Energy Woes—In Search of Lasting Power
|Most of us are likely to miss out on the fact that there are almost 70,000 products that require petroleum as the basic constituent. This includes plastics, acrylics, cosmetics, paints, varnishes, asphalt, fertilizers, medications, etc. To boot, we are sharing these essentials with six billion other individuals who dwell here!
The accomplishments of civilisation have largely been achieved through increasingly efficient and extensive harnessing of various forms of energy. Energy is indispensable for human development and economic growth. Global primary energy use has been expanding by about 2 per cent a year.
Energy use by the developing countries has increased 3-4 times vis-a-vis the OECD countries; this being largely because of the increased incomes and an increasing population growth. The share of the developing countries in global commercial energy use has increased from 13 per cent in 1970 to 30 per cent now. However, the per capita consumption of energy shows only an inequitable distribution between developed and developing countries.
Energy transformation is the fastest growing sector in all countries, except transition economies, generally followed by transportation. Electricity generation dominates energy transformation, reflecting the continuing importance of electricity for economic development. Oil refining, coal transformation, gasworks centralised heat production, transmission and distribution losses account for rest of the energy. The four major energy uses, or so-called energy-related services are power generation, electricity consumption, fossil fuels used for mobility (transportation) and fossil fuels used for stationary purposes, such as water heating.
Global energy trade remains dominated by crude oil and oil products. Crude oil, remains the world's chief fuel and the middle eastern countries remain the primary suppliers. United States is the largest consumer of oil, its requirement making up for 25 per cent share in the total consumption. Saudi Arabia has the greatest share in the oil reserves.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that gas consumption would rise to approach that of coal. Hydroelectric power and renewables would rise steadily, but levels on the whole will remain low. As for nuclear power, consumption is expected to stabilise by 2020.
Amidst the "billion barrel" prattle, there are experts like Kenneth Deffeyes, who contend that the oil supply would peak soon, followed by chronic shortages. They reason that most of the world's oil has already been discovered. This, coupled with global warming, is forcing the world to turn to renewable energy sources (or renewables).
The production and use of fossil fuels for power generation, industrial production and transportation has been associated with adverse local environmental impacts, such as deforestation, land degradation, and water and air pollution. In addition, there are concerns about the release of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from the energy sector, particularly power generation using fossil fuels. One strategy to address these environmental issues, and diversify sources of energy supply at the same time, is the development and promotion of technologies using renewable natural resources such as biomass, water, wind and solar energy.
Energy production and utilization involves a disturbance to the state of the environment. Coal exploration and mining causes land degradation through subsidence and mine fires. The impact of mining on forest areas is of particular concern in India, as there is considerable overlap between forests and coal reserves. Similarly, oil and gas exploration and production poses a threat to the existing physical, chemical and biological status of the environment. The major concerns associated with onshore oil and gas production are the processes, which can contaminate surrounding water bodies.
The utilization of fuels in the power, transport and industrial sectors is wrecking havoc on the environment. In India, with over 60% of power generation being coal-based and the inherently high ash content of indigenous coal (more than 40% in some cases), 80-100 million tonnes of fly ash is produced every year. Currently, nearly 90% of fly ash generated is dumped as slurry in ash ponds, which requires huge amounts of water, resulting in creation of wasteland, and could also lead to leaching of heavy metals and soluble salts.
The use of gasoline and diesel in the transport sector generates a number of pollutants like lead, carbon monoxide, toxic compounds such as benzene, and particulate matter which are discharged to the atmosphere along with vehicular exhaust gas. The transport sector is the largest consumer of commercial energy, after industry. A combination of factors, including increased travel demand, dominance of road based and personalized modes of transport and fuel combustion in inefficient vehicular technologies has resulted in air pollution in urban areas reaching critical levels.
Renewables can meet many times the present world energy demand. So their potential is enormous. They can enhance diversity in energy supply markets, source long term energy supply and reduce local and global atmospheric emissions. Scenarios looking into the potential of renewables reveal that they could contribute 20-50 per cent of the energy supply in the second half of the 21st century. However, the transition would rely on the successful development and diffusion of the renewables technology and the political will to internalise the costs.
Many experts believe that hydrogen, wind and solar power will provide most of the world's energy in 50 years, with fossil fuels playing a smaller role. And, conservation is important for this transition.
