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Climate emergency: No official substantiation why India focuses on coal, nuclear power

By Shankar Sharma* 

In the new year, will the Government of India fulfill the much needed commitment and success in formulating and implementing effective policies to meet the growing electricity demand of our people on a sustainable basis and at the lowest overall cost to the society?
The continuing gaps and lapses in policies and practices within the electricity power sector in particular, and in the larger energy sector in general, are only exacerbating the seriousness of multiple concerns for any rational observer of the energy scenario in the country.
While an objective view of a few recent news items will support the above mentioned societal level concerns, rational observers of the energy sector in our county may also wonder whether our officials, policy makers, and ministers have objectively considered the long term welfare of their own families.
The assertions such as "India needs coal, just as West needs oil and gas"; "India cannot do away with energy security to meet climate goals"; "India plans to triple nuclear power generation capacity to 22,480 MW by 2031", can be construed as truly unfortunate, and hence deplorable, because they are not rational in their overall approach to the true welfare of our people, and also because they are not adequately supported by credible reports on the topics.
The unsubstantiated statements such as "India needs coal, just as West needs oil and gas" and "China and India can't wean themselves off coal anytime soon" should be objectively viewed from the perspective of credible and science backed statements such as "India’s plans to double coal production, ignoring climate threat", and many other associated warnings by IPCC, UNFCCC, UNEP, World Bank etc.
Whereas IEA says that the global coal demand is expected to decline in coming years, which is entirely consistent with the global requirement, "India’s plans to double coal production, ignoring climate threat" is a serious blow to the long term welfare future of our people.
The enormity of the societal concerns associated with the massive thermal capacity addition by 2031-2032, which will be about 87,910 MW, as stated by the Union Power Minister, should be viewed in the context of multiple dereliction of duties on part of the implementing agencies to minimise the social and environmental damages.
It is also a matter of grave concern to our people that numerous global scientific reports projecting many kinds of calamitous predictions, such as "Extreme heat is pushing India to the brink of ‘survivability'", might not have come to the attention of our policy makers and ministers; or that such scientific predictions are being routinely dismissed without even deliberating on them.
In either case, the Union government should come up with a clear statement that the increasing levels of fossil fuel consumption is inevitable for the country; that there are no credible threats to our people associated with them; or that the associated threats are either negligible or acceptable; and that there are no suitable alternatives for our country.
Without such definitive statements in the form of a policy paper for the future, such as a national energy policy, to continue with such unsubstantiated policies/ practices in the energy sector should not be acceptable for the people of the country, because they do not know what sort of studies at the national level are carried out, and who are all consulted to arrive such policies.
Without objectively considering the holistic welfare of our people, both in the short term and long term, if we allow the 'demand' (not the real 'need') for energy/ electricity to gallop away, the projection by the minister that "Peak power demand to touch 3.5 lakh MW by 2030-31” may have to be changed soon to indicate that the peak demand will exceed that figure by a considerable margin. In this context can we say that all that is feasible is being done w.r.t "Demand Side Management"?
The unabated growth in demand for electricity/ energy (whether due to natural growth phenomenon, or artificially jacked up), as is happening all these years, is also the root cause for the statement such as "India plans to triple nuclear power generation capacity to 22,480 MW by 2031", despite the fact that nuclear power has been established as the costliest and riskiest technological option for India.
Are there any diligent studies by the DEA/ AEC to argue that nuclear power is affordable, sustainable and critical for our country?
Have the recent developments such as "Solar and on-shore wind provide cheapest electricity and nuclear most expensive, CSIRO analysis shows"; "Germany’s emissions hit 70-year low as it reduces reliance on coal"; "Germany Reached 55% Renewable Energy in 2023" etc. come to the knowledge of our policy makers?
It should be noteworthy that this emission reduction in Germany was achieved without the help of nuclear power capacity. This fact should be highlighted to those nuclear power advocates who are pushing for a nuclear power renaissance in the name of the climate change action plan.
The humongous potential of renewable energy sources in India, especially the democratic solar power (due its characteristic of spreading all over the country) and its true relevance to our people, can be ignored only at our own peril.
It is hugely important to take objective note of the acknowledgement of the tremendous potential of REs by the Union Power Minister, and the true relevance of distributed kinds of solar PV systems, as reported in our own backyard. But deplorably, the illogical preference for conventional technology electricity sources such as coal, dam based hydro and nuclear power are continuing at calamitous costs to the society.
Other recent developments such as "1,900 government buildings solarised in J-K; 20,000 more to be covered by Dec'25"; "U.P. government to install solar rooftops on 25K Varanasi households in just two months"; "Indian Railways signs MoU with US to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030", if considered objectively, should provide us with a clear, early and sustainable 'energy transition pathway'.
