India’s oil import bill is beginning to hurt, ballooning by over 24 percent in the first 9 months of this fiscal with fuel prices at an all-time high presently. Inflation has followed suit with CPI index rising to a 17-month high of 5.21 percent last December, while the trade deficit has begun to widen fast. For a country that has to import 82 percent of its crude oil needs, it will be a difficult task indeed for economic planners to maintain course. With the OPEC bloc and Russia agreeing to a deal last year to cut output and shore up oil prices, the pain for India is not likely to abate soon. A large part of the oil goes to power private vehicles, whose numbers are shooting up. Countrywide figures collated in 2015 showed that 53,720 new vehicles on average were hitting the streets daily; it was estimated then that the number of vehicle owners would burgeon from nearly 19 crores to 35 crores in two decades. Capital city Delhi alone, desperately battling the tag of the world’s most polluted city, saw the number of its registered vehicles cross the 1 crore mark in the middle of last year. Seeking to act on commitments made at the 2015 Paris climate deal to switch over from fossil fuels heating up Planet Earth, India’s NDA government has set a target of 100 percent electrification of public transport and 40 percent electrification of private transport by 2030. It will surely be a tall order to meet, given the gargantuan numbers involved. Tata Motors CEO and MD Guenter Butschek recently said that meeting this target will require “single minded focus” — that the aspiration has to translate to an all-out policy to invest hugely in not just electric vehicles, but also in the infrastructure and ecosystem needed to make such vehicles run. The Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) is already apprehending disruptions and wrenching job losses in the switchover from interl combustion engines to oil-electric hybrids to fully electric vehicles. Experts are wondering whether the country can generate enough clean power and set up a dense network of automobile charging stations at regular intervals. But leading automakers as well as start-ups are laying out roadmaps for electric transportation, for that is the way winds of change are blowing. Even Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, is preparing for a post-oil future. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has begun a massive drive to frog-march his country into harnessing solar and wind power, resources Saudi Arabia has in abundance. Saudi energy firms are pumping in billions to set up solar farms in the desert and wind farms in the gulf. As the world’s largest oil importer, India has to take its cue.
Fossil Fuel Blues