India is tipped to be the most populous country in the world by 2030. India’s energy demand is on the rise, mostly because of its pockets of black holes called mega-cities. “An uneven expansion of a civilization”, if you want to call it that. Although India is considered to be a growing economy, its impact on global energy demands is nowhere near that of USA or China. India does not have an immediately measurable impact on the energy economy partly because India is a fair and pluralistic democracy and an innately slow and inefficient system (because part of it is corrupt).
Policy makers in India have been pursuing the idea that increase in quantity of essential resources will reduce disparity within the society. Energy is one of them. I do not think that increasing power generation (through whatever means) will lead darker India ‘kindly’ to light.
Although the energy demands of a city is justified when one considers its population and job profiles, the way in which it is supplied (24/7, throughout the year) is not justified. People might laugh at my argument if I say that cities in India get uninterrupted power supply. Those who laugh will surely realize that there are areas that receive interrupted powerlessness.
Some time back I was livid with a city power corporation, because they had imposed unscheduled load shedding in the area I lived. I was angry not because of load shedding rather because it was unscheduled. India can improve its power distribution given its current energy resource if and only if it can sensibly impose scheduled power-cuts in its cities throughout the year. Ofcourse, “sensibly” requires some working out .
I have not talked about clean water and food security here, because both of them have always been accessed remotely by a modern city. Rivers flow over large areas, mostly away from cities and they are diverted to cities. Food is grown in rural areas and most of it is diverted to cities. The difference between rural and urban blurs when we consider access to electricity. Generation of electricity is geographically a much smaller entity than the other two and rural areas are as distant to them as big-cities. It is less essential to sustenance of life. Ironically, it can enhance quality of life. People who migrate from villages to cities do it for various known reasons. Jobs, Schools, Health-care and unlimited access to energy top the list. Creating jobs in rural areas is partly dependent on energy (climate helping). There is a need to make cities ‘less attractive‘ or to put it the other way round (as many like saying) make rural living more acceptable. On a relative scale, thousands of kilo meters of electric cables running in rural areas, run empty. The argument that supply of electricity to cities is easy because they have better network needs to be questioned. After all, it is 1 g of cotton vs 1 g of iron. There is a strong case for an urgent diversion of energy to rural areas because, given what we have, if we take the long road to success, we may run out of gas. I think it is more realistic than pessimistic.
The fact that India’s energy demand is still on the rise and a large part of it is in its cities can be turned into an advantage for rural development. It is a “two shots and no bird” situation. There is no explicit reward for losing energy. It will surely be unpopular in cities. City dwellers are known to be habituated to their in-house life-styles and may continue to find alternate sources of energy such as diesel generators and very bad of them, if they do. They are certainly going to be expensive in the near future. We might continue to burn coal to get energy. However, any new attempt to improve energy efficacy or new forms of energy should be tried in the cities and not in remote villages. By the time India’s energy demands match those of China and Western developed countries, it would have become much cleaner. If Indians can achieve this not because it is imposed on them rather by their choice, I think it will put many others to shame.