Bangui Wind Farm in Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Photo Joyn Ryan Cordova, Wikipedia Commons

Energy For Sustainable Development In Asia Pacific – Analysis


Energy is central to sustainable development and poverty reduction efforts. It affects all aspects of development — social, economic, and environmental — including livelihoods, access to water, agricultural productivity, health, population levels, education, and gender-related issues. None of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be met without major improvement in the quality and quantity of energy services in developing countries. It is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity. Furthermore, 2.7 billion people continue to rely on solid fuels such as traditional biomass and coal for cooking and heating and this is expected to rise to 2.8 billion in 2030. In recent times the two major international endorsements of the elements of sustainable development the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), have recognized universal access to energy as an important goal. India has emerged as a leader in promoting renewable energy development and tackling global climate change. The energy sector requires a major transformation in technology, which would also involve changes in infrastructure as well as the mix of energy supply in the future. It is obvious that if India has to attain a 9 to 10 per cent growth of the economy, the management of the energy sector and its evolution in the coming future would need attention by the country’s leadership and every section of society.

Access to sustainable sources of clean, reliable and affordable energy has a profound impact on multiple aspects of human development; it relates not only to physical infrastructure (e.g. electricity grids), but also to energy affordability, reliability and commercial viability.  In practical terms, this means delivering energy services to households and businesses that are in line with consumers’ ability to pay. Investing in clean, efficient, affordable and reliable energy systems is indispensable for a prosperous, environmentally sustainable future.  Ensuring energy security will require diversification of types and sources of energy, with increasing focus on consumer needs, on indigenous energy supplies, energy efficiency and regional interconnections. Greater use of clean energy obviously contributes to sustainability of the development process, and this issue will become more important in the years that lie ahead. Developing countries account for 82 per cent of the world’s population and they use 55 per cent of the available global supply of energy. They must aim at faster growth of their GDP to improve the living standards of their populations and this will entail an expanded demand for energy. If they follow the industrialized countries in meeting their energy requirements through fossil fuel based energy, the impact on the global climate would be simply unsustainable. This poses a global challenge. We can only meet the challenge by responding in two ways. First, we must contain the total growth in energy associated with the growth of GDP by improving energy efficiency. Second, we can work to shift from conventional to non-conventional or clean energy.

Asia has been experiencing sustained high economic growth in the recent years. However, there still exists substantial amount of unacceptable poverty among the people in the region. The expressions of symptoms of such poverty include among others inadequate educational and health attainment of the people and lack of access to basic amenities like modern clean energy, safe water and sanitation, which are crucial determinants of human capability development.

The basic paper on which the seminar will be based analyses the implications of this high inclusive growth for removing poverty and inequity, in respect of the twin challenges of environmental sustainability of the required energy growth and energy security in Asia Pacific. The energy security is discussed both in the sense of removal of energy poverty and that of reducing the level of vulnerability of the economy in the face of oil price rise as experienced in the recent years. It addresses particularly the question of linkage between income poverty and energy poverty and the implication of energy poverty alleviation in Asia Pacific in respect of global environmental sustainability. It further discusses in this context the instrumental role of choice of fuel and technology (like bio-fuel among others) and institutional changes like economic reforms in determining the energy efficiency as well as energy security. It finally addresses certain selected policy issues from macroeconomic perspective including that of policy linkage between energy security and food security in the context of bio-liquids development.

The challenges faced by society today, including climate change and scarcity of energy resources, require answers of an interdisciplinary nature in the study, design, operation, and regulation of systems that generate, transport or use energy. IDSAsr has been addressing these challenges in the context of its Energy for Sustainability (ESD) Initiative, bringing together professors and researchers from several Research Units and Faculties.

One segment of the energy sector which acquires high priority is in the field of renewable energy production and supply. India is one of the countries in the world which receives the largest flow of solar energy incident on its land area. We also have substantial wind energy potential. In addition, India produces large quantities of agricultural waste which makes biomass an attractive option for conversion to modern fuels both through gasification on a decentralized basis, and possible conversion to liquid fuels on a diverse scale through technologies that is being worked on across the world, though not adequately in India.

Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. About 16 per cent of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 10 per cent of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.4 per cent from hydroelectricity. New renewable (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) account for another 3 per cent and are growing very rapidly. While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas where energy is often crucial in human development. As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass.

It’s great that biotechnology has developed powerful approaches to find cures to diseases, curb climate change and reduce reliance on foreign oil. Synthetic biology promises to change the world by making biology easier to engineer and enabling solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems. Bio technology is to be at the forefront of the emerging field of advanced biofuels production to develop scientific breakthroughs to help solve the energy crisis. Latest techniques in plant science, molecular biology and chemical engineering has to be developed to produce affordable, sustainable, carbon-neutral fuels identical to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Traditionally, most of the chemicals we use are produced using chemical synthesis, which is the combination of simple chemicals to form more complex ones. Enzymes can do in one step what might take many steps using synthetic organic chemistry. Redesigning microbes (like yeast) to be miniature chemical reactors that transform sugars into fuels. To engineer a microbe to be a chemical factory, genes are grafted from plants and other naturally occurring life forms into the microbe. Once inside the cells, the genes produce enzymes that do the chemistry to transform sugars into chemicals. Efforts are directed towards making biofuels out of sugars. Microbes are engineered to transform sugars into energy-rich fuels that can directly replace petroleum-derived gasoline, diesel and jet fuel having identical properties to petroleum-based fuels. There is no need to replace our cars, trucks or planes to use the fuels. Efforts are on ways to extract sugar from cellulosic biomass, such as paper waste, trees that have fallen down in the forest, the residue of crops such as corn husks and stalks – everything but the kernel of corn – and non-food plants such as switch grass. Because plants grow by fixing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, burning a fuel made from cellulosic biomass does not add extra carbon to the atmosphere, unlike the burning of fossil fuels, which produces carbon emissions.

Market forces alone will not provide sufficient financing in this environment unless the risks of policy change are appropriately addressed. We need to know more about what each of us is doing and this ESD-2013 is an excellent platform for experience sharing across the countries. These are early days in our effort at developing a workable strategy and much remains to be done. ESD-2013 will go a long way in developing a workable agenda for energy efficiency and expansion of clean energy for the world. The theme for the ESD-2013 is Energy for Sustainable Development in Asia Pacific which is dedicated to debating the challenges posed by the increasing concentration of the world’s population. Everyone involved in research is invited to participate in ESD- 2013. The Seminar will be a privileged forum for debating new research streams and challenges and for identifying areas of success and partnership opportunities in the fields of Energy and Sustainability.

Dr Gursharan Singh Kainth
Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies
14-Preet Avenue, Majitha Road
PO Naushera, Amritsar 143008

About the author:

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth is the Director at Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies, Amritsar, India.

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