The Black Truth: Part V

As stated earlier, India had 92,445 million tonnes (mt) of proven, recoverable coal reserves at the end of 2006. Its consumption in 2006 was around 540 mt. Assuming that coal consumption will grow in the future at the historical growth rate of around 5.5%, the reserves will last for only another 45 years! However, in all likelihood, the future growth rate will be higher than the historical growth rate because of two factors:

1) Customer base: There are 300 million people in India today who do not have access to electricity, believe it or not. They will be connected to the grid at some point of time thus increasing the customer base. Our population will increase, too. Both will increasing the customer base.

2) Increase in per capita consumption (PCC): As a country develops, its people will demand more electricity. This is a very natural phenomenon which will play out in India as well. India’s average PCC today is around 800 units (kWh) per person per year, whereas the world average is around 3,000 units. So in the next few decades, India’s PCC will rise, inch closer towards the world average, cross it at some point, and then start inching towards the PCC of developed countries, which is anywhere from 2 to 5 times the world average.

Therefore, our future growth rate will be higher than 5.5%. It could be anywhere from 6.5% to 8%, and even as high as 10%. For those 3 numbers, our coal reserves will last for only 40, 35, and 30 years respectively! Even if these numbers are off by a little bit, we are certainly down to the last 50 years. If we cut down on our consumption, the reserves will last for 100 years at most, but not more than that. So the time to use our coal reserves judiciously is already upon us!

How To Cut CO2 Emissions?

As far as CO2 emissions are concerned, India is 3rd on the list of the biggest polluters in the world, behind only China and USA. These top 3 countries account for more than 46% of the total CO2 emissions in the world! Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, South Korea, Canada, and UK are the remaining countries in the top 10 list, and account for another 17% of the total emissions. Together, the top 10 countries account for more than 64% of the world’s CO2 emissions!

So how does one cut emissions? Replacing coal and diesel wil low carbon energy sources is one way. Natural gas is one such energy source. Biomass is another. However, the extent to which it can be considered a reduced-carbon energy source depends on the type of biomass used and the process by which it is converted to energy. If the type is right and the process is optimal, it can be very close to being carbon-free. Carbon capture and sequestration is yet another way of reducing carbon emissions.

However, the most effective way is to use renewable energy sources like solar (thermal as well as photovoltaic), wind, geothermal, hydro, tidal, and nuclear. But renewable energy sources are not available everywhere. You can’t have a hydroelectric power plant unless you have a big river or wind power unless you have a lot of wind, can you? And they are almost always expensive.

Developed countries say, “We will reduce our carbon emissions but so should everybody else.” Developing countries counter that by saying, “We are still developing, and just don’t have the resources to go for expensive renewable energy sources. Besides, the developed countries of today polluted the world when they were developing. So why shouldn’t we get to do it, too?” The latter has been China’s and India’s argument in many forums.

While all the arguments are valid in their own way, the fact remains that CO2 emissions are more than what they should be and need to be reduced to mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change. It is in everybody’s interests to do so. If a country reduces its CO2 emissions (by deploying whatever method it can), who gets to breathe fresher air? If a country becomes self-reliant as far as its energy needs are concerned, who benefits? This is for each country to decide, but as far as I am concerned, the answers to such questions are obvious.

India has been importing more than 100 million tonnes of coal since 2010. It is forced to do so since Coal India Limited (CIL), which has a near monopoly on coal production in India, can’t produce enough to meet our requirement. And apparently, CIL’s mining technology is out-dated and efficiency much lower than of the best coal mining companies in the world. Why CIL didn’t update the technology or production capacity fast enough is for them to answer. So, we continue to import huge quantities of coal, which is a big drain on our foreign exchange reserves to say the least, since imported coal is almost always more expensive than that produced locally. But the question that I want to ask is: how prudent is it to import coal all the way from Australia, which is almost 8,000 kms away, to light up homes in India? Isn’t using solar energy, which is there in such great abundance in India, a much better and wiser option?

(Prashant Karhade is a guest author of ABC of Solar)


The Black Truth: Part I

The Black Truth: Part II

The Black Truth: Part III

The Black Truth: Part IV

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