August 7, 2011

Green India, clean India

Power for 20 million households by 2022 through the Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission and generation of 80,000 MW of power by 2022–in a country with a shortfall of more than 30,000 MW. Still, with India attracting $4 billion in private investments in clean energy in 2010, there was little hyperbole in the initiatives named by Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah at the New Indian Express-Columbia University Conference on Clean Energy in New Delhi on Thursday.

As Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, TNIE, pointed out in his introductory remarks: “We need a projected 900,000 MW of energy by 2030 but we have to get it in a way that minimises damage to the environment.” According to Abdullah, clean energy could well be the game-changer by way of a reverse brain-drain that attracts talent back into the country and helps India morph into a renewable powerhouse. Provided, of course, that India was willing to invest in research and development. The government would be happy to help, he said.

“We are ready. Our doors are open. We are ready to go. If you walk two steps, we will walk 100 steps,” Abdullah told the hall full of leaders from government, industry and academia who had gathered at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom for TNIE’s ‘Green India, Clean India’ conference. In the audience were experts from the world of conventional and non-conventional energy and eminent members of the Indian and US corporate world with a stake in the clean energy space. The speakers included union ministers, chief ministers, heads of India’s largest PSUs and other premier companies and American academics and speakers sponsored by Columbia.

Deepak Gupta, Secretary, New and Renewable Energy, said India would have to create enabling conditions like grid building and transmission infrastructure for optimum utilisation of green energy, while Vikram Mehta, CEO of Shell India, emphasised the need for greater coordination between the ministries that deal with clean energy. He appreciated the fact that “any investment in energy is complex and takes decades before you can shift the needle,” but felt that companies, particularly PSUs, were just not making the investment required, particularly in R&D.

Jeffrey Sachs, economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University—whom fellow green warrior RK Pachauri described as ‘the biggest name in clean energy’–advised India to adopt a judicious blend of policies instead of blindly copying the US model of fossil-fuel-driven growth. “The main message is don’t follow our (American) way,” said Sachs. He urged India to adopt a written clean energy plan that could bring down emission levels and urged a different approach to supplying energy to the people.

The evolution of an alternate approach, suggested the stakeholders in industry, would have to be backed by government support in implementation of policies, strong mechanism to enforce contracts in rural areas and easy bank credit facilities. While Debashish Majumdar, Chairman of Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), and Tulsi Tanti, CMD of Suzlon, wanted better coordination between the central and state governments and an enhanced focus on execution, Gyanesh Pandey, co-founder and CEO of Husk Power (which feeds Bihar villages with energy created out of discarded rice husks) called for an official hand to enforce the contracts that companies like his sign with businessman in rural areas for supply of power.

Making the luncheon keynote address, Minister for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan accepted the government’s role in facilitating clean energy initiatives and allayed fears that the environment ministry was blocking the path to development.

Former Power Secretary RV Shahi said corporate India, particularly the traditional players, had to do their bit to increase the indigenous production of clean. BP Rao, chairman and managing director of BHEL, saw the need for a stronger government role in encouraging indigenous players who stay away from investing due to lack of support. There are efforts by companies like Indian Oil, pointed out RS Butola, IOC chairman, to deploy technology to convert each barrel into value-added products and mitigate pollution. “Indian Oil has brought down CO2 emissions from .33 MT in 2006 to .26 MT last year,” he added.

Addressing transmission and distribution losses are as vital in attracting foreign investments as devoting time and space to policy making, suggested YS Chowdhary, chairman of the Sujana group, while addressing a session on US-India Cross-border Investment. Aarthi Anand, Director Projects, Columbia Law School, felt the biggest gap was the absence of structured workable contracts that could help India tap potential investments. She offered help in the form of free-of-charge contracts that would be internationally viable and enforceable.

Union Minister for Power Sushilkumar Shinde, who is driving the ministry’s mission to increase per capita availability of electricity by harnessing various sources of energy in the cleanest possible way, highlighted the initiatives in his keynote address.

In the last session of the day, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit put forward her government’s initiatives to lower emissions. Two thermal power plants in the capital would be closed down and two gas powered plants of 2250 MW would be set up, she said. Haryana Industries Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala suggested the enactment of a National Renewable Energy Management Act to set broad parameters for states to follow with incentives and disincentives. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said his hill-state had an Energy Policy in place and if the private sector came forward to establish biogas or waste-based energy generation plants, the proposals would be sincerely considered.

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