country, which will lead to the accelerated depletion of our natural resources, but which have not been challenged by any section of our society including the elite institutions such as IITs, IIMs, IISc, NIAS or central universities; or even by research organisations or NGOs.
Without a diligently prepared national energy policy as to how our country's energy/electricity demand for 2040/50/60 will be met, the ongoing policies of continuing to build more of conventional technology power plants should not be acceptable to our people. Since our communities seem to have exhausted all other options (such as representations, public protests and legal cases) on social and environmental grounds, civil society groups should consider this option of effectively questioning the techno-economic credibility of the ongoing policies.
Since the conventional technology power generation technologies such as the ones based on large size hydro, coal, nuclear and gas are also against net zero carbon target for the planet (and for India too), our arguments can be based on very strong grounds even from the climate change perspective.
It will be useful to initiate a rational debate on various views on whether there is a credible case of a class action at the Supreme Court of India on these grounds. Since the associated concerns are common for all sections of our society and at all corners of the country, many civil society groups, and hundreds of concerned individuals may join such a class action from all corners of the country.
*Power and climate policy analyst based in Karnataka


Anonymous said…
What's wrong with pumped storage? It's exactly a battery of GW scale, which would help in accommodating more solar and wind.
It's made using local resources (no imported Lithium like in batteries), it can last minimum 50 years without any replacement, and with little refurbishment it can easily last 100+ years (even the best batteries last only 10-12 years and has to be replaced completely) and it costs less than half of what batteries cost!


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