New energy
for development

M. Kannappan
describes India’s programme to bring renewable sources of energy to its villages and to become a world leader in the new technologies

The Indian energy mix is a combination of commercial and traditional sources. Thirty per cent of energy needs are met through traditional renewable sources such as biomass and animal waste. More than 65 per cent of the population which does not have access to modern energy services is dependent on biomass, animal waste and kerosene for cooking and lighting. In 2001-2002, the consumption of traditional fuels was estimated at 140 million tonnes of oil equivalent. Projections indicate that in 2011-2012 their share will come down by 3 percentage points to 27 per cent.

During the last two decades India’s renewable energy programmes have grown in volume, technological maturity and reach. Initially, the thrust of the national effort was directed towards capacity building and research and development, mostly in national laboratories and educational institutions. However, major expansion was witnessed in activities from the 1980s onwards, focusing on large-scale demonstration and subsidy-driven extension activities mainly in providing energy services to rural areas through biogas, improved cooking stoves and solar energy. These programmes created awareness, generated field experience, and helped set up a vast network of institutions and non-governmental organizations reaching right down to self-employed workers at the grassroots level. The emphasis is currently on commercialization – with private sector participation in power generation from wind, small hydro and biomass combustion/gasification, as well as in industrial applications of solar and other forms of renewable energy.

Reaching millions
Wind, biomass and small hydropower contribute about 3.5 per cent of the installed capacity for electric power. Against an estimated renewable energy potential of about 80,000 megawatts from commercially exploitable sources, more than 4,000 megawatts has been harnessed to date. Biogas and solar lighting systems have reached 3.5 million and 1 million households respectively. Many technologies are currently at the threshold of economic viability. A modest manufacturing capacity has been set up in the country, and institutional mechanisms developed to support the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

The spread of these various renewable energy technologies in India has so far been aided by a mix of policy and support measures. Incentives available include soft loans, concessional rates of customs duty, exemption from excise duty and sales tax, and 80 per cent accelerated depreciation benefit to commercial projects. Subsidies are available in some programmes – especially those deployed in rural areas, such as improved woodstoves, biogas plants, solar lanterns and home lighting systems.
We in India recognize that efficient management of energy is essential in achieving the goals of sustainable development
India faces a major challenge of providing energy to more than 600,000 human settlements spread over 300,000 square kilometres – with a population of 1 billion which is still growing and expected to stabilize at around 1.6 billion during the next 40 to 50 years or so. The task is severely compounded by low living standards, with around 75 per cent of the population below a per capita per day international poverty line of $2 at purchasing power parity (PPP) rates. Their low purchasing power has resulted in low levels of per capita energy and electricity consumption.

In this context the major national aims are:

  • providing reliable energy supply through a diverse and sustainable fuel mix that addresses security concerns;
  • the speedy commercial exploitation of renewable power potential;
  • the eradication and removal of energy poverty across the country;
  • ensuring availability and affordability of energy supply, including safety aspects related to it;
  • electrification of all households in remote villages by 2012;
  • electrification of around 18,000 remote villages through renewables by 2007 (those that are not likely to be connected to the grid by 2012);
  • 10 per cent power capacity addition through renewables by 2012;
  • 3 million family-type biogas plants and 7 million solar lighting systems by 2012.

India is also looking forward to becoming a global leader in new and renewable energy technologies. Its efforts promoting renewable energy are in harmony with global concerns.

At present the global interest in renewable energy is mainly on account of climate change. The global concerns can be articulated as the need to:

  • cap global CO2 emission levels by around 60 per cent by 2050 to arrest the process of global climate change;
  • cap and roll back higher levels of fossil fuel consumption: liquid hydrocarbons would otherwise become beyond the reach of many;
  • work towards lowering the relative price of new and renewable power technologies through a continuous and focused research and development effort;
  • improve access to reliable, affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services and resources.

These global concerns are expected to lead to the ushering in of what has been termed a carbon-free economy which is expected to be based on a fuel mix mainly provided by the green or renewable energy technologies.

The key to realizing the full potential of renewables is accepted to be the development and deployment of both new and existing technologies. We have been tracking technological developments and have initiated research and development in some frontier areas. Our perception is that the future energy technological scenario would be:

  • more diverse than today;
  • a versatile fuel mix, on account of new and emerging technologies including CO2 capture and storage;
  • local generation through biomass/wind/hydro etc;
  • micro-generation through new innovative end-use packages from fuel cells, solar photovoltaics, etc.

However, the underlying objective, while progressing on this road map, has to be that new and renewable energy technologies are accessible, affordable, reliable and safe for utilization.

Meeting energy goals
We in India recognize that efficient management of energy is essential in achieving the goals of sustainable development. We consider new and renewable energy development and deployment to be of great importance for long-term energy supply security, decentralization of energy supply (particularly for the benefit of the rural population), and environmental benefits and sustainability. In this context, the Indian renewable energy programme can be said to be a goal-oriented effort to meet the country’s energy requirements in an environmentally sound way

M. Kannappan is the Minister of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, India.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial | Key to development | The energy challenge | Plant power | Bioenergy: doing well while doing right | New energy for development | People | Delivering Change | Benign growth | Green energy | At a glance: Energy | Sustainable Dreams | Brightening the future | Greening oil | Blue-sky thinking | Books & products | New energy to assault poverty | New energy entrepreneurs | Time to get serious | Breaking the ice | In my lifetime – 100% renewable| Slimming the waste

Complementary issues:
WSSD, 2002
Energy, 2001
Poverty Health and the Environment, 2001
Climate and Action, 1998
Climate Change, 1997

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Natural Resources
Air Pollution
Climate Change