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Clean energy, dirty business

 

The fact is that 10 to 12 per cent of the primary energy supply today comes from renewable sources (not counting hydroelectric energy). But new renewables – technologies of the future – still make up only one or two per cent of this supply. The rest comes from biomass systems of the poor, like the stove that burns wood or cow dung. These are the clients who can now either take the next step on the energy ladder to kerosene or liquefied petroleum gas or jump to the top of the ladder by moving to modern biomass energy sources. These are the same clients who are in the dark, but today they have the option of selecting decentralised mini-grids for their energy needs. But if these are the people who are the targets of the new ventures, then business is completely out of touch with its customers.

The same businesses, with the same wheeling and dealing to make a fast buck, are taking over the future. A few years ago, when the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) studied the wind energy scenario in India, it found that business had subverted the purpose for profit. Wind farms set up across the country were not generating energy. The plant load factor was only 10 or 11 per cent in many states, against the norm of 20 per cent. It also found that the business of wind had the worst characteristics of the market: it was closed, monopolistic and unregulated. The turbine manufacturer was also the energy supplier. The capital incentives given to this crucial sector were used to create investment, not power.

The solar scam – where CSE has reported that a single company, Lanco, a coal power major, used every dirty tactic in the corporate larder to subvert government guidelines and take over the public subsidy package – is another instance of this business going the wrong way. This is not the business of clean energy; this is the dirty business of dirty energy.

Another problem is that nobody wants to talk about this “aberration”. The proponents of clean energy are social and environmental advocates. They do not want to rock the boat. As a result, there is no public scrutiny or research on this new business. The circle of knowledge and influence in this sector is limited to consultants looking for connections to business and industry — which is in the business itself. It is, thus, in everybody’s interest to keep a tight lid on the murky side of the operations. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is their motto.

 

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