Bali, an island in which the majority of Hindus live in peace in an Islamic republic, should be a good omen for India. But we will be lucky at Bali if we are well prepared—which we will be, given the very competent council preparing for the event in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Yoginder K. Alagh
The contours of the Indian energy scene are well laid out by the long-term energy scenarios in the Planning Commission’s Kirit Parikh report (Parikh is water and energy member, Planning Commission). I was a little disturbed that the calculations in the report updates the projections made earlier in 2001 for a United Nations University report at Johannesberg prepared by Kirit and me, correcting for base year slippages.
This means that since 2000 we have made little progress towards the sustainable scenarios. By now, Kirit has produced a large number of alternative scenarios, so there is almost a delectable cafeteria of policies you can choose from.
King coal remains in all we look at, but can range from 800,000 tonnes to 2 billion tonnes, so there are choices in fluidized bed boilers, gasification and so on.
At Bali, we must raise the technology access issue. The nuclear option and hydel policies are a must and again, access to uranium and global rules on sharing of waters have to take emissions into account. I am not too happy at the Planning Commission’s report pooh-poohing thorium, for that is the only real fuel option we have to complete the energy cycle, and our achievements in terms of Kamini, a 30KW mini-reactor at Kalpakkam, are enough to mount larger initiatives. We should press for a global initiative for India and China developing technologies for sustainable energy solutions with domestic fuel sources. Almost as important as ITER, the world’s biggest scientific collaboration on fusion energy research.
Finally, energy-wise, India and China are different. China is on a roller coaster of producing power. India doesn’t but use it far more efficiently per unit of outcomes. Our negotiations have to be common up to a point and then independent. In this sector, capital costs and costs of initial investments are generally high. Once the initial investments have been made, the unit level operating costs of producing output are low.
In the recent phase, technological change has been rapid. A feature of recent technical changes has been the ability to decentralize technological improvements at the user end. This has introduced the possibility of considerable flexibility in managing the distribution of infrastructure products and services. These are the days of retail market in electricity working through real time and interactive communication systems, working not only in the developed but also developing countries.
At Bali, operational answers to these questions must come in global cooperation as we put our own house in order. There are related questions of avoidance of exclusion and externalities which become important if environmental concerns are objectives.
For example, a lot of public interest case law in North America has been on protecting the rights of small consumers in retail power markets (avoiding exclusion) and on pollution issues.
It may be noted that policies for incentives include disincentives to discourage perverse behaviour, namely, raising costs or discouraging benign technical change.
India has the skills to forge partnerships here with global implications.
The author, a former minister of power and science and technology, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand. This is an extract from a recently held seminar.