As the countries are slowly recovering from coronavirus, the debate around adoption of clean energy has accelerated. Many experts believe that clean energy should be at the centre of the comprehensive response that is essential to help countries prepare, respond and recover from Covid-19 crisis.
For Chandra Bhushan, India’s leading environment and climate change expert, clean energy holds much more promise than just being an approach to mitigate the pandemic crisis.
The fearless leader has held an unwavering mirror to the standards of food safety, environmental pollution and mining.
Bhushan has worked with the Centre for Science and Environment(CSE) for 22 years where he has been a part of numerous impactful campaigns. He also held the position of Deputy Director from 2010-2019.
The Idea Behind iFOREST
An engineer by profession, Bhushan established iFOREST or the International Forum for Environment Sustainability and Technology in 2019, with the objective of bringing about improvements in the environment using technology and innovation.
Bhushan says the name ‘iFOREST’ is more relatable for the youth. “We did a small survey and found out that words such as centre and foundation sounded academic to the younger generation. So we decided to go with iFOREST, where ‘i’ stands for innovation.”
He noticed that everyone talks about improving the environment but few implement it. “The problem with our country is upscaling,” Bhushan laments. ”Technology is available for upscaling the work. It just needs to be used. Hence, the objective behind iFOREST.”
Pandemic and Global Warming
There is no denying the fact that coronavirus has caused tectonic shifts in the world community – be it business or healthcare. Bhushan says that destroying wildlife habitat creates perfect conditions for coronavirus to emerge. For example, the origin of coronavirus from eating a wild bat is known to all. “We invade forests and other wildlife landscapes that harbour many animals –within those animals, are many unknown viruses.The disruption of ecosystems upsets their natural hosts and they find a new host to live in, humans.”
The other reason, Bhushan believes why people eat exotic animals could be due to cultural prejudices. He adds that these could be as recent as 50-60 years old. People would have started eating wild animals during a natural calamity and then they developed taste and norms around it. “In some places in India, roasted bat is given as a cure for asthma,” shared Bhushan.
Another cause is the rise in production of meat due to the increasing demand. To meet the requirement of the “meat-hungry” world, producers are packing a large number of animals in a small space, in the same area where humans interact. For example the emergence of swine flu from a small ranch in Mexico.
When asked if pandemic was connected to global warming, Bhusahn said that it could be a cause though not substantiated with study. It is generally understood that a warmer climate will give more space to microorganisms to thrive. For example, you will see malaria in higher Himalayas which was not there 50 years ago.
Oil has a Competition
The last few years has seen a growing demand for shared mobility, such as cabs, e bikes and other public modes of transport. The pandemic however, has put a spanner in the trend. Instead, demand for privately owned vehicles is likely to increase.
That said, Bhushan deduces that this time oil is going to lose its monopoly. Billions of dollars are being spent on developing the latest battery technologies and it is about time EVs got their rightful place on the road. The cost of battery per kilowatt hour (kWh) is currently 110-120 dollar and Bhushan is sure that as soon as it falls below 100, the internal combustion engine will become redundant. People will move towards battery and electricity.
In the Indian context, electrification of vehicles is taking place at the bottom of the pyramid. If one looks at the informal data, India has more battery three wheelers than battery cars in China. This segment is increasing at a tremendous rate. Bhushan stresses on focussing on two-wheelers, three-wheelers and buses that carry the most potential to grow as per current trends.
“Battery is a trillion dollar economy, any country that is going to crack the battery technology and develop a manufacturing base will win the market for next generation of renewable as well as mobility,” notes Bhushan.
Energy Architecture Needs a Revamp
Concerned about harmful emissions, Bhushan said, “In 2015 the government laid down emission standards on coal based thermal power plants. However, in these last 5 years, the thermal power industry has fought tooth and nail to delay the implementation of those standards.”
In the last 3-4 years, investments in coal mines as well as thermal power plants by the private sector have almost dried up. In 2019, more than 40000 MW of coal based thermal power projects and pipelines were cancelled by the private sector. This is a clear indication of the private sector moving away from coal. It will be a challenge for the government to help the sector for long due to rising Non-Performing Assets(NPAs).
Bhushan points out that DISCOMs are the biggest impediment to transition towards renewable energy. They don’t allow open access and put roadblocks on roof top solar power plants. DISCOMs are bankrupt for sometime and are not going to reduce transmission cost. On the other hand consumers deserve access to cheaper renewables.
A different business model needs to be put in place to make the new technology available to all. “Electricity market should be liberalised.There should be liberty to buy electricity from anyone. For the poor, we have direct cash transfer for LPG, it can be implemented for electricity too,” said Bhushan, adding that with storage costs going down, liberalisation of electricity will make this transition happen.
Electrification is the Future of Energy
Bhushan tables an innovative idea for the future of energy. He thinks of a world based on one infrastructure, electricity, that can run a car, provide electricity at home and replace gas for cooking. Right now, we need three separate infrastructures to meet energy needs, petrol, electricity and gas pipeline.
“The future model of electricity distribution should mimic the internet. It is highly successful. It has worked for one form of electron, I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t work for another,” stresses Bhushan.
Currently, only 20% of energy consumption is from electricity, 80% is fuel consumption. Addressing climate change will require 80% of energy consumption to be through electricity.
We have a separate platform for transport, office work and home. Bhushan highlights the scope of converging all of three. “For most of us, 95% of the time, our car is sitting idle in the garage or office. The battery could be used to feed the grid. The transport could be the storage itself.”
Corporate and New-Age Business
“The new generation of businessmen will not only think about profit but equity and environment too,” says Bhushan with confidence in his voice.
Corporate India has not been very proactive on climate change. This is because India positions itself as a developing nation and prides on taking as little responsibility as possible at international climate change events. “The government should bring out laws that will mandate firms to abide by the standards,” advises Bhushan.
There is a 1.2 degree increase in the temperature right now as compared to the pre-industrial era. Every country has to do the best they can to cut emissions. “Climate change is too big an issue to be left to the government alone, everyone will have to chip in,” underlines Bhushan.
Corporate sector will need to start taking responsibility, give commitment and match up with global counterparts.
Tomorrow Will be Even Better
Bhushan has very patiently worked for the betterment of environment. He has been fearless in his approach in showing the reality to the society.
“What holds us back a lot of times is fear of the unknown. Leaders will have to learn to deal with fear because fear paralyses you. Fear supports the status quo,” said Bhushan.
The future is going to be better than today. We have moved from wood to coal and are now shifting towards renewable. “Renewable is not the end of energy, there will be better technology in the future. As a leader, I try to look at the world in a positive sense,” concludes Bhushan.
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