Sunday 8 January 2012

Energy Security and India




Energy Security and India

It is clear that India cannot rely on one source of electricity: be it coal; gas; hydro or nuclear. The bouquet will have all these components. This requires rational and pragmatic planning and not dogmas, says Shivanand Kanavi.


Indian energy consumption profile is varied. We use bio mass like agricultural waste and animal waste like cow dung and wood, char coal for heating and cooking purposes as well as refinery products like kerosene and LPG. While a small amount of electrified transportation has been adopted by the railways most other transportation by road and water is dependent on diesel and to a lesser extent petrol both of which are refinery products. Industry depends on electricity as well as coal and fuel oil or diesel for its energy needs.

Today we are importing over 80% of our oil needs which gets refined into kerosene, LPG, petrol, diesel, fuel oil, naphtha etc hence not only all our energy needs but also fertilisers and plastics needs are susceptible to international crude prices. Even though India has recoverable coal of about 70-80 billion tons, our needs are rising and our annual coal consumption has crossed 800 million tons. Due to various restrictions on coal mining due to environmental or forest issues or bottlenecks in railways for internal transportation; imports of coal from South Africa, Australia and Indonesia are rising and many Indian companies are buying mines in these countries to secure these supplies and building plants in India along the western and eastern coastline. Imported coal is expensive but it has already reached over 110 million tons this year and is expected to rise dramatically as energy needs increase. Thus our economy is not only dependent on international crude prices but also coal prices which are again getting linked to crude prices as natural gas prices already have.

Electrification is an important component of modernising the country’s productive forces and increasing the quality of life of people.

Interestingly, Lenin in the emerging Soviet Union realised it very clearly and accordingly the GOELRO ("State Commission for Electrification of Russia") was set up as early as 1920. He endorsed the slogan, ‘The age of steam is the age of the bourgeoisie, the age of electricity is the age of socialism.’  He said in a report in Feb 1920, “We must show the peasants that the organisation of industry on the basis of modern, advanced technology, on electrification which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of the land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease and barbarism. We shall tackle the problem as soon as we have dealt with our current, basic task, and we shall not allow ourselves to be deflected for a single moment from the fundamental practical task.” 

The Soviet Plan included construction of a network of 30 regional power plants, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises. It was intended to increase the total national power output per year to 8.8 billion kWh, as compared to 1.9 billion kWh of the Imperial Russia in 1913.The Plan was basically fulfilled by 1931.

India’s current per capita electricity consumption is less than 750 KWH per annum where as it is already 1500 in China. It is to be noted that in almost all economic indicators like electricity, steel, telecom etc India and China were on par in 1991. The consumption in advanced countries of Europe and North America is much higher, while the world average itself is 2500 KWH per capita. There are still over 10% villages which are not electrified and according to 2009 data 33% of rural households and 6% of urban households still do not have access to electricity.

The current profile of electricity generation in India is as follows:


1.Total Installed Capacity:


Sector
MW
%age
State Sector
83,563.65
45.74
Central Sector
56,572.63
30.96
Private Sector
42,553.34
23.29
Total
1,82,689.62



Fuel
MW
%age
Total Thermal
119040.98
65.16
Coal
100,098.38
54.79
Gas
17,742.85
9.71
Oil
1,199.75
0.65
Hydro (Renewable)
38,706.40
21.18
Nuclear
4,780.00
2.61
RES** (MNRE)
20,162.24
11.03
Total
1,82,689.62
100.00



The demand in India for electricity far outstrips supply reportedly the shortage varies between 8-12%, which amounts to a huge 15,000—20,000 MW of power. Leave alone rural areas even large cities and giant metropolises are subjected to regular load shedding that is brown outs and black outs. There have been many instances of riots in many provinces especially during the sowing season due to these brown outs when they need electricity for tube wells and pumps. India needs rapid electrification to raise the standard of living as well as for agriculture and industry.

In terms of medium and long term planning, Indian coal needs to be mined efficiently. However it has large amount of silica, which appears as large amount of fly ash in power stations, when it is burnt. This ash needs to be disposed of in a way that does not harm the surrounding air and rivers and lakes. However much needs to be done in this respect. Imported coal has much higher calorific value but also has sulphur and nitrogenous content which leads to large release of sulphuric and nitric acids during rain, that is dangerous to forests and environment. The fact that open pit mining itself needs to be handled properly to limit the damage to the environment is only recently being addressed in India. According to scientific studies, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste). Some of the ecologically disastrous effects of coal based thermal power plants are already visible in Chhattisgarh, where large clusters of pithead coal powered thermal power plants are scheduled to come up.

