May 26, 2012

Energy Energy Everywhere yet I cry for a car full of free fuel ready to wear

This week the fuel (petrol) prices in India were increased by about 15%. As expected there were a huge number of protests. The social networking sites were full of messages on how the government has failed it people and failed in its promises. I agree with them in protesting against failed promises but I differ on the their suggestions to the government. Fuel prices will increase and continue to increase so long as we increase our demand. Each car and each motorcycle added increases the amount of money the country will spending in importing fuel. Each cycle bought or each bus/train ticket bought shall reduce the amount of money leaving the country because of imports. Rather than diving into the spiral of perpetual debt and double digit inflation, the solution lies is efficient modes of transport that can potentially reduce the import bill.

What worries me the most is that since independence the policy has been to subsidize fuel rather than subsidizing alternative and potentially cheaper forms of energy. We have been subsidizing kerosene in the name of the poor but have not subsidized solar heaters and solar lighting (for example, solar laterns). Bio-gas subsidies and subsidies for solar cooking are non-existent in comparison to the amount of money spent on kerosene and LPG.

For energy required for cooking, we have potentially really large sources of energy in the form of sun-light, heat, along with an abundance of human waste for bio gas. Yet we are way behind the west in utilizing this energy. You will never find a protester from a political party protesting to increase the subsidies for renewable energy. However, you will find idiots crying for cheaper petrol so that they can use the vehicles for making mating calls.

With respect to transport, Pune, my city, was once the city of bicycles. Over time cycles were replaced by motorcycles and now motorcycles are being replaced by cars. The rate of increase of the population overshadows the rate of increase of public transport buses by astronomical (or economical considering the debt of each nation) scales. Yet you will not find people protesting for better buses in numbers that can be seen protesting for cheaper fuel.

I was interested in finding out if places in India have looked at alternative energy in a large scale. I found a couple of instances however they are small comparing to the large off-shore wind farms seen in the north european countries and the bicycle share systems and amazing public transport that can be seen in most cities of Europe. I just wish that some day rather than whining and trying to address the symptoms of the problems the people start looking at the root of the problems and work towards addressing them. 

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