India’s Fossil Fuel Policy Contradicts Its Climate Policy – OpEd


The INDC report submitted by India to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during the Paris Climate Conference contained the following promises:

  • Emission reduction – To reduce the emissions intensity of India’s GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • Renewable energy – To achieve about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030.
  • Carbon sink – To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion metric tonne of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

After having made such promises, it is surprising that Government of India is now committing itself to the increased use of fossil fuel such as natural gas and coal, even as it is pursuing renewable energy. Is this approach appropriate to its pledge to combat global warming?

Government’s LNG policy

While globally natural gas makes up for 24 per cent of the energy basket, it is 6.5 to 7 per cent in India. Government of India says that it would like to raise the share of natural gas in the energy basket to 15 per cent in the next 5 years.

In Eastern India, the government is laying 2,500 km long pipeline, which will provide natural gas to industry and help in gas distribution in seven cities of Eastern India.

Government of India wants to promote LNG as a fuel for vehicles. Efforts are being made to have LNG-driven bus in Kerala soon. Long-haul driven vehicles and trains will also be encouraged to use LNG as fuel.

As the Indian production of natural gas is nearly stagnant , India has to steadily increase the import of
LNG, as the government of India wants to increase the share of natural gas in the energy basket.

Plans for LNG terminals to increase LNG import

India currently has LNG import and regassification capacity of 21 million metric tonne and the Government of India plans to more than double its annual LNG import capacity to 50 million metric tonne in the next few years.

Petronet LNG Ltd operates a 10 million metric tonne a year LNG import terminal at Dahej in Gujarat and has another 5 million metric tonne facility at Kochi, which is lying mostly idle because of lack of pipeline to take the gas to consumers.

Dahej terminal is being expanded to 15 million metric tonne this year and is proposed to be further expanded to 18 million metric tonne in future.

Royal Dutch Shell operates a 5 million metric tonne a year LNG terminal at Hazira in Gujarat, while a 1.2 million metric tonne capacity operational terminal is there at Dabhol in Maharashtra.

Government’s coal policy

Thermal power continues to lead the power sector in India: For the 12th Five Year Plan, a total of 88,400 MW of power capacity addition is targeted, of which 72,300 MW constitutes thermal power based on fossil fuel, 10,800 MW hydro power and 5300 MW nuclear power.

Government of India appears to have no intention of significantly decreasing the usage of coal in the new thermal power projects.

This is evident from the fact that the government plans to bid out more than 8 ultra mega power projects of generation capacity 4000 MW each in two and a half years, based on coal as fuel. It is reported that Government of India will shortly auction three ultra mega power projects (UMPP s) including Tilaiya and Cheyyurof total capacity of 12,000 MW, entailing investments of Rs. 80,000 crore.

In 2015-16, Coal India (CIL) achieved a record production of 536million metric tonne, which was 42 million metric tonne more than the previous fiscal. Its production grew 8.5% year-on-year. CIL’s output target is fixed at 598 million metric tonne for 2016-17.

Government of India wants to eliminate thermal coal imports by 2017 by doubling production of Coal India, which already has 80 % market share.

Government’s fossil fuel policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed with oil and gas experts on 5th Jan, 2015, focussing on subjects such as increasing the share of gas in India’s energy mix, fresh investment in oil and gas exploration in India, regulatory frameworks, international acquisition of oil and gas assets, emerging areas such as shale gas and coal bed methane, and the oil and gas sector related possibilities of ‘Make in India’. Source: Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, 5th Jan, 2015

Obviously, Government of India has no plans for reducing the consumption of fossil fuel. Similar to natural gas and coal, the consumption of crude oil is also likely to increase steadily.

Renewable energy

While the government continues to rely on fossil fuel to sustain the economic and industrial growth of the country, it has set the target of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. The progress so far is steady.

Additional requirement for fossil fuel

As per the government’s scheme to use more coal and natural gas in the Indian energy basket to sustain Indian industrial and economic growth, additional requirement of fossil resources would be the following

Additional requirement of coal for all applications by 2022 will be 645 million metric tonne for power generation and other purposes.

Additional requirement of natural gas for all applications by 2022 70 billion cubic meter per annum for power generation and other purposes.

Is increasing use of LNG / coal appropriate policy?

Given India’s promise to combat climate change, one wonders whether burning of more natural gas and coal in power plants and elsewhere as fuel would be the appropriate strategy.

Burning fossil fuels create carbon emission and consequent global warming. It does not matter if it is coal, oil, propane, kerosene, gasoline or natural gas—it all contains carbon, which gets released as a greenhouse gas.

It is a fact that compared with coal, burning natural gas results in roughly half the amount of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity. The most advanced natural gas burning power plants can still emit around 385 kgs of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. All those power plants that burn natural gas will still spew CO2, albeit less than the equivalent coal-fired power plant. This would make it hard to achieve the goals of CO2-emission reduction, if India were to use more coal ,natural gas and diesel as fuel.

Further, it is possible that natural gas can leak. Leaks occur when the well is drilled, during transport in pipelines, at storage sites, or when methane is pumped into the natural gas(methane) powered buses. This will add methane to the atmosphere, which would increase global warming, when methane gradually converts to carbon dioxide.

It can be seen that continued and increased usage of fossil fuel is contrary to the objective of positive approach to tackle climate change issues.

It is critical that India should focus not just on growth but also on cleaner growth.

What action plan?

Now that India has not significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions , government of India should be gravely concerned about the push for the use of more natural gas and coal, which are potent greenhouse fuel.

Considering the fact that there are twin challenges facing India due to the climate change issues and impending energy needs and the fact that both the issues are inter related, the strategic approach of the Government should be oriented to find elegant and integrated solution for both the issues in one stroke.

Obviously, the focus of the strategic approach should be to utilize eco friendly feedstocks for generation of energy to the maximum extent possible, keeping in view that the economic and GDP growth target and climate issues can not be sacrificed.

The most important action needed is to reduce all fossil fuel use and markedly increase efficiencies and take up appropriate renewable energy projects like wind (both onshore and off shore) , solar , nuclear , algae bio fuel and similar other eco friendly fuel source in a bigger way, where there are huge opportunities.

Given the fact that India plans to build renewable energy projects to the level of around 137 MW in the next 10 years, there is strong case to re examine as whether so many new power projects based on coal or natural gas are necessary With more than 2,70,000 MW of power generation capacity already in India, the capacity utilization of the power projects in India are only in the region of 50 percent at present. Why not improve the capacity utilization of existing power projects and reduce transmission loss, instead of building up more fossil fuel based power projects.?

Obviously, Government of India has to re work the energy strategy in tune with its commitment to COP 21, instead of marching on the beaten path.

N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *