Clean energy is key to good quality of life, effective production, productivity enhancement and innovation. India has abundant amount of coal and renewable energy, matured technology and institutions for meeting the clean energy needs of lighting, cooking and other utilitarian and productive requirements. Over the years, country’s energy consumption is highly skewed towards fossil fuels. In addition to high grade coal for steel and power production, India’s oil and natural gas need is mostly met through import. Geographically, there has been wide disparity in energy consumption, with regions (Eastern and North-Eastern states) having larger share of primary commercial energy resources, consuming much below average quantity of clean energy.
The energy intensity of India has shown a declining trend (1.3% per annum during 2005 to 2013) over the years as a consequence of the service sector led growth, focus on energy conservation and rational use of energy. The emission intensity of the country had shown a declining trend till 2009-10 and then has gone up marginally, primarily because of massive rural electrification and improved quality of life. With the adverse environmental consequences of fossil fuel powered electricity generation and large hydro power production, the direction of energy policy has moved, albeit slowly, towards renewable, primarily solar. Additionally, with government’s thrust on LPG use for cooking in rural areas, the emission intensity will further come down. Given the fact that renewable energy resources are almost uniformly distributed all over the country, it is surprising that the energy policy has not changed its track towards decentralized production. By 2030, country’s goal is to have the non-fossil power generation capacity of 40% and reduce the emission intensity of the economy by 35% (measured against a base line of 2005).
The energy plans, since independence, have been primarily growth oriented, with state specific utilitarian rural electrification, in case of powerful political constituencies. Interests of excluded, including women, excepting pious intentions, hardly got its due place. Interests of such excluded groups were taken care of by specific programs, with mixed result. Their interests were not mainstreamed.
India’s energy mix is 65% commercial and 35% non-commercial. The commercial energy mix in 2013-14 was coal (41%), Oil and gas (39%) and renewable and nuclear (20%). Since country has large reserve of coal, hydro and other renewable energy resources, the policy has been directed towards coal and renewable. Given the scarcity of oil and gas, difficulty in accessing nuclear technology and fuel, existence of large reserve of coal and renewable energy sources, the national energy policy is biased towards the latter for energy security. As far as electricity is concerned, considering the fact that large scale hydro- electric power plants have huge environmental consequences, require long gestation period and require very high initial investment, both public and private sector companies find it convenient to move to thermal power generation. Additionally, excess capacity to manufacture power plant equipment in China, credit facility from international financial institutions and reliable supply of high quality coal at reasonable price from Australia and Indonesia have facilitated growth of thermal power plant in the country.
After nearly seven decades of independence, as on 31st May 2015, the country had 59.2 million un-electrified rural households, and the electrified households have to remain satisfied with daily electricity availability of less than 12 hours. As on 31st March 2015, there were 64.8 million households in the country who did not have LPG connections, thus depending primarily on unclean biomass fuel.
In the given political context, Government, both at national and state level have plans and are determined to provide ‘24x7 Electric Power for All’ and 50 million LPG connections to women head of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families by 2019 with associated subsidies. Long-term availability and affordability of clean energy for the underprivileged sections can be ensured if they are taken up in the economic spiral through sustainable income generation programs in convergence mode. Towards this end, alternative strategies are available to provide affordable clean energy in inclusive and sustainable manner. It will call for decentralized production of clean energy from locally available primary energy sources, local distribution with or without central grid connection, local value addition and local market creation by local institutions. Such a system, in addition to reducing transmission and distribution losses, will provide pollution free local energy security while facilitating a socio-economically, politically and technologically empowered community. Of course, it will not meet the political-economic interest of big business and politicians, located far away from the grassroots. And, this is the challenge, especially the economically underprivileged communities (including excluded) will face in future.
In India, the upward movement in the clean energy ladder from Kerosene to Electricity for lighting is primarily due to accessibility and affordability criteria. There is no specific evidence of women-specific consideration at household level relating to drudgery reduction or quality of life improvement. Whereas, transition to cleaner cooking fuel, say frombiomass to LPG, has significant consideration related to gender and context specific energy resource availability and socio economic factors. Hence, to ensure gender sensitive energy policy in the country, there is a need for reorienting monitoring and evaluation protocols to reflect gender concerns in energy programmes, linking women’s empowerment with energy development and making cooking fuel available and affordable (through sustainable livelihood security) within the proximity of the habitation.