Reliance’s roadmap can truly democratize energy access in India

While people’s phones garnered all the attention during Reliance’s big announcement on Thursday, the biggest announcement, with the greatest potential for the country, may have gone unnoticed. No wonder, given that the environment affects us more than anything, but has the least visibility in the Indian public sphere and in Indian consciousness. In a sense, what was announced on Thursday was the environmental equivalent of launching Jio – essentially the democratization of India’s energy future and its transformation into a global leader in sustainable energy. This has far-reaching implications for all of India.

When we talk about “development,” one of the simplest measures of that development is the amount of energy (electrical and fuel) that an individual consumes per capita. Invariably, low-income countries have low energy consumption, with the graph increasing as income increases. Without going into the cause-and-effect cycle, the bottom line here is that the barrier to higher energy consumption and therefore higher productivity and quality has been the cost of energy. In India, this is compounded by large losses and thefts (USD 16 billion per year) and massive unpaid dues, making the sector very unattractive for new entrants.

Unlocking the potential of solar

This is where solar energy comes in – by bypassing the entire centralized station-grid model, it allows easy scalability – by adapting to both large solar fields that distribute energy via networks, but also as autonomous units. Traditionally in India, solar power has been the engine of rural electrification, where the high costs were justified by the much higher opportunity cost (traditional energy distributed through long supply lines) and the angle of social justice. Essentially, what Reliance is proposing is creating massive economies of scale to drastically reduce those costs.

As it is, a complete home solar power installation can power a few air conditioners, but at a significant upfront cost. On the other hand, if these costs decrease, the attractiveness of a solar panel replacing not only your electrical connection but also repeated payments not only for yourself but also for leaks or thefts that may occur from your connection. becomes a formidable argument. The problem is, what happens at night? This is where the announcement of new affordable high capacity storage batteries comes in.

A simple comparison would be an easy way to think about it. Today you need to request an electrical connection. You get it, but often times you won’t because the previous owners wouldn’t pay the bills. Once you get it, you are not sure of the continued supply, especially in the middle of summer. You therefore buy either an inverter or a generator set according to your means. Every month you get an electricity bill, which you still don’t know if it’s all yours or has a part that is stolen by smart wiring, and you have to pay for the fuel to run the generator, which, again, because of the moving parts may have a seizure.

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Imagine replacing that with one-time, seamless payment for high-capacity, long-lasting solar panels and batteries. No recurring payments, no worry of breakdown due to moving parts, no worry of theft due to a localized circuit. Indeed, it transforms energy production into something as ubiquitous as a cell phone over time.

Democratize access to energy

While this deals with static power generation, there have been two other major announcements: the environmentally friendly production of hydrogen and fuel cells that can power automobiles in the future. Until now, the problem with hydrogen was that its production was not environmentally friendly. Modern processes have solved this problem.

Likewise, the problem with the increasingly popular electric cars was that they would discharge after a few hundred miles, recharging them took time, and as the infamous Tesla case in Singapore demonstrated, they didn’t. not really solved the issue of emissions. Far from it, electric vehicles consume much more energy per kilometer than cars with internal combustion engines and they only change the point of emission from the car to the power generation unit. This means that if you depend on fossil fuel for electricity generation, you are actually burning a lot more fossil fuel per kilometer.

Hydrogen solves all of these problems, from rapid refueling and no stress on power plants, to emissions which, in the case of hydrogen cars, are just H2O or hydrogen. water. Considering that India spends between 110 and 190 billion USD per year on energy imports depending on prices, this frees up a large part of the national budget, allowing that money to be diverted to more useful things in the country, and for the first time promises India an important energy autonomy in its modern history. The strategic value of freeing the country from energy blackmail and its massive implications for foreign policy cannot be reiterated enough.

Let’s be clear, this is not a short term plan, it is rather a 25 year plan, combining proven new technologies, with economies of scale and industrial weight and the ability to deliver in bulk and on time. . Likewise, it compensates for the massive atrophy of governance and inaction on the energy front over the past two decades, when the bright promise of an atomic energy revolution never materialized after 2008.

The scalability built into this plan, however, is pure genius – optimized for large business units to gradually reduce costs and use the benefits of lower cost to decentralize networks creating two parallel activities. Make no mistake, this will revolutionize the productivity of the average Indian and democratize access to energy and this is where there is a social revolution, a revolution entirely initiated by responsible business.

Warning:Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a senior researcher at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. The opinions expressed are personal.

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