Energy infrastructure and seven decades

Energy infrastructure and seven decades
Energy infrastructure has expanded rapidly to meet the growing needs of the economy.

In last seven decades, there have been far-reaching changes in meeting energy needs of the economy especially of rural India. In 1947, we had very little power generation or network to enable people to access power. The total installed capacity was less than 2 gigawatt (GW) and average consumption per month per capita was about 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) only. The Britishers had taken no interest in providing power in rural areas. Of the 600,000 villages, not even 0.5% electrified with access to fewer still. There was very little power transmission lines network. Things have changed since then in many ways. The installed capacity today is 272GW and more than 580,000 villages have been electrified. Access to power is 98% in urban areas and about 80% in rural India, according to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). The average consumption per month is 90 kWh. The length of power lines has gone up by 500 times.india-at-70-logo-2

A prominent area of progress has been access to clean fuel for cooking. Practically the entire population was dependent on biomass including coal for cooking when India got Independence. This led to a large number of women getting asphyxiation and dying due to inhalation of harmful carbon dioxide, monoxide and other toxic gases. The concept of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) was non-existent. While oil companies were operating, there was very little refinery capacity and growth in the sector was slow. Things have changed dramatically since then. Today, we have 170 million LPG connections and the network is expanding rapidly. About one-third families use LPG, a clean fuel, for cooking according to NSSO data. India has refinery capacity of more than 200 million tonnes per annum and produces about 10 million tonnes of LPG per annum. It imports similar amounts to meet the domestic need of clean cooking fuel. In spite of the above, there is still a sizeable gap in rural India access.

As Indian economy plans for higher income levels and a better quality of life for its citizens, the energy needs have been growing at a rapid pace. If we are to become a middle income nation over the next two decades, our energy requirements may go up by about three times. Need for clean energy, energy-efficient systems, access of the people to energy for their needs and expansion to meet the overall needs of the economy are all essential for faster and inclusive growth and for the country to be the leading economic power. The reforms in several of these areas still leave a large gap.

Energy infrastructure has expanded rapidly to meet the growing needs of the economy. A prominent area of work is improving energy efficiency to enable lower energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product. There was no focus on this aspect in the early parts of our development process. In several diverse fields, progress has now been made. The earlier power plants had lower energy efficiency of about 30% for domestic coal. The new plants with supercritical and newly developing ultra-supercritical technology can give 38% to 42% energy from the same coal. Old plants need to be scrapped and new technology should replace these. In industries such as fertilisers, petroleum, aluminium, cement, paper and steel, technology upgradation is being introduced. Appliances such as energy-efficient air conditioners, refrigerators, electric pumps, light-emitting diodes and other consumer goods need to be upgraded to global energy efficiency standards. Transport policies must focus on higher efficiency including increased public transport and higher usage of rail, river and coastal mode. Urban housing needs more energy-efficient construction. Increasingly, higher standards of energy efficient cars and cleaner fuel would need to be adopted. All these policies are at different stages of implementation.  

A relatively new concept has been clean energy. This was not a source developed in the earlier years. We have in the context of climate change talks and the Paris agreement on climate change decided to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33-35% by 2030. As part of this, we plan to develop 175GW of clean energy by 2022. This includes 100GW of solar power, 60GW of wind energy and rest from biomass. These targets have been given to the states and a strategy of solar parks and rooftop solar mix has been planned. Given the pace of work in the last few years, this target does appear ambitious. For example, in the last three years the annual average addition of capacity from these sources has been only 4.5GW.

Clean energy is dependent on two other sources: hydro energy and nuclear energy. Unfortunately the pace of development of hydro power plants has been abysmally poor. During the entire 11th Plan period, only 5,544 megawatt (MW) could be added. The rest got mired in controversies of environment clearances and infrastructure development needed to enable movement of machinery and plants. Nuclear has moved slowly and against 5,300MW expected in 12th Plan, not more than 2,000MW is likely. There have been agitations and opposition to creating such capacities in Gujrat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Several measures are urgently needed.

First, universalise energy access by a special programme for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Odisha and the north-eastern states.

Second, apart from solar, stronger focus on hydro and nuclear energy rapid expansion to meet needs of the economy with clean energy sources is required.

Third, continue bringing gas-based plants on stream with low liquefied natural gas prices in international market to help grid stability specially needed due to large share of renewable. Gas-based plants can ramp up faster than coal-powered plants.

Fourth, provide thrust to multi sectoral initiatives of energy efficiency by co-ordination at the highest level.


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B.K. Chaturvedi B.K.Chaturvedi is India’s former cabinet secretary and former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, now called the Niti Aayog.