FROM ADDITIVES TO ALTERNATIVES
Dr. BK Mukhopadhyay and Dr. Boidurjo Mukhopadhyay
(Dr. BK Mukhopadhyay is Professor of Management and author of the book
‘India’s Economy: Under a Tinsel still Tough’; Dr Boidurjo Mukhopadhyay is
an international development and management economist based in London)
A decade ago, energy and ‘green’ talks highlighted examples of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is the greenest destination in New York city, or Solar Power Towers of California or planning for renewable energy ‘supergrid’ in Europe or US Navy’s plans for Green Fleet, or Los Angeles’ centrally planned mechanism to stop using coal by 2020; a buzzword that ‘Green’ is today and it would be inappropriate to tag it along only with activism, it’s more about economy, business and investment. Therefore, the recent emergence of triple-helix connection and its emphasis placed in Universities and other knowledge institutions. Evidences around the world have shown the effectiveness of renewables transforming rural livelhoods, nature of community development, addressing energy-poverty nexus. There has been a steady increase in the share of renewables for their gradual transition from mere ‘additives’ to ‘alternatives’ within the total energy mix in rural areas of developing nations. About two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas. Of the several factors that accrue to the eradication of rural poverty are increased access to goods, services and information with an increased participation from institutions at all levels, as central to the Global Goals.
For a recurringly stubborn and returning topic, the alleviation of poverty is hindering by two inter-linked phenomena: lack of access to improved energy services and worsening environmental shocks due to climate change (which severely affects the vulnerable, poor population, most of them living in rural areas). Mitigating climate change, increasing energy access, and alleviating rural poverty are all entwined thoroughly and empirically; their overlap leads to an energy-poverty-climate nexus. Increased access to energy services alone will not eradicate poverty, but it does create immediate and visible impacts. Still around 1.5 billion people live without access to electricity, another billion only have access to unreliable electricity, and close to half the global population depends on traditional biomass fuels for cooking and heating. Energy-poverty results in unmet basic needs and depressed economic and educational opportunities that exclusively affect women, children, and minorities. Electricity catalyses rural economic activity and increases the quality of services available to meet basic business and domestic needs through improved lighting, labour saving devices, and access to information through TV, radio and cell phones. Provision of high-quality public lighting can increase security and improve delivery of health and education services. Improving delivery of affordable, reliable energy services to rural communities is critical for helping them develop human and economic capacity to adapt in the face of a changing climate.
Sustainable Development can be viewed as a water tank having two-leaks, one leak being ‘poverty’ and the other ‘environmental degradation’. Both these challenges, i.e. the leaks, need to be dealt with simultaneously. In modern times, no country has managed to substantially reduce poverty without greatly increasing the use of energy or utilising efficient form of energy and/or energy services. Without ensuring minimum access to energy services for a broad segment of the population, countries have not been able to move beyond a subsistence economy. However, merely introducing cheap, easily available modern energy is not enough to ensure socio-economic of energy is not profoundly useful. Its utility lies in facilitating human development. The energy sector has strong links with poverty reduction through health, education, gender, and the environment. One of the strongest factors which lead to sustainable development is the requirement for a fully sustainable supply of energy resources. About one-third of the world burns wood and other biomass for cooking, heating and lighting, accounting for more than 13% of global energy consumption. In rural areas, practicing conventional cooking fuels, when burnt in traditional cooking stoves, the toxic emissions result in more than 1.8 million premature deaths each year, according to WHO estimates, besides children younger than five accounts for half of the fatalities. A secure supply of energy resources thus is a necessary, or rather essential, requirement for development within a society. This calls for a society with a sustainable supply of energy resources, that, in the long term, is sustainably available at reasonable cost without causing negative societal and environmental impacts, and an effective and efficient utilization of energy resources.
Sustainable energy development strategies typically involve three major technological changes: energy savings on the demand side, efficiency improvements in the energy production, and replacement of fossil fuels by various sources of renewable energy. This is important because, energy savingsand energy efficiency are critical components to achieving sustainable development, as suggested by several researchers. However, renewable energy technology management on the left hand side of the equation should be added also. While energy saving and energy efficiency are two issues that Government policy makers think of when formulating a strategy to maximize available energy potential, management of renewable energy technologies involves a wider variety of private and public actors along with participation of users at the grassroots level. India has particularly seen how the public-private-people partnership mechanism works for renewable energy technology application in rural areas. Public and private sector working together to bring solar energy technologies to rural users, working closely with NGOs, VOs, suppliers, Universities and think-tanks to bring about a win-win for all stakeholders involved. Additionally, evidence show how renewable energy-based entrepreneurship and consequently enterprises generated therefore have transformed rural lives and rural development management. Use of solar lantern, lamps, irrigation pumps, home lighting systems, amongst several other such technologies have been used for both personal and business uses by rural users. This not only raises their income levels, but also brings the community closer together and therefore benefitting social capital with increased connectivity and collaborative culture.
From alternative job creation in rural households to electrification of households for children’s education and health and sustaining nature, renewable energy promises a wide range of development options to rural areas. In rural India, RETs provides lighting to several thousands of remote villages that are not electrifiable through grid extension, provide electricity to rural households in the so-called electrified villages, where electricity has not actually reached the inhabited areas. It can also supplement electricity to the rural households of electrified villages with poor electricity supply (ranging between 5 and 8 hours per day) through grid tail-end injection systems (which have increased costs and difficult to adopt in households without an initial induction).
It is critically important to include energy planning at different planning levels of the Government because of a wide range of factors. Firstly, to understand that increasing the use of renewable energy technologies to provide electricity service in areas where grid extension is too costly and where opportunities for the use of renewable are economically warranted. Secondly, to realise that there is a huge market penetration and market development possibilities wherever the government establishes renewable energy markets for rural population. Central governments in developing nations (especially in emerging BRICs) can target key provinces for the development of specific renewable energy option, also explore and encourage potential government-industry partnerships to spur market technology. Adoption of effective policies – the building of an institutional framework to support renewable energy development, the establishment of effective financial mechanisms to provide capital for renewable energy development, the implementation of market transformation strategies to encourage renewable energy development, and the enhancement of international co-operation to promote renewable energy technologies– will create the necessary and much awaited level playing field essentially required to enable renewable energy technologies to compete with long used conventional energy options.