Monday, August 15, 2005

The President on Energy Independence

President APJ Abdul Kalam had an image as a dreamer even before he became the First Citizen of this country. No wonder then that visions are a usual feature when he addresses the nation. On Republic Day this year he gave us a vision of universal employment via sustainable development. This time he talks about energy independence.

The first half of the speech was dedicated to talking about the recent floods in various parts of the country, including the financial capital of the country. He also mentioned that action was being taken on some of the 8 areas he had mentioned in his Republic Day speech.

Energy is the lifeline of modern societies....As it is said, energy and water demand will soon surely be a defining characteristic of our people's life in the 21st Century.

Energy security rests on two principles. The first, to use the least amount of energy to provide services and cut down energy losses. The second, to secure access to all sources of energy including coal, oil and gas supplies worldwide, till the end of the fossil fuel era, which is fast approaching. Simultaneously, we should access technologies to provide a diverse supply of reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy.

Energy scurity, which means ensuring that our country can supply lifeline energy to all its citizens, at affordable costs at all times... independence has to be our nation's first and highest priority. We must be determined to achieve this within the next 25 years, therefore by the year 2030. This one major 25-year national mission must be formulated, funds guaranteed, and leadership entrusted without delay as public-private partnerships to our younger generation, now in their 30s, as their lifetime mission in a renewed drive for nation-building.

What are the envisioned energy sources for the future?

Firstly, better using our coal thus: "...a movement towards energy independence would demand accelerated work in operationalising the production of energy from the coal sector through integrated gasification and combined cycle route." In 2030, "the power generated from coal-based power plants would increase from the existing 67,000 MW to 200,000 MW". Simultaneously "fossil fuel imports need to be minimised and secure access to be ensured. Maximum hydro and nuclear power potential should be tapped."

The best part comes after that: "The most significant aspect, however, would be that the power generated through renewable energy technologies may target 20 to 25% against the present 5%. It would be evident that for true energy independence, a major shift in the structure of energy sources from fossil to renewable energy sources is mandated."

"Solar Farms"

"Solar energy in particular requires unique, massive applications in the agricultural sector, where farmers need electricity exclusively in the daytime. This could be the primary demand driver for solar energy. Our farmers demand for electric power today is significantly high to make solar energy economical in large scale.

Shortages of water, both for drinking and farming operations, can be met by large-scale seawater desalination and pumping inland using solar energy, supplemented by bio-fuels wherever necessary.

The current high capital costs of solar power stations can be reduced by gridlocked 100 MW sized Very Large Scale Solar Photovoltaic or Solar Thermal Power Stations. In the very near future, breakthroughs in nanotechnologies promise significant increase in solar cell efficiencies from current 15% values to over 50% levels. These would in turn reduce the cost of solar energy production. Our science laboratories should mount an Research & Development Programme for developing high efficiency CNT based Photo Voltaic Cells.

We thus need to embark on a major national programme in solar energy systems and technologies, for both large, centralised applications as well as small, decentralised requirements concurrently, for applications in both rural and urban areas."

Municipal Waste, Energy Efficiency and Bio-diesel

He also spoke of the potential for power generation from municipal waste: "Today, two plants are operational in India, each plant generating 6.5 MW of electric power. Studies indicate that as much as 5800 MW of power can be generated by setting up 900 electric power plants spread over in different parts of the country, which can be fueled by municipal waste."

Transmission losses, which encompass power theft, came in for special mention. The President pointed out that reducing these losses from 30-40% to 15% will save as much power as Rs 70,000 crores (about $15 bn) worth of investment can produce.

He also repeated his Republic Day commitment to bio-fuels, pointing out that India can produce 60 million tonnes of bio-fuels annually. Interestingly again he did not mention ethanol. When he spoke about the full economic cycle, the phases were conspiciously those for the bio-diesel cycle.

Nuclear Power

In the only disappointing aspect for the greens, he also stressed on ramping up on the nuclear power front. His stance however moves away slightly from the US' potential "helping hand". The President stressed the need to build Thorium-based reactors because India has good reserves of the metal.