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As power sector reforms get underway, energy conservation is the only remedy to bridge the gap between supply and demand, writes DN Gupta.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2007 03:36 IST
DN Gupta

The growth of any economy depends on the growth of its commercial energy sources. In India, power shortage is as high as 8 to 10 per cent (with peak shortage of 13 to 15 per cent) and transmission and distribution losses are as high as 40 per cent, due to which half of the electricity produced does not reach the consumer.

The country requires fresh capacity addition of 1 lakh MW. The power generation capacity must grow by at least 10 per cent to sustain the current GDP growth of 9 per cent. Ideally, the ratio of energy generation and GDP growth should be 1:1. But the data for the past 15 years show a rising energy shortage. At 15 per cent peak energy shortage — the highest in the past 10 years — there is urgent need for an aggressive approach for capacity addition. The addition in the Tenth Plan period will be just about half the targeted 41,000 MW. Though the government has set a target of adding a record 76,000 MW in the Eleventh Plan, it may be difficult to achieve going by the track record, leaving the slogan, ‘Power for all by 2012’, meaningless.

The gestation period of power plants is long: a minimum of five years for thermal, and 10 years in hydel and nuclear. So energy conservation is the immediate remedy to bridge the gap between supply and demand, which is increasing at the rate of 10 per cent. According to the latest estimate by the Planning Commission, almost 23 per cent reduction in energy consumption can be achieved without sacrificing any of the end use benefits of energy. On the national level, energy conservation can result in a saving of about 5,500 MW — almost half of the current energy deficit. Sectors-wise, the saving can be 30 per cent in agriculture, 25 per cent in industry, 20 per cent in transportation and 19 per cent in domestic consumption.

Simple methods like the use of Compact Fluorescent Lights, electronic chokes, energy efficient tubelights, pumps and air-conditioners can result in huge savings. It must be remembered that one unit saved is as much as 1.5 units generated.

As it is, power projects are capital intensive, have high gestation periods and involve multifarious risks. So the answer does not lie in merely increasing supply, but in the better management of supply. If energy is conserved at the level of generation, transmission and distribution, the adverse environmental impact on a local, regional or global scale could also be reduced. Almost all conventional energy systems involve imports. So the more we waste, the greater our import bill.

The ball was set rolling with the enforcement of the Energy Conservation Act in March 2002. It promotes competition, sharing of information, creating awareness and motivating stakeholders in energy conservation as opposed to a command and control system of enforcing penalties. With reforms underway, the concept of demand-side management is catching the attention of utilities. It helps to reduce peak demand, shifting demand from peak to off-peak periods. This means higher efficiency, lower cost of power and better quality. Concepts like “time-of-day” with differential tariffs have been introduced in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Farmers are being encouraged to use electricity during non-peak hours.

Though the Electricity Act, 2003, does not underline conservation, it indirectly does so by encouraging competition, reducing prices, improving efficiency, enabling open access and encouraging reforms. The National Energy Conservation Award is also a big motivator.

Further, energy conservation building codes are being prepared for commercial buildings for each of the six climatic zones. The codes will cover the energy efficiency aspects of buildings, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, lighting systems, electric power and distribution systems, and service water heating and pumping systems. A standards and labelling programme has also been introduced by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. The idea is to evolve minimum energy consumption standards for notified equipment and appliances; prohibit sale and import of equipment and appliances that do not conform to standards; and introduce labelling to help consumers make an informed choice.

The author is the former Chief Engineer (Electricity), New Delhi Municipal Council