Energy Democracy: Where ‘two Indias’ meet

(Down to Earth)

By Prayank Jain

India is growing fast. Economic growth and rising population have put us in a special place on the world map. So much that our energy processes will shape the global discourse on climate change and development. India’s need for power is serious, and there are “two different Indias” that struggle with the realities of today’s energy frame.

The first India is largely urban and heavily powered by fossil fuels. Coal is the backbone of India's energy system. It is abundantly available (308.80 billion tonnes in 2016), subsidised and generates one-third of our electricity. India is the second largest producer of coal globally and third in overall CO2 emissions. We are burning more fossil fuels than ever, leading to serious problems for health and environment. Our thermal power plants are of subcritical standards and contribute towards rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thirteen of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in India, with Delhi, Patna and Gwalior occupying top spots. Outdoor pollution caused 590,000 premature deaths in 2015 and has further reduced life expectancy in India by 3.2 years. It is estimated that by 2030, India's coal generation and consumption capacity will grow by nearly 300 per cent, air emissions will double causing a 100 per cent increase in health impacts. Clearly, India is choking. We need to phase out coal and manage luxurious, carbon-intensive lifestyles.

The second-half of the story revolves around an India that lives in darkness. Nearly 240 million people here have no access to electricity. This population is mainly concentrated in rural areas, where infrastructural deficits render extending access as both, an economical and technical challenge. Lack of affordable and regular access impedes the development of India's poor. Poverty and lack of energy are viciously related. Absent or intermittent energy supply deprives the poor of opportunities for economic and social growth, consequently pushing them towards expensive and unhealthy alternatives. Today, 840 million people use solid biomass as the primary cooking fuel—a major cause of indoor pollution, premature deaths and environmental degradation. Providing affordable, adequate and clean energy is essential for development and improving living conditions. While India accounts for 18 per cent of the world's population, we only use 6 per cent of the primary energy with our power consumption per capita being just one-third of the global average. Energy poverty is an inequality. It is widening the gap between urban and rural India, and forcing the poor to remain poor. We need to do more. Read More