India: Energy benchmarks

From a pure physics viewpoint, each person in a nation can be considered a machine of certain power. If the nation is mainly involved in manual labour, as is with countries with primitive agriculture as the main component of the gross domestic product, the per capita work and therefore income will be limited. A well-fed labourer can output at about 75 watt over an 8 hour shift. This gives an energy output of 75*8 = 600 watt-hr. A more advanced agricultural society may employ domesticated animals to augment the energy use and agricultural waste, but this does not significantly alter the energy consumption until one starts employing electricity and energy for increased mobility of humans and goods.

In a capitalist world however, one has to evaluate the profitability of the work, that is the value of the work produced versus energy used. Consider 2 scenarios. There is a road construction project somewhere in India. A group of 100 people are involved in each scenario. One uses just manual labour, while the other uses a couple of earth moving machines which are usually rated to 30kW (same as 400 well-fed labourers + more). Clearly the group with earth moving equipment will be able to construct more kilometres of road within the same time period. Even if we normalize the kilometres of road constructed per energy used, one will find the group with earth moving equipment will have more kilometres (and better quality) of road constructed per watt-hr of energy used. This is also the general route of development of society. As discussed earlier, development is associated with more use of energy, but also efficiency increases, so one produces more work for a given use of energy. On a national level, the GDP/primary energy ratio is a good indicator of energy effectivity of a nation. See for example this comparison of US and China energy use. While in China, the metric tons CO2 increased fourfold between 1990 and 2010, the metric tons per GDP fell almost 4 times, indicating the energy being put to good use. The energy use has a multiplying effect on the work a given nations population can output. Providing abundant and cheap energy is therefore a must for development of a nation. Long term energy security is key for ensuring sustained economic growth.

One can argue, that examples above are not comparable. How did one group get access to 100 skilled workers who can drive the earth moving machines and where did they have capital to rent the earth moving equipment.

That is the collective choice of the society and takes time to reach that level and is generally the industrialization of society. In such a society, knowledge level and technology awareness of the majority of the population (including kids) is high. There is a perpetual drive to evaluate behaviour, processes, events in the everyday life and attempt to do everyday more effective. As an example consider the long queues that appear everyday near toll booths for paying the toll in cash. India claims to be an information technology nation and has millions who have travelled and worked in countries where toll-bricks in cars are everyday standard. Despite this, it takes many years before one solves such a simple problem which would have made things more effective. In industrialized society, there is more personal freedom, more faith in own abilities than in externalities such as destiny, godly interference etc. The society has a healthy attitude towards finding why things are done the way they are and how can they be done better instead of an all-pervasive love/obligation to continue to keep the things the way they have been for thousands of years.

Benchmarking India against comparable nations and peers is one way to estimate how far India has come and how far one has left in terms of industrialization. This allows a healthy discussion on an action plan and priorities. In a healthy nation, the media has a responsibility to conduct such benchmarks every now and then to guide development.

Energy is the key input and is the subject of benchmarking against US and China in this case. A water and food benchmark ought to be next.

India electricity production


Realizing China’s population being 5 times that of USA, China energy has still potential to grow 3-4 fold. India on the other hand, needs to increase its electricity generation 5 fold to come to parity with China today or keep on comparing itself to Pakistan and Bangladesh to feel good.


If India has ambitions of copying the fast growth rate of China, the growth rate in power generation is non-negotiable. It does not help to promise high national growth rates, and continue the slow growth of rate seen in power sector. Between 2000 and 2013, India managed a doubling of the electricity generation, averaging some 5.4% compound growth which is commendable, but below that other comparable nations are able to manage. Lack of power and infrastructure (which is not discussed here) is not exactly a courtship sign for setting up new industries or expansion of existing industries, both of which need power and cannot be just powered by an increased human labour associated with increased population. To improve the per capita energy use benchmark, the growth in power generation has to be significantly higher than population growth.

Price of electricity and oil

A way of comparing the transportation costs are using the MPGe defined by EPA, 33.7 KWhr is equal to 1 gallon of gasoline (3.78 litre). However, while an electric vehicle can convert 80% of the battery energy to miles transported on the road, the gasoline fired vehicles normally convert about 25% to miles transported on road. So MPGe of electric cars are usually 3-4 times that of MPG of gasoline cars. Again for Indian conditions, we start with 33.7 KWhr (which costs 33.7 * 8 = 2.69 dollars) and 1 gallon of gasoline (which costs 0.97 dollars / litre * 3.78 = 3.66 dollar). The 2.69 dollars used in electric vehicle will take you 4 times as long as the 3.66 dollars in the gasoline vehicle i.e. savings of 5 – 6 dollars (~Rs 400) per 100 km for medium sized cars.

Having faith that electrification ultimately increases the overall energy efficiency, one should set all research and technology institutions (IIT’s, IISc’s etc) to have a deadline to come up with solutions for cost-effective energy storage and commercialization within a fixed time span. Use the vast local market to promote and ultimately bring down the costs of energy storage. If one can send a satellite to Mars, one should be able to expect the institutions to solve a real world and acute problem as well. The nations that win this race will ensure energy security for lowest cost. Maharastra already seems to understand this and the prime minister also seems to be well versed with the challenges as seen from visits to Tesla in recent US visit.

Crowd financing

If one considers that 100 million population in India is middle class with sufficient buying power and if each of these 100 million installs 1000 watt solar panels panels (cost ca Rs 76 000 see link, economically sensible if electricity price over Rs 5/KWhr) one can increase the power generation capacity across India, by almost 100 GW. The government has to facilitate net-metering and jack-up the grid integration efforts in the meantime. And ensure that the whole solar manufacturing chain is produced in India. Not a single Indian company appears in the top 10 solar panel manufacturers of the world. China already has 6 of the top 10 manufacturers. Trading may not be the way to go. Else once again we may miss the bus (considering the semiconductor industry) and be a nation of assemblers and not owners of technology. Let this be the goal of next Diwali gift season. With right efforts (national promotion, support schemes as in US, energy awareness initiatives) one can reach a goal of 100 million 1000 watt installations. Although world solar manufacturing capacity of about 70GW per year in 2015 may be a limiting factor. While costs may be lower for dedicated large scale PV installations, the market effect of small scale installations may be more to motivate a whole society to understand energy challenges. Dear fellow educated Indians, Just do it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s