Last Saturday, Delhi participated in the Earth Hour 60+ along with 7,000 other towns and cities across the world. Some of us responded dutifully to the global call for action on carbon pollution by switching off lights and electrical appliances for 60 minutes from 8.30 in the evening. Many just didn’t care. Authorities claimed the city ended up saving 255 MW of energy in just one hour of light out.
Delhi first observed the Earth Hour on March 28, 2009 when India joined the global movement and five million residents across the country switched off lights and electrical appliances and saved 1,000 MW of power in that one hour. Delhi saved 600 MW - the highest for any Metro in India.
It was another matter that much of that saving was due to the heavy rain that lashed the city that evening and tripped two transmission lines. But for a launch, the response was good. We cut roughly 324 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission that would have got released in the air while generating 600 MWs of power.
Enthused by the response, the Delhi government proposed to hold Earth Hour every last working day of the month by asking government buildings to switch off lights at 8.30 pm. It was not difficult to achieve. Sarkari babus rarely stayed in office late, anyway. The challenge was to get private establishments and citizens on board. So, after a day of symbolism, the plan was quietly shelved. Those of us who felt virtuous about switching off power went back to our old consumption habits as soon as the ceremony was over.
With more people buying power-guzzling appliances and population pressures forcing vertical growth (taller buildings consume more power to run elevators and light common areas), power demand has almost doubled in the last 10 years. By 2021, the Central Electricity Authority estimated, the city’s power demand would soar to 12,000 MW, which equals to the present power supply to Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Uttarkhand combined.
While the demand for power is soaring, Delhi’s own supply has remained constant for more than a decade. Allocation from the central pool has more than doubled. Delhi couldn’t build new plants because getting gas linkage has been next to impossible. Coal-fired plants are environmentally hazardous.
This summer, the demand will go up by yet another 10% and the power subsidy announced by the Arvind Kejriwal government to lower the electricity bills will stop.
Consumers will have to pay higher bills but there will be no guarantee of uninterrupted power supply.
As the pressure on resources grows, there is still no concrete plan for demand-side management. Consumers think it is their right to consume energy because they pay the bills. The governments are still reluctant to break the mould. Ideas of energy-efficiency, renewables or equitable distribution are no longer environmental fads. These are real solutions, perhaps the only solutions that can keep mega cities like Delhi going.
For instance, Delhi enjoys at least 350 days of sunshine every year and has a great potential for tapping solar energy. According to a report by Greenpeace released last year, Delhi can produce 45% (2,557 MWs) of its electricity demand by tapping only 4.42 % of the available rooftop area. Residential buildings account for nearly half of this potential.
The Aam Aadmi Party, in its manifesto for Delhi elections, had promised incentives and subsidies to promote solar energy and set a target of meeting 20% of Delhi’s electricity needs through solar energy in the next 10 years. But it chose to push more visible and high-impact sops like tariff subsidies in its 49-days tenure.
But untargeted subsidy only benefits the rich. If the Earth Hour must go beyond its righteous symbolism, power reforms must find long-term solutions beyond conventional energy. And if we don’t get real about our ever-growing power demand, extended Earth Hours will become a compulsion sooner than we can imagine.