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Power sector: Widespread decentralised usage of RE sources should play critical role

Shankar Sharma, Power & Climate Policy Analyst, writes to R K Singh, Union Minister for power and NRE, New Delhi

In continuation of my earlier concerns expressed over the issue that the power/ energy sector in the country has been facing serious & multiple crises since many decades, I would like to draw your kind attention again to multiple options available to our society to satisfactorily address such critical issues.
The recent developments, as reported in the newslinks below, should establish the huge relevance of decentralised RE sources, such as rooftop solar power generation and suitably designed energy storage battery systems etc. which will greatly assist in the climate change action plan in our country by minimising the impacts on our natural resources such as forest and freshwater resources, while drastically reducing the GHG emissions of the energy sector as a whole. It should be emphasised here that the tropical forest lands such as the ones we have in India are the most effective and cheapest carbon sinks, and hence must be protected and enhanced for the sake of our people in the medium to long term. The widespread usage of the decentralised RE sources, such as rooftop solar power plants, should play a critical role in this larger context. The collective ownership, such as rooftop solar power plants and suitably designed energy storage battery systems, are critical in effectively addressing many of the chronic issues being faced in the power sector.
In view of the unsurmountable concerns associated with the ever increasing demand for electricity, and as should be evident from the objective considerations of the demand side management (DSM), our country must do all that is feasible not to allow our communities to follow the United States' example in terms of electricity use per household, which on a per capita basis is by far the highest of any major economy. The annual per capita electricity consumption in the United States is reported to be about 12,900 kWH, which is three and a half times of the global average. All possible encouragement to install SPV systems on various kinds of rooftops, especially in residential and agricultural sector, can enable our communities to remain frugal in per capita electricity consumption, and also can offer us the potential to reduce the net demand on the national grid by as much as 35-40%, as per some estimates. In this context, the recent decision of the Union government to bring a new scheme for distributed renewable energy sources, is a welcome step in the right direction, but the same should be taken towards a logical end by considering every illumination application, and all other small magnitude power/ commercial loads into the purview of such a scope.
It must also be emphasised that a vastly populous and resource constrained country like India has a chance to sustainably harness its resources for the overall of its people, if and only if the individual/ personal demand for energy/ materials become the primary responsibility of individuals/ small communities, and not entirely the responsibility of the STATE. The enormous societal level costs associated with the decades old efforts to supply grid based electricity only to each and every application at all nooks and corners of the country, should be visible in the form of accelerated degradation of natural resources such as fresh water bodies, forests, soil and air. It is a matter of serious and worthy consideration as to why its should be the sole responsibility of the state/ national grid to meet the ever increasing demand for electricity of an individual, or a tiny group of people for luxurious/ fancy applications (such as gambling den/ casino/ clubs/ bars, night time sports, 24 hour shopping mall, night time golf tournaments, heated swimming pool etc.). Such applications, if deemed necessary by the society, should be catered to by individuals or small communities based on sustainable energy options; with or without connections to the national grid. Such an approach will encourage allround efficiency efforts at all levels to reduce the end cost of utilising the electricity.
Whereas the multiple representations of civil society groups w.r.t the credible concerns associated with the inefficient and hugely costly practice of continuing with the conventional technology power plants and the associated infrastructure, such as coal mines, ash ponds, dams, power lines etc. seem to have no obvious impact on the associated policies of the Union govt., the consequences of the same in respect of the calamitous changes due to climate change must not be ignored.
"The cumulative total expenditure for adapting to climate change in India is estimated to reach ₹85.6 lakh crore (at 2011-12 prices) by 2030, the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) Department of Economic and Policy Research (DEPR) estimated in its Report on Currency & Finance 2022-23. " It is no rocket science to project that this expenditure will escalate with the passage of each year, if the necessary measures are not effectively implemented urgently. Certainly adding more conventional technology power plants such as coal, gas, dam based hydro or nuclear power plants cannot be a responsible policy in this context.
Another relevant report is ‘The Economics of Climate Change’ by Sir Nicholas Stern. This Review had estimated that certain scenarios of Global Warming may result in poor countries like India suffering economic costs of about 20% of its future GDP, whereas the mitigation of the same now can be achieved at a cost of about 1% of present GDP. The Review also indicates that the more we delay in addressing Global Warming, the higher we will have to spend in mitigation of the same in future. In this background the country level benefits of adequate investments to minimise the Global Warming impacts of conventional power plants is considered worth the huge cost.
It is also reported in Science posits that, if we stop all human management on forests (for example, wood harvesting) under current climatic conditions and with the CO2 concentration that already exists, their aboveground biomass could increase by up to 44.1 gigatons of carbon. Without strong reductions in emissions, the paper concludes that this strategy has a low potential to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The researchers also highlight that the forest carbon sink (its ability to absorb carbon) should be preserved to offset residual emissions from sectors where they are unavoidable, rather than to compensate for present emission levels.
Hence, adequate protection and enhancement of our forest & tree cover in the country will be vastly more effective in arresting climate change impacts, than all other technology based efforts, and also will be most attractive to our communities from different perspectives. Only a diligently prepared national energy policy, which has the scope to cover all such country level perspectives, and should effectively involve various interested stakeholder groups, can take our communities a long way ahead in addressing all such societal level concerns.
It is a daunting question for the keen observers of energy and environment in the country as to why these strategic concerns do not appear to be worthy issues for CEA and NITI Aayog to deliberate on and to come up with suitable policy papers/ initiatives.
Can we hope that your ministry takes the necessary and urgent initiatives in this regard?



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