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The Energy Mix Conundrum

Areliable supply of electrical energy is indispensable to a nation’s economic growth. However, with changing climatic regimes, taking cognizance of the environmental repercussions of fossil fuel based power generation has become a global obligation. Therefore, energy authorities in each country need to collaborate in taking major decisions on fundamental structural changes to enable sustainable energy transitions.

While a multitude of technological and resource options create opportunities, they also throw up new challenges. Efficiency, availability, affordablity and sustainability are the major domains that need to be considered while deciding on the expansion or reduction of any one particular source of power. Figure 1 presents a comparison of the different amounts of CO2 (in pounds) emitted per million units of energy output (British Thermal Units) compiled by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). It reveals that coal in all its varied forms, is the worst offender when it comes to carbon emission. It is but natural that most nations world over would aim at transitioning from polluting coal based  energy sources to cleaner and greener sources—nuclear, hydro, solar and wind.

In the world as a whole, the share of most of the sources of energy have remained more or less stagnant between 2011 and 2016, with the exception of renewable energy. It has increased from 1.68 to 3.16 per cent. Within the thermal sector, oil remains stagnant at 33 per cent, but the share of natural gas has increased and that of coal has decreased marginally (British Petroleum, 2013 and 2017). The share of hydroelectric energy has also remained almost the same whereas the nuclear energy sector marks a fall both in absolute and in relative terms. Pearce (2017) has noted that excepting China, most nations are moving away from nuclear towards renewable resources. According to him, safety concerns arising from past reactor disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, security worries following 9/11, and increasing costs incurred while decommissioning aging reactors are the primary reasons for its downtrend.

Declining importance of coal

According to the World Energy Resources report published in 2016, the years 2014 and 2015  witnessed the first annual decrease in global thermal coal production by 0.7 and 2.8 per cent respectively since 1999 (World Energy Council, 2016). China’s move towards limiting air pollution is deemed primarily responsible for this decrease. Simultaneously, a marked restraint in CO2 production was also noted during 2014-16—the overall growth in average carbon dioxide emissions being the lowest over any three-year period since 1981-83 (British Petroleum, 2017).

In absolute terms, the three major consumers of coal in the world are China, India and USA respectively. USA has reduced its coal consumption from 495.5 million tonnes oil equivalent in 2011 to 358.4 million tonnes oil equivalent in 2016. Even though the absolute amount of coal used by China in power generation remains the highest in the world, it has recorded a fall in its coal consumption since 2015 (British Petroleum, 2013 and 2017).

Fig 1 : Carbon  emission from fossli fuels

India’s energy mix

As far as India is concerned, the share of all the major sources of energy have fallen from 2012-2017 excepting  coal which shows an increase of about 3 per cent (Fig. 2).

India continues to register a steady increase in the consumption of coal. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 and 2017, the amount of coal used for power generation increased from 270.6 to 411.9 million tonnes oil equivalent from 2011 to 2016. At the same time, India recorded the largest increment in CO2 emissions in 2016, growing by 113.7 million tonnes or 5 per cent over 2015. Growth in emissions from coal and oil accounted for nearly all of the increase.

In fact, India’s position in the world with respect to CO2 emissions can be assessed from two perspectives. Calculated on a per-capita basis, emissions are extremely low. Nevertheless, in absolute terms, India is the third largest country in terms of CO2 emissions in the world—preceded only by China and USA (British Petroleum, 2017).

Power stationsFig 2 : Change in all India installed capacity (in MW) of power stations over last 5 years

India’s global adherence

The Conference of the Parties (COP21) under the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) delivered a new universal agreement which is based on the voluntary commitments to climate change actions made by each country drawn on their respective national circumstances, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). Accordingly, India has committed to have 40 per cent cumulative installed capacity of electric power from non-fossil fuels by 2030 (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, 2015).

At present, India sources 33.2 per cent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources – nuclear, hydro, small hydro, wind, solar and bio-power. According to the National Electricity Plan 2016, the share of non-fossil fuel based installed capacity is expected to increase to 46.8 per cent  by the end of 2021-22 and further to 56.5 per cent by the end of 2026- 27 (Central Electricity Authority, 2016).

