Natural Gas – Fuel for 21st Century India

As we are entering into 2021, with high hopes, more population and a bad climate; it’s really important that we take futuristic decisions to one of the most significant aspects of our lives, “energy”. 

The global energy landscape is presently undergoing considerable changes. For any emerging nation, the policy to obtain and meet the energy supplies and energy developments are crucial ingredients of the overall economic strategy. Proficient use of resources and long-standing sustainability in its utilization is of key significance for economic development. Given 17.7% of the world’s population and 2.4% of the globe’s geographical area, India has meager known fossil fuel reserves. 

According to a report of Energy Information Administration (EIA), India was the third-largest consumer of crude oil and petroleum products after the United States and China in 2019. The demand for crude oil in 2019 reached 4.9million b/d, compared to less than 1 million b/d of total domestic liquids production. However, the unprecedented 2020 drastically lowered India’s growth which affected the requirement of one of the most significant products of the consumer index; petroleum products—primarily jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel—with the most acute demand destruction occurring during the second quarter of 2020. COVID 19 also plummeted electricity demand. 

Despite of the slowdown even in immediate pre-COVID period; experts, think-tanks and business houses are hopeful; once India’s economy recovers from the pandemic, India’s transportation and industrial sectors is likely to expand under economic development; a rising population; and government policy initiatives that increase highway and airport infrastructure, promote Indian manufacturing, and increase liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) use in the residential sector.

Energy is central to achieving India’s development ambitions: bringing electricity to those who do not have it; and developing infrastructure. India’s demand for energy will increase significantly out to 2035, driven by economic growth, urbanisation, rising incomes and industrial activity.

Energy consumption in the country has almost doubled since 2000 and the potential for further rapid growth is enormous. India’s energy consumption is set to grow by 165% the fastest among all major economies her share of global demand will rise to 11% in 2040. India’s urbanisation is a key driver for energy consumption, as it is expected an additional 300 million people are expected to live in India’s cities by 2040. 

Coal is by far the largest contributor in the energy mix, but India’s recent climate pledge underlined the country’s commitment to the growing role for renewable energy sources. The share of coal in the energy mix will fall to 50% by 2040, while the share of renewables rises from 2% to 13%. India’s energy consumption has increased many folds but still its per capita energy demand remains low, which is around 1/3rd of the world’s average.

Now to swiftly move towards pre-COVID growth and maintain the sustainable growth path while striving towards reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and finally slowly moving away from dirtier fuels such as coal and crude oil, natural gas can be the 21st century fuel for India. According to, IEA Energy outlook, typically, natural gas emits 50-60 percent less CO2 when combusted in an efficient power plant compared to emissions from a typical coal plant. When compared to solid and liquid fossil fuels, natural gas scores quite well on the criteria such as transportability, storability, combustion efficiency, convenience, cleanliness and flexibility of use. Also, natural gas may reduce dependence on oil from unstable Middle East and West Asia by sourcing gas from Central Asia.

In India, there is a space of around 60% to support the base load of power generation, wherein it can use coal and natural gas as a main fuel efficiently and more environmentally friendly way. Despite public posturing for renewable energy in an international arena, India would continue to depend on coal and natural gas for power generation in the long run. The primary reason behind this argument is that renewables such as solar and wind have relatively lower capacity utilization factor compared to coal and natural gas based power plants. That means 160 GW of solar and wind installed capacity could translate to actual production of 32-40 GW. Therefore, natural gas becomes the next best alternative for cleaner and large scale electricity production in India. 

India also faces the challenge of ensuring the financial health of its power sector which is dealing with surplus capacity, lower utilisation of coal and natural gas plants, and increasing shares of variable renewable energy. Central Energy Regulatory Commission (CERC) progressed towards improved real-time markets.The creation of a competitive wholesale power market will be vital for improving the utilisation of India’s generation capacity. 

India’s power system is currently experiencing a major shift to higher shares of variable renewable energy, which is making system integration and flexibility priority issues. International experience shows that natural gas can provide ‘always-on’ power and in addition provide a quick ramp up and down to meet fluctuating demand at a fraction of the cost. During the recent pan India ‘switch-off’ of lighting load on 5 April 2020, it was the quick ramping capability of natural gas power (along with a much larger share of hydro power) that maintained grid stability when 31 GW of load was lost and regained within 10 minutes. 

Off course natural gas is fossil fuel but to quickly manufacture PV cells, dynamos, wind turbines etc, under Atamnirbhar Bharat, which can increase the share of renewable energy in India’s energy mix would require natural gas as a source of continuous energy supply. Additionally, natural gas investments are not only helpful in the immediate sail of high growth path but also the same infrastructure can be used to transport zero-carbon energy source, hydrogen, which can be the fuel of the future. 

