Time to Retool Our Economy Through Renewable Energy

Obama's recent budget in U.S. is very much in the news with its focus on creating jobs for Americans and punishing companies who outsource them. Indian companies and government are very worried about such a move since our export growth rate has been fuelled by our IT services to America. Besides the slow down of Indian economy is also linked to American downturn.

However for a vibrant and sustainable India this provides us an excellent opportunity to retool our economy to run on renewable energy and if done properly can create millions of jobs and raise the standard of our living. Renewable energy is clean, safe and available round the clock in India itself.

The biggest problem in India is the lack of infrastructure which includes good roads, electricity, safe drinking water supply, proper schools, etc. All these things are essential for a decent life style but availability of energy is the most important thing. With the poor past performance of the State and Central governments in this sector it is imperative that an alternative route is tried.

Production of electricity via renewable resources can really boost the economy by providing much needed energy (an engine of development and growth) and jobs. Worldwide data suggests that renewable energy can provide more jobs per MW of electricity production as compared to fossil fuels or nuclear.

For example data from worldwide installations show that solar energy can provide 50-100 jobs per MW through photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal power production and hot water heating technologies. Similar data is for wind energy production whereas for power production from biomass the job creation potential is 2000 per MW. This high number is because of biomass growing, harvesting, collection and delivering it to the power plant. Besides the high job potential, power production from agricultural residues will also give an extra income of Rs. 2,000-3,000/acre to the farmers by their sale to the power plant.

In India the total agricultural residue production per year is ~ 600 million tons. These residues have the potential of producing ~ 80,000 MW through biomass based power plants.

Normally for the well being of the soil it is necessary that most of the agricultural residues should go back to the soil. However in absence of any large-scale program of converting them into organic fertilizer they are normally burned in the fields as a means of waste disposal. This causes a loss of a valuable resource besides creating large-scale environmental pollution in rural areas. Hence a major national effort should be to incorporate these residues in the soil. Nevertheless it is safe to assume that around 50% of the residue may be available for power production. Thus 40,000 MW produced via biomass can create about 80 million jobs. With increased agricultural production this number will increase.

According to the eleventh 5 year plan document India will need to add 75,000 MW electricity generating capacity by 2012. With 40,000 MW being produced from biomass the balance of 35,000 MW could be produced through renewables either by solar or wind. Thus the potential job creation from solar and wind will be of the order of 1.75 to 3.5 million.

Hence the power production from renewables can create 84 million jobs in India for the eleventh plan. No other energy resource like nuclear, coal or oil can match these numbers. The impact of such a large-scale job production will be very positive on the economy. Besides power production from renewable energy is a high tech industry with space age materials and production techniques used. Job creation in this sector will also have far reaching impact on technical and managerial education.

Renewable energy like solar, wind or biomass is distributed in nature and hence allows construction of decentralized and modular power plants. Thus 20-40 MW solar, wind or biomass power plants can be constructed in a matter of couple of years as compared to fossil fuel or nuclear plants which take 8-10 years for completion. Modular nature of renewable power plants also allows rapid scaling up.

Solar PV, wind and biomass power plants are well-established technologies. Recently solar thermal power plants running on concentrating collectors are becoming popular and cost effective. The concentrated solar energy heats a high temperature oil or molten salt which after passing through suitable heat exchangers produces steam for running the turbines. Presently about 1000 MW power in Europe and US is being produced via this route. Other renewable energy technologies like geothermal, ocean tides etc. are not yet mature and also have less job creating potential.

We should therefore thank President Obama for reducing the H1B visas so that qualified engineers and scientists either remain in India or come back from U.S. This trained manpower if used in renewable energy sector will not only raise the quality of life of Indians but also provide much needed power infrastructure   


More by :  Dr. Anil Rajvanshi

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