SHANKAR SHARMA: CREATION OF A SUSTAINABLE URBAN ENERGY SYSTEM

Synopsis: IISc, Bangalore and BESCOM conducted a workshop on 27-28 February, 2007 at Bangalore to discuss the creation of a sustainable urban energy system for Bangalore city. This article makes an effort to discuss larger issues in this regard and contains, among other things, many issues raised in the workshop.

 Introduction:

With the modern Indian society tending to accept the Western concept of more and more urbanization a large number of urban areas are coming up in each state.  These urban areas, as in the case of Bangalore, are growing to huge sizes, and are posing complex issues in providing the necessary infrastructures for its huge population.  Water, transport, energy, housing, clean air are just some of the areas of concern in this regard.

The fact that most of these urban areas do not have much of their own natural resources base, and have to rely on other parts of the state is complicating these issues. Energy is one of the key issues in this regard as it is very much a part of ensuring the fundamental necessities like potable water, transport, healthcare, housing, clean air etc.  Keeping in view of its importance in all aspects of an urban area, it is considered essential that electricity, as a form of energy, should be studied in detail so as to discuss various elements in creating a sustainable urban energy system.

 In this background a workshop was conducted jointly by IISc, Bangalore and BESCOM to look at the relevant issues of Bangalore city.  This article makes an effort to discuss larger issues in this regard and contains, among other things, many issues raised in the workshop.

 Definition of a sustainable urban energy system

A sustainable urban energy system can be defined as “an energy system, which will be able to meet the legitimate energy requirements of all sections of that urban area not only at present but also for generations to come in the foreseeable future on a sustainable basis without endangering the flora, fauna and in general the environment.”

If we objectively look at the existing electricity infrastructure in urban Bangalore it becomes obvious that none of the aspects included in this definition are adequately covered. For many decades the system has failed to meet the energy requirements of all sections of the urban Bangalore. Unscheduled load shedding for residential areas is very common especially during summer months; very often the industries have one or the other sort of restriction. Since it has no energy source of its own we cannot contemplate how it will meet the electricity needs of the future generations. Also because of the grossly inefficient use of the resources, not just the electricity, the environment in the urban Bangalore is under serious threat.  In summary there are no elements of sustainability in the existing set up.

Major elements of sustainability

The following can be seen as a list of major elements of a sustainable urban energy system:

  • Manageable level of growth – regulated growth of the urban area so as to be consistent with the vision document of the relevant urban area is required; unregulated growth of the city will continuously keep threatening the reliability of energy supply.
  • Fair degree of load growth projection for the foreseeable future –  despite the  increasing degree of difficulty the projection of future load as accurately as feasible is necessary.
  • Optimal use of the existing resources: Highest possible efficiency in generation, transmission, distribution and utilization of the electricity that is being produced at the moment is essential. Also the economic or productive use of electricity, as a high value energy carrier, should be continuously reviewed.
  • Minimum dependence on the electricity grid: As far as possible the urban area should be least dependent on the grid electricity/fossil fuels/ distant sources of energy.
  • Integrated resource management approach: An ‘integrated resource management plan’ approach consisting of highest possible energy efficiency, most economical level of energy conservation, effective Demand Side Management and maximum deployment of renewable energy sources on a distributed generation basis should be adopted.
  • Suitable tariff policy: A suitable tariff policy not only for the supply of electricity (generally for energy) but also for water such that it encourages maximum efficiency in
    usage, minimises the wastage and results in satisfactorily meeting the legitimate needs of the poorer sections of the society should be adopted.
  • Least cost to society criterion: The principle of ‘least cost to society’ should be the criterion while approving any major project, at the same time insisting on objectively considering all the techno-economically available options (this is applicable to any sector); such an approach should lead to maximum efficiency of energy usage in each sector/project.
  • Life cycle cost approach: Life cycle cost approach for every project should lead to the choice of best possible solution in the case of each project proposal.
  • Sustainable energy sources: Sustainability should be the sole criterion in the choice of energy resources; as much as possible amount of energy should be obtained from the renewable energy sources.
  • Effective public consultation: Effective public consultation should be the basis of all major decisions;
  • Holistic view of the energy requirement:  Holistic view of the energy requirement of various sectors like industries & commerce, residence and schools, streetlights and other public places etc. should be a policy. For example strong emphasis on water harvesting and waste water recycling will not only reduce the transportation of water from distant sources but will also reduce the energy consumption.
  • Energy auditing: as being done for financial auditing of all the public enterprises, energy auditing also should be a mandatory part of the urban scenario along with periodical review of the prevailing practices.
  • Active encouragement for newer sources of energy: encouragement and/or participation in R&D efforts for newer and more efficient energy sources should be continuous.
  • Ecologically friendly habitats and energy efficient buildings: these should be maximised; parks, lakes, road side trees, etc. must be at optimum level to reduce the overall energy requirement.
  • The principle of ‘Polluter Pays’: the principle of ‘Polluter Pays’ should be strictly enforced in all aspects of urban life.
  • Public awareness campaign: massive and sustained public awareness campaign on all aspects of urban energy sustainability is essential.
  • Minimise the wastages: minimise the wastages in all energy applications;
  • Maximise the use of locally available resources: resources like solar, bio mass, wind etc.; recycling of waste water etc.. Trees suitable for bio-fuel seeds can be grown in vacant areas, and on road sides to generate part of fuel needs of the city.

