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Is India Energy Secure?

This is one of those fundamental questions, for which an answer is finality is impossibility. Just as the sun sees the morning everyday afresh, forgetting the darkness of yesterday, a situation has arrived in this country wherein energy needs are increasing day by day and constant fresh review on the issue is needed on an ongoing basis. Production is on the increase yet the demand outstrips. The growth engine of the country on all fronts has developed a gluttonous appetite for energy.  Its hunger is on the increase. The country is in constant search for more energy reserves.

The rising energy consumption:

The demand outstrips the coal production. To meet the demands of industrial growth, the quest for energy is of paramount importance. The economy is rearing to accelerate. On the consumption front, the demand for coal, natural gas, oil and electricity is expected to rise about 40% over the next five years and by 2020, it will double, by the current standards of growth. Hard questions and even harder options are ahead in the energy front.

Ask any industrialist who is in the manufacturing activity and he will tell you the interesting story about the disruptions in production. As per World Bank report, he has to put up with on an average seventeen major power disruptions every month. With no dearth of coal reserves, yet the domestic production is not up to the mark and the shortfall is constantly on the rise. But the crux of the problem is in the oil area. India imports 70% of its petroleum, and it has to put up with abnormal swings in the world oil prices, and the domestic economy gets shaken by this.  Prices rise in every segment, hitting the common man very hard. Deep resentment grows, with the frequent rise in oil prices.

India fights   ‘energy’ tically

The country is seized of the issue and is making all-out efforts to meet the challenge. Administrative reforms were initiated in the electricity departments in the year 2001, the deadwood state electricity boards were reconstituted. Liberalization of generation of power produced tangible results. It stepped up the efforts to get oil and natural gas by investing in fields from Russia to Sudan. Private investments in domestic exploration were encouraged.

But with such a big budget for importing oil, and with near total dependence on international markets, tangible progress can never be achieved. Temporary solutions are not conducive for permanent progress. India is late in the energy game not by months and years but by decades. It has woken up to the tough energy challenge during the current decade, and the task should have been addressed seriously right form 1947, the year of independence. Energy is the key to economic independence and the strategy now must be to address to the methods of next-generation ways to produce and use energy efficiently. For a big country like India, to develop an oil-based economy is a tough option, but there is no other alternative. Every positive trait like creativity and diplomacy and all qualities of leadership will have to be put into operation.

The options

This is war on energy for India, and every weapon small or big is good, so far as it serves the war objective—to win the war! Saving energy is as important as developing additional sources of energy. The orientation of technology should be towards developing alternative energy like solar thermal power, bio-diesel, gobar gas, and wind-power and green dams. The oil imports must be curbed. Besides being a blot on the national honor, it is the single greatest unbalancing factor in the economic growth of the country. Every time there is an increase in the oil prices, great discontent engulfs the society, and especially the common man is hit hard. The efforts need to be from the grassroots level to the top.

Political will at the highest level is seen with imaginative energy diplomacy. Domestic demand for petroleum products is rising at the rate of 5% every year and the domestic production for the last 20 years has stagnated. As for gas market, the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) has begun to invest in equity stakes in liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Oman and Iran, and is building port facilities and pipelines at home to facilitate massive imports. GAIL’s plans for direct pipelines from neighboring Bangladesh, Burma, Iran and even Pakistan is an encouraging trend about the determination of the government to address to the issue of energy from more than one segment.

Finally, the unhesitating answer to the question—Is India energy secure? Not yet, there are many miles and miles to go!


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