Solar energy can be used to meet our electricity requirements. Through Solar Photovoltaic (SPV) cells, solar radiation gets converted into DC electricity directly. This electricity can either be used as it is or can be stored in the battery. This stored electrical energy then can be used at night. SPV can be used for a number of applications such as domestic lighting, street lighting, village electrification, water pumping, desalination of salty water, powering of remote telecommunication repeater stations and railway signals.
Efficient use of solar energy could reduce our dependence on non-renewable sources of energy and make our environment cleaner. India receives solar energy equivalent to over 5000 trillion kWh/year, which is far more than the total energy consumption of the country
Biomass is a renewable energy resource derived from carbonaceous waste of various human and natural activities. It is derived from numerous sources, including the by-products of timber industry, agricultural crops, raw material from the forest, major parts of household waste and wood. Biomass does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as it absorbs the same amount of carbon in growing as it releases when consumed as a fuel. Its advantage is that it can be used to generate electricity with the same equipment or power plants that are now burning fossil fuels. Biomass is an important source of energy and the most important fuel worldwide after coal, oil and natural gas.
In fact, in countries like Finland, USA and Sweden the per capita biomass energy used is higher than it is in India, China or in Asia. Biomass fuels used in India account for about one third of the total fuel used in the country, being the most important fuel used in over 90% of the rural households and about 15% of the urban households. According to current estimates, about 3500 MW of power can be generated from bagasse in the existing 430 sugar mills in the country.
Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy of a fuel directly and very efficiently into electricity (DC) and heat, thus eliminating combustion. The most suitable fuel for such cells is hydrogen or a mixture of compounds containing hydrogen. Though fuel cells have been used in space flights and combined supplies of heat and power, electric vehicles are the best option available to dramatically reduce urban air pollution. Fuel-cell-powered EVs (Electric Vehicles) score over battery operated EVs in terms of increased efficiency and easier and faster refuelling.
Hydroelectric power is currently the world's largest renewable source of electricity, accounting for 6% of worldwide energy supply or about 15% of the world's electricity. In Canada, hydroelectric power is abundant and supplies 60% of the electricity needs. Traditionally thought of as a cheap and clean source of electricity, most large hydro-electric schemes being planned today are coming up against a great deal of opposition from environmental groups and native people.
Hydroelectric power plants have many environmental impacts, some of which are just beginning to be understood. These impacts, however, must be weighed against the environmental impacts of alternative sources of electricity. Until recently there was an almost universal belief that hydro power was a clean and environmentally safe method of producing electricity.
A few recent studies of large reservoirs created behind hydro dams have suggested that decaying vegetation, submerged by flooding, may give off quantities of greenhouse gases equivalent to those from other sources of electricity. The most obvious impact of hydro-electric dams is the flooding of vast areas of land, much of it previously forested or used for agriculture.
Wind energy systems for irrigation and milling have been in use since ancient times and since the beginning of the 20th century it is being used to generate electric power. Wind turbines transform the energy in the wind into mechanical power, which can then be used directly for grinding etc. or further converting to electric power to generate electricity. Wind turbines can be used singly or in clusters called "wind farms". Small wind turbines called aero-generators can be used to charge large batteries.
Five nations—Germany, USA, Denmark, Spain and India—account for 80% of the worlds installed wind energy capacity. Wind energy continues to be the fastest growing renewable energy source with worldwide wind power installed capacity reaching 14,000 MW. India ranks 5th in the world with a total wind power capacity of more than 1080 MW. In India, States of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat lead in the field of wind energy.
Tidal Energy: A large amount of solar energy is stored in the oceans and seas. On an average, the 60 million square kilometre of the tropical seas absorb solar radiation equivalent to the heat content of 245 billion barrels of oil. Scientists feel that if this energy can be tapped a large source of energy will be available to the tropical countries and to other countries as well. The process of harnessing this energy is called OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion). It uses the temperature differences between the surface of the ocean and the depths of about 1000m to operate a heat engine, which produces electric power
Energy is also obtained from waves and tides. The first wave energy project with a capacity of 150 MW, has been set up near Trivandrum. A major tidal wave power project costing of Rs 5000 crore is proposed to be set up in the Hanthal Creek in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat.
