- Trayambak Chakravarty
The Answer to India’s Problems is Energy Efficiency
The only idea present in the Prime Minister’s speech at the Red Fort that made me personally happy was his inclusion of the importance of energy efficiency and independence in India’s overall goals of self-sufficiency and growth, for only the empty nickname of ‘Atmanirbharta’ has been issued nationwide so far. Energy efficiency is such an important goal for India in so many ways and I believe a comprehensive restructuring of the ambitions in this sector could lead to a manifold leap in development for the vast majority of Indians.
Currently, although over 99% of India, whether rural or urban, is connected to electricity on paper, for most of us it would not be wrong to assume that power cuts are a major feature of the Indian lifestyle. It is argued that aspects like corruption and a shoddy work ethic are responsible for a large majority of these problems, as well as a poorly designed grid infrastructure that relies on overhead cabling that can lead to stealing of electricity (for an insightful take on this, watch the documentary Katiyabaaz (2013), and further complication of the infrastructure.
There is also the ever-present climate threat, something which should be on the minds of every Indian as the single most dangerous threat to India instead of Pakistan. There is even an argument to convert bigots to the climate agenda, because the rise in sea levels will impact our neighbouring countries from where refugees will pour in, literally because of no living space left in their own country. Leaving the jocular aside, it is not only desirable but imperative for India to move to the usage of renewable and alternative forms of energy, especially after the damning report produced by the IPCC on the ‘Climate Code Red’ for humanity’s climate problem.
Currently, India has the capability of producing 36% of the country’s energy needs purely through renewable methods, which include hydroelectricity (India is currently building the largest hydroelectric project in the world), solar energy (India has three of the five largest solar fields in the world, including the largest), wind energy and other methods. However, only about 11% of it is utilised effectively, largely because of the limitation defined previously. Although India has made strides in trying to create more awareness of these resources, such as creating the International Solar Alliance, these have made little to no impact in the larger sense. On top of that, the current government is remarkably friendly with a corporation that makes the majority of its profits from the oil sector, and so trying to get the renewable agenda on the fast track seems remote. To combat this, giving support to renewable energy activists and leaders is essential.
Another area where India has the potential but is dreadfully underperforming is the field of nuclear energy. It is my belief that even more than renewable sources of energy, it is nuclear power that is the answer to the climate problem. Nuclear energy is almost endless; magnitudes of times more efficient than any other form of energy and can provide 100% of its energy production capability at all times, whereas renewable energy sources such as solar or wind depend on the availability of their resource to provide the energy. The only real problem that has not been solved in the case of nuclear energy is what to do with the spent fuel. Countries like Finland are pioneering a solution in which all the spent nuclear fuel is stored kilometres below the earth’s surface in a safe facility. Others have proposed sending this spent energy to space. Nuclear energy is so dense that the spent fuel is a miniscule amount, and so not a worry for now.
India, remarkably, is one of the few nuclear-positive nations in the world, along with France and Germany. Although it has low uranium reserves which it has to export, India has the world’s largest reserves of thorium, a type of fuel that has to be processed to be turned into uranium. However, India has also pioneered a type of nuclear power plant called a ‘breeder’ plant, which generates nuclear uranium fuel as a by-product, and thus in layman’s terms, the plant could produce more fuel than it consumes. The processing of thorium however, is a big investment and an obstacle in the way. India already has a three-step nuclear power programme initiated by Homi Jahangir Bhabha in the 1950s, wherein the first stage was to use a conventional uranium power plant called a ‘Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor’. The second stage was to graduate to a type of reactor known as ‘Fast Breeder Reactor’, which uses reprocessed spent fuel from the first stage again. This is the stage we are in right now, although only a prototype has been built so far, and by which Indian scientists are gauging the efficiency of Thorium as a fuel. The third stage will use fully thorium-based reactors, and will hopefully enable India to become energy independent, as well as carbon neutral in terms of energy usage, as by that point electric vehicles should be the norm and the energy for their usage will be clean as well.
What is known as Gen-Z will head into the new decade as being the most paranoid generation ever in the history of humanity, with the threats of pandemics, climate change and cultural upheavals signalling a change in the world order. However, this can also be a chance for governments to come together and focus on issues that will make a much larger impact on humanity than petty disputes. The chance for humanity to convert to completely clean and self-sufficient energy is too good of an opportunity to pass up, and in India especially, people should rise up to the occasion and demand better from their government, voting them in based on issues like nuclear and renewable energy and their commitment to climate change issues, rather than the building of monuments that have no perceivable impact on the future of the country.
Till then, all we can do is join Lorde’s cult and start chanting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvsP_lzh2-8&ab_channel=LordeVEVO
A channel that helps understand energy: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuzSOy9pzFbdGsn-aSuMJCA