by Arunabha Ghosh
Welcome to the CEEW Blog, Connecting Dots! As an independent, not-for-profit, research/policy institution, our aim is to widen dialogue on energy, environment and water issues in India, its region and globally. Our in-house research and partnerships with public and private institutions will use many means to engage with the wider public. This blog is just one of them.
Here at CEEW, we believe that some of the most pressing public policy issues demand a much more integrated approach – in both research and policy responses. Energy, environment and water are intricately linked and crucial for sustainable development. So far, however, much of the policy response and investment flows within India have treated these as mutually exclusive areas. Development priorities have focused on growth without attention to sustainability. An integrated energy policy was developed but the country does not have the institutional arrangements to coordinate action across central ministries or reconcile potential trade-offs between the centre and the states. The management of water resources within India and at a regional level suffers from legal and institutional hurdles. Climate change adds a global environmental as well as a global political dimension to the equation. The outcomes of international negotiations will send regulatory and market signals to Indian industry, with implications for its competitiveness.
Meanwhile, India needs hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment over the coming decades. The quality of that infrastructure and the management of India’s natural resources will depend on institutional coordination, regulatory reform, reduced technology risk, innovative finance, behavioural change, skill development and improved competitiveness.
In other words, ‘green growth’ demands a more holistic treatment of energy, water, environmental and development policies. Managed well, it promises co-benefits for other human development priorities (including employment generation, health, education, gender equality, human security, and political participation). Managed poorly, it threatens to undermine India’s growth trajectory, reduce its international competitiveness, and weaken its regional and global power resources. CEEW will aim to create a common platform where these issues can be openly discussed, based on sound empirical evidence yet giving an opportunity to voice alternative perspectives, so that appropriate policy interventions can be developed.
So, why ‘Connecting Dots’? A first step towards a holistic approach is to recognise the potential trade-offs that will affect policy choices across the domains of energy, environment and water. Trade-offs are inevitable but informed decisions cannot be taken unless we are able to analyse how actions or inaction in one are affect other aspects of public policy.
- Absolute energy deficit: Over half of rural households and 12% of urban homes do not have access to electricity. India alone has more people lacking access to modern electricity than the entire population of the European Union.
- Absolute water deficit: Although India as a whole is slipping into the ‘water stress’ category (less than 1700 m3 per person), more than 200 million people are already living in water scarce regions (less than 1000 m3 per person).
- Energy versus environment: Coal accounts for 70% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions; but it is central to India’s energy mix. Total demand for coal is projected to increase from 432 million tonnes in 2005 to 670 million tonnes in 2011; coal imports could account for up to 45% of demand by 2030.
- Energy versus water: Power plants need water, which can range from 1.7-2 m3 per MW for gas-based plants to 7-8 m3 per MW for old, small scale coal-based plants. Systematic water audits, reducing drinking water use, checking water leakage and better effluent treatment can reduce water consumption in power plants by 30%-40%.
- Energy versus water: Agriculture accounts for a third of the sales of electricity boards in India but only 3% of their revenue, thus creating tensions between sustainable energy and cheap water.
- Irrigation versus groundwater: Thanks to cheap electricity, the groundwater overdraft is up to 56% in parts of India; but cutting groundwater use will also affect water available for irrigation. Deep wells dug by large landowners deprive neighbouring villages or small scale food processing industries.
- Industry versus agriculture: India will have 270 million more people living in urban areas in 2025 than in 1995; but employment in water-intensive industries (say, textiles) would also affect farm incomes and poverty among agricultural labourers.
- Regions versus regions: Climate change may increase the intensity of the monsoons in parts of the country, but semi-arid areas like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan may witness up to ten fewer days or rainfall. Such variations will further complicate the tensions that already exist on sharing inter-state water resources.
With more ambition, we can also identify and act upon opportunities to develop more integrated policies. Whereas the challenges are immense, India can choose to promote policies and technologies that can mitigate some of the potential trade-offs and foster a more sustainable path of development.
- Meeting energy demand: Compared to 2004-05, electricity consumption in India is expected to increase by six to seven times to 3600-4500TWh by 2030. The Planning Commission estimates that by 2031-32 India would need a total installed capacity of around 800GW, up from around 128GW today. The question is: how sustainably will we be able to meet the demand while investing in crucial infrastructure?
- Energy and environment: Raising efficiency levels in India’s coal power plants to 45% (up from 29% today), in line with the best international standards, could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 184 million tonnes in 2030, or 11% of the projected coal-based emissions for that year. Further, if a fifth of the plants built during 2015-2030 incorporated Carbon Capture and Storage technology, the emission reductions would rise to 530 million tonnes in 2030. But the incremental costs of achieving 45% thermal efficiency levels will amount to $5.2bn to $8.4bn each year over and above currently planned investments to 2030.
- Energy and technology: China and India have the highest and fifth highest installed renewable energy capacity, respectively. During 2004-2008, Brazil, China and India experienced compound annual growth rates in renewable energy investments of 171%, 104% and 52%, respectively. With much of the country experiencing 250-300 clear sunny days a year, India is well placed to exploit solar power.
- Water and environment: Investments in small scale check dams, with part of the labour and materials coming from local communities, have the potential to increase the value of the monsoon crop several fold.
- Water and agricultural growth: Where low-cost drip irrigation kits have been used, water use has declined by 30%-60% and crop yields have increased by 5%-50%. But micro-irrigation and drip irrigation is used in only 1%-3% of India’s irrigated area; and irrigation maintenance outlays in India are less than half the recommended levels. The potential for improved water management is huge.
- Water and industrial growth: Several firms are investing in reverse osmosis and water treatment and recycling technologies; water efficient pulp and paper and textile factories have also developed.
If these and other opportunities are to be exploited, a more sustained and engaging dialogue is necessary. Such an approach must involve political leaders and policymakers from different levels of government, public and private entities in industry and agriculture, and a research/technology community that works across disciplines to offer solutions that work in practice. CEEW aims to facilitate this process, not only in India but in collaboration with governments and institutions in the region and elsewhere. We welcome you to join in the conversation!