Electric power plants driven by geothermal energy provide over 44 billion kilowatt hours of electricity worldwide per year, and world capacity is growing at approximately 9% per year. To produce electric power from geothermal resources, underground reservoirs of steam or hot water are tapped by wells and the steam rotates turbines that generate electricity. Typically, water is then returned to the ground to recharge the reservoir and complete the renewable energy cycle.
Underground reservoirs are also tapped for "direct-use" applications. In these instances, hot water is channelled to greenhouses, spas, fish farms, and homes to fill space heating and hot water needs.
Geothermal energy use extends beyond underground reservoirs. The soil and near-surface rocks, from 5 to 50 feet deep, have a nearly constant temperature from geothermal heating.
The Indian Scenario
India accounted for 12.5% of total primary energy consumption in the Asia-Pacific region and 3% of world's primary energy consumption. However, per capita energy consumption remains low at 486 KGOE (Kilograms of Oil Equivalent), compared with a world average of 1659 KGOE. Increasing oil and coal imports in recent years is an area of concern for the Indian energy sector.
India has implemented policy changes to encourage foreign investment. Tariffs on imported capital goods have been lowered, and in some cases eliminated (such as equipment for large-scale power generation projects). Restrictions on foreign ownership have also been relaxed. Notably, majority foreign ownership is now permitted. Reforms, though, have been a slow moving process. Petroleum products and electricity consumption are still supported with subsidies. Annual Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India has hovered in the range of $ 3-4 billion over the last several years, though, compared to roughly $ 40 billion per year of FDI in China.
Oil accounts for about 30% of India's total energy consumption. The majority of India's roughly 4.8 billion barrels in oil reserves are located in the Bombay High, Upper Assam, Cambay, Krisha-Godavari, and Cauvery basins.
Oil consumption in India has soared from 1.9 million bbl/d in 2001, to more than 3.4 million bbl/d by 2010. In its attempt to limit its dependence on oil imports, India is trying to expand domestic exploration and production. It is also pursuing the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP), announced in 1997, which permits foreign involvement in exploration, an activity long restricted to Indian State-owned firms.
Indian consumption of natural gas has risen faster than any other fuel in recent years. Natural gas use was nearly 0.8 Tcf in 1999 and has reached more than 1.8 Tcf in 2010. Increased use of natural gas in power generation is to account for most of the increase, as the Indian government has been encouraging the construction of gas-fired electric power plants in coastal areas where they can be easily supplied with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) by sea.
It is most likely that the natural gas demand will out pace the supply leading to imports either via pipeline or LNG tanker.
Coal dominates the energy mix in India, contributing 70% of the total primary energy production. Power generation accounts for about 70% of India's coal consumption, followed by heavy industry. Coal consumption has increased to 427 million short tons (Mmst) in 2010, up from 348 million in 1999. India is the world's third largest coal producer (after the China and the United States), and domestic supplies satisfy most of the country's coal demand. The snag lies in the fact that Indian coal generally has a high ash content and low calorific value, so most coking coal is imported. Major fields are found in Bihar, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh.
Nearly all of India's 390 mines are under Coal India Ltd. (CIL), which accounts for about 90% of the country's coal production. Current policy allows private mines only if they are "captive" operations, which feed a power plant or factory. The current government has called off plans for further coal-sector liberalization in the face of strong opposition from labour unions.
Despite 80% of the population having access to electricity, the unreliability of the supplies is so severe that it impinges on the overall productivity and development of the country.
The drive to increase the country's generating capacity, along with the general trend toward economic liberalization in India in the 1990s, led to much interest among foreign inves-tors in setting up Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in India. Notwithstanding approval, the largest projects have been stalled mainly due to procedural delays and inadequate financing. The State Electricity Boards (SEBs), which run the power distribution infrastructure and own most current generating capacity, are marred by poor financial health. The sale of power to the agricultural sector is one major reason for this plight. Power theft, which is rampant, adds to the losses. Resolving the financial problems of the SEBs is a prerequisite to attracting the capital necessary.
The government encourages the construction of mega-projects, defined as plants with capacity of more than 1,000 MW for thermal plants and more than 500 MW for hydroelectric plants, but approvals have not usually led to construction. Out of the many projects approved, several have been cancelled and a couple of them have been hanging fire.