View: Take US-India energy cooperation to the next level
Both nations need to jointly seek to shore up efficiency improvement and productivity gains in energy economy.
Quick on the heels of President Donald Trump’s visit, India and the US need to step up their strategic energy partnership and shore up efficiency gains across the board. The way forward is to aim for paradigm-shifting change in the domain of energy.
The joint statement does mention of the agreement to ‘expand energy and innovation linkages across respective energy sectors’.
On specifics, heightened US natural gas supplies to India and the call to firm up six nuclear power reactors from the US are in the pipeline. Also, the US International Development Finance Corporation has announced $600 million funding for renewable energy in India. But, surely, we can do much more. Both countries need to jointly, and innovatively, seek to shore up efficiency improvement and productivity gains, and to policy-induce transformation in the energy economy.
A recent study by energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie has projected that conventional energy sources, coal, gas and oil, would contribute about 85% of primary energy supply in circa 2040, compared to a figure of something like 90% currently.
No doubt, we have to rev up renewable sources of energy and gainfully leverage our solar, wind and hydroelectric potential. But the facts suggest that the conventional energy sector would continue to hold traction for the foreseeable future. Hence the pressing need to boost efficiencies in energy generation and supply, as well as to significantly reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels, so as to tackle climate change and global warming.
The energy sector seems to have a momentum of its own when it comes to change in the techno-economic paradigm, away from fossil fuels, in the offing. Yet, in seeking transformation in the energy economy and path-breaking climate action, we should seek hybrid solutions. Trends suggest that higher efficiencies in today’s conventional energy systems, such as thermal power, would also lead to productivity gains in, say, solar-thermal power generation.
Further, there is huge potential to seek synergy in the use of conventional and renewable energy. For instance, it would make perfect sense to step up solar photovoltaic power generation, and then have incentives in place for charging electric vehicles (EV), preferably during high noon, to efficiently increase environmentally friendly power offtake. The expert projection is that India would need at least 100 GW of power generation for charging EVs alone.
The point is that to have effective climate action on the ground, we must have multidisciplinary policy initiatives internationally. These would involve both economic and engineering solutions, for which the US and India are especially equipped to join hands and innovate.
It is welcome that New Delhi and Washington are reportedly exploring Indian equity investments in gas assets in the US, so as to make longterm supplies in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) viable. Gas is, of course, the most efficient and cleanest fossil fuel. But we also need to improve efficient gasification of domestic coal, smartly complement LNG supplies and, at the same time, bring down costs. There is a big-ticket investment underway to have nitrogenous fertiliser from coal at Talcher in Odisha. But we can do still more. The US has large supplies of gas.
India would do well to negotiate a buyout of its integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology to boost thermal efficiency. NTPC, India’s main power producer, has been raising funds in Japan lately, by duly announcing that it has access to indigenously developed advanced ultra-supercritical boiler technology designed to substantially boost thermal efficiency.
The newer technology would rev up power generation with little or no increase in fuel. And by mastering IGCC technology suited for domestic varieties of coal, the increase in thermal efficiency would be higher still — perhaps in the range of 60%, which would be double the rate for current sub-critical, notvery-efficient thermal plants.
Further, India needs to closely follow carbon capture and use technology in thermal plants in the US, which seems to have taken off in a big way there of late, thanks to tax incentives. Modelling by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that carbon capture technology is quite essential to effectively tackle climate change, and bring down the level of carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.
The US can, of course, sequester the carbon captured in its large oil and gas fields. Reports from Canada and Australia state that carbon capture can also be used economically as construction material in the near future. In India, we need to take note of these developments abroad in the carbon capture domain, and, for starters, duly foray into the methanol economy. Methanol is a single carbon compound that can be produced from coal, biomass, etc. Going forward, it can be gainfully used to blend with automotive fuel.
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