One morning in April, the calm inside Infosys' famous pyramid building at its Bangalore campus was ruptured by a few alarming voices. Higher greenhouse gas emissions because of growing road transport will result in climate change. Globally, heat waves, which occur once in 20 years now, will recur every two years by the end of this century. Sea levels will rise - a serious threat for India since the country has a long coastline.
A clutch of energy experts - Rajendra Pachauri, Director-General of TERI, SL Rao, the former Chairman of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, Harish Hande, MD of sustainable energy company Selco and Kris Gopalakrishnan, executive chairman of Infosys - had gathered to talk about India's energy challenges and the fixes it requires. Organized by Business Today and Infosys, the talk was moderated by Josey Puliyenthuruthel, Managing Editor, Business Today.
Everybody agreed that the country needed a shift in its energy strategy. Interventions were required both on the supply-side as well as in usage patterns on the demand-side. Indians, for instance, cannot afford to imitate America's gas-guzzling lifestyle, nor can they afford to run inefficient pumpsets, sewing machines or even fans.
"We have to bring about major improvements in energy efficiency, bring about diversification in supply, more importantly, a diversification in our consuming sectors and the infrastructure," Pachauri said, setting a context for the debate.
Supply-side first. To become more efficient, the first fix is a radical transformation in the management of the energy supply industry, the experts felt.
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"The entire electricity sector is running in a pre-historic way. You have to make sure that there is accountability on part of supply-side organizations," Pachauri said, adding that regulatory agencies should start functioning like independent bodies, enforce standards, and take stands on issues like giving away free electricity.
"If the government wants to subsidize a group of consumers, why should the supply sector in the industry have to bear the burden? Bangladesh, which has alower income than India, has kerosene priced at exact market levels. We have too many holy cows that somehow have to be put to rest."
SL Rao nodded. Most regulatory commissions are led by retired IAS officers or other central service officers.
"You cannot concentrate just one type of experience - government procedural administrative experience - in running regulatory commissions," he said, suggesting that the country needs a single energy regulator as well as a single energy ministry as opposed to the current system of multiple ministries such as the Ministry of Petroleum, Coal, Power, Renewable Energy etc.
Harish Hande's medicine for supply constraints is de-centralization - supply energy at the doorstep depending on requirement.
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"Break the country into multiple parts," he suggested. "In Gulbarga (North Karnataka), I will have a combination of small wind and small solar; if I go to the Western Ghats, I will have pico hydro, biogas, as well as solar. If I go to Gujarat, I will have biogas and small solar. This ecosystem has to be plugged in," he said.
Changing demand-side dynamics is more complicated. Rao recommends that India start water basin regulation if the country wants to prevent all of its ground water from being pumped out.
"We are the largest users of ground water in agriculture in the world and use of it means use of diesel, or mostly electricity. In many states electricity is distributed for free. If something is free, we tend to consume more of it. In the case of agriculture, we have tended to produce more water-intensive crops - paddy, sugarcane etc," he said.
Rao's suggestion: Identify water basins and at the beginning of every season, measure the water level. Based on this, the government can decide what crops can be grown during a particular season.
Tinkering with the usage patterns of more affluent citizens is a difficult task as well. Would you use a smaller car when you can afford a larger vehicle? Or use public transport? Many IT companies, incidentally, have started encouraging employees to travel by bus.
Infosys, India's second largest IT exporter, has a green mandate too.
The firm has cut power consumption in the last two years by 18 per cent and saved Rs 35 crore in the process, executive chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan informed the panel.
Efforts included switching to LED, monitoring power consumption at individual floor levels and redesigning its new buildings - some blocks use no artificial lighting during the day time.
"We are now using solar to generate power in some of our campuses; we are looking at partners who can supply us renewable sources of energy. So we are creating demand," he added.