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Himalayas - Holistic Way to Harvest Energy
Manish Uprety

In a rapidly globalizing world, the demand for energy has spiralled upwards. Unlike the 1973 Oil Crisis, the scenario is altogether different today because of the prominent role played by India and China in the world economy.

It would not be a misnomer to call our times as the Times of Energy. In our time, energy is the lifeblood of all the systems that nourish and sustain human life and provide comfort to it. It is the bedrock of modern life, an absolutely vital input for agriculture no less than for industry and services.

In a rapidly globalizing world, the demand for energy has spiralled upwards. Unlike the 1973 Oil Crisis, the scenario is altogether different today because of the prominent role played by India and China in the world economy. In the 1970s, these countries accounted for a negligible part of global oil consumption. But ever since these countries started linking up with the global cadence and acquiring a high growth rate, their development got linked to, and depended more and more on, energy. At present they are at a stage of development that is energy intensive. As a result, according to an estimate, an increase of one percent in GDP of these countries can lift oil consumption by up to one percent, against just 0.2 percent for the US.

Natural and man-made calamities have serious implications on the delicate relationship we have formed with energy. The recent Tsunami catastrophe in the Indian Ocean is a witness to this. Besides wreaking havoc, it destroyed both the human capital and physical infrastructure of the countries in the affected region, bringing life to a standstill.

The continual war on terror is affecting our lives in various ways. Ever-fluctuating oil prices are one example. Iraq is a continual inferno. Terrorists have attacked Saudi oil facilities several times. Another major producer of oil, Venezuela, is ailed from civil strife. Many other oil producers like Nigeria, Angola and Sudan suffer from civil war. This is despite the fact that after many decades, global production is close to capacity.

The supply-and-demand trajectories of the energy sector have undergone dramatic changes because of economic, demographic, and technological factors worldwide. India is no exception. Technological innovations, coupled with suitable policy reforms, have increased market opportunities and have boosted the country’s energy supply potentials; a rise in national income, population, and enhanced economic activities have led to an ever-escalating demand for energy. Rural areas are moving from wood and cow dung to liquid fuels, and urban areas are motorising rapidly.

A fast-growing economy, India is targeting ambitious growth rates of seven to eight percent over the next two decades. The energy sector has become a crucial and dynamic component of the Indian economy. Economic growth, coupled with a growing population, necessitates an increase in energy consumption. So even in the times of a global recession the consumption of energy is bound to go up, albeit at a slower rate. But a supply shock, which can come from so many different points, has a potential to affect normalcy in short run.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to meet the energy needs of all segments of India’s population in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, while ensuring long-term sustainability.

Alongside, the imperative to reduce poverty by meeting the basic needs of the poor renders energy a crucial input for India’s development process. The need of the hour, therefore, is to meet the energy needs of all segments of India’s population in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, while ensuring long-term sustainability.

It is essential to develop an energy technology vision on the basis of which technology development and dissemination can be managed and promoted to provide economic benefits to society to the maximum extent possible. The government’s India Hydrocarbon Vision 2025 is a step in this direction. It identifies natural gas as the fuel of the future, and the recent discovery of gas in the KG basin holds a great deal of promise in this context. The steps to bring in natural gas from Iran or CIS countries to India have fallen victim to the international politics and rivalry between India and Pakistan. So the assumption that natural gas will play a major role in energy sector in India is doubtable.

Globally, fossil fuels are likely to be at the core of the energy mix in the years to come. At present, the demand for coal contributes a lion’s share in total commercial energy demand in India. Coal is likely to be a dominant fuel in power generation because it is relatively inexpensive source of energy compared to oil and gas. Combustion of coal is not environmentally benign. But with the deployment of advanced technologies, like clean coal technologies for power generation (that reduce the level of carbon dioxide emission per unit of output), its appeal as a generating fuel will remain intact in the long run.

Renewable sources of energy have a mass appeal worldwide due to obvious reasons. Despite being abundant and environmentally friendly, high initial capital costs and skewed distribution across the country (77% of the hydro potential is in the north and north-eastern region) act as major deterrents in the path of its becoming a viable energy source. Besides harnessing the traditional wind, solar, and hydro energy; the MNES (Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources) is implementing programmes on chemical sources of energy, hydrogen energy, and alternative/bio-fuels for surface transportation, geothermal energy, and ocean energy. There is a potential for generating about 1500 MW of power from urban and municipal wastes and about 1000 MW from industrial wastes.

