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Tackling Energy Security

Teri’s report ‘National Energy Map for India :Technology Vision 2030’ estimates that in the Business-as-Usual (BAU) scenario, our commercial energy consumption is estimated to increase from 285 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) in 2001 to 2123 Mtoe  and 3351 Mtoe in 2031 if the economy grows at 6.7 percent and 10 percent respectively. Although hydro, nuclear, and renewable energy forms are expected to increase around six times in period 2001–31, these would contribute to mere 4.5 percent of the total commercial energy requirements over the modeling time frame. Hence, pressure coal, oil, and gas will continue to remain high in coming decades. The report details requirements of four key interventions: enhancing end-use efficiencies; adopting advanced coal- and gas-based power generating technologies; enhancing the exploitation of renewable energy and nuclear energy resources, and; enhancing efficiency in the transport sector by modal shifts. The study also estimates enormous possible reductions applying such interventions. However, the bottom-line is that India would need to increase its imports of coal, oil, and gas in the future. More importantly, in order to minimise import dependency, it is imperative to focus on increasing the supply of indigenous energy resources including through R&D in exploration and production of energy.

Interestingly, the world’s first 10 MW Ocean Thermal Energy Conservation (OTEC) plant is being set up in USA, Ocean holding infinite potential for producing terawatts of energy. It is also green energy fully meeting climate conservation requirements. With large oceanic fronts, India must research this technology and establish a chain of coastal energy plants based on OTEC duly linked to the national power grid. Then is the shale gas revolution that has also transformed need versus resource debate with far reaching strategic ramifications. Speculation is rife that energy self-sufficiency may lead the US to let more regions submerge in chaos, while resorting to controlled engagement from the background. Increased energy self-sufficiency may lead China to become even more aggressive. Globally, major shale gas prospects are in US, China, Argentina, Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. A joint US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and Advanced Resources International (ARI) report of 17 June 2013 makes a joint India-Pakistan regional assessment of “risked” technically recoverable Shale Gas Resources as 114 tcf assessed in 2011, which has been hiked to 201 tcf as per 2013 assessment. As per another assessment, India has shale gas reserves of 63 tcf, which may increase as drilling progresses.  In January 2011, ONGC had discovered shale gas in its pilot drilling venture in Damodar basin. While ONGC and OIL are undertaking pilot projects to assess the shale gas potential, Reliance and GAIL have entered US shale industry to gain technical expertise. There are reports of the US offering shale gas to India ostensibly to reduce energy dependence on Iran. Shale gas can help India meet its growing energy demand, besides reducing its dependence on expensive energy imports and the energy import bill. Incidentally, natural gas prices in the US are at record lows as the surge in shale gas production coupled with lower demand has lowered the average price of gas.

Then is the issue of nuclear energy. India’s Kakrapar nuclear reactor is the world's first using Thorium. More significantly, IAEA puts our Thorium reserves at 67 percent of global reserves. A Thorium nuclear reactor has “no possibility of a meltdown”. Compared to Uranium, Thorium does not require enrichment, has superior physical and nuclear properties and much reduced nuclear waste production. Thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming, as a result of which fission stops by default. Though Thorium does require start-up by neutrons from a Uranium reactor, from thereon this activated Thorium reactor can activate other Thorium reactors discounting any further requirement of Uranium. Therefore, India should consider switching completely to Thorium based nuclear reactors as they are far safer than the Uranium based ones. One ton of Thorium can produce same energy as 200 tons of Uranium, or 3,500,000 tons of coal albeit it is harder but not impossible to extract weapon grade fissile material from a Thorium reactor. India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) visualises 2040 as the time horizon for deployment of large-scale thorium-based reactors. A 300 MW Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AWHR) using thorium is under development, concurrent to the High Temperature Reactor for generating hydrogen, which is the fuel of future. Of concern is the recent disturbing news reports of illegal mining of Thorium that is being quietly exported out of the country by the powerful illegal mining mafia. This activity must be ruthlessly stopped.

India is the world's third-largest producer of coal and more than half the country's power comes from burning coal. It is estimated that coal imports would help bring as much as 78,000 MW of generation capacity on stream. Power prices keep going up because imported coal costs are passed on to consumers because of the falling rupee. The decision to allow power companies to pass on the costs of foreign coal to customers is reportedly to boost imports and investment in power generation and bring more energy to consumers though individual states can decide to subsidise costs.  As per records, India’s coal imports rose to a record 135 million tons in the last fiscal year - a rise of nearly 33 percent albeit drop in global coal prices softened the impact. The irony is that we are resorting to imports despite our own coal reserves standing a 27,34,971.15 million tons; 33,688.73 million tons coking coal, 2,58,315.78 million tons non-coking coal and 1,492.64 million tons tertiary coal. Little wonder the government said there was no Coalgate Scam because all the coal remained underground. But the question is why a country holding third largest reserves of coal in the world should import coal. Why should we not be exporting coal? Clearly, this issue needs examination and streamlining.

The decision to double the price of gas from April 2014 on account of low domestic production has come in for heavy criticism due to possibility of such move substantially pushing up prices, curtailing output of important industries like power and fertiliser that are bulk natural gas consumers, and further push up inflation. Surya P Sethi, former Principal Adviser, Power & Energy, terms this a totally indefensible hike and a gigantic scam on impoverished people of India. He alleges that formulae used to double the price of gas of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) are unfair and not used anywhere in the world.

Concurrently, we need to redouble our efforts to exploit renewable energy, alternative fuels, fossil fuels and the like. India’s renewable energy programme is primarily private sector driven. The annual turnover of the renewable energy industry, including the power generating technologies for wind and other sources, has reached a level of over USD 10 billion. With increased focus, renewable market is expected to grow significantly. Globally, renewable are already seen as an important option for sustainable world with carbon-free energy economy. Extensive R&D efforts are in progress to significantly reduce the cost of renewable energy systems.  Renewable, apart from being seen as energy solutions, are also seen as energy access vehicles that ultimately feed to sustainable development. India is expected to surpass China in terms of population by 2030. As the most populous nation in the world, we should also aim to cater for individual energy requirements in addition to meeting our future commercial energy requirements.


Prakash Katoch is a veteran Special Forces Lieutenant General.


Views expressed are personal







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Prakash Katoch
Prakash Katoch is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.
Contact at: [email protected]
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