Major constraints in the creation of a sustainable urban energy system

Some of the constraints are:

  • Mindset of the policy makers: most of the policy makers do not seem to appreciate the importance of a reliable and sustainable urban energy system for the modern society; they seem to have only short term goals.
  • Lack of understanding of the relevant issues involved amongst most of the stakeholders.
  • Entry barriers for energy efficiency measures: there are many entry barriers for energy efficiency measures; lack of public awareness, higher initial costs, absence of life-cycle-cost approach, inappropriate tariff policies etc.
  • Lack of political will: there is no political will at all to improve the system; in addition there is no consideration for the future generations.
  • Least concern for the environment: the concern for the environment is shockingly poor; even the fourth report of IPCC establishing the anthropological reasons for global warming has not stirred these people from the denial mode. There is almost complete disregard for the long term impacts of energy inefficiency and profligacy.
  • Absence of holistic approach: different sectors of the urban habitat like transport, housing, industry & commerce, municipal corporation etc. all are working in isolation without considering the mutual impacts.
  • Lack of accountability and transparency in the system.
  • Refusal to involve various stakeholders in decision making process: effective public consultation is still a distant goal in our society.
  • Lack of clarity as to how to meet the energy requirements: the policy makers clearly lack the clarity needed to meet the energy requirements of not only the future but of the present itself.
  • Almost complete dependence on the grid electricity: at present the electricity supply to Bangalore city is almost entirely from distant power generating stations.  It will take massive efforts to reduce this dependence.

Five Priorities to start with

  • Maximise the use of existing infrastructure, and minimize the wastage;
  • Develop suitable tariff policy to encourage efficiency and discourage wastages;
  • Adopt suitable costing methods to reflect realistically the actual costs to the society from each energy source;
  • Take holistic approach to take into account various sectors of the urban area, and involve various stakeholders in decision making process;
  • Implement integrated resources management planning approach with a missionary zeal.

Some of the issues of relevance raised in the workshop on 27th & 28th

Participants in the workshop expressed many concerns, not all of them necessarily contributing towards the creation of a sustainable model. But they need to be adequately responded to just for the sake of clarification.

  •  One participant’s view was that the society should not hesitate to exploit all the available conventional energy sources like coal to meet all our electricity requirements, and let the future generations worry about new technologies/sources of energy which may emerge.

If our ancestors were to have such poor approach to our natural resources, we would have probably been left with only deserts.  There is no element of sustainability in this view and is almost bordering on irresponsibility.

  •  Many proponents of conventional energy like coal vehemently advocated for large size coal power projects like the Ultra Mega Power Project at Tadadi in Uttara Kannada without referring to the associated social and environmental issues.

Such views seem to have been expressed without any obvious concern for the environmental and social aspects on the larger society of such large projects.

