Energy is an essential input for the industrial development. Energy is produced from commercial sources like coal, petroleum, hydroelectric schemes as well as from non-commercial sources like cowdung, fuelwood and agriculture wastes. Per capital consumption of commercial energy is something used as an index of the economic advancement that a country as attained. India’s per capita consumption of commercial energy, however, is very low. It is only one eight of the world average.
Commercial energy accounts for a little over half of the total energy used in the country, the rest coming from non-commercial sources. Share of agriculture in commercial energy consumption has risen rapidly over the past two-and-a-half decades.
Energy generation and environmental conservation are the twin issues arising from exploitative interaction of man with natural resources. Report of the International Energy Agency contains a simple but remarkable statement: “Investment in energy conservation at the margin provides a better return than investment in energy supply”.
Now, what do mean by this? This means that conservation of a unit of energy is cheaper and environmentally more desirable than to generate an additional unit. For, it is estimated that generation of every additional kilowatt for one hour of energy requires an investment of Rs. 7,000 to 12,000 in the form of new energy generation equipments.
Excessive utilization of coal and oil for generation of electricity leads to the multiple problems of acid rain, and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. There are also political and economic implications like the increasing tension in the Persian Gulf, which is the major petroleum exporting area, and failing international competitiveness. All these threaten to strangle the world economy in a stagnation. Let us see how some steps taken to resolve these complex problems have tangled the issues further.
To reduce dependence on oil for generation of electricity by burning coal and oil, hydroelectric power stations and atomic energy stations were advocated. Huge dams can make substantial contributions to economic development in electricity-short developing countries like India, but as in any large-scale electricity generating option, there are trade-offs. Reservoirs inundate forests, farmland and wildlife habitats and uproot entire communities of indigenous people.
Thus, hasty solutions to a given problem may create more complications rather than solving it. In the recent past, countries have been expanding their energy budget presumably thinking that energy expenditure was the only way to development, but today the perspective has changed. One of the greatest challenges facing poor countries is to meet their energy needs without repeating the mistakes made by the rich countries. A goal of reducing national energy expenditure, if pursued rigorously, can lead to a strong emphasis on energy efficiency, improve economic competitiveness, and limit oil dependence.
A policy of Polluter pays must be adopted. In effect, this means specific disincentives are required to ensure that industries do not become too heavily dependent on fossil fuels that threaten life-support systems. The need of the day is to “insist on industries adopting clean technologies wherever available.”
The answer to the country’s energy needs can only life in adopting non-conventional sources of energy. A beginning is being made by Government of India to give the same type of resources and support to developing alternative sources of energy as have so far been extended to the development of conventional energy sources. The latter, as experience has shown, pose a great danger to the environment. Many environmentally safe alternatives have been found today, which await encouragement from the Government for proper exploitation.