India’s Energy Choices

Anshu Bharadwaj, Director of the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy in Bangalore writes about the possible choices facing India in Energy production in the light of the climate conference in Bali.

He provides an estimate from the Planning Commission that puts India’s total commercial energy supply at about 4000 billion kwh. This is estimated to grow to 20,000 billion kwh by 2030.

As suggested in my previous post on Rural Solar Electrification, basic electricity is still an issue. Now, how India achieves to even generate 20,000 billion kwh by 2030 is a challenge. Considering that some part of this should be carbon-free is a double challenge. How much should this be? 15%, 25%?

Bharadwaj provides some analysis on the possible choices facing India.

Wind power is a reasonably mature technology. India, with its installed capacity of 7,600 mw, is the fourth largest user in the world. Wind power potential is estimated at 45,000 mw…wind can generate about 100 billion kwh — which is less than 1 per cent of desired supply. Wind will, therefore, remain a marginal player.

Then there are bio-fuels. Oil-bearing crops such as jatropha and mahua can be used to produce bio-diesel. Likewise, ethanol can be produced from sugarcane juice, molasses and sweet sorghum…India has an estimated 30 million ha of cultivable wastelands. Using 20 million ha for cultivating oil-bearing crops can produce about 25 million tonnes of bio-oil equivalent to 300 billion kwh of energy. Add to this another 100 billion kwh from ethanol, and the total contribution of bio-fuels will be about 2 per cent of India’s energy supply.

India’s hydro-electric potential is estimated to be 84,000 mw…it will generate about 400 billion kwh — 2 per cent of the total.

The one source of energy India has in abundance is coal. It accounts for 51 per cent of power supply. Coal will certainly continue to dominate India’s energy mix in the near term.
India’s installed nuclear power is 4,120 mw — less than three per cent of electricity generation… The proposed Indo-US nuclear deal could provide the opportunity to import ‘light water reactors’ with fuel. India could then gain 24,000 mw from this route by 2030.

Most parts of India receive a good average of solar radiation of 5-6 kwh/m2. Therefore, solar power generation over an area of 20 million ha can generate about 24,000 billion kwh even at a modest 10 per cent efficiency. This is more than India’s expected total energy supply and several times the desired carbon-free energy… Solar thermal power using concentrators is another attractive option for utility-scale power generation. A single stretch of land measuring 20 km x 20 km, say in sun-drenched Ladakh, can generate over 20,000 mw of power contributing 50 billion kwh of energy (eight coal power plants).

Since he has not cited any sources for most his numbers it can debated as to the validity of some of the estimates. However, the potential of solar energy is clear. Sometimes it is debated that this can be a costly exercise. But as Harish Hande has analyzed, the poor in India already pay exhorbitant prices for electricity and in that scenario, coupled with distributed generation, solar may be a good choice.


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