Decentralized Energy in India

India with a population of almost 1.2 billion people is growing its energy needs every day. Concern all over the world is the effect of this on carbon emissions. Rightly, the Indian concern is to provide electricity to the almost 600 million people still not connected to the electricity grid. But how can India do this without following the traditional greenhouse intensive model? What is the current state in the Indian electricity generation system?

Electricity is a given in most developed countries however, in countries like India it is a scarce commodity. For individuals it provides discomfort and decreases productivity and creates constraints in their daily life.

The Mint reports that with the summer temperatures nearing 40 degrees centigrade there is more demand for electricity however; “The fear of power cuts soars when sweltering summer heat arrives in India, spurring demand for generators as electricity-starved residents increasingly produce their own power.Except for VIPs in official bungalows, everyone from stall-holders to former ambassadors are hit by the power outages, and those who can afford it are increasingly making alternative arrangements.”

So what is the alternative in Indian cities and villages?

One such is the diesel generator.

As the IHT reports:

So for now, diesel generators remain the favorite choice of millions across the developing world — so much so that the International Energy Agency plans to assess the extent of their use as part of a detailed look next year at energy use in India and China.

Businesses are not exempt from this tyranny. A recent NyTimes article explains the troubles faced by the TCS; India’s largest IT & Outsourcing company.

Look up at the tops of buildings, and on any given day, you are likely to find three, four or six smokestacks poking out of each, blowing gray-black plumes into the clouds. If the smokestacks are being used, it means the power is off and the building–whether bright new mall, condominium or office–is probably being powered by diesel-fed generators.

This being India, a country of more than one billion people, the scale is staggering. In just one case, Tata Consultancy Services, a technology company, maintains five giant generators, along with a nearly 5,300-gallon tank of diesel fuel underground, as if it were a gasoline station.

The IHT article reports that Big conventional power plants, even those that burn coal, are often cleaner, safer and more efficient than crude household stoves and other small systems. So many economists say that the first step in developing countries still needs to be the construction of power lines connecting as many villagers to national grids as possible.”

With increasing personal power production in India, even Coal powered plants beat the clean power index. The government has been improving the emission standards of diesel generators and there are now some estimates on how many of these are in the country and the pollution problems that they are creating.

Some other alternatives in India are “Burning wood, kerosene lamps, burning cow dung, twigs & leaves, invertors (powered by batteries) and diesel generators. All of these alternative solutions cost more, pollute more and are less efficient then the coal powered grid alternatives.”

What needs to be done is clearly is the extension of the national grid across India, improving the efficiency of generation, capping the losses in transmission and changing the politics of free power.

The next step should be the new age personal power production options like solar power, micro wind power, biomass generators, smart grids, and other alternatives. There is an increasing case for the decentralization of energy and India needs to look at these options.

Like many other cases, India has the option to leap-frog the conventional technology and move to smarter solutions in power generation which is better for the country and the world. The biggest question is the politics.


3 thoughts on “Decentralized Energy in India

  1. Burning non-fossil fuels (such as wood, dung) is actually good. Even though this process looks like polluting, in the long term the net-effect of pollution is actually negative. There is no net addition to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere because they will be absorbed back by the trees used to grow wood.


    Support bio-ethanol. It is far better than the conventional electric-grid structure based on coal.

  2. Kiran:

    You should start Thinking about this.

    First, if the pollution from wood and dung can be absorbed back by trees why can this argument not work for oil and petrol.

    Second, what do you mean by negative net-effect of pollution? That more pollution is absorbed by plants than is emitted from wood or dung based energy?

    Please elaborate.


  3. Pingback: BUGS in Bangalore « At Siva’s

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