Why India & world are facing sudden energy crisis
In the past too, despite large stocks, uncoordinated supplies and despatches have created sudden and short-term crises. Current crisis is result of unplanned approach to energy solutions across world
It is suddenly energy crisis all over the world. In India we are facing a coal shortage of epic proportion which is threatening to upend the entire power situation. Talks are about impending shut down of a string of thermal power stations across the country.
A sudden message from a major power producer, Tata Power, of an imminent coal shortage started a panic reaction across the board. It sparked off fears of widespread coal shortage among power generation stations across the country.
Reports indicate that power stations have 7.2 million tonnes of coal stocks which should last for four days. The ministry of coal on the other hand has reiterated that public mining giant Coal India Ltd has 40 million tonnes stocks at hand.
It is however not unknown in the past as well when despite large stocks uncoordinated supplies and despatches have crated sudden and short-term crises.
India however is not alone in facing a power crisis just now. Giant economic power, China, is facing severe power crunch and its industries are being shut down unable to meet power demand. There are wide areas in China where homes are going without power.
In the UK, the country is suddenly faced with power crisis it had not known for decades. Germany is scraping the bottom of the barrel for energy. Whole of Europe is faced with serious power problems as winter is advancing.
There are several long-term factors responsible for the serious power crisis. When the COP2 meeting is coming up next month, the global power crisis is underlining the need for a well thought plan for meeting the world’s power requirement without seriously jeopardising the Climate Change goals.
The current crisis is the result of an unplanned and haphazard approach to energy solutions across the world.
The climate science, the importance of which was recognised in the award of this physics Nobel Prize to a duo of climate scientists last week, has driven round the point that human activities are resulting in release of ever rising volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere leading to a spike in surface temperature of the earth.
The greater part of the CO2 emission is from use of natural fuel like coal and oils. Therefore, there has been a ban on raising the use of coal for power generation under the COP 21 —or Paris Agreement— and some of the leading emitters have committed to get into a carbon neutral situation by the middle of the century.
However, the need of the hour is action now, not another 30 or 40 years. Carbon emissions have to be cut substantially right now to meet the neutrality commitments of mid-century.
If nothing, the increasingly frequent incidences of devastating floods, following huge downpours, and hurricanes and unprecedentedly strong storms lashing from the seas, are driving the point home that action can no longer be deferred for the long term.
Many of the large emitters have imposed domestic regulations on use of fossil fuels as well. China for one had put in place series of measures for cutting down use of coal and oil. Provincial governments have been set emission control targets and Xi Jinping, China’s supreme leader, himself had given instructions to provincial governments fora achieving climate targets.
This has led to restrictions on coal use, which seems to le at the heart of the current power crunch across the world. The use of coal for thermal power plants apart, the world has been seeing falling levels of investment in the oil sector. So then, there are a series of mis-steps in the global energy sector which are now manifesting in shortages.
First, no fresh investment has been made in the oil and gas sectors for the last whole decade, further exacerbated by the pandemic. The spread of the virus and resulting lock downs had brought demand for power and fuels down drastically.
Then, as the restrictions began to be lifted power demand resurfaced when supplies hit the bottlenecks. Therefore, fuel supplies could not go up in step with the rising demand following withdrawal of restrictions.
Secondly, the search for alternative fuels have been unplanned and not properly co-ordinated. In the interim period when the world was to move from fossil fuels to cleaner fuels, a kind of “bridge fuel” would be needed to stand for dirty fuels like coal.
This was natural gas, which is a clean fuel from emission point of view. However, natural gas supplies and particularly handling facilities were not properly developed seeing in mind the rise in demand.
The United States has almost limitless possibilities here. US is described as the next Saudi Arabia for natural gas. The US does not need as much natural gas as it has. So liquefaction of natural gas in the US could mean it could be exported to hungry markets in Europe or Asia. However, this has not happened.
Europe for example is asking for natural gas but it has no supplies. The only prospect for Europe is supplies from Russia for which an ambitious pipeline is being laid — the so-called Nordstream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany bypassing Ukraine. However, right from the beginning the pipeline has been dogged by geo-political controversies.
Thirdly, many of the leading advanced economies have jumped the line and shot down existing power plants without really tying up alternative arrangements for power generation.
Germany for one has shut several running nuclear power stations without tying up new cleaner fuels-based supply stations. Germany shut down nuclear stations, which used to meet at least 30% of the country power needs, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe in Japan.
Some major states in the United States have also acted equally haphazardly. California have shut down coal-based power stations without proper planning and now hopes to meet the shortfalls from diesel generations sets which are as much polluting.
These unrelated and spread out incidences only show that some co-ordinated approach needs to be adopted. This could be the agenda for the climate talks scheduled to begin next month.
(Views are personal)