Natural gas can not only satisfy the energy hunger of India for sustained economic growth but can also help in meeting the environmental goals in short run. It is evident that the fertilizer sector has been the largest beneficiary of natural gas followed by power and city gas distribution (CGD). Therefore, not only urbanization and industrial growth, agricultural growth is highly dependent on natural gas, which makes NATURAL GAS true fuel for 21st century India.


Improved product quality – A way forward to decarbonisation

There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of global climate change laws since 1997. According to Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment there are more than 1,200 relevant policies across 164 countries, which account for 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Reports indicate that, India is not only on track of emission reduction as per Paris agreement but over achieving the targets. Policies are helping to increase share of renewable energy in total energy mix, also institutions like TERI, BEE and EESL are doing their share of contribution to bring in energy efficient products and services for both individuals and government organisations.

However, as per a study by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) about three in four of India’s districts are hotspots of extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, drought, heat and cold waves. Apparently, focus on both supply and demand dimension of the decarbonisation is required to arrest this global calamity. 

Therefore, India need to bring in required attention on the quality and longevity of the products used by both the individuals and institutions, because generally there is no conscious realisation of the energy and material consumption which takes place during the manufacturing of the products.

According to the International Resource Panel, emissions from the production of materials as a share of global greenhouse gas emissions increased to 23 per cent in 2015 from 15 per cent in 1995. More than half of the emissions from materials is from direct material production processes.

India holds 1/6th of total global population and counting and therefore need for transport, food, buying, using and throwing products are more than even before. In the process we are emitting more greenhouse gases, manufacturing more products, extracting raw material, producing more waste, abstracting more water, destroying more forests, habitats and depleting biodiversity.

We all appreciate the fact that earth is a finite planet and still more than half of the civilization is waiting to enjoy the materialism on earth. The population across affluent parts of the globe like North America, Europe and Japan is reducing considerably, however in developing nations population is in upward trend who yet to experience the materialism which they are getting exposed through western civilization.

Rapid growth and globalization has deepened the environmental issues, therefore in addition to decarbonisation at supply side like electricity production etc. it is important to focus on demand side decarbonisation through long lasting products etc.

From last couple of decades, it has been noticed that individuals, companies and even governments are working towards decarbonisation at their own levels. Studies have shown that requirement of steel, no.1 metal for our civilization, is going down every year by 2% per year. Transportation is getting efficient considerably. Aeroplanes are 70% more efficient as compared to planes in 1958.

But consumption of electronic chip is increasing by 35% every year and the way technology is evolving and population is increasing this percentage will keep on increasing. The costs of electrifying the world’s information and communications networks is rising: it claimed nearly 5% of worldwide electricity generation in 2012 and will approach 10% by end of 2020 (Lannoo 2013).

We need to consider ways in which we could reduce environmental impact from product consumption whilst maintaining growth and quality of life. One possible way of doing this is to extend the life of the products that we consume.

The Micro Commercial Components Corp (MCC) life cycle study reports that fabrication of semiconductor circuits on one 150-mm wafer requires 285 kWh of electricity, which corresponds to 1.6 kWh per square centimetre. In addition to electricity, heavy oil, gas, LPG and kerosene are other fossil fuels required in manufacturing of semiconductor.

Now when India is rolling out 250 million smart meters in the electricity circuit therefore we are injecting other set of semiconductor into the system. Moreover, it’s not only meters, smart metering brings set of components like communication infrastructure and also back end servers which are again by-products of semiconductors. 

For ease of calculation consider only one circuit of 150mm wafer per smart meter with 285kWh consumption; than 71.250 GWh (285x 250 x 10kWh) of electricity would be required by 250 million such pieces. Energy cost to produce semiconductors, plastic, dyes etc. yet to be calculated.

Not only on environment, even better quality product has positive impact on the economy as a whole. An empirical analysis done at National Institute for Environmental Studies of Japan, focusing on car lifetime extension, reveals that the consumption shifts scenario, representing the case in which household consumption patterns shift from the waste-intensive car to waste extensive services due to a +1.0 year car lifetime extension, contributed to a GDP growth that amounted to approximately +2 billion yen, and consequently compensated for the economic loss from a decline in car production.

The transition from the manufacturing products-intensive society to the service-intensive society caused by the +1.0 year car average lifetime extension, led to a 200 thousand ton-decrease in the waste landfill including the car shredder residuals during the five years of the study period, 1990–1995.

Therefore, to save our environment and also public exchequer from this kind of often repeated expenditure, it is important that we shall enforce product lifetime warranty i.e. at least for 10 years in all government procurement. 

This will not only enforce quality and reliability in all the products but money saved from repeated expenses can be spent on decarbonisation targets for the nation and contribution to entire global issue of climate change. 

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