Energy & climate: A greatopportunity

By Ram Shriram
Published in the The Economic
Times, November 27, 2009 It has been my great privilege
to help build some of the great
companies in the internet age,
and this experience has taught
me a good deal about
innovation, capital formation and, most important, about
having control of one’s destiny.
The lessons of the internet
revolution are profound, and
they apply very directly to
India’s energy future. Energy is unlike any other
commodity. The entire
economy depends on access to
dependable, affordable energy.
Without this, nothing else can
be successful. Our energy options, in turn, are dependent
on the development and
adoption of new technologies.
The incumbent technologies,
on the whole, burn fossil fuels,
and don’t do that very well: most of today’s power plants,
factories and automobile
technologies waste energy,
generate massive amounts of
pollution, accelerate climate
change and leave the nation dependent on imported oil and
coal. New technologies will
give India far more control
over her destiny, and reduce
each of these problems. Solar photovoltaic and
centralised solar thermal
generate electricity directly
from the sun. Wind is becoming
a mainstream energy source.
Village-scale biomass and rural photovoltaic systems can offer
energy services to the 40% of
Indian population that is
currently left behind. And in all
cases, energy efficiency is a
bonanza: the best technologies can save terrific amounts of
energy and money at the same
time. These findings have been
confirmed by the
Confederation of Indian
Industry, Teri, McKinsey and in a number of IIT studies. We
have a genuine opportunity to
build clean energy prosperity,
if we act decisively. So what can India do to
capture this opportunity? And
how should our self-interest be
reflected in international
negotiations, which will
culminate in an agreement in Copenhagen next month? I
would argue for a three-step
approach: First, take advantage of
efficiency and renewable
energy technologies that are
available today, and do so with
scale and speed. Inefficient
lighting condemns householders to high energy
bills, and their cumulative
waste condemns our cities to
blackouts. Simple policies can
help bring about change. India
should adopt standards for efficient lights, compact
fluorescents and LEDs. Dr
Jayant Sathaye of Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory
calculates that aggressive
energy efficiency would save this nation over Rs 2.4 million
crore by 2017, by eliminating
blackouts that cripple the
economy. That’s the ultimate
win-win. SECOND, let us accelerate the
implementation of
programmes to drive the
adoption of clean technologies,
such as solar. Germany and
Spain have special prices, called ‘feed-in tariffs’, that have made
solar and wind mainstream
options. These are being
contemplated in India’s solar
mission. They should be
established quickly, with scale, and with a long time period.
Long-term government-backed
power purchase agreements
will create the appropriate
environment for financing,
thereby enabling the private sector to develop innovative
solutions. Finally, India should lead in the
negotiations before and during
Copenhagen. Our government
has made the points, clearly
and correctly, that India cannot
accept a cap, and that the ultimate carbon abatement,
per capita, must converge for
the rich and poor nations. But
we need to do more. We need
to identify and commit to the
policies that are in India’s self interest, and offer these up as
serious commitments in a
global regime. We decide what
we need to do to prosper, then
we commit to doing it in an
international forum. Why make this commitment?
The answer is simple. It is a key
sticking point that must be
repaired to enable a global
deal. And a successful global
deal will be good for India in two ways: it will reduce global
climate impacts that will
ultimately disproportionately
impact the poor, and it will
unleash serious money from
the rich countries for expanded clean energy deployment in
India. Of course, the US, in particular,
and the developed nations in
general, have their own
sticking points. They need to
commit to serious reductions,
and serious finance. India has no reason to back down from
insisting on that. But we need
to become leaders in
progressing the conversation,
and the best way to do this is
to take our self-interest seriously, then commit to it
internationally. Nations are at an inflection
point as they face their energy
futures: with effective policy,
swift implementation of new
technologies and effective use
of international forums, India can not only firmly establish its
position as an innovator and
thought leader, but also create
an environment for an energy
revolution that has the
potential to rival the internet revolution.


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