We have been floundering a lot in the vital energy sector for years running, knowing not where we are heading for, despite the potential to tap successfully several alternatives of renewable sources of energy, a significant field where it is acknowledged universally that India and China are far ahead of the rest of the world. It is a pathetic sight that we have been inured to all these months where Government hikes fuel prices to levels us could have never dared to visualize. But the powers-that-be do impose an unbearable burden on the people nonchalantly without contemplating a wee bit as to the ripple effect it causes in every sector of the economy.

Can we ever appreciate such knee-jerk approach when we don’t have a sound energy policy? We know we are paying a huge import bill in terms of the import of crude and we know we are always at the receiving end of those who produce oil and the cartel that manipulates the price and that there is a saturation point in the supply of crude oil. Still we don’t do anything about it. A time will soon come when the consumer may have to shell out a hundred rupee note for a single liter of fuel. The people would no longer be interested in digesting the facile explanation of the Government spokesman.

You don’t know how many times owners of the private motor vehicles-trucks, tempos, private passenger vehicles, taxis and auto rickshaws have gone on strike on ground of fuel hike. When the authorities and vehicle owners strike a deal, who will be there to foot the bill? It is great tamasha that has been going on for years. When fuel prices soar, the prices of vegetables, fruits and other essential commodities too rise, and we know who the ultimate sufferers are. We are boasting of our becoming an economic superpower; our posturing is meaningless when we can’t supply energy at affordable price.

On the eve of the 59th Independence Day, Horrible President Dr. A.P. J- Abdul Kalam appealed to the nation to become alert to the need for “Energy Independence”. Calling for “a comprehensive renewable energy policy within one year”, the President asserted that “India has knowledge and natural resources” and all that was needed was “planned and integrated missions”. The President devoted a major part of his Independence Day speech to energy security and independence.

India has 17 percent of the world’s population and only 0.8 percent of the world’s known oil and natural gas resources. The President warned that there was a great gap between demand and resources as “energy and water demand will soon surely be a defining characteristic of our people’s life in the 21st century.”

Energy independence should be India’s first and highest priority, said the President. And this should be achieved by the year 2030. “This one major 25 year national mission must be formulated, funds guaranteed, and leadership entrusted without delay as a public private partnership to our younger generation, now in their 30’s, as their lifetime mission in a renewed drive for nation-building.

As the President said, we have to minimize our dependence on fossil fuels and turn the spotlight on hydel power, nuclear power potential and solar energy. We have to reduce the cost of harvesting solar energy so that we can tap this energy on a large-scalar for use in rural and urban.

Seventy-two percent of all power generation in India comes from fossil fuels-either coal or hydrocarbons. Nuclear power, a clean source of energy, accounts for just under 2 percent and the entire range of renewable technologies such as the wind, geothermal and solar add up to just over one percent point in the energy sector.areas.The scientist-cum-President has his own broad vision on the potential nuclear power generation. According to him there should be a tenfold increase in nuclear power generation in order to achieve a reasonable Í degree of energy self-sufficiency. The focus should be on development of nuclear power using thorium as the country has a large reserve of this i key source material, “Nuclear fusion research needs to be progressed with international cooperation to keep the option for meeting the large ¡ power requirement, at a time when fossil fuels get depleted.” The nation should work towards the establishment of thorium-based reactors. Research and technology development of thorium-based reactors is one of the immediate requirements for realizing self-reliance in nuclear power generation and long-term energy security for the nation. The President asked for the formulation of comprehensive energy policy for energy independence before the end of the year. And such a policy should address all issues relating to generation of energy through wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and ocean.

The less said the better about the present state of affairs regarding power. Most of the chaos is created by the authorities who seldom take action on tune, letting things to drift to such a situation when things spin out of control. Take the case of Maharashtra. Maharashtra has been experiencing a severe power crisis from the beginning of2005. For many decades, it had a reputation for reliable supply and recorded good progress in both industry and agriculture. But because of little or no addition to generation capacity for almost a decade, many parts of Maharashtra aie subject to power cuts for six to ten hours. Privatization has not lessened the woes of residents of Delhi who are paying an exorbitant rate in terms of higher tariff despite erratic supply and frequent power cuts.

The crux of the whole problem is why we are not mounting efforts to find alternatives to the crisis fuelled by the high cost of fossil fuels. There is a running controversy over the fallout of constructing big dams for harnessing power-the mammoth task of rehabilitating lakhs of people who are displaced when the reservoirs and channels inundate huge forest lands inhabited by poor tribals and others. Hydel contributes a mere 24 percent to the total installed capacity of around 1,12,000 megawatts. The Central Electricity Authority has identified a hydel potential of 15 giga watts. If big dams are not feasible because of sociological factors, we can settle for mini or micro hydel projects.

India is fast tying with Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan for gas pipelines-Turkmenis tan-Afghanistan-Pakis tan-India and Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipelines. We have also struck deals with the US, France and Canada for cooperation in the civil nuclear power sector. We have entered into a similar agreement with Britain for cooperation in augmenting nuclear power supply in India when the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair was in Delhi on September 8,2005.

We made a wonderful start in the area of tapping non-conventional sources as early as in the nineteen seventies. Over the years, the initial enthusiasm seems to have waned. We have a Ministry too, entirely responsible for tapping non-conventional energy sources. Around 3.65 million family size biogas plants and 352 million improved wood stoves have been installed so far. India is second to only China in these two applications. In addition, enriched organic manure is produced from biogas plants to supplement the environmentally degrading chemical fertilizers.

In the early 1980s, we also initiated the National Project on Biogas Development to provide family size biogas plants. Our integrated rural energy programmed envisages a blend of conventional and non-conventional sources of energy. According to official data, as many as 253 districts have been covered by this programme.

India has made headway in the application of solar energy in water hearing, cooking, drying, water desalination and power generation applications. Solar water heaters of capacity ranging from 50 litres to 110,000 litres per day for domestic, commercial and industrial applications have been installed in the country.

We have also taken rapid strides in the solar cooking technology. The world’s largest solar steam cooking system for cooking food for 15,000 people was installed at Tirumala pilgrim center in Andhra Pradesh in October2002. Efforts are also on to make use of solar passive architecture principles to reduce energy consumption and improve comfort conditions in buildings. Greenhouse technology for growing vegetables, flowers, etc, in cold climate has also been developed and introduced in the market. More than 100 companies are involved in the manufacture of solar thermal systems and devices.

As regards wind power, we have a potential to tap 45,000 MW. And in respect of wind power generation our position is fifth after Germany, the US, Denmark and Spain. We have also gone ahead in tapping biomass power, energy from urban and industrial wastes, geothermal energy and even tidal power.

The picture of our breakthrough in the wide range of renewable sources that we are tapping is indeed bright. What needs to be done is to harness these sources on a massive scale within a specific time frame as pointed out by none other than the President of India. We have the brain power and even money power; what are need is a sense of urgency to harness these systems in a big way so that we would become self-reliant in energy not in the distant future.