Green energy: a viable power source?

Published: August 5, 2013

The writer is a Kolkata-based journalist and has written for several publications, including the Hindustan Times, Statesman and The Times of India

The new government in Pakistan faces almost a power famine as the real power shortfall during peak hours veers up to 12,000 megawatts (MW). The demand gap for electricity in India in December 2012 was even more than that of Pakistan. For a much bigger country like India, the situation is not as worrisome as it is for Pakistan. The Central Electricity Authority, the main advisory body to India’s power ministry, has set a target of 100,000MW of additional power generation capacity during the 12th five-year plan (2012-2017), based on the projected annual power demand growth of nine per cent. The Indian Planning Commission has endorsed the plan but the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has put a rider that this may be “ecologically unsustainable” as 70 per cent of this is to be coal-based. For Pakistan, it is an uphill task to build new capacities to generate 12,000MW (this could have been less than 7,500MW, but for the burdensome circular debt).

Indeed, the chase for more megawatts is like running after a mirage. We need to look to ‘negawatts’ or negative megawatts, meaning saving through increasing efficiency or reducing consumption. The term negawatts (NW) was coined by American physicist and environmental scientist Amory Bloch Lovins, who is the chairman cum chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. His keynote address at the Green Energy Conference in Montreal, in 1989, was captioned “Negawatt revolution — solving the CO2 problem” and was ignored by the US megacorp biggies that wield a systemic hegemony through the ideology of neo-liberal finance capital. Yet, its relevance has been proved by several success stories of significant electricity-saving. Terming it the “soft energy path”, Lovins stated poignantly, “Electricity has huge environmental leverage. Power plants burn a third of the fuel in the world. They account for a third of the CO2, therefore, released from the burning of fossil fuel. In my own country, they release two-thirds of the sulphur oxides and a third of the nitrogen oxides. Further, every unit of electricity you save at the point of use saves typically three or four units of fuel, namely coal at the power plant.”

Look at the pace-setting recovery of waste heat in Copenhagen — the recovered heat is piped back to homes. In 2006, it accounted for 97 per cent of heat supply. The energy saving in the Copenhagen district was estimated to be equivalent to 203,000 tonnes of oil (or 665,000 tons of CO2) seven years ago. The saving in annual energy expenses was 1,400 euros on average. The heating is clean, reliable and affordable. It was replicated in, at least, five cities of Denmark and helps carbon heating plants switch over from coal to natural gas and biofuels, such as straw and wood pillars. Some 300,000 tonnes of wood pellets and 150,000 tonnes of straw are used every year.

Professor Sujay Basu, the former director of the School of Energy Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and a staunch opponent of nuclear power, drew my attention to the NW concept and its author, Amory Lovins. He was inspired by Lovins, who put it illustratively in Montreal, “One compact fluorescent lamp, over its life, will keep from putting into the air from coal plants about a tonne of CO2 and eight kilos of SO2 and various other bad things. Or, if it’s displacing oil-fired electricity, one such lamp will save enough oil to run your family car 1,000 miles.”

This subcontinent is overdependent on grid power, which is subservient to transmission and distribution losses, now defined as the aggregate transmission and commercial losses. Losses occuring due to hooking and tapping are prevalent all over the subcontinent. Fortunately, these can be drastically slashed through the installation of aerial bunched cables (ABC) that are useful in protecting overhead power distribution. ABC is an in-built safety and reliability system, which is especially suitable for rural distribution and attractive for installation in difficult terrains — including hilly, forest and coastal areas.

Increased emphasis on renewable energy and reduced dependence on non-renewable generation utilities is a must in the near future. Alongside, let us judiciously cut the present energy use, which is economically justified.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Mirza
    Aug 6, 2013 - 1:06AM

    This Op Ed is an ecologically friendly, safe and beneficial analysis of increasing electricity use. With the increasing global warming and resulting weather extremes we are seeing less ice on the poles and mountain tops. The last few years have been hottest on record.
    We have to work at both ends not just generating more pollution. The easiest and cheapest is to conserve electricity. Even in the richest countries of the world like USA the govt has given almost free fluorescent bulbs to cut down electricity use. In fact the production of old Edison incandescent bulb is not legal anymore in the US. There are light sensors and they only come on when a person or large animal is outside the door or even in shopping center aisle and then automatically turn off.
    In Pakistan where there is plenty of sunlight solar lights can be easily installed on the gates and in the yard. They are cheap and last many years. LED bulbs though still expensive can be installed at difficult to reach places because they have very long life. The manufacture and sale of old tech bulbs be outlawed. These are some of the quick steps that can be taken while it would be several years before the new power plants are functional.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Aug 6, 2013 - 7:25AM

    When you do not have electricity where is the question of saving it.

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  • Mirza
    Aug 6, 2013 - 9:21AM

    @C. Nandkishore: You mean to say that poor and lower middle-class people should not save any money because they don’t have much? Planning would stretch the resources and would last a bit longer. Failure to plan is planning for failure.
    Thanks and regards,
    M

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  • amit sarkar
    Aug 6, 2013 - 9:36AM

    Dear Mr Roy,
    Good morning and a nice write up.
    We want more such humanistic feature from your column

    amit sarkar.

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  • Dr Dang
    Aug 6, 2013 - 6:40PM

    Remember the law of conservation of energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change form; for instance, chemical energy can be converted to kinetic energy. We are surrounded by sources of energy.
    Why cant we simply harvest energy ?

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  • Rationalist
    Aug 6, 2013 - 8:47PM

    @Dr Dang:
    Energy is definitely conserved but Sir I hope you are also familiar with the 2nd law of thermodynamics and entropy.

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