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India Energy Independence
Jamais Cascio, 16 Aug 05

India_Energy.jpgThe President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (who is, quite literally, a rocket scientist), made a major speech this week on the future of energy in India. The presentation (available in full here) covers the current status of India's energy production and consumption, and looks at what needs to be done to make India energy independent by 2030. It's a sometimes surprising mix of ambitious high-tech green endeavors and an almost stubborn continuation of traditional fossil energy sources. It provides an interesting comparison to the 2005 Energy Act just passed in the United States -- similar in some regards, dramatically different in others, but still clinging tightly to the old models of centralized production and control over energy.

Those who have been following India's back room reluctance to participate in post-Kyoto restrictions on greenhouse gases won't be surprised that the closest Dr. Kalam gets to discussing global warming is a vague mention that "the climate of the globe as a whole is changing." He has good reason not to want to touch the carbon issue -- he sees the bulk of electricity production coming from coal, albeit largely from coal gasification. As a result, there's a pretty robust scenario painting India -- not China or the US -- as the main greenhouse gas emitter of the first quarter of the century, and Kalam's proposals do nothing to dispel that fear. It's interesting that China's government seems more ready to address the environmental dangers of coal use than the Indian government; the silver lining to this acid raincloud is that, as a democratic polity, India is in a better position to vote in a government willing to grapple with the problem than China would be if its leadership was more intransigent.

But the Indian energy plan isn't just coal and self-delusion about carbon.

Kalam pushes solar as a key part of the 2030 energy independence plan, with an interesting twist: he links it to the agricultural sector, both for powering farms and for desalination plants to bring in fresh water. He ties in nanotechnology research -- something that India has already embraced -- to a drive to improve solar efficiencies. (Interestingly, while the chart accompanying the section on solar suggests that it would be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells, Kalam only mentions it in passing in his speech.) Other less traditional sources of electricity include power from burning municipal waste and the introduction of thorium-based nuclear power plants. India has a greater supply of thorium than uranium, but what makes this proposal interesting is that thorium can't be used to produce weapons-grade nuclear material (I've been talking with a NASA researcher looking at thorium reactors, and will have a post on the subject soon). If India was to develop expertise in the development of thorium reactors (which also can have, depending upon use, more easily contained and handled wastes), it would be an interesting new twist in the question of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the developing world.

Finally, the most interesting part of the speech has to bee Dr. Kalam's lengthy discussion of an aggressive move to Jatropha-based biofuels for transportation.

India has a potential to produce nearly 60 million tones of bio-fuel annually, thus making a significant and important contribution to the goal of Energy Independence. Indian Railways has already taken a significant step of running two passenger locomotives (Thanjavur to Nagore section) and six trains of diesel multiple units (Tiruchirapalli to Lalgudi, Dindigul and Karur sections) with a 5% blend of bio-fuel sourced from its in-house esterification plants.[...] What is needed is a full economic chain from farming, harvesting, extraction to esterification, blending and marketing. Apart from employment generation, bio-fuel has a significant potential to lead our country towards energy independence.

Jatropha appears to be the go-to plant for biofuel production, and while India is already making small amounts of biodiesel with it, other producers in Africa and the Middle East are adopting it as well.

Dr. Kalam's energy independence speech is by no means an indicator that India is on the path to a bright green future; in many ways, it foreshadows India going through a particularly difficult transition in the years to come. But in light of the recent debates in the United States over energy policy, it's interesting to see how a rapidly developing country deals with similar problems. Dr. Kamal's speech is a useful gauge of where India sees its energy future -- and where the Indian government still has blind spots.

(Via GreenCarCongress)

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Comments

I wonder what sort of plant Jatropha is? Weedy invasive? Good neighbour? Promoter of biodiversity?

Should be an interesting time ahead if the engines of commerce come to rest on the unfailing health of a single species of plant. What sacrifices in the environment as a whole will be made to ensure that this plant is secure?


