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Book Review: Energy Sources

Maithani and Gupta pull no punches when it comes to criticism of government policies, an unexpected and refreshing positive of the book

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A chieving universal energy Access in India by Dr P.C. Maithani and Deepak Gupta should be of interest to everyone who cares about India’s future. Maithani is Director in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and Gupta is Ex-Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

Access to energy will be a key factor in determining most of India’s ‘big’ goals for a desirable future: human development, opportunity for India’s rural and poor, carbon emissions reduction, mitigating climate change, and social and political unity. To their credit, Maithani and Gupta choose not to assume this linkage but double down in the chapters at the outset to quantitatively and firmly link energy access to desired social and development outcomes for India and the world. The authors also clearly capture the global acknowledgment of this linkage, the multilateral forums for underlying discussions, and yet the inactions therein. They make some highly needed points in great depth, establishing the following without equivocation.

First, energy access is not a developed world issue. And rich countries are unlikely to do anything about it. The authors bring out the dichotomy in global words and actions, from the US, EU, UN, giving specific instances of global announcements, and the (lack of) follow-up action to them.

Second, the history of false starts that India has made towards improving energy access are actually linked to a lack of vision, misguided policy, and ultimately, to the lack of an integrated energy policy. Reading this book leaves one with a sense of regret that much of the current situation and misery could have been avoided had Indian policymakers acted with decisiveness, thought-through policy and followed up with funding and directional tweaks and interventions at the right time.

Third, regretfully, India’s 300 million people without access to energy are unlikely to get access in most feasible, plausible scenarios. Even if the Prime Minister’s 2022 goals of solar and wind energy capacity additions are met, it would leave us with two unsolvable problems: First, energy would be available in the West and South, while the majority of the population without access to energy is in the northern and eastern parts of India. Second, simple economics shows that all the numbers projected by the government numbers are wrong: no matter the cost of renewable or fossil power, for a centralised power model, the cost of centralised power delivered to rural areas far outstrips the cost of recovery — and political compulsions will not allow this to change.

Overall, the book adopts a dry but engaging style if you pay attention. Its clarity of thinking, presentation, coverage of successes and failures, with proofs (references) make this book a pleasure to read for anyone who approaches it with questions about access to energy. The authors pull no punches when it comes to criticism of government policies, an unexpected and refreshing positive of the book. Frankly, the responsibilities that these authors have discharged in the government and Indian policy-making, make this book a credible and definitive work.

Recommendations are thorough. Broadly around decentralised, renewable and localised energy solutions with a mix, but with focus on biomass along with solar PV, a market-based-enabling approach to decentralised access to energy, and cooking energy. Of course, an integrated energy policy for India is recommended, with an institutional structure that allows capital to flow to three different type of projects: end of the line grid connected, mini grids, and standalone lantern/ Solar Home System approaches.

My only minor difference of opinion is that micro grid templates with solar plus storage as core, but accepting other energy sources like biomass as “plug ins” are quite viable and scalable for most of India and need more research and development, and commercial attention immediately.

For me, one point made in this book brings home its significance: at one point, it states that achieving universal access to energy will cause only a 2.5 per cent increase in global generation capacity, and a 0.7 per cent increase in carbon emissions (IEA or the International Energy Agency estimate) — a pittance to avoid wasted human potential. What’s needed is the will: can global leaders and our PM act in disadvantaged citizens’ interest for once?

If you are looking for a definitive, fairly complete text on India’s energy problems with illustrative background stories of successes and failures (not just anecdotal case studies), strong technical solutions and policy recommendations, you would do very well and save a huge amount of time to start with this scholarly publication.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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P.C. Maithani Deepak Gupta sage magazine 08 february 2016

Adarsh Das

Das is CEO, SunSource Energy

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