Large scale generation/transmission projects add inherent risks to the reliable operation of the electricity grid. Dependence on power projects far away from the load centre (in this case Tadadi is more than 500 kM from Bangalore) would reduce the reliability of supply. There is no element of environmental responsibility, operational sensitivity, and of sustainability in these views, and they are not well thought of.  We should not be looking for additional generation capacity without objectively considering the overall cost to the society. 

  • One of the participants questioned the ‘practicality’ of the integrated resources management planning approach as suggested in the workshop.

Each of the alternatives mentioned in the model based on integrated resource management plan for Karnataka were techno-economically viable ones and have been employed/tested elsewhere. The savings in energy so achieved will avoid setting up of a few power stations.  It is a well accepted economic reality that one unit of energy saved is equivalent to few units of energy to be generated anew. Despite the fact that the benefits shown in that model have been only a part of the actual potential, if we consider even half of those benefits the savings to the society in the form of avoided additional power plants is huge. We have to adopt such a holistic view of the costs and benefits to the society since additional generating capacity alone will not provide us with any sustainable model, as has been experienced in the last six decades. 

  • Doubts were raised about the suitability of renewable energy sources

One participant mentioned that he is regretting for having installed a solar water heater in his residence. When southern cities like Bangalore and Mysore are getting the credit of having maximum number of installed solar water heaters, such experiences are very rare and are completely avoidable as the solar water heating technology has sufficiently matured.  The renewable energy technologies mentioned in the model can only keep improving with wider use. It is sad that good experiences all over the world on such renewable energy technologies are being ignored by such people. It is apt to mention here that few residences in countries like Holland, which have much higher per capita energy requirement due to the needs of space heating, have moved away from the grid and are meeting all their energy requirements through renewable energy sources. In USA the rooftops of large buildings are being used to generate electricity through PV panels and are even exporting the energy to the grid. Electricity generation through bio-mass is not new to India. Even if there are any minor issues they should be overcome in view of the huge benefits due to renewable nature.

  • Desire to continue with the failed old policies

Few proponents of the past policies seem to have ignored the fact the total power availability in Karnataka has increased by about 10,800 times in last 100 years, but we are yet to get out of the regime of  power-cuts. They seem to refuse to accept the fact that the old policy of addition of new generation capacity has not solved our energy problems, and that a new paradigm is urgently needed if we are to live upto the expectations of the paying public. Just the addition of new generation capacity cannot result in sustainable energy system. 

  • Issue on percentage of renewable energy sources in the total installed capacity

One participant mentioned that the percentage of renewable energy sources should be 10 to 20% of the total installed capacity. There was no clarity as to how this percentage figure was arrived at. It is pertinent to note here that European Union is considering a binding 20 percent target for renewable energy use by 2020, and Israel is aiming at 50% from renewable energy sources by 2030.   The main issue here is the potential available in our state. Since the objective of the workshop is of a sustainable model the more we look for from the renewable energy sources within the urban area, ideal it will be. Instead of restricting ourselves to any figure at this stage, the objective should be to meet as much of our energy needs as possible from the renewable energy sources.

Another issue the proponents of non-renewable sources of energy raise is the cost of renewable sources of energy. It is true that the cost of renewable sources of energy seem to be high as compared to the prevailing cost of non-renewable sources of energy, but the fact is that the cost of electricity at present does not reflect the real cost to the society, and is very heavily subsidized in many ways. The real cost to the society from social and environmental aspects of establishing and running a large size coal based or dam based power station is not at all reflected in the present price regime. If we take all these costs into objective account the cost of non-renewable sources of energy will be many times higher. In addition, it should be remembered that whereas the cost of non-renewable sources of energy is going up steadily, the cost of renewable sources of energy is coming down steeply with the increasing use. 

  • Privatisation as the panacea for all our problems

A participant appeared to suggest that privatization will resolve all the problems confronting the electricity industry. It was not clear as to how this issue has any relevance to the creation of a sustainable energy model. The ownership of the electricity assets cannot be associated with the sustainability of the system. We have the examples of state agencies functioning well (as in the case of Australia, New Zealand, ESCOM of South Africa, and EDF of France) and also dis-functioning private agencies as in Orissa. Hence this issue should not cloud our thinking while designing a sustainable urban energy model.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply