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Thrust on non-conventional energy resources is a must, Shri R V Shahi, Former Secretary, Ministry of Power

Indraprastha Engineering College, Ghaziabad, organised a National Workshop on 7th February, 2009 on "Non-Conventional Energy" and had invited me to deliver a comprehensive address as the Chief Guest of this event. They had organised this event with Faculty Members of various Engineering Colleges in NCR Region and of course the students of Indraprastha Engineering College as participants. The reason of my acceptance to be present in this event was a nice feeling that the subject of Renewable Energy is gaining ground not only among the select groups of energy professionals and NGO's but is extending even to Engineering Colleges and Polytechnics. Unless non-conventional energy technologies and processes receive wider attention, not only technological breakthroughs would continue to remain a distant dream, but also it would be difficult to secure acceptance of people and society at large on some of the approaches towards energy development. It augurs well that these issues are being discussed, debated and disseminated across various layers and levels of society. The fact that in India even now we have hardly about 10% of total installed capacity of power through non-conventional energy sources - as a matter of fact, in terms of electricity generation the percentage would be not more than 2 to 3% from these sources - speaks volumes of what we have done and what needs to be done. Therefore, I did not allow this opportunity, to communicate with students and teachers, to be missed. I only wish that this type of discussions are organised by such other Institutes as well so that the subject receives the attention it deserves. In this context, I would also like to mention about another International Conference which has been organised, in March 2009, by National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra, on Energy and Environment.

The event began with a recital which also focused on relevance of energy in our life and on how we should preserve and protect our earth. Main points of my address are briefly summarised below:

  • Globally we should succeed in articulating and convincing all concerned that all Hydro Electric Schemes irrespective of size and type-run-of-river or storage - are renewable in nature. A few years back there was a total reluctance on the part of a large number of countries to even consider this proposition. In last few years there has been a change in the mindset across the world. But, even now there are reservations, particularly in relation to large hydro electric projects which involve submergence of large areas and therefore, in many cases, dislocation of townships.

  • Dislocation, rehabilitation and resettlement are, no doubt, genuine problems and they must be addressed. I also believe that one of the reasons that there is resistance against such Schemes is the conservative approach of a large number of project developers, which has not been accepted by general public let alone by the affected people of these townships. If we have to reverse the thinking and convert it in favour of these Schemes, we should not only be genuine in our approach but we should appear to be true to our commitment in mitigating the hardships that are likely to be caused to the people affected. The advantages of hydro electric projects are so overriding in the long run that any cost to address the issues concerning rehabilitation and resettlement of people would appear low, not only on account of human considerations but also on account of economics of electricity generation.

  • On a national and international level the communication exercise, in the form of campaign if it is required to be so, should aim at telling the world that it has been a tragedy of our energy planning that globally we have not been able to harness more than 20% of our hydro electric potential. If we had done so, not only we would have been able to effectively handle the issue of ever increasing prices of fossil fuels, the climate change ramifications would also have been considerably less. Last several decades of energy development, throughout the world, have, in fact proved to be decades of lost opportunities. We need to create a global as well as a national consensus in favour hydro electric projects.

  • Unfortunately in India also there have been different and differing schools of thought. There are a number of NGO's and other individuals who do have a lot of grievances against large hydro electric projects. One would not say that their grievances, reservations, and therefore, oppositions are totally misplaced. These projects do also have a number of associated difficulties. But, what needs to be underscored is that these difficulties can be resolved and hardships fully mitigated. All that it will mean would be additional costs. Where things went wrong was in not accepting that these costs must be incurred. Developers need to change their tracks of thinking and so should the NGO's and individuals, so that the country benefits from the enormous potentials that our water resources hold and can offer.

  • If we add up our hydro electric capacity of over 35,000 MW with about 12,000 MW of non-conventional (renewable) sources of energy, the percentage of such capacity would not be only about 10% but it would be more than 35%. It is altogether a different matter that administratively hydro electric capacities upto 25 MW have been put under the jurisdiction of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and beyond that it is with the Ministry of Power. In fact, till the year 2001 only projects upto 3 MW were under the jurisdiction of that Ministry. These are purely administrative arrangements. They do not change the nature of being renewable or otherwise. All hydroelectric projects are renewable whether they are under Ministry of Power or under the other Ministry.

  • India has an estimated potential of 150,000 MW of hydro electric capacity. We have been able to commission projects aggregating to over 35,000 MW. Many of us also believe that a more comprehensive investigation of various rivers, rivulets, water streams, water falls etc. may render a lot more of potential than what has been estimated so far. 50,000 MW hydro electric initiative launched in 2003 by the Ministry of Power was a major step in the right direction. Both Central and State Governments should do everything possible to see that most of our hydro electric potentials are appropriately harnessed. It will be possible only if, as mentioned above, there is a mass support to this type of an approach and the initiative is implemented through a Mission Mode.

  • Almost equal to the potential that we have in India, water resources in Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar provide opportunities for hydro electric projects (over 80,000 MW in Nepal, 30,000 MW in Bhutan and 40,000 MW in Myanmar). All these countries have genuine desire and aspiration to enhance their energy consumption. They must do so. But, beyond their needs they would have enough to trade with India whose electricity needs are much more. We need to create a win-win situation among these nations. Thus, more than 300,000 MW of hydro electric potential, in this part of the world, when harnessed, can offer a unique example of how a well conceived energy strategy can make a difference not only in enhancing the economy and the lifestyle of people but also by providing a solid solution to climate change concerns.

