India’s dreams of becoming a superpower may crumble due to its shortage of power.
According to the World Resources Institute, the country’s energy consumption was 514.3 kilograms of oil equivalent per person per year at last count, in 2001 — below the average figure for developing countries, which the Institute put at 827.9. The average for developed countries is 4,600.
Despite this low level of consumption, the country has been facing quite noticeable energy shortages, in the form of power cuts.
This has the prime minister worried. Speaking before Parliament earlier this year, Manmohan Singh said: “The search for an integrated policy with an appropriate mix of energy supplies is central to the achievement of our broader economic and social objectives. Energy is the lifeblood of our economy. Without sufficient and predictable access, our aspirations in the social sector cannot be realised. Inadequate power has a deleterious effect in building a modern infrastructure. It has a direct impact on the optimal usage of increasingly scarce water resources. Power shortage is thus not just a handicap in one sector but a drag on the entire economy.”
More energy insecurity by 2020
“The current situation in the energy sector will certainly hold us back from becoming a superpower,” says Rajendra K. Pachauri, director general of The Energy and Resources Institute.
Rahul Roy-Chaudhury of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London says, “Energy resources fuel India’s economic growth and its consequent rise as a global power. In the absence of energy security, India will be hard-pressed to surmount the key challenge of high economic growth rates.”
If energy import dependency is seen as a threat to energy security, India is likely to be more energy insecure by 2020 as it will be importing roughly 40 per cent of its total primary commercial energy supply, says Lydia Powell of the Observer Research Foundation’s Centre for Resources Management.
“The real concern about imported energy is our ability to pay for imported energy and not the availability of imported energy,” she says. “Energy, particularly oil, is a globally traded commodity and will be available in the global market at a price.”
Roy-Chaudhury recommends “out-of-the-box thinking on a global scale for accessing energy supplies and ensuring their secure flow”. He says this would entail “a mix of cooperation and competition with the other major energy hungry powers in Asia — China and Japan”.
Super renewable power
For Pachauri, the solution begins with reforming the energy sector — “not just the power sector, but also coal and hydrocarbon production”. He says the government needs to give more autonomy to the principal organisations in these sectors.
The power sector, Pachauri says, “is in great need of reform.” Some degree of modern management techniques and commercialisation need to be brought into state electricity boards, he says.
His choice of an out-of-the-box solution is, naturally, renewable energy. “We have plenty of renewable energy resources. If we get our act together, we can take the lead in this. After all, being a superpower is also about taking the lead in some areas.”