While the 2030 target as per the INDC is still thirteen years away, right now India stands five years away from another benchmark year in terms of its domestic energy mix.The 2022 benchmark concerns the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), launched in 2010, and then revised in 2015 with higher targets. Under the JNNSM, presently recognised as the National Solar Mission (NSM), India has made a commitment to reach a capacity of 175 GW from renewable energy sources, out of which 100 GW is to be contributed by solar power alone, apart from 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from bio-power and 5 GW from small hydro-power (Press Information Bureau, 2015).Given this yardstick, we can examine the changes recorded in the energy sector of India and compare it to the rest of the world.

Fig 3 : Potential and cumulative  achievement of renewable  Energy in India , 2017

Examining India’s commitments to renewable energy

In India, the percentage share of coal has increased from 56 in 2012 to 58.8 in 2017, which is contrary to the aim of reducing coal sourced energy. This effect has been somewhat offset by the other constituents of thermal power, since the share of gas and diesel have decreased in the past five years. As far as nuclear energy is concerned, the capacity addition has been only 2000 MW between 2012 and 2017, with another 2800 MW proposed for the period 2017-22 (Central Electricity Authority, 2016). With India ratifying the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage on February 4, 2016, the performance of the nuclear sector is expected to grow (Singh, 2016).

The main petroleum products in the Indian market include liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), motor spirit, high speed diesel oil (HSDO), petroleum coke and fuel oil including both furnace oil (FO) and low sulphur heavy stock (LSHS). Out of the total consumption of 1,84,674 thousand metric tonnes (TMT) of petroleum products in 2015-16, 21,847 TMT was consumed in the form of motor spirit whereas 74,647 TMT was consumed in the form of HSDO. The consumption of fuel oils and petroleum coke, which can be used in thermal power plants, were 6,632 TMT and 19,297 TMT respectively, which cumulatively make up for about 14 per cent of the consumption (Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, 2017) of all petroleum products. Therefore, in spite of oil comprising 29 per cent of India’s energy mix (British Petroleum, 2017), it is only a small fraction of the total petroleum usage in India. India is heavily dependent on foreign imports for meeting its petroleum requirements and the Government plans to slash the import of oil and gas from 77 per cent in 2015 to 67 per cent by 2022 (Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, 2017 ).

Hydroelectric sources of power, which constitute a vital part of non-fuel energy sources, have reduced by nearly 6 per cent. According to the National Electricity Plan 2016, the challenges include land acquisition, environmental clearances, resettlement and rehabilitation, apart from geological and technical aspects. Typically, hydro projects are high cost, long gestation projects that are vulnerable to uncertainties (Central Electricity Authority, 2016). As a result, they are yet to become a viable alternative to thermal power in the long run.

The all India installed capacity of power stations sourced from renewable energy was 24,503.45 MW at the end of March 2012, which made up for about 12.26 per cent of the total installed power capacity. At the end of March 2017, the corresponding figure stood at 57,260.23 MW, comprising about 17.52 per cent of the total. India has entered into a number of international bilateral/multilateral cooperation frameworks with other countries, such as USA (biofuels), South Africa and Brazil (wind), Denmark, Australia, Iceland, Canada and Italy for technological cooperation in new and renewable energy (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, 2017).

Based on the data from the past five years, another five years of capacity generation at the same rate would result in a cumulative of a little more than 90,000 MW of renewable energy. At this pace, only a minute fraction of the target can be added. At the current rate of increase, the 175 GW (175,000 MW) target seems like a remote possibility unless there is some major technological breakthrough, making renewable energy production extremely cost-effective and thus, investment-worthy. Without the ability to follow through, the National Solar Mission might remain just a gesture in the right direction, failing to achieve the desired outcomes.

Endnote

The data on the sources of power generation in India and the world show that while the major greenhouse gas emitters like China and USA are trying to cut back on their coal usage, India still depends on fossil fuel based thermal power for about 67 per cent of its energy, coal making up for approximately 59 per cent. Owing to various uncertainties shadowing the major hydro-electric projects and civil liability concerns in nuclear plants, renewable sources of energy need to be prioritised emphatically in the coming years to curb pollution levels.

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