  • As mentioned, all hydro electric generation constitutes renewable energy. However, what is normally understood by non-conventional energy generation, is constituted by sources of energy from wind, solar, bio-mass, geothermal, tidal etc. Among these, Wind power has emerged as the largest, globally as also in India, amongst these energy sources of electricity generation. A fact that needs to be clarified right at the outset, while talking of non-conventional electricity, is that installed capacities from these sources and from conventional sources do not provide same amount of electricity. For illustration a 100 MW of Wind based capacity would be able to deliver only about 25% of what a coal based power plant of similar capacity could produce. Similarly, installed capacities in other categories of non-conventional electricity generation would also provide much lower amount of electricity than conventional systems.

  • The year 2008 witnessed the largest amount of capacity addition through wind turbines. The installed capacity increased by almost 29%. At present the global wind turbine capacity stands at about 1,21,000 MW (121 GW). During the year about 27,000 MW capacity was added. The maximum amount of capacity added was in U.S.A. (8,358 MW) followed by China (6,300 MW), India (1,800 MW), Germany (1,665 MW), Spain (1,609 MW).

  • India was the fourth largest in the world on Wind based power generation during 2007. Because of massive capacity additions in China, India ranks now fifth in the world. The total wind based capacity in U.S.A. is 25,170 MW followed by Germany (23,903 MW), Spain (16,754 MW), China (12,210 MW) and India (9,645 MW).

  • India has an estimated Wind based generation potential of the order of 45,000 MW. Government of India Schemes provide for incentives such as depreciation benefits in respect of Income Tax or 50 paise per KWhr of incentive linked to power generation through this system.

  • During last ten years there have been technological upgradations and now we have one wind turbine system of capacity of the order of 3 MW as compared to just 200 KW we used to have ten years ago. Technological advancements continue. As a result, very soon power generation through this technology may compete with conventional electricity generation even without any preferential treatment.

  • As per National Electricity Policy, State Electricity Regulators are required to fix a percentage of total electricity that the distribution companies would be obliged to procure from non-conventional energy generation. This provision has been made to promote new technologies which are environment friendly and generate clean power. During the transition period such regulations and incentives are necessary till the time these technologies become cost effective on capital cost and compete on their own with conventional electricity generation.

  • Bio-mass based electricity generation is another new technology which, in last ten years, has advanced to a stage that it is more or less competitive, with a little bit of support, with conventional electricity. These systems have great relevance to rural energy needs. Decentralised Distributed Generation (DDG), based on bio-mass, if scaled up, can provide a viable and sustainable solution to rural energy needs.

  • The sun is the eternal source of energy. But, we have failed not only in India, but globally in not being able to harness solar energy and make it cost effective. With all efforts put together, the technology to produce electricity from solar energy has been able to do so at a rate which is almost five times of the normal rate. Photo Voltaic Systems have been costly. No doubt, their prices are coming down. But even now, per KWhr cost is about Rs. 15.00 as compared to Rs. 2.00 to Rs. 3.00 in the conventional systems. Even the solar thermal, with new advancements providing comparatively larger capacity of a plant in the range of 50 MW to 100 MW, can produce power at the rate of not less than Rs. 10.00 per KWhr.

  • In the last two years, there have been concerted efforts to research and innovate new technologies. It is expected that in the next five years, the cost will come down substantially, even though solar power may not be able to compete with conventional power. However, the advantages in terms of climate change are so enormous that there would be various types of incentives which should be able to further encourage technology research aimed at cost effectiveness of solar power systems.

  • In India, Central Government has announced a Scheme under which for every KWhr of electricity through Solar PV Systems the Government gives a grant of Rs. 12.00 assuming that the balance Rs. 3.00 will be paid by the distribution utility, so as to make the solar system commercially viable. Obviously this type of incentive can work upto a limited capacity. During the transition period this is needed. However, the technology itself should develop to a point that such incentives or subsidies may not be necessary.

  • It is understood that Governments of Gujarat and Rajasthan are contemplating 50 MW Solar Thermal Plants and are in discussion with a few U.S. Companies. These are definitely very encouraging developments. Such States as have large capacity requirements can definitely afford to support, to some extent, capacities in the range of 5 to 10% through solar systems, may not be immediately but spread over a period of time. Unless such encouragements are provided, it would be difficult to make these new technologies cost effective. India is in a very advantageous position because of its large rural population and huge demand supply gaps in energy. Any technology can be scaled up to meet such demands and it is these large demands that can provide comfort to make these technologies progressively cost effective.

  • Geothermal Power is another important source which can provide energy and electricity. There are areas in our country where it has been established that deep down in the earth lot of heat is available which can be used to heat up water, produce steam and drive turbines to produce electricity. Studies and investigations have been carried out and technologies and methods are being evolved to see that they are made cost effective in acceptable range. At this point of time commercial exploitation of geothermal has not been possible in India. But, definitely in coming five to ten years, geothermal will also emerge as the technology option which may have to undergo a transition period needing supports and incentive and then subsequently be on its own.

  • Sea waves and tides contain enormous amount of energy. What is necessary is to evolve and implement technologies which can capture this energy and transform it into electricity or in other usable forms of energy. This again is at the stage of investigations and discovery of technology and systems which can lead to pilot stage and subsequently to commercial stage of exploitation of this energy.

The subject of non-conventional energy has never been in focus so much as in last two to three years. The adverse consequences of green house gas emissions, which have been highlighted in the recent past, have compelled all the countries in the world to revisit their energy strategies. Supply side of the energy production has obviously come under strains. Ways and means are being found out to have a balanced profile of energy mix, so that emissions could be minimised. Non-conventional energy generation, therefore, is receiving top most attention. Equally important has been the subject of Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management. There is greater realisation and recognition of the fact that any wasteful use of energy must to avoided at all costs. Technology innovations and consumption habits should lead to more efficient use of energy. Both these issues put together alone can provide a sustainable solution to energy production and energy consumption.