From the long term energy security perspective Indian coal reserves will get exhausted in less than 50 years. Even worldwide the coal reserves are shrinking. Increasing reliance on imported coal will lead to Indian economy being more and more at the mercy of global coal prices as it already is with respect to oil prices. This is in addition to the extraordinary burden that will be borne by our ports and railways for carrying coal. The effect on green house gases and climate; effect of ash on pulmonary diseases and people’s health and so on are additional things to be worried about. Coal already provides 65% of power capacity and will likely play a major role in the future also.

Natural gas offers a much cleaner alternative and power stations can also be set up quickly. However while some discoveries of natural gas have been made by ONGC and Reliance they are still relatively small compared to the existing demand. Imported gas through pipelines of Central Asia, Iran, Bangladesh and Myanmar will also be expensive since the gas prices are linked today to oil prices, assuming of course that political relations with these and intervening countries were permitting such pipelines. More over gas is required for urea fertiliser, plastics and steel industry as well and there will be a scramble for the same. Thus gas will play a small role as it does at present (10%).

Methane from Coal Beds is another source that is being explored in Eastern India. Many blocks have been auctioned to various companies and it will add a significant but still small amount to the current gas availability.

Recently ONGC has drilled a R&D well for Shale Gas in Paschim Banga (West Bengal) and studies are continuing. Shale Gas has been a great new success story in energy and has meteorically risen to provide 25% of gas in US. However new environmental concerns are being raised about the chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracking to release the gas from layers deep down. Like Coal Bed Methane, Shale Gas too promises to be another source of much needed gas for India.

Geophysicists tell us that India sits on a large ocean of Gas Hydrates at great depths. However the technology to exploit these is not yet available globally and they may provide a valuable gas source in the future.

Hydroelectricity is a renewable source of energy, since we expect every rainy season to fill up our dams. However due to our high population density such dams lead to large scale submersion of villages and forests causing social displacement and social tension. Himalayas have great hydroelectric potential and that is why dams are being built feverishly in Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir. But Himalayas are very young mountains and there is a lot of soil erosion and the dams would be silted heavily very soon. More over the dams are affecting forests and causing submersion of agricultural land and villages there too, though on a smaller scale than in the plains as in the Narmada Basin. That is why there is already a strong opposition to these dams in the hill states even though we have tapped a very small amount of this potential. Thus hydro’s contribution to power generation will remain at about the current levels of 20% and falling.

Many NGO’s believing in the mantra of “small is beautiful”, say that mini and micro hydro projects are the answers to India’s energy problems. However, the facts on the ground show that such potential is hardly 2,500 MW and that too at a high cost per megawatt making it hardly a panacea.

State Wise Numbers And Aggregate Capacity Of Small hydro projects (Upto 25 Mw) Installed & Under Implementation
(AS ON 31.3.2009)
Sl. No.
State
Projects Installed
Projects under Implementation

Nos.
Capacity (MW)
Nos.
Capacity (MW)

1
Andhra Pradesh
59
180.83
12
21.50

2
Arunachal Pradesh
81
61.32
43
25.94

3
Assam
4
27.1
4
15.00

4
Bihar
12
54.60
4
3.40

5
Chattisgarh
5
18.050
1
1.00

6
Goa
1
0.050
-
-

7
Gujarat
2
7.000
2
5.60

8
Haryana
5
62.700
1
6.00

9
Himachal Pradesh
79
230.915
9
26.75

10
J&K
32
111.830
5
5.91

11
Jharkhand
6
4.050
8
34.85

12
Karnataka
83
563.45
14
85.25

13
Kerala
19
133.87
2
3.2

14
Madhya Pradesh
10
71.16
4
19.90

15
Maharashtra
29
211.325
5
31.20

16
Manipur
8
5.450
3
2.75

17
Meghalaya
4
31.030
3
1.70

18
Mizoram
18
24.470
1
8.50

19
Nagaland
10
28.670
4
4.20

20
Orissa
8
44.300
6
23.93

21
Punjab
29
123.900
2
18.75

22
Rajasthan
10
23.850
-
-

23
Sikkim
16
47.110
2
5.20

24
Tamil Nadu
15
90.050
4
13.00

25
Tripura
3
16.010
-
-

26
Uttar Pradesh
9
25.100
-
-

27
Uttarakhand
93
127.92
33
40.35

28
West Bengal
23
98.400
16
79.25

29
A&N Islands
1
5.250
-
-

Total
674
2429.77 MW
188
483.23 MW




Recently wind farms have come up in several regions. However inherently wind in India is not enough to produce power efficiently unlike in some Nordic countries. It has been estimated that the efficiency of production from wind is around 35%-25% in Europe and North America but only about 15% in the windy regions of India. More over wind farms also require large amount of land which is a problem in land starved India. Of course one has to keep in mind that wind can only add on to an existing steady base level of production in the grid and cannot be relied upon for continuous supply. Though India has impressive figures in wind energy installation, it is a known fact that it has become a source for exploiting tax loop holes for corporations and not a serious source of electricity supply to the grid.

