Strategic Approach to Bharat’s Energy Needs

Bharat was the fourth largest importer of crude oil followed by China, US and Japan in 2017. Bharat became the third largest importer in 2018 by surpassing Japan and likely to become the second largest importer in the near future since US has started expanding its domestic crude oil production and exports.

Monthly imports of crude oil in Bharat averaged 16.76 Million Tonne (MT) from 2014 until 2017, peaking to 18.81 MT in August of 2016 and a record low of 12.99 MT in February of 2015. Incidentally Bharat is also the 10th largest exporter of refined oil amounting to $24.1 billion in 2017 with a global export share of 3.9%.

Bharat has estimated crude oil reserves of 594.49 MT and natural gas reserves of 1339.57 billion cubic meters (BCM). Bharat imports 82% of its oil needs and aims to reduce it to 67% by 2022 by replacing it with local exploration, renewable energy and indigenous ethanol fuel. Bharat has built 5.33 MT of emergency storage enough to meet its oil needs for 9.5 days and has plans to build an additional 6.5 MT facilities to increase its emergency storage capacity by another 11.5 days.

Bharat is making rapid progress in the area of renewable energy. Renewable capacity has reached 73 gigawatt (GW), which is 20 percent of the country’s total energy capacity. Bharat has set an ambitious target of 175 GW renewable capacity by 2022. Solar power, in fact, has made considerable progress.

Over the last four to five years, large-scale solar has witnessed an average annual growth rate of over 70 percent. The installed solar capacity has increased from 2.6 GW in March 2014 to 23.1 GW in June 2018 out of which large-scale solar comprises over 94 percent. Scaling up the production has led to substantial cost reduction (Rs 3 per unit on an average) and wind and solar energy is now cheaper than coal power. 

However, solar rooftop has failed to make much headway in the current market which is skewed towards large-scale renewable energy. The country is aiming for a 100 GW capacity in solar power by 2022, but till March 2018, only 2538 megawatt (MW) of grid-connected solar rooftop systems had been installed.

Bharat unveiled ‘National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020’ in 2013 to address the issues of National energy security, vehicular pollution and growth of domestic manufacturing capabilities.

As a part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement ensuring clean energy at 40% of the overall installed power generation capacity by 2030, the Government of Bharat has plans to make a major shift to electric vehicles.

Bharatiya Railways have plans to electrify their total rail network by 2022. Bharatiya Railways has successfully tested solar-panel mounted trains (Sarai Rohilla in Delhi to Farukh Nagar in Haryana launched on 14th July, 2017). Power generated from these solar panels will be used for the lights and fans inside the train. The train’s rooftop solar panels and solar power plants at major railway stations are expected to gradually shift the pattern of railways’ energy consumption from coal to solar in due course and result in substantial savings in its power costs which constitute 21% of its overall cost of operations.

Bharatiya automobile manufacturers are preparing themselves to launch electric vehicles on a large scale in the near future. These initiatives will lead to disruptive and path breaking technologies in Bharatiya transportation sector. Considering the fact that transportation sector is the second largest consumer of energy, next only to industry, migration to clean energy by this sector will yield significant benefits to the country.

Rooftop Solar Power Roads

A solar roadway is an electric road that can recharge electric vehicles (EVs) while they are traveling, which would increase their range. In US studies have discovered that solar roadways could produce over three times the electricity that they currently use in the United States and also has the ability to eliminate half of the greenhouse gases currently being produced. Netherlands, Germany, France, USA and China have made considerable progress in testing the solar power roads. Bharat being a tropical country has enormous potential to generate power through solar power roads.

Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI) suggested the construction of rooftop solar panels on the roads particularly on national and state highways, which will be relatively less expensive and more durable than the direct solar power roads ventured abroad in countries like- France, USA and Germany. It was estimated that a PV roof cover over the four-lane 205 km Ahmedabad-Rajkot highway can generate 104 MW of power while the Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway, 93 km long, can reap 61 MW of electricity. Therefore, on a conservative basis the existing network of national highways that cover a distance of 96,260 KMs have the potential to generate 48,130 MW (48 GW) of solar power.

The current major district roads and rural road network in Bharat covers a distance of 4,67,763 KMs and 26,50,000 KMs respectively (data as of 12th October, 2017). Therefore, Bharat’s rural road network has an immense potential to generate solar power that can meet not only the demand of the rural population but the semi urban and urban population as well.

Illumination of the roads at nights can be done through the captive solar power generated by the roads and there is great potential to save on the crude oil bill by configuring the vehicles to be compatible with solar power. The vehicles can be charged with solar power at parking slots on these solar power roads for refueling. This has huge potential to generate revenues to the contractors of solar power roads.

Rooftop solar panels are not only less expensive, additionally they provide shelter to the roads leading to lesser repairs and maintenance costs.

To start with, rooftop solar power roads concept can be experimented in state highways and district roads as alternative revenue models in lieu of toll collection charges under BOT Models. This will save the government’s expenditure in constructing the state highways and district roads which are mostly under EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) models.

In order to give greater push to the above initiatives the government has to evolve certain strategic and long term policy measures in the energy sector. Some of these measures could be as under.

  • Instead of allowing only exports of refined oil, the Bharatiya government should also think of permitting export of crude oil since the quality of crude oil Bharat imports and the one it produces are totally different (similar to that of sugar). This will enable the market players to operate with greater freedom and improve the market efficiency.
  • The government must encourage roof top solar power along with large scale solar power plants in order to encourage the residential and commercial segments to switch over to captive solar power production and consumption.
  • NHAI and state governments must encourage the construction of rooftop solar power roads that will generate alternative sources of revenue generation to the road contractors through solar energy and also give a boost to electric vehicles as they can be recharged while travelling on these solar power roads at various charging points.
  • China and Bharat being the largest importers of oil, they can think of going for joint procurement in global market for negotiation of competitive pricing of crude oil imports.
  • Bharat should expand its crude refining capacity in order to enhance its exports of value added refined crude products.
  • Bharat which is the 10th largest exporter of refined crude can become a crude refining hub in south asia by leveraging its cordial foreign relations with SAARC nations and improve its market share in exports of refined petroleum products.
  • Bharat should evolve a policy to procure crude oil in futures market by hedging against gold since the prices of crude oil and gold normally move in opposite trends.

(Featured Image Source)


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About the Author

B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex Senior Banker, Management and Financial Consultant, Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. E mail- [email protected]