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A Blueprint, and A Civil Society

Development and environmental concerns can be considered and designed in such a way that we can create infrastructure that is in harmony with conserving natural resources and protecting the environment. Unfortunately, people tend to think of protecting the environment as an end-of-pipe option. But if you design a project in a way that you minimise environmental impact, then not only is it cost-effective, but also ensures that there is no conflict between development and environmental protection.

Consider this: in hydro projects, you could either establish high dams where there would be submergence of forests or displacement of people. Or, you can think in terms of a series of run of the river projects so that each one of them may not give you 1000 MW capacity, but cumulatively you will be able to attain that level.

Buildings are another area for responsible design. If you design buildings properly, you can cut down energy use 40-45 per cent at a minimum, giving comfort to people. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) constructs buildings in such a way that we incorporate features that make sense in ensuring energy efficiency. For this you need regulations, incentives and disincentives by which people move in that direction. Altering mindsets and equipping people with knowledge is another challenge. But for a few, our architects and builders are not really focused on these objectives.

We have some Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) certified buildings in India. But, the Leed system is not the most suitable for our conditions. Therefore, we have come up with a new system called Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (Griha) which has actually been adopted by our government. All Central Public Works Department buildings are going to conform to that requirement. Therefore, a building reaching a 3, 4 or 5 star rating, should get a clearly specified level of benefit which could be in the form of taxation being reduced or in some cases, even the FSI being relaxed to provide this as an incentive. So you really need to design fiscal measures, incentives and disincentives to motivate people to go in for energy efficiency.

Carbon emissions reduction is something that meets the objective of mitigating climate change, but there are many co-benefits involving local factors that need to be taken into account. If we continue to use building materials in an inefficient way, we are going to run into constraints in the future.

Another issue is energy security. If we continue to use energy in an indiscriminate way and keep multiplying our consumption, that will lead to questions of energy security, which we want to avoid. If we continue to increase our car fleet the way we are doing, then what are we going to do? Tomorrow if oil prices reach $250 a barrel, our economy could be crippled. We have to target these objectives which provide overlapping benefits.

Again, every house in Delhi should have a solar water heater. If you look at the energy that is consumed by our geysers, it is substantial. Hopefully, we can use larger quantities of natural gas in the transition. But in the ultimate analysis, we will have to rely on renewable sources of energy. But I am afraid we are not doing enough in that direction. This will reduce our dependence on coal.

We also need to lay down standards wherein a graduated set of requirements have to be met. These standards should be announced as part of policy. Like, we should now be telling the automobile industry that by 2015 you have got to meet Euro 6 standards, so that they start gearing up. When it comes to automobile fuels we need to lay down standards like in the next two years they have to reduce sulphur content by a fixed amount. We generally treat these as single interventions. What we need is a road map. There should be a clear blueprint that the government provides to the private sector and its citizens and consumers. What we have today is certainly not optimal. Suddenly you find some coal mine has not been given permission. Two days later, it has been given permission. The whole thing is really ad hoc.

We can learn from Europe that lays down standards applicable over a period of time. Even in the US, the Environment Protection Agency gives you a roadmap. California had laid down that by 2012, automobiles will have to conform to certain emission levels for greenhouse gases. That is the kind of policy that is essential. In its absence, people will see environmental protection as the enemy of development. If you announce that development can and should take place according to benchmarks, then people accept it as a part of reality.

Industry has to be a part of it. The government should take steps to draw them in. But they must also realise the cost to society. After all, if you also mobilise civil society, then I think, citizens will take on this task in their own interest. There is also a reputational issue which industry must understand. You have had cases in other countries where products of a certain company were boycotted simply because they were following certain practices that the public did not favour. I think that is the kind of movement, which is needed here.

Well, business as usual will not do. In the power sector, if we are to rely on third grade plants some of which are running at 12-13 per cent efficiency, it makes sense to upgrade those plants. If we were to bring about major efficiency gains in the energy cycle, we can take a holiday for two years in capacity addition. Look at transmission and distribution losses, look at the pathetic levels of efficiency in some power plants, look at the losses that we have in every building. If we were to improve efficiency then we would have breathing time during which we should be able to bring about a transition perhaps to greater use of natural gas. We need a vision to bring about a transition to cleaner energy sources, which would allow us to grow at 8 per cent and yet protect the environment. If we do not protect the environment, then the cost not only to us but future generations will be incalculable. We do not want to leave a bombed out site in terms of environmental conditions.

What we need is vision. That is where you need articulation by civil society groups, by citizens at large. I believe we need a new direction of thinking in these areas and all of us need to get involved in this.

Tags: energy security, GRIHA, hydro projects, infrastructure, energy efficiency

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