Sunday, July 10, 2011

A need for sincere debate on the energy issue in India

When was the last time there was a debate regarding future of energy resources in India?
Many would want to say ... um .. well when was it? When Indian Parliament was trying to get a nuclear deal signed with the USA? Or just last month when there was a fuel hike?
I have a strong feeling that none of these debates were sincere. None of them had anything visionary coming out of it. I always felt that there were more emotional and monetary reasons behind any decision involved towards the future of energy resources in India.
Everyone at the decision making level today seems to make statements such as, "Nuclear and thermal energy is the future for power needs of India". Seriously? Did we ever think if this is sustainable? How did we come to that 'conclusion'? 
To understand this let us go to the root of the issue. Bharat, traditionally has been an economy that always emphasized upon sustainable villages. The villages were always as resourceful as the cities. When the Colonial rule came to Bharat, they got with them the Industrial culture in the West and India was born. Industrialization was good, it brought the so-called 'progress'. There was one differentiating factor though which was not so good. It promoted an economy of unbalance. Of all the unbalances, the unbalance of a region or territory is what made things even sorrow. This is what resulted in the formation of 'cities' of modern time. Instead of decentralization, we had concentrated hubs that had all the amenities. And all these were completely absent in other places. This is what prompted large scale migrations from villages to 'cities', which keep on getting bigger and bigger. But how long will this expansion last is anyone's guess.

A case for decentralization
We can’t keep expanding cities. It will surely crumble at some point. We already keep seeing signs of this. All that the city administration tries to do is find workaround.
A good example of how not to expand a city is the one that I live in: Pune. This city is full of malls. So many of them and so close. And each of them suck power like crazy. There seems to be no full stop in growing number of malls. I can count like four big malls in my small suburb of Viman Nagar. And one of the malls even proclaim to be biggest in India! So you can easily imagine its energy needs. Add to this the fact that the city houses two of the most powerful supercomputers in the country, which also figure in the top 500 list. You can easily get where this is all headed.
When Mahatma Gandhi said we need self-sufficient villages and not big cities, he had point and a vision to see ahead. We just seem to have forgotten that, our vision blinded by the glitz of big malls. At the same time people migrate to cities because villages are under-developed, have rigid social structure and very limited opportunity for ‘growth’. The form of decentralization that Gandhiji advocated once seems to have been completely lost. No one cares about it. Heck none of the political class even speak of it, most are simply concerned with providing subsidies or ‘rojgar’ schemes, which most of times are pointless and foster corruption.

Bad Science and Why no investment in future, the renewable energy?
A few years ago a group of people from a wind energy company had come to our home to meet my dad. They wanted my dad to be a part of independent scientific advisory panel. The reason: There was immense political pressure on this unit to shutdown, apparently because this unit had been blamed for not enough rains in this region. Logic was because of the windmills the wind was diverted, and somehow the rain clouds didn’t come there! Now now! The committee did submit a report to state government , saying there was no such evidence. To top it all, it rained heavily that year in this particular region. Guess, even rain god don’t like bad science Winking smile
In India, I don’t see concerted efforts to push for generation of renewable energy: particularly solar and wind which is available in abundance or even the biogas, but poorly utilized. There are ‘here – and – there’ efforts. We do have a ministry of new and renewable energy :, but I hear more of Petroleum ministry that this more important ministry. I strongly feel that ministry of renewable energy should put in concrete efforts for large scale adoption of renewable energy, which need not be subsidised. A policy like compulsory solar power for all new buildings and existing housing complexes may be a good starting point. 

I strongly feel that Nuclear or thermal energy is just not suitable for our sustainable future. What do you think?

PS. 1) All views expressed here are solely mine. They have nothing to do with my current employer or any organization that I represent.
2) I had though of writing this up from long time. But recent statement on solar power and 'its everyone's choice' by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, during her recent India visit further prompted me to write this up.