Many people naively believe that India having been blessed with ample amounts of sun light, Solar would be a natural choice as a major source of electricity. However, converting sunlight to electricity is a very expensive process and it currently costs about 4 times the conventional. Even though the technology is more than 100 years old, a lot more advancement has to happen in basic research in new materials to convert sunlight to electricity more efficiently (currently it is only 12-16%) and cheaply. People who claim that solar is environmentally friendly do not understand that the silicon chip making process uses some of the most toxic chemicals, which are then let out as effluents. Today India is buying a lot of solar panels from China and if we decide to start fab for the same in India to lower prices then we will come across the associated environmental issues as well. Moreover, solar electricity needs to be stored in expensive and environmentally harmful lead batteries, since there is no Sun in the night. Any large scale use of solar power would lead to serious issues over disposing of the batteries. Thus environmental friendliness of solar technology is a over simplification. It is expected that further advances in science and technology of materials, efficiency and storage will happen in perhaps the next 50 years. We should also recognise that solar plants of say even a modest 100 MW require several square kilometres of land.

India has very little geothermal potential though there are hot water geysers in the Himalayan region.

India has developed nuclear power reactors using natural uranium and has been improving the technology in the last 40 years. India does not yet have the technology for large enriched uranium reactors and is hence planning to import them from Russia, France and US. Indian Uranium resources are of very small and of very low quality. However the opening up of international trade in nuclear materials in 2008 by the Nuclear Suppliers Group has allowed India to import Uranium from large Uranium producing countries like Kazakhstan and Russia. In the future, it can also do so from Canada and Australia. India has also developed the technology to process the radioactive waste from these reactors and extract useful plutonium from the waste. This reprocessing of fuel has largely resolved the waste disposal problem, which is very serious in North America and Europe. Plutonium thus obtained has been used for making bombs as well as to develop power generation in Fast Breeder Reactors. In fact that is the reason the reprocessing technology has been strictly controlled by US and other powers. The first large Fast Breeder Reactor designed by India is soon coming online in Kalpakkam near Chennai and will take India to the cutting edge of this technology globally. India is also blessed with large amounts of Thorium. The first Thorium reactor of the world has also been designed by India and the construction of a 300 MW Thorium reactor known as AHWR will start soon. The world will be looking forward to these innovations.

Nuclear reactors are small in size but need a radius of few kilometres around them to be ready for evacuation in order to diminish the danger to human life in the highly unlikely case of an accident. So far, in the nearly 42 years of operation there have been no serious accidents in Indian reactors. Today’s reactors have been designed to take care of many accidental scenarios of earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks etc that have the potential to damage the reactor core. The reactors are being designed to safely shut down in an emergency. Thus no radiation need be leaked to the environment.

Uranium mining, handling, reactor maintenance are all potential sources of radiation exposure to workers. Thus extreme care has to be taken regarding prescribed safety procedures during the entire cycle and no chalta hai attitude will work.

Many people ask, “Is it (nuclear power) dangerous?” Since radiation is invisible it leads to many irrational fears. The short answer is, “Yes it is” and it needs scientifically trained staff to handle it at all stages. However looking at the energy security of India in the future and considering the strengths and weaknesses of other sources of electricity available to us, which have been discussed above, nuclear remains an important source of energy security for India as our planet’s fossil fuels dwindle and become extremely expensive. It is also environmentally benign due to no carbon emission or fly ash disposal and other problems. Nuclear power especially with Fast Breeders and Thorium Reactors will be an important source that can provide electricity at competitive rates to the teaming Indians for more than 100 years based on our own Thorium reserves.

It is clear that India cannot rely on one source of electricity: be it coal (domestic or imported); gas (domestic or imported); hydro or nuclear. The bouquet will have all these components. The weight of different components in the bouquet can change as economic costs and environmental costs vary in the future. This requires rational and pragmatic planning and not dogmas and irrational prejudices.

The problems of land acquisition and rehabilitation exist in all large industrial and urbanisation projects and are not peculiar to nuclear projects as in Jaitapur. The state apparatus needs to handle these sensitively. Any layman’s concerns on safety, technology etc can be addressed adequately. We need to see the energy scenario 20-50 years ahead and prepare for it while trying to address the rising expectation of people in terms of living standards and energy availability for the same. After all it is increased availability of electricity and transportation that will see a sea change in common man’s life in rural and urban India.

**********


2 comments:

Arun Sharma said...

Hi..
Thank you for posting this blog India has developed nuclear power reactors using natural uranium and has been improving the technology in the last 40 years. India does not yet have the technology for large enriched uranium reactors and is hence planning to import them from Russia, France and US. Indian Uranium resources are of very small and of very low quality. However the opening up of international trade in nuclear materials . It,s a very good blog and nice information. AC Generator Price .

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