Bulu Imam, a prominent environmental activist writes about the futility of coal based power generation and the need and scope of renewable energy as a clean source of power in India.
Dirty power pays. It is lucrative. But it is destroying the future of the planet through increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment which is raising the temperatures, altering the seasons, and raising sea levels. Massive displacement is caused through making new coal mines. For twenty-three years I have fought the making of new coal mines in the upper Damodar valley catchment of Karanpura (www.karanpuracampaign.com) and yet even now thirty-one new coal mines have received deemed clearance which will destroy thousands of square kilometers of forests and rich agricultural lands, displacing hundreds of below poverty line villages. This is development in modern India !
India is a sunny country and solar power is a short delivery technology ideally suited to roof-to-room delivery of power, instead of long wasteful power lines, which use up three-fourths of power, and are expensive to install, as well as being theft-prone. Moreover such electricity is invariably fossil-fuel based, in particular from coal-fired thermal power plants which is a dirty technology and the prime cause of global warming through the carbon dioxide they emit. On the other hand solar thermal or photo-voltaic energy might be compared with the cheap mobile phone which leaves the user and the source in the same place. Use it wherever you are through transmission of waves, exactly like solar power, only the waves are infrared rays from the sun which is the greatest source of energy in the universe. Solar power is the solution to all our present energy problems.
So why is such important and easily installed technology being neglected? One reason is the lack of government subsidies to renewables while huge subsidies are given to dirty technologies like oil, coal, and gas which are primarily responsible for global warming. The solar power sector in India is almost wholly dependant upon private enterprise which has to battle against a variety of issue such as the deficiencies encountered in renewable energy compared with dirty power. Sometimes hybrid systems have to be used. On the other dirty electricity from coal is available by hooking a wire to the mains. The cost of such power is rarely calculated and only now being realized in the context of global warming.
Renewable energy government efforts have largely been failures despite the splendid possibilities of energy from bio-gas, kinetic wind-energy from turbines generating power which could be widely farmed, and the potential of solar photo-voltaics (PV)and solar thermal power in stations generating power through the use of turbines. Our deserts offer great potential for solar power generation but the opportunity has not been seized by the government but by a foreign initiate, the J. William Clinton Foundation which is setting upa 3000 MW solar plant in Gujarat on 5000 hectares provided by the Gujarat government. The cost of the project is estimated at USD8-10 billion , which is a relatively small sum compared to dirty power from coal mines and coal fired thermal power plants. Again, private institutions like Barefoot College in Ajmer are doing yeoman work in making the science of self-help in renewables.
Since the surface temperature of the planet is exactly in the same graph as the level of carbon dioxide trapping the solar infrared heat in the atmosphere, we are able to measure the temperature rise according to the carbon dioxide graph (as Al Gore showed in his film An Inconvenient Truth). We have to understand that is the importance of 350 particles per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is according to the world’s leading climate scientist Dr James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the maximum we can allow of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to go before the tipping point into uncontrollable warming of the planet. Unfortunately, its almost too late as we are at 390ppm already, and rising 2ppm yearly. Some scientists still write glibly of 450 and 500 and 600 ppm without taking into consideration that post 450 temperatures will definitely be 3C or 7F higher, unimaginable heat in the south latitudes. Such temperatures are foreseeable by mid-century in the opinion of the most conservative experts.
The people do not know, are unaware of and uninterested in the causes and consequences of coal produced energy, and are largely illiterate, below poverty line, and live without electricity. The politicians push the need for energy for “development” in their larger interests of making new railway lines, new roads, new urban settlements, divesting the countryside of its forests and agricultural fields. They parrot the need for coal, for coal-fired power as if it is God. And the people, clambering for the politicians’ band-wagon parrot the refrain, and so the refrain of “need for coal” is parroted throughout the land. What this is costing in terms of floods, drought and famine is not only not understood, it cannot be understood!
Bulu Imam is the Director of the Sanskriti Research Center in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. He coordinates the Karanpura Campaign, a 23 year old campaign he founded to prevent 31 new proposed and 3 operative opencast coal mines which is entering into its final stages now and still operates under his guidance. He is also serving as the as convener of India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).