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SOLAR ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE: PLANNING FOR A SUSTAINABLE KERALA



"Earth has enough resources to meet people’s needs,
but will never have enough to satisfy people’s greed"Mahatma Gandhi
  
India represents a culture that calls our planet ‘Mother Earth’. Article 48-A of our constitution states “State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”. Article 51-A states that “It is the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes rivers and wildlife”. The nation’s development process is guided by the path of ‘development without destruction’.

Energy consumption and production cause 2/3rd of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Therefore, Energy Efficiency (on demand side) and Renewable Energy (on the supply side) are considered as two pillars of our sustainable energy movement. Energy Conservation Act (ECA) encourages to efficient use of energy and its conservation. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) on climate change emphasizes clean energy system and enhancement of energy efficiency as two prime mitigation strategies. 

The National Solar Mission target renewal to 100 GW by 2022 is part of the plan on achieving same. While scaling up the RE adoption in the country’s electric networks, the National Electricity Plan (*) simultaneously considers retirement of Thermal Plants in a phased manner. By 2022, 5.9 GW of coal-based thermal power generating stations is going to be taken off from service. Further, the coal-fired thermal stations totalling 16.8 GW which either does not comply the emission norms of Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) or due to low Plant Load Factor (PLF), also would stop generation by 2022. In the next stage during 2022-27, 25.6 GW of projects are considered for retirement. The above withdrawals total to over 48 GW of generating capacity from the grid.

Kerala is reluctant to embrace futuristic technologies. State which once exported power is with a begging bowl now. Kerala currently depends on the coal-based thermal power from other parts of the country, to meet its 2/3rd of daily energy requirements. During 2017-18, the net electricity consumption in the state stood at 21,259 MU. Out of this, only 5,505 MU (25.9%) were generated within the state through own hydel sources. The rest were procured through the Central Generation Station (CGS) pool and from Independent Power Producers (IPP), which are coal-fired thermal plants. A few of these plants are included in the list of thermal generators due for retirement in the next 5-10 years. This would leave Kerala to scout for other energy sources on a war footing.

The above findings lead us to conclude that Kerala has to have a blueprint of power generation within the state, exploring all means. The Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel headed by Prof Madhav Gadgil recommends establishing sustainable development in a democratic way. Prof Gadgil suggested constructing Hydro Electric Projects from run-of-the-river projects. He recommends mandatory Distributed Energy Resources (DER) through Solar Plants. The Athirappally Hydro project feasibility was also reviewed by the committee. The Committee suggested that Local Governing Bodies shall take a final decision on its recommendations. The committee identified 4 Climate Change hotspots of Kerala, located in the Western Ghats.

Besides emissions, this curtailment action on thermal plants further saves the country, another precious resource – Water. The scarcity of water is threatening shutdown of thermal plants(**).

-          40% of the country’s thermal power plants are located in areas facing high water stress.
-          India lost 14 TWhr of thermal generation due to water shortages in 2016 (i.e. 20% of the installed capacity)
-          70% of India’s thermal power plants will have high water stress by 2030

Freshwater consumption from Indian thermal utilities stood at 2.1 billion Cu mtr/year, which is roughly 20% of India’s drinking water requirement. Besides, huge withdrawal of water is seriously hampering agricultural and Industrial growth in the regions where the power plants are located.

It would be only a matter of time, the CGS and IPP supply to Kerala falling to minimum levels. The respective states where these plants are located has to protect its citizens from water scarcity, agriculture, industry growth etc.

The object in the mirror is much closer than it appears!!

(*) – Central Electricity Authority, 2018
(**) – WRI report, 2017


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