RENEWABLE ENERGY: Towards a Sustainable Future
Choked with nauseating air pollution levels and unchecked industrial waste – as a society, it is time we take cognizance of the approaching calamity and begin to efficiently utilise renewable energy as a way of life
With the expansion of urban life, there has been a direct repercussion in the increasing demands for power and excessive usage of diesel, petrol and LPG as sources of energy along with electricity. Since the past few months, the price of fuel has been on a rise and India has traditionally avoided the use of renewable energy. Discussions on renewable energy now seem utopic – but the need to use renewable energy demands serious deliberation.
There are many forms of renewable energy which act as alternatives to the predominant sources – the Sun being a prime benefactor. The main idea driving the usage of renewable energy is the adoption of natural resources such as sunlight, water, wind and others. The major forms of renewable energy are solar, wind power, hydroelectric energy, biomass, hydrogen, fuel cells and geothermal power.
Another issue concerning the use of renewable energy is cost-effectiveness. However, experts disagree with cost barriers and have presented plans to benefit farmers. Explaining the need for renewable energy with the example of solar pumps, renewable energy campaigner Pujarini Sen said, "Renewable energy policies, like solar pumps, not only provide a reliable power supply for farmers but also provide respite to DisComs and can cut out the use of diesel generators. And when grid-connected – they can also add to farmer income and encourage groundwater preservation. It's a holistic win-win solution for all stakeholders."
SOLAR PUMPS: A CASE STUDY
The Government of India has recently announced a scheme for solar water pumps known as Kisan Urja Suraksha Utthaan Maha Abhiyan (KUSUM). One of the key features of the scheme is that it provides grid-connected solar pumps. According to research, solar pumps were considered to be standalone systems, to be deployed in those places where the grid had not yet reached. Solar pumps were seen as the second-best solution to grid-connected pumps. They were adopted by those farmers who were dependent on very expensive diesel-based pump sets to offset fuel costs. However, with improvements in technology and a reduction in the price of solar equipment, solar pumps are now a good replacement for most, even all, grid-connected electric pumps.
Most states in India do not provide 24*7 power to farmers. Power on farmer feeders is regulated in shifts of eight hours and tends to be erratic. Farmers, therefore, have no control over their energy supply. This results in the practice of leaving the pump switched on throughout the day, so that when power is supplied, the field is irrigated. This is a wasteful method of irrigation – particularly in India, known for its acute water scarcity – and often results in flooding fields.
"The KUSUM scheme has the potential to revolutionise agriculture as well as the way in which India moves towards the solar goal of 100 GW by 2022," observed a study.
BENEFITS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
Renewable energy has various benefits. Amidst the multifaceted advantages, benefits on the environmental front are predominant as renewable energy does not act as a source of pollution. Air pollution in India is a major cause of various diseases. In 2015, out of the 10.3 million deaths in India due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), 2.5 million were linked to pollution, according to a global study.
Pollution caused nine million deaths or 16 per cent of global mortality – three times more than deaths incurred by Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), tuberculosis and malaria combined. In 2015, a study, Commission on Pollution and Health, published in Lancet, disclosed that thermal power plants act as a major source of air pollution.
"It is essential for the government to monitor the air quality of these thermal plants exclusively and tag the collected data with the meteorological data of wind. If these two data are put together, it would be very easy to take immediate action and curb air pollution," said Sunil Dahiya of Greenpeace India.
The sources of renewable energy are natural – it does not require any artificial burning which generates smoke. The regular energy sources like coal are extremely polluting. Recently, the Supreme Court appointed environmental watchdog, Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority, came down heavily against the Badarpur Power Plant in NCR and ordered the closure of the plant by the end of October, as it acted as a major source of pollution in Delhi.
Second, renewable energy can guarantee zero power cut and the users can benefit from all-day usage. New technological interventions have ensured that there are ways to store energy so that it can be preserved and used when power generation is not possible. Another important feature is that renewable energy infrastructure is automatic.
Environmental studies have also shown that the use of renewable energy can conserve various non-renewable resources such as groundwater. In agriculture, the use of grid power wastes a huge amount of groundwater and the use of diesel-run machines lead to the destruction of farmland.
"One of the concerns of providing high-quality, round-the-clock grid power to farmers is over-exploitation of groundwater. There is ample evidence to suggest a strong correlation between subsidised energy access and groundwater exploitation," observed a study.
Solar pumps do provide high-quality power for irrigation purposes along with an incentive for farmers to use water efficiently and divert power into the grid, in order to earn additional revenue. This choice will certainly depend on several factors such as the quantum of incentive, the season and market price for crops being grown.
SHORTCOMINGS IN ROOFTOP SOLAR POWER TARGETS
The need for renewable energy is on the rise but the willingness over such a shift is hardly realised in the Indian political system. Despite several plans and lucrative incentives on paper, leading metropolitan cities of the country, including Delhi, have fallen short of meeting their rooftop solar targets. According to a survey, as residential solar projects in Delhi have not taken off prominently, other states too are yet to make any significant progress.
"While the country has made good progress on reaching its 60 GW utility-scale solar PV target, leading to falling tariffs and cheaper electricity for consumers, progress in the rooftop segment has been tepid. Given the obvious land constraints in large-scale solar faces, it is important that enough policy support is also provided to rooftop and decentralised solar power stations – both off the grid and grid-connected," the report stated.
While the state and central governments are yet to recognise air pollution as a national health emergency, it is important that Indians take the initiative and move away from thermal power. It added that solar policies have already been put in place by many state governments and citizens must shed their inhibitions and avail the benefits. "All major metros are far from meeting rooftop solar targets, as laid down by the state governments and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, despite a significant national incentive in the form of a 30 per cent capital subsidy, and a range of state incentives and schemes. As of December 2016, India's total installed rooftop solar capacity was estimated at 1,247 MW," another report noted.
"However, this does not mean that India should lower its ambitious targets. Rather, the government must step up and play a more proactive role in encouraging rooftop installations," added Sen, Climate and Energy Campaigner.
With the frequent increase in the price of fuel, India as a society should look into the usage of renewable energy. But, the lack of policies, political will and implementation of something new, along with unremarkable discussions on renewable energy, have halted the process. The need for energy is increasing but we merely have a way out in our policies – the road for renewable energy should be paved with wise political decision making.