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Deplorable, influential sections 'still believe' burning coal is essential indefinitely

By Shankar Sharma* 

Some of the recent developments in the power sector, as some recent news items show, should be of massive relevance/ interest to our policy makers in India. Assuming that our authorities are officially mandated/ committed to maintain a holistic approach to the overall welfare of all sections of our society, including the flora, fauna and general environment, these developments/ experiences from different parts of the globe should be clear pointers to the sustainable energy pathways for our people.
It is highly deplorable that many influential but tiny sections of our society continue to view fossil fuels as essential for our people indefinitely. They do not seem to accept even the "too little too late" target year of 2075 for the net carbon scenario. They simply seem to believe that fossil fuels, especially burning coal, cannot be done away with even in the distant future.
Whereas such opinion pieces from some individuals and private agencies may be condoned because of their ignorance/ unaccountability, what is deeply worrisome is the frequent statements/ policies from the Union power ministry to indicate that there will be a continuous increase in coal consumption every year for the foreseeable future; such as a recent statement by the Union Power Minister that his ministry is planning to add 80 GW of Thermal Power Capacity by 2031-32.
Whereas he is also reported to have asked people to shift farm power to renewables to save coal for non-solar hours, the fact that he is advocating a massive addition to coal power capacity, should clearly indicate that the govt. is not convinced of the societal need to minimise fossil fuel combustion even towards the end of 2023, and about the humongous potential in renewal energies (REs) to minimise the unacceptable costs to the society from such conventional technology power plants.
It appears that most of our authorities in decision making levels, including ministers, and almost all of the high profile economists/ energy sector leaders are unable to focus on a holistic approach to the overall welfare of the society.
They seem to simply target the supply of electricity to meet a never ending demand at any cost, and on few dry statistics without worrying about the harsh realities behind those numbers. The saddest part of such opinion pieces is the complete lack of focus on containing the ever growing demand through DSM, energy efficiency and energy conservation.
One opinion piece declares that coal isn’t easy to exclude from sustainable development for India. But the same article is silent as to how easy it is to continue with the Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario, when we also take cognisance of the societal level costs of burning enormous amounts of coal, and the ongoing consequences of climate change. So myopic seems to be our approach to the energy sector policies and practices.
In Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario, societal level costs of burning enormous amounts of coal and consequences of climate change are ignored
These people seem to be oblivious to numerous positive developments from around the world, which should clearly indicate the different paradigm gaining global recognition, such as the massive usage of REs, battery energy storage system (BESS), mini/micro/ smart grids etc. 
The massive potential to transform our power sector scenario from the present status as a laggard, high polluter and inefficient, to the one which is sustainable, efficient and forward looking through the optimal usage of distributed kind of REs in a concept involving a state/ regional/ national federation of numerous mini/ micro/ smart grids, seem to be of no consequence to our planners.
It is highly unfortunate that this concept is not even mentioned in our national discourse, although a number of such mini/ smart grids are reported to be functioning satisfactorily in many parts of the world.
The functioning example of more than 800 energy co-operatives connected to the national grid in Germany should be a lesson for us to undertake diligent studies on. It is very sad that entities such as Central Electricity Authority (CEA)/ NITI Aayog/ elite energy institutes/ Indian Institute of Technologies (IITs), and other power sector entities in the country are not known to having even cursory interest in such a concept or such novel initiatives.
It is deeply a worrisome scenario that our authorities in decision making levels, including ministers, seem to completely ignore the serious societal level consequences to our people in the medium term to long term of not adopting a paradigm shift and move towards smooth energy transition at the earliest.
The fact that despite repeated civic society calls to finalise a diligently prepared National Energy Policy, the draft of which was published in 2017, and which came across severe criticism for its lack of rationality, should be a clear indication in this regard.
---
*Power and climate policy analyst

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