New Delhi: In 2009, India will launch prototypes and start pilot projects to test energy-efficient technologies—a fallout of increasing policy initiatives and industries recognizing that such efficiencies add to corporate image.

To be sure, scientists say awareness about global warming is still low in the country.

“Though global warming might sound like old news, awareness of its impact on the climate and the need for solutions to mitigate it, have not reached our villages and towns," says Rajender K. Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel peace prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It’s only the cities that are somewhat sensitized."

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

Gagan Mehra, managing director of Osram India Pvt. Ltd, a lamp maker, says his company will sell at least two million CFL units at a deep discount to poor families in Maharashtra, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh in 2009. A CFL unit will cost around Rs10-15, while the actual cost is around Rs300, he says.

A study by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), an industry lobby group, says that six million CFLs used every year in India would eliminate the need of 3,700MW of electricity and save around $6 million (Rs28.4 crore). Most power plants in the country are coal-fired, that add to greenhouse gas emission, a prime cause of climate change.

“In India, there are 300 million general lighting service points, and if 10% of these are converted to CFL, 4,400 million kW per annum of electricity would be saved, reducing the country’s electricity bills by Rs1,320 crore," says N.K. Bansal of the Centre for Energy Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi.

Although there are no formal studies done on CFL adoption, ballpark estimates put the figure at as low as 10-20%. “The centre, too, is planning a scheme to popularize CFL adoption. So, that would mean several projects across 2009 to increase their popularity," says Pachauri.

Many local companies are also looking at technologies that reduce the toxicity of greenhouse gases. Though these technologies have been around for a while, international market-based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism—under which industries in developed countries have agreed to offset a portion of their emissions by paying industry in developing countries such as India and China to implement cleaner and costlier technologies—have renewed interest in them.

Clean biogas

Chandan Gadgil is an entrepreneur who 15 years ago figured out a way to clean up biogas, a useful but polluting gas. The clean biogas, he says, can be used as natural gas to power boilers. Chemical factories, such as Kanoria Chemicals and Industries Ltd in Gujarat, have adopted the process. Gadgil, the chief executive of Innovative Environmental Technologies Pvt. Ltd, now adds an extra line to his sale pitch—“This can also help your company gain carbon credits."

“This line really gets people’s attention," he says.

Elemental power: Wind turbines at a wind farm in Raghapuram, Tamil Nadu. Scientists are looking at ways to make wind power generation more efficient. Rogan Macdonald / Bloomberg

Swatantra Kumar, one of the directors of the company, says the firm has now tied-up with CantorCO2e India Pvt. Ltd, a firm that consults on managing emissions and trades in carbon credits. CantorCO2e advises companies on what technologies may be useful to reduce their carbon emissions and importantly gain carbon credits.

Ram Babu, managing director, CantorCO2e India, says: “Indian industries have already taken a lead in capturing major portion of the multibillion carbon credit market." Kumar claims the strategic tie-up with Abhitech has greatly stoked buyer interest from coal companies and kiln manufacturers.

State-funded innovations

Unlike in the US, where bulk of the clean technology research is done in universities, India’s efforts are concentrated in government labs such as those of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Scientists here are looking at developing low-cost fuel cells, isolating strains of algae and bacteria that may yield biofuel as well as making solar, wind and hydroelectric projects more efficient.

Notable projects that may see progress in 2009 include CSIR’s fuel cell programme that aims to harness hydrogen to produce electricity, and hopefully, run cars.

“The immediate aim is to indigenously manufacture a 1kW fuel cell at a viable cost. Once that happens, we can experiment on a variety of other fuel cells, including methanol-based ones to power laptops," says K. Vijayamohanan, a senior scientist at the National Chemical Laboratory, a CSIR lab involved in the fuel cell programme.

Other research organizations such as the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore; IIT Kharagpur; and the Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, are set to scale up pilots that use algae such as Botryococcus braunii and Enterobacter cloacae, a bacteria that may potentially be a storehouse for extractable hydrogen.

Telecom efficiency

India’s burgeoning telecom sector may be the first beneficiary of new age energy-efficient technologies. Since diesel-powered generators are the main source of energy for telecom towers, operators are increasingly looking at biofuel-run generators and cooling systems that could reduce power consumption and save costs.

ACME Tele Power Ltd, a Gurgaon-based company that offers power solutions for telecom companies, listed a range of products that were popular among telecom companies. These include so-called green shelters that are reinforced plastic enclosures to house equipment such as transmitters and receivers, thermal management system and air conditioners, and power interface units that maximize utilization of grid power and integrate all electrical needs on-site into a small tile.

An ACME spokesperson says the company’s clients included Bharti Airtel Ltd, Reliance Communications Ltd, Vodafone Essar Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd, and “depending on the number of installations, we’ve been able to achieve efficiency, and thus cost savings, of nearly 30-40%."

In October, Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian company that manufactures clean energy fuel cell products, said it had signed multi-year supply agreement with ACME to provide fuel cells for backup power in the wireless telecom market.

The supply agreement imposes mutual exclusivity on both companies for the India wireless telecom backup power market through 2010.