The Climate Conundrum

The crucial UN Climate Change Summit, at Lima, Peru, concluded recently. The two-week long event had thousands of people from every corner of the planet crowding the streets of this Latin American city, while world leaders held hectic discussions behind closed doors. It was the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And the agenda set before the government negotiators was to build the foundation of a new climate agreement — to be struck in Paris next December and take effect in 2020 — that can have a meaningful effect on stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The outcome? While the official statement is still being worked on, a scientist, attending the negotiations, summed it up in a sentence. “We are going backwards,” said Alden Meyer, who monitors the climate negotiations for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The bone of contention is the old one, how developed and developing countries should share responsibility for climate change: should all countries be required to do their bit to cut greenhouse gas emissions or only the industrialised countries? And every government, rich or poor, is drawing back at the prospect of making firm commitments, fearing public backlash at home. This includes Indian negotiators as well.

This, perhaps is a good time for them to look inwards – to check out how the veterans in the power sector are firming up their future strategy, not by turning a blind eye but by acknowledging the inevitable.

Whither India?

People’s right to clean, affordable and sustainable energy – this has been the official mantra of the Tata Power Group, India‘s largest integrated power company, for more than nine decades. It has been guided by the founder Shri Jamshetji Tata’s vision of “Clean and affordable power” for the country. And it firmly believes that energy — the demand and supply chain, along with the entire energy management process — must feature among the top most priorities of every stakeholder in the power sector.

The challenge faced by India’s power sector has always been a formidable one. Currently, India‘s power demand is around 150GW. It‘s peaking power shortfall is set to intensify over the next 10 years and expected to reach more than 70GW by year 2020 from the current peaking deficit of around 30GW.

So India needs to add significant generation capacity in a short timeframe. At this stage, only large projects with mammoth production capacity can make an impact that is worth the effort  or the investment.

Giants with Tiny feet

No, I am not talking about fairy tale characters. I am, in fact, describing the massive industrial units. Sustainability was the second condition laid before the industry partners. Big, though the structures had to be, their impact or ‘footprints’ on the local environment needed to be as tiny as possible.

The ground reality also is that the fuel mix of India‘s generation capacity is likely to remain almost the same in the near future. In other words, the country will continue to depend heavily on coal-based generation.  From the available alternatives to thermal coal, the Ultra Mega Power Plants is perhaps the best solution in the current circumstances that uses super critical technology to reduce carbon emissions. The development seeks to source energy from carbon-based plants & cannot meet all its needs from Non-GHG generating sources. Further, high price of gas, hydro and other renewable sources leads us to promote thermal power projects that have lower greenhouse gas emission and superior performance than the average in India, as a way to help the country meet its large need for more electricity. This, however, adds on a set of fresh responsibilities for the corporate partners. It is absolutely imperative that they make the right choices in selecting technologies that are environment friendly and therefore sustainable.

The Tata Group does not set any value on empty sermonising. In this case, too, it is prepared to lead by example. The Company is one of the leading renewable energy players in India with a robust portfolio of 22 per cent generation from clean energy sources, mostly focused on solar and wind. On the other hand, it has made significant investments in clean coal technology.

Climate crusader?

“We are more than prepared to deliver what we promise. All we ask for is a favourable environment to execute our plans,” says a senior Tata Power representative.

Given a fair and favourable policy environment, the Company is confident of playing a dominant role in the Government’s top priority Mission. Of providing power to India’s growing millions. At the same time emerging as a forward-looking nation in the global arena, ready to take on the Climate Challenge.

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