Energy: Austerity should be the world order

Generate only when you have exhausted conservation options

In Indian and other oriental civilizations austerity is always emphasized. Conservation of the resources is always appreciated here. “Excess of everything is bad”, goes the saying and it has echoed in our traditions.

This order of austerity today is much needed for energy sector and of course for everything else. What is the importance of conservation of electricity or transport fuel such as petrol or diesel? It is not just saving money, it much more beyond that; it is in fact to do with the sustainability of this planet itself.Energy Austerity should be the world order

Take the case of electrical energy. Electricity is generated by burning fossils fuels, the fuels which may not be with us forever. It is also generated by hydro power. Nuclear route is another way of electricity generation. Electricity generation from renewable energy sources is much recent phenomenon. In India, we generate from coal almost to the extent of two third of the total electricity requirement. Of the total installed capacity of 2.5 lakh megawatt, 1.7 lakh megawatt belongs to thermal, coal being the dominating fuel besides a small extent of gas. The contribution of hydro power is below 20 percent and nuclear at mere 2 percent. Renewable energy is having a share of 12 percent. Renewable energy consists of electricity generated from small hydro, solar, wind, etc.

Generate only when you have exhausted conservation options

Energy conservation never meant you do not use energy at all. You use only as much as is unavoidable and this is the concept behind conservation. It can be understood in simple terms by referring to instances from day to day living. In our households, we use electrical energy for lighting, cooling, air-conditioning and may be up to some extent in cooking. Now in our households, it is not prudent to use incandescent bulbs (bulbs with wire filament) for lighting uses, with the kind of technologies available lately. A 100 watt bulb can be adequately substituted by a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) of just 20 watts as it will supply the same amount of light, hence cut the electricity usage by huge three fourth. You save a lot of money that way. No doubt the cost of a CFL may be over ten times of the ordinary bulb, but given the long life of over five times of a bulb, the extra money spent is paid back through savings is almost in up to two years. A light emitting diode (LED) lamp is even better and more recent option for energy conservation on account of domestic lighting. It not about saving money, more importantly it is about saving energy.

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Take cooking as the next example. The cooking burner should be properly maintained such that it gives blue flame which means the fuel is being burnt in efficient manner. Use pressure cooker to the extent possible. Soak the material in water for some time before cooking that. Use gas burner at moderate settings. All these measures save your cooking fuel.

Electricity and other forms of energy can be conserved by taking similar measures in each and every aspect of energy usage in our households. Be it any type of household appliance, saving is energy is possible. Industrial, transport and other sectors too, provide much scope for energy conservation. Experts pin the saving at least 20 percent if energy conservation measures are exercised. I don’t know why we are not serious at developing good and energy saving driving habits where again there is lot of potential in saving of fuel.

Governments are aware of these facts and are promoting energy conservation drives vehemently. It sounds logical as a unit of electricity saved may cost nothing or just meager as compared to the vast costs of installation of generating units. The per megawatt installation cost in the country for coal based thermal power plants has been estimated at about sixty lakh rupees. If the size of the power plant is small the installation cost is sure to cost more per megawatt. Hence there is pure sense in promoting energy conservation. It costs almost nothing for conservation but it costs a huge amount for addition in generation. Success in conservation shall definitely free the country of fiscal pressures and facilitate resource allocation for other developmental activities.

So far our discussion has been limited to the benefits to a nation. The ramifications breach national boundaries and affect the longevity of our very planet. Do we not agree to the harm we are causing to the environment and sustainability by our selfish actions? While we generate electricity, which by the way is a poor way of using energy for certain applications, we consume natural resources recklessly. This consumption causes emission of green house gases causing global warming. The vicious cycle goes on and on.

Can we ever pay for the cost of energy? Certainly not; what we pay is just the cost of exploration of that natural resource, i.e. coal or petrol or diesel, etc. The actual cost one wonders cannot even be calculated. How do you estimate for the efforts the nature has put into the creation of an energy resource. Coal and petroleum are created by the nature in mother earth’s crust through millions of years under atmosphere which are impractical to imitate. It is almost impossible to attempt at those calculations.

Renewable energy sources

Electricity generation from renewable sources of energy offer some ray of hope to this thoughtless luxury of human beings. Biomass, solar, wind, small and micro hydel etc., are providing some relief at least towards the future, when these technologies reach the level of competing with the conventional ones. Though these renewable technologies are still costly as compared to the traditional technologies, in the interest of our collective future, this should never come in the way of their promotion and adoption. We must just not depend on the governmental incentives and schemes and hold these by good grasp.

In order to promote the energy conservation drive, Bureau of Energy Efficiency has launched many initiatives including star rating of equipment and appliances in India. Five star rating is given to the device which is most energy efficient. Lower ratings follow the pattern of energy consumption. Higher star rating equipment may be a tad costlier but the savings it brings you in the equipment’s life term is significant.

How about taking a pledge to save energy fully to the extent possible? It is not just because it brings savings to you but it also spells your concern for the future.

(Energy Conservation Day is celebrated on December 14)

Having interests in science and technology, L D Kala regularly writes on the subjects for newspapers and magazines. At Hill Post he writes a column on Science and Tech. He lives in Delhi

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