Power Production Process and Public Protest

(Kaushal Kishore) This year in South India, police detained 200 anti-nuclear activists in Tuticorin. They were going to join the villagers, who were neck-deep buried in sand on shore, against the Kudankulam nuclear plant. The state authorities try hard to suppress these public protests. On the other hand, local people bent upon intensifying the agitation. However, the Supreme Court refused to stop loading of fuel into the reactor, the apex court stressed on safety of people as prime concern. The present scenario is critical, and the fight is on peak.

The scientist-turned-saint Swami Sanand (Dr. G.D. Agarwal) was many times detained by police in North India. He is leading a movement for several years against hydropower projects on the Ganga. As a consequence of his consistent satyagraha, central government closed down certain hydropower plants in the Himalayas on Ganga, few years back. Now Shankaracharya Swami Swarupananda Saraswati heads his movement. They appeared with thousands of followers on Jantar Mantar in mid June to build pressure. As thus, UPA govt. promised them to act positively within 3 months. But they did nothing… Now the annoyed devotees of the Ganga are ready to launch a nationwide movement.

The energy projects and its oppositions have become very common in every part of India. One of its reasons is that there are few torchbearers like Swami Sanand and Ganga Putra Nigamananda. They are ready to sacrifice in order to enlighten the common people and to save them. As thus, still there are certain public protests. It will continue unless the state actually evolves a people centered sustainable development vision.

Electricity for all, a decade ago, was an ambitious goal, when GoI declared it in 2002. Today, India has the fifth largest energy generation capacity in the world, after US, China, Japan and Russia. The top four countries together consume almost half of the power generated globally. According to 2012 data of Central Electricity Authority, India produces 205.34 GW of electricity annually, and per capita consumption is 778.71 kWh per annum. It is far below the global average consumption of 2600 kWh, and 6200 kWh in European Union. India imports electricity from Bhutan and further expects to import from Nepal. Even though around 300 million (more than US population) Indians have no access to electricity.

The domestic needs and demands of electricity are increasing day-by-day. According to reports of United Nation Development Program (UNDP), the demand for electrical energy in India is growing at a rate of seven to eight percent annually. The economic growth largely depends on energy supply, and its dire state threatens the economic prospects. The country needs sufficient electricity to sustain its rapid economic growth, alleviate poverty, and light millions of powerless homes.

Fossil fuel based plants generate 66% of total energy in India. These plants cause twin crisis—increase of fossil fuel consumption, and rapid environmental destruction. Hydropower contributes 19% of the total production, and rest is combination of renewable and nuclear plants. Certainly, the potential for deriving energy from dams on rivers is great. However, the dams have not had a completely positive impact on environment and river ecology. Therefore, developed countries like US and many others are dismantling dams. US Army Corps of Engineers built more than 210,000 dams since its establishment in 1775. Consequently, hydropower increased to 25% of total electricity supplied in 1920, after removing many dams from rivers and creeks, it reduced to 6.4% in 2008. In the last decades, Americans removed 300 to 1000 dams every year.

The consensus among river ecologists of World Commission on Dams is that dams are the single greatest cause of the decline of river ecosystems. Deforestation takes place concurrently with construction of dams, and a variety of other social and environmental problems are in addition. These problems include water acidity, health problems, displacement of indigenous people from their land, flooding of original waterways with resultant loss of prime land, and silting of dams and drainage areas.

According to International Rivers Network, reservoir based hydropower cannot be considered a clean source of energy. Since reservoirs emit Green House Gases due to rotting of flooded vegetation, soils, aquatic plants and organic matter flowing in from upstream. Emissions of carbon dioxide and methane are particularly high from reservoirs in the lowland tropics, and in some cases it exceeds certain gas-fired power stations. Moreover, the gigantic dams place a huge area on the head of an atom bomb. The destruction caused by huge dams could be as destructive as the damage done by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki together.