Posted by: John Brisbin on 17 Aug 05

The most intriguing question is that the origin of our problems is not being solved by this partial ecoefficiency approach. The origin is linked to our myths, dramatically exposed in applied economic theories around the world. By these myths economists firmly believe that economic systems are neutral to the environment and, using the technological assumption freely, economists conclude that environment is inexaustible. And they influence all the global policies in this one-sided discussion, ignoring completely all the other scientists and environmentalists (it was very funny to read Martin Wolf saying that ambientalists are one-sided, not this economic system and even not the policymakers or traditional economists with their growthmania in a finite world...). Finally, more important, this suicidal energy consumption is linked to another myth by wich social welfare depends on the material consumption of goods and services. This is helping a lot to boost a huge waste of resources, among other results. A war can not be discarded when the resources became terribly scarce. Richest countries at least are prepared for that, as always.

Hugo Penteado
Brazil


Posted by: Hugo Penteado on 17 Aug 05

Economists imagine no such thing. Economics is simply about money nothing more its a tool not the entire world.

0nce the tool has told you want is possible your moral fiber and common sense tell you what is right amoung those options. And then 80% of the time you guess wrong and go to heck.


Posted by: wintermane on 17 Aug 05

I am dissapointed in Indias faíth in central planning. I give an example say a bright graduate student or PhD student had an interesting idea related to energy production, how can he/she develop the idea ? In centralised system it will
be difficult as the professors and other administrators will want their "cut" or they might want to steal the idea. What is required is more start-up capital for young entrepenours.
One need to evaluate a financial risks to benefits ratio and the financers NEED to take risk. So far in the government sectors only work which is low risk and well known is financed.
This kills creativity, this is true for most universities in most countries.


Posted by: V Narayan on 17 Aug 05

Sure people always say they need to take risks.. but as soon as a risk becomes a failure watch the bloodletting begin.


Posted by: wintermane on 17 Aug 05

The thorium resources of India make the development of molten-salt reactors an especially appealing prospect for their future energy needs. These reactors have extremely high nuclear stability, online refueling and removal of fission products, and the ability to completely consume thorium. This gives them the ability to achieve total safety in all operating regimes through passive decay heat removal and the chemical stability of the fission products.

Unfortunately, the Indians appear to be following the same mistaken approach of the West--developing fast-breeder reactors with weak operational stability, the need for frequent and extensive decladding and reprocessing of fuel, and the extreme chemical reactivity of liquid sodium with air and water.

A number of Indian scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Bombay examined the molten-salt reactors for India's energy needs in the early 1970s. I can only hope a new generation of Indian nuclear engineers will resurrect their work and use their thorium to its fullest potential.


Posted by: Kirk Sorensen on 17 Aug 05

Thanks for this Jamais; the plan sounds like it takes into account some innovative ideas, but, as you note, it still falls short of bright green.

India's hydropower development has some serious downsides as well. Although Hydro projects may prevent CO2 emissions, they can have some truly awful impacts on the health of river systems and on the communities displaced by the projects. The Indian governnment has an ambitious river-linking plan involving many new dams and tunnels that has received quite a lot of criticism from environmentalists. Many of the projects have been kicking around since the 1950's, and represent the sort of mega-engineering approaches that have done so much damage to the watersheds of the Soviet Union and the American West. Perhaps these water plans and any bright green alternatives to them could be a promising subject for another great post on India...


Posted by: Tom Radulovich on 17 Aug 05

INDIA HAVE TREMANDOUSE RESOURCES FOR ENVIOUREMENT FREINDLY ENERGY PRODUCTION. THESE SOURCES(WIND, HYDRO, BIOFUEL,SOLAR) REMAINS UNTAPPED OR PARTIALLY TAPPED BECAUSE OF SO MANY FACTORS.THE BEST AIMED POLICIES ARE NOT IMPLIMENTED IN BEST METHODS. THE BENIFITS OF POLICIES DOES NOT REACH (IN FULL) TO THE ROOTLEVEL HAMPERING THE PROSPERITY OF INDIVIDUELS, IN TURN PROSPERITY OF NATION.
THE INDIVIDUALS AT ROOT LEVEL HAS TO BE EDUCATED PROVIDING KNOWLEDGE OF TECHNOLOGY,AWARENESS OF PROCEDURES AND BENIFITS.(WHICH REMAINS LIMITED TO GIANTS, CORPORATES AND POLITIANS).
MANY AMBITIOUS PROJECTS IMPLIMENTED BY INDIAN GOVERNEMNT ARE UNSUCCESSFUL BECAUSE OF LACK OF PROPER INFRASTRUCTURE, LENGTHY PROCEDURE,WASTED INTEREST OF MIDDLEMEN AND INTERFERENCES.
A COMPLETE UNBROKEN CHAIN OF PROCEDURE FROM START TO END MUST BE ESTABLISHED FOR SMOOTH APPLICATION OF PROJECTS.


