Energy trends and technologies for India

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Sunil Sharan

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Everywhere you look in the world, including in India, climate inaction is rampant. First, what exactly is climate inaction? Climate inaction is being oblivious to climate change and not taking action to combat it. Just like Donald Trump.

 

But let’s not blame Trump alone. In India, like elsewhere, everybody wants the bigger car, the McMansion, and the split aircons. If you have the money, just go ahead and splurge. Electric vehicles have captured the attention of policy makers in India, but EVs still need to be powered up. That power comes from central generation today, where coal is still king in India.

 

If the central generation was from natural gas, EVs would make more sense because natural gas is about half as polluting than coal. But India is short of natural gas and needs to import it from blacklisted countries like Iran. The Iran-Pakistan-India has pipeline has gone up in smoke, and so has the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.

 

With India and Pakistan threatening to rain the nuclear mushroom cloud on each other, who has the time to do constructive work and build gas pipelines.

 

Hydrogen as a clean car fuel had emerged a decade or so in California, but big talk apart, it didn’t really catch fire. Hydrogen too is made from natural gas. There too, then India will have to import natural gas in large quantities. A trend is emerging. India needs to transition to natural gas.

 

As of today, three car manufcaturers–Toyota, Honda and Hyundai–have Hydrogen cars publicly available in select markets. Hydrogen cars require investment in filling stations to dispense hydrogen, but so do EVs require a separate and expansive charging infrastructure.

 

For some reason, while Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles have been quite successful in countries like Pakistan and India, CNG cars have not taken off perhaps because of the ungainly CNG container.

 

India has a lot of sugarcane like Brazil, and could go the ethanol route in powering transportation as Brazil has, but perhaps because Brazil is a Third Word country, India does not want to emulate it. India prefers to emulate First Word countries.

 

Solar and Wind have been around for a hundred years and have remained niche power generators at best. Because they are intermittent, they do not provide reliable power. You could couple them with baseload power from coal or natural gas generators, but these generators need a fixed schedule to power up. Solar and wind can go up and down any part of the day.

 

Lithium ion batteries being coupled with solar and wind to provide reliable power is an Elon Musk (the CEO of Tesla) pipedream. There is no large-scale community or city anywhere in the world where solar and wind are running successfully coupled with either fossil fuel (coal/natural gas) generation or with lithium ion batteries.

 

As far as power generation is concerned, as mentioned earlier, natural gas is half as polluting as coal, and it’s only natural that India, like the US, should migrate to natural gas. India doesn’t have much reserves of natural gas though, so the tendency would be to stay with coal.

 

This then is how the scenario is unfolding in India: coal for generation, petrol/diesel for transportation, and some buzz around EVs (mostly powered by coal generation). Not much is changing in India.

 

Either we accept the status quo, or we investigate hydrogen and/or CNG and/or ethanol for transportation. Coal needs to be tapered down for power generation, so we will have to import natural gas. In conjunction with importing natural gas, we must drill for natural gas in our own country. The US too didn’t believe it had adequate reserves of natural gas until it stumbled upon natural gas from shale rock, also known as shale gas.



via TOI Blog

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