Atomic energy can be yet another source of power supply. The technical advancement can’t eliminate human errors in nuclear energy plant operation. The history witnessed a century of accidents in nuclear power stations. Two thirds of these mishaps occurred alone in technologically advanced US. Although, nuclear plants constitute less than 1% of energy in India, there were half a dozen accidents in these plants. Last year, the entire world was shaken, when a disaster occurred after a 9.00 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan. This was third mishap in the Fukushima since 1978. Germany, fourth largest producer of nuclear power of the world, permanently closed seven oldest reactors after the Fukushima disaster. They have decided to close down all nuclear power stations by the end of 2022, and proposed to replace them with biomass. People in India are afraid after Fukushima mishap, and they oppose nuclear power stations.

Renewable energy options are better substitutes of electricity. In Indian scenario, it is more efficient and sustainable. Biomass, solar, geothermal and ocean energy are available here in abundance. Today, solar and wind power are growing sources of energy. Many large scale wind farms are connected to electric grids and individual turbines help to generate electricity at isolated locations. India is the fourth largest wind power generator in the world after Germany, US and Spain. Energy experts estimate that 10% of total consumption of energy throughout the world would be supplied by wind power by the year 2020.

Solar energy is generated from the heat and light. It converts sunlight into electricity by concentrating photovoltaic, solar thermal devices and several other technologies. California adopted a million solar roofs law to dramatically increase solar power. Germany, US and Spain are pioneer of renewable energy options. European Photovoltaic Industry Association predicts that solar energy could provide a quarter of global electricity demand by 2040.

The main constraint to both solar and wind power is that they only generate when there is sunlight and the wind blows. The rapid progress in fuel cell technology can be helpful in future. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells can generate electricity in need. There are some other problems. Solar panels absorb sunlight that is necessary for the growth of plant species growing in the surroundings. Similarly windmills are harmful for bird species.

Biomass based power can be an important source of energy in India. Here, ample resources are available to produce biofuel and electricity. The main source of biogas is animal dung and various types of organic and agricultural wastes. The most economic way to produce biofuels is in integrated biorefineries, where biomass can be used to produce fuels, bioproducts and energy. It will reduce the emission of GHG from atmosphere. According to Ontario based India Heritage Research Foundation, biogas based energy is the best option to supply electricity and biofuel in India. The foundation estimates the total production potential to be around 130 billion cubic metres per annum that can fulfill half of the domestic energy needs. It can further replace 327 billion barrels of petroleum per annum.

There is a history of harnessing biomass in India. Ministry of New & Renewable Energy reports the status of certain biogas plants in different regions. But most of them are based on first or second generation technologies. The advancement of biomass technology reached in its fourth generation. Not only the developed countries like Germany and US, but Costarica and Brazil are also greatly benefited by new development in biomass sector. According to German Biogas Association, 20% of Germany’s natural gas needs could be supplied from biogas by 2020. In Sweden 60% of CNG requirements are replaced with biofuel. The biofuel gives 67 km mileage as opposed to 25 km of CNG and 54 km of Ethanol mix. The European Union is working on an ambitious plan to generate 30% of energy from biomass.

Unlike solar and wind power there are no constraints with biomass. The ample cattle wealth and agro farms can supply sufficient raw materials for energy. Moreover, the biomass refineries produce enough of organic fertilizer as a byproduct that can be used for organic farming. The cost of these renewable power options is comparably cheap. Today, the capital cost of these projects range between thirty to fifty million rupees per mega watt. That is many times less than the cost invested in other energy projects. Most of the people, who do not have access to electricity live in remote villages, these small-scale projects can expand electrical grids to such homes. Biomass, windmills and solar photovoltaic can be utilized for electrification in many parts of the nation.

November 2012

(Kaushal Kishore is the author of The Holy Ganga)

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2 thoughts on “Power Production Process and Public Protest

  1. Good day! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to
    give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your blog posts.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums
    that cover the same topics? Thanks!

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