Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Reduce demand

It is a fact that the gap between supply and demand of electricity continues to increase because increase in demand is outstripping the increase in supply. There are two ways to manage this mismatch between supply and demand, either increase supply or reduce demand. The supply-side solution of increasing generation has been adopted by the Government. But it is doomed to failure, because of ever-increasing demand. It is like the Government is trying to catch the shadow. The demand increases as much as, or even more, than the increase in supply. And herein the urgent need for a more circumspect approach of simultaneously limiting demand. Now the demand-side approach is pooh-phooed on grounds that new technologies will enable unabated increases in electricity generation. It is indeed true that nuclear, solar and shale gas inventions have enabled much greater increases in electricity generation than thought possible previously. However, human history teaches that there have been limits set by nature that mankind has not been able to transgress. Grand ancient civilizations such as that of the Indus Valley have collapsed as a result of excessive exploitation of natural resources. It would be better, therefore, to err on the side of caution. We should focus on demand side approach till the expected technological solutions are not fructified. Let demand follow increase in supply; not the other way round. Thermal, nuclear and hydropower each have their negative environmental impacts that cannot be wished away. Even wind and solar may have negative impacts that will become clear as time progresses. Paul R. Ehrlich, author of the 1968 trend-setting book “The Population Bomb” said the impact of any population can be expressed as a product of three characteristics – the population’s size, its affluence or per-capita consumption, and the environmental damage inflicted by the technologies used to supply each unit of consumption. The impact can be reduced by reducing size of population, reducing per-capita consumption, or by using environment-friendly technologies of production. The environment-friendly technologies are typically more expensive. That leads to higher cost of production and thereby lower level of consumption. The two solutions of reducing per-capita consumption and using environment-friendly technologies, therefore, coalesce into one – that of reduced consumption. Control of population is a long-term solution. The short-term solution has to necessarily be driven by a reduction in consumption. Since most consumption is made by the rich, it is they who have to reduce consumption. In fact there is increasing awareness of this problem in global forums. The Preliminary Draft of 2009 report of UNSCO-sponsored Ethics of Climate Change in Asia Pacific project, 2009 on Energy Equity and Human Security stated: “While making energy accessible and affordable to all to fulfill their basic needs, energy use for luxurious purposes can be reduced without infringing basic human rights. Thus, the ethical demands to meet concerns of equity can also mean restrictions for those who make excessive use of energy… those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are often not those who have contributed to global warming the most. Poor and marginalized, as well as future generations have to endure the consequences of the actions of wealthy in the present and the past.” Today we see that the Government of India is single-mindedly trying to increase generation of electricity to meet the demand. This is happening because the Government is committed to establishing equality in the right to consume electricity. This equality is like the equal right of a wrestler and a challenged person to reach the railway booking counter; or the equal right of an athlete and a 5-year old girl to receive food from a counter. Obviously, the stronger person gets there first and captures the goodies. The same is happening in the electricity sector. The rich consume the electricity before it can reach the poor. It is profitable for the distribution companies to supply bulk power to the rich rather than manage thousands of small connection. The cost of distribution as well as collection of the dues is lesser in large connections.