Posted by: jamnadas mange on 17 Aug 05

The greatest threat india faces right now is that global warming might damage or destroy the monsoon pattern they rely on. As I remember it the outlook was bleak at best.


Posted by: wintermane on 17 Aug 05

james casico's dig at india's energy plans are
very colonial in outlook and smack of white man
rules the world. if he is so concerned about the
enviroment then he should point his finger at u.s which doesn't even acknowledge the issue.
james don't tell us what we can and can't do.


Posted by: s kothari on 18 Aug 05

It seems that sometimes, a post on Worldchanging becomes a kind of Rorschach Test - we see what we want, and our response says more about us than about the topic. Is this one of those times?


Posted by: David Foley on 18 Aug 05

Jatropha curcas is a tough, drought-resistant plant that may help meet India’s burgeoning energy demands. “India needs to grow jatropha to tackle dry land and generate biodiesel,” says India’s president Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. The scientist-turned-statesman is touting Jatropha’s virtues as a fast-growing, high- yielding, cheap source of biodiesel fuel.
Advocates say Jatropha is well suited to India’s drought-ravaged landscape because it can flourish in marginal arid land unsuitable for crops and requires little water or maintenance

It is common knowledge that air pollution and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions have taken a toll on the health of the planet. Vehicular emissions, in particular, have led to a major environmental disaster since non-renewable fuels contain atmospheric pollutants like nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, lead, and so on. Besides, many nations in the world, including India, rely on imports to meet their soaring fuel requirements. Hence, it is imperative for a country like India to lessen this dependence with a secure supply of fuel and, if possible, clean fuel. The oil rich seed and oil of Jatropha curcas trees have been thoroughly analysed and nominated to be the ideal plant for bio fuel "diesel" by Planning commission of India for "Evaluation of Biodiesel of Jatropha". The characteristics of this neglected and nearly unknown tree/bush make it a perfect choice.

Farming for Future Fuel
Farming for energy is one avenue that is being actively explored. While offering a potential solution to the agricultural sector’s quest for rural employment and poverty alleviation, could also fulfill the need for increased use of renewable energy resources.
In response to these trends, recent business initiatives have proposed the introduction of so-called “wonder- crop” exotic species for large-scale planting and bio-diesel production in India. The motives behind these initiatives have been the laudable themes of ecological sustainability, poverty alleviation, job creation and business development. Carrying forward its decades of relentless efforts to innovate eco-friendly alternatives to some of the most threatening environmental problems, SRIPHL, India has initiated large-scale plantation of Jatropha, using its production technologies just to convert wasteland into green gold mine.
For more info on jatropha, kindly visit us on: http://www.jatrophaworld.org
SRIPHL
CENTRE FOR JATROPHA PROMOTION


Posted by: a.maharshi on 18 Aug 05

Oh thank goodness I didnt know it was drought resistant that was my big worry as I know its been said monsoon failures are a given sooner or later.

I wonder if we could grow that bugger in california nevada and new mexico...


Posted by: wintermane on 18 Aug 05

david foley's barbedwire comment about 'we see
what we want to see and our response says more about us than the topic' is a typical anglo saxon way of putting that we are in charge and
you better be quiet.
perhaps he should do bit more listening.


Posted by: s kothari on 18 Aug 05

S Kothari, I humbly suggest that you take a moment to read some of the other posts on this website before making blanket accusations. I think you'll find that your statement regarding what is and is not discussed here is mistaken.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 18 Aug 05

S. Kothari, I'm listening. What do you wish to say? What do I need to know about you to do a better job of understanding you?

What do you need to know about me to do a better job of understanding me?


Posted by: David Foley on 18 Aug 05

I thought he was just being all zen like and MYSTERIOUS...waggles fingers while wiggling eyebrows...



Posted by: wintermane on 18 Aug 05



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