If a state like UP can confidently plan to install solar rooftops on 25K Varanasi households in just two months, a similar commitment by the by each of the state government and Union government to install optimal capacity solar rooftops on all of their buildings can revolutionise the electricity demand/ supply scenario in the country before the year 2030.
If a major consumer of electricity, such as Railways, which is also spread over all parts of the country, can earnestly plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030, there cannot be any genuine reason as to why other agencies/ ministries/ departments of the state/ Union government cannot plan for such a target; if not by 2030, at least by 2040/50.
The same argument should hold good for other sectors of our economy, such as agriculture, residential, street lighting, entertainment, education sectors etc. What is truly lacking at the highest levels of the governance in our country is the correct appreciation of the true welfare related concerns of our people, and the enormous potential in the country to embark on a sustainable energy pathway.
Has the Union government taken cognisance of numerous studies which have highlighted the increasing cost effectiveness of solar power?
A study report by the title "The momentum of the solar energy transition" in the science journal Nature has very pertinent findings. 
 “Our analysis establishes quantitative empirical evidence, from current and historical data trends, that a solar energy tipping point is likely to have passed,” says the study, published in Nature Communications in October last year, adding, “Once the combined cost of solar and storage crosses cost parity with all alternative technologies in several key markets, its widespread deployment and further costs declines globally could become irreversible.” 
 The lead author of the study has said: “Now that solar is frequently the cheapest option, industries, installation capacity and all need to be built, which usually takes a few years”.
Has the Union government taken serious cognisance of numerous such studies, which have all highlighted the increasing cost effectiveness of solar power as the base power supply option?
CEA's advocacy for EVs as energy storage in national grid support, if taken to its logical conclusion, should be able to put our electric power sector on a smooth energy transition pathway in a short span of time. Unfortunately, even such technically sound advice is not being heeded to by our planners.
A hugely relevant news article in this larger context indicates the enormity of the folly in viewing the economic development and environmental upkeep in different silos.
Our country, with a huge population base and with multiple concerns over the lack of sustainability in our resource utilisation, can ill-afford to ignore the escalating threats of climate change, to which the electricity sector is a major contributor.
A diligently prepared national energy policy, with unwavering focus on renewable energy sources, keeping in objective view the overall welfare of all sections of the state, including the flora, fauna and general environment, has become critical and urgent to safeguard the true interest of our people in the long term.
The continued failure on part of the Union government to act diligently and urgently in this regard will bring unmitigated disaster to our people, both in the short term and long term. 
 The astounding scenario in our country is that there has been no official substantiation (in the form of a relevant energy policy) as to why the power sector and the energy sector are continuing with the BAU scenario of continuing with the focus on fossil fuels and other conventional technology energy sources, despite the global climate emergency demanding to move away from such calamitous policies.
It is a mystery as to why our policy makers are not seen by the public to have diligently considered various such factors and relevant developments from around the world, especially in our own backyard, in preparing and implementing a suitable national energy policy.
Two relevant study reports (click here and here) on many serious power sector concerns in the country may provide the required elaboration.
Can one expect the Union government to diligently undertake an urgent review of all the associated issues, and finalise a rational approach to the energy sector in the country, through National Energy Policy? Without such concerted efforts, and without such a holistic approach to the overall welfare of our people, the country will soon start witnessing calamitous threats to its communities in the form of multiple ecological disasters.
I am an electrical engineer and a power sector professional with over 43 years of experience in India, New Zealand and Australia; including 5 years in the erstwhile KEB, and 9 years in CEA. I had the opportunity to work with Shri Ghanshyam Prasad, currently the Chairperson of CEA, and Shri SR Narasimhan, CMD of Grid-India while in CEA. It would be disastrous for any government to deem that the knowledge and experience of successful people such as Shri Ghanshyam Prasad and Shri SR Narasimhan as of no use to it, once they retire from their active service.
The power sector in the country would do a great service to our people to take cognisance of the views of retired engineers, former Secretaries, HoDs, and other concerned individuals/ CSOs in formulating critical national level policies. Can the people of our country hope to see discernible reforms in this larger context, as opposed to continuing with a BAU scenario and failed old policies?
---
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst. This article is based on the author’s representation to the Union power secretary, Union N&RE secretary, CEA Chairperson, and the Grid-India CMD

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