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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.