The Himalayan region is an excellent example where various modes of energy generation are being used by the local communities. The Himalayas play a crucial role in the South-Asian subcontinent.

But despite all the apprehensions and bottlenecks, initiatives taken by the NGOs to explore non-traditional avenues to generate energy are really creditworthy. The Himalayan region is an excellent example where various modes of energy generation are being used by the local communities. The Himalayas play a crucial role in the South-Asian subcontinent. Even the Rio Conference in 1992 recognised that the livelihood of about 10% of the world’s population depends directly on mountain resources, which include water, forest and agricultural products, and minerals. Many mega hydro-electric projects are based in mountains throughout the world.

In addition, populations living in valleys and plains depend on the mountains for water, as many major rivers originate there. This aspect was also stressed in Agenda 21, which stated that about 40% of the world’s population lives in or adjacent to medium- and lower-watershed areas.

The growing awareness, over the years, on environmental protection and sustainable development has given further emphasis on sound environmental management practises through preparation of Environmental Management Plans to help minimise the impact of developmental activities. The generation of energy is also at the core of this debate.

Management tools like the Environmental Impact Assessment are being used to incorporate growing environmental concerns in the development process and also in improved decision-making. With doubts being raised about the logic behind the massive hydroelectric projects like Tehri-Dam in Uttranchal (which lie amidst the high earthquake-prone zone of the Himalayas), the shift towards exploring various non-traditional methods to generate energy is a welcome move towards sustainable development.

Many non-traditional methods like Renewable Energy Technologies for fuel wood conservation are being used in the Indian Himalayan Region. Over the years, the fragile Himalayan ecosystem faced large-scale deforestation and soil erosion because of rising human and livestock population. This resulted in causing tremendous pressure on forestlands leading to their degradation and heavy depletion of the resource. Energy conservation measures and renewable energy technologies are an alternative that is being used in the area for conserving fuel wood.

In a geographically difficult terrain like the Himalayas, Indian rural population greatly depends on natural resources for meeting various bio-mass needs, especially wood. A number of external interventions, in the form of expansion of commercial fuels, afforestation, harvesting renewable energy sources, dissemination of fuel saving devices, etc., have been introduced in Himachal Pradesh to attain sustainability in meeting the energy demands. But the major focus remains on inherent potential of the biomass system to produce various biomass and meet fuel and fodder demands. The ways by which a biomass planning may be integrated to non-biomass resources, technologies, and schemes is a key area that has a huge potential, which needs to be explored.

The Himalayan region has a low population density compared to the other regions of the subcontinent. The region has a good availability of renewable energy resources like hydro, solar, wind and geothermal. This is promising, as it makes the region ideal for renewable energy based decentralised power generation. At present, hydro and solar energy play an important role in power generation and rural electrification of the region. A survey conducted by TERI in 1996-97 of the systems installed between 1990-1997, found that around 95% of the surveyed systems were functional. This is a key area as it not only provides an efficient service to the local population but also a greater drive to reform the energy sector from the state level. The success of wind farms in China is another example, which can be emulated by India in the Himalayan region. There are bright prospects for further development by learning from best practices worldwide in the field of renewable-based power generation.

This would be a welcome step as it will not only pave way for decentralisation in power generation but also help alleviate poverty as well by cutting the transmission and other costs drastically. This fact was recognised by the Report of the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation released in December 2004. The report highlights some interesting and positive trends. It emphasises six initiatives, two of which — promotion of rural technology and cooperation and experience-sharing in relevant areas — can have poverty-reducing implications and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of poor for the SAARC region.

The Himalayan experience in India shows us that better domestic initiatives, coupled with help by the local government, can bring about a paradigm shift in the way we harness energy. There is great merit to this new trend, which plays a significant role in local empowerment and in poverty reduction. These are scheduled to dominate the global policy making agenda in 2005, as never before.

The Himalayan experience in India shows us that better domestic initiatives, coupled with help by the local government, can bring about a paradigm shift in the way we harness energy. There is great merit to this new trend, which plays a significant role in local empowerment and in poverty reduction. These are scheduled to dominate the global policy making agenda in 2005, as never before. This will not only pave way towards sustainable development but also to rectify the area in which India had failed miserably in the past: Energy, a crucial agency in continuation of rapid rate of economic growth that promises to free millions from poverty during the coming decade.

The writer is an ICS alumni and is associated with Football to the Summit, London.