ENERGY CONSERVATION AND NATIONAL CHARACTER
n Leena Mehendale
We as a nation have been striving for the past few decades to fulfil our energy requirements. Despite efforts, the energy demand versus domestic raw material supply curve has been increasingly diverging over the period. Hence, conservation becomes necessary. However, is it only the enabling infrastructure, policy, and incentives that drive energy conservation efforts? Or is it our attitude, our habits, our national character, in addition to the physical infrastructure, that makes us more receptive towards such issues. Let us explore further…
It is well known that the energy consumption of any country is closely related to its level of development. Without adequate and cost-effective energy supplies, economic growth rates may be badly affected. This is particularly true for developing countries where per capita levels of energy use are low. India is no exception to this rule. Our economic growth prospects are closely tied to the quality and quantity of energy we are able to provide.
As we are moving towards rapid economic development, energy scarcity will become a critical barrier, which could threaten the hamper development process. Energy is the basic building block for socio-economic development. Future economic growth crucially depends on the long-term availability of energy in increasing quantities from sources that are accessible, easily available, socially acceptable and environmental friendly. Hence we undertake the energy demand projections once in every five years through the National Five Year Plans.
If we look at the pattern of energy production in India, coal and oil accounts for about half, and one-third respectively, with natural gas, hydro and nuclear contributing to the balance. On power generation front, nearly two-thirds of power production is from coal fired thermal power plants and about 70 per cent of the coal produced every year in India has been used for thermal generation. The primary energy consumption, which was about 325 million metric ton of oil equivalent (mmtoe) in 2002, is projected to grow exponentially over the next decade. Our energy demand in 2020 is expected to touch 1,000 mmtoe.
Numerous studies by national and international experts have referred to the large scope and potential for energy efficiency and conservation in the Indian economy. Energy intensity in Indian industry is among the highest in the world. Energy consumption per unit of production in the manufacturing of steel, aluminium, cement, paper, textile, etc. is much higher in India, even in comparison with some developing countries.
India’s cost-effective energy conservation potential has been estimated by the Planning Commission at 23 per cent of total commercial energy generated. It is imperative that we make all-out effort to realise this potential. A national movement for energy conservation can significantly reduce the need for fresh investment in energy supply systems in coming years. Energy conservation is an objective to which all of us in the country can contribute. Whether a household or a factory, a small shop or a large commercial building, a farmer or a office worker, every user and producer of energy can and must make this effort for his own benefit, as well as that of the nation.
Here, we need to appreciate that since the energy consumption per capita in our country is very low, only small efforts by many will make a real impact, rather than big efforts by a few.
With precisely this objective in mind, in August 2001 the Government enacted the Energy Conservation Act. The Act promotes competition, sharing information, creating awareness and motivating stakeholders. It encourages a transparent, self-regulatory mechanism and the use of market incentives to promote energy efficiency, while carefully avoiding intrusive regulatory mechanisms. In India, energy efficiency has now emerged from being a subject of advocacy and awareness building to that of key frontrunner among the strategic options that are available to narrow the demand and supply gap.
As of now, we have the legislative framework for promoting energy conservation, we have agencies such as Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) who are working towards capacity building in this area, we have a lot of support from the government for taking up such projects, and even the financiers are looking at energy conservation projects with a favourable frame of mind. Even with these enabling factors, the growth in energy savings is not something that our vast country can be proud of.
The main reason for this sluggish growth can be attributed to our attitude towards energy conservation.
The favourable attitude, or may be the lack of one, towards energy savings and conservation is by far the biggest barrier that the country faces towards rapid strides in development. It is comparatively easier to force a limited group of people that we can influence to adhere to energy conservation practices, than to induce them to take such steps on their own. It is more important to help them develop habits that promote energy conservation – simple things such as switching off excess lighting load, using fuel effectively in our factories, prudent use of petrol, paying a little extra initial cost for energy saving equipment. There are many more avenues to save energy, but how to motivate people to adhere to them, is the difficult question to answer. Or, how to develop their character that is sensitive to such issues.
More importantly, it needs to be acknowledged that this individual character leads to our collective behaviour as a society. And, this aggregate behaviour finally leads to our “national character”, which then gets reflected in the language, literature, laws and customs, arts, institutions and religion of our people. Our national character needs to be modified towards energy efficiency if we as a nation are to have a better energy security.
The change in attitude at the individual level, and modification in the national outlook at a more broader level, can be effected through mass awareness, education, training, incentives, or even financial assistance.
Towards developing this national character of sensitivity towards energy conservation, PCRA has adopted a multidimensional approach. It is working at the grass roots level bringing about educational and attitudinal change in order to make conservation a habit amongst masses. It organises mass awareness campaigns, including the hugely-popular Energy Conservation Fortnight, in association with oil sector companies, and under the aegis of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
PCRA also undertakes demonstration projects, particularly for rural and semi-urban areas, imparts education and training to all. It promotes and undertakes R&D for development of efficient appliances and devices, and gives numerous incentives for energy efficient programs.
In pursuit of sustainable development and improvement in quality of life, we at PCRA understand the oil conservation issues and its importance. Pending development of new energy resources and technologies, and oil conservation can bridge the time gap and the oil so saved can meet the demand for developmental and economic activities.
We as a nation must appreciate that our attitude and our habits evolve into our national character. And, we need to fine-tune these attitudes to develop a favourable national character. A character that is sensitive to the all-time need for energy conservation in the country.
editorial for PCRA journal ACT, Feb 2004