Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Electrical Energy Conundrum

The other day I was involved in a debate regarding the indispensability of artificial energy use for development. After all intensified fossil fuel based energy use is what has spurred development since the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century and today we cannot even think of life without such energy. Especially crucial is the use of electrical energy which runs motors big, small and minute that power all aspects of our modern day lives. Therefore, I will briefly discuss the current global use of electrical energy and where India and more specifically the Bhil Adivasis of Alirajpur are situated. The biggest user of electrical energy worldwide in 2011 among big countries as opposed to small city states was Canada with an annual per capita consumption in KWh (1 KWh = one unit of electricity and consumption here is net of losses in generation, transmission and distribution, covering industrial, service, agricultural sectors and also domestic household use) of 16473 according to the World Bank. Among small countries which are almost wholly urbanised Norway heads the list with 23,134 units followed by Kuwait at 16,122 units. In Asia among the big countries, South Korea is at the top with 10162 units and Singapore among the small city states has 8404 units. Among the top economies worldwide the USA has a consumption of 13246 units, Germany has 7081 units and Japan has 7848 units. China has a consumption of 3298 units and India 684 which is the highest in South Asia. The lowest consumption is that of Eritrea in Africa at 49 units of electricity possibly because it is a war torn country.
Sticking to India and assuming an average household size of five persons and the share of domestic power consumption in total consumption to be 22 % ( Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation estimates), the average household consumption per day works out to about 2 units of electricity. The consumption of electricity for agriculture per household, assuming 65% population as involved in agriculture for a living and the share of agricultural power consumption to be 18% of the total, we get per household consumption for agriculture in rural areas to be another 2 units of electricity per day.Thus, a rural household on an average consumes about 4 units of electricity per day. This is obviously grossly inadequate if we compare it with electrical energy use in Japan for instance or even China. However, this statistic masks the fact that in reality most rural households in India do not have effective access to grid electricity either for domestic use or for agricultural use and their consumption is way below even this very low national average with about 40% of households still having no access to grid electricity. This is the case with the villages deep inside the Mathwar Reserved Forest area in Alirajpur, which form the core area of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, where grid electricity consumption is zero and there is some minimal consumption from solar panels.
While countries like the USA and Japan have to seriously consider cutting down on their electricity usage given the high environmental cost of such usage, India has to improve its electricity consumption if it is to provide a better quality of life to most of its people but to even double the current consumption through fossil fuel based centralised generation would mean an immense environmental cost. Also given the asymmetries in distribution, the increased electricity generated would be unequally distributed leaving the vast majority still short of minimum standards. Thus, India is faced with a difficult conundrum with regard to electrical energy consumption - it has to increase electricity consumption but without adversely affecting the environment.
It is in this context that decentralised renewable electrical energy assumes importance. Currently renewable electrical energy generation through wind and solar systems feeding into the grid is about 10% of the total electricity generation but decentralised renewable electricity generation is negligible. All the thrust in renewable energy is for centralised generation to feed into the grid which is not really going to serve the needs of the vast rural population that is starved of electricity. Therefore, there has to be a policy shift for decentralised off grid or distributed generation catering to small village communities. This can be a mixture of biomass gasification based generation and solar photovoltaic panels. The former for the heavier needs of agricultural production and processing and the latter for household needs. It requires roughly 6kg of biomass to produce 1 unit of electricity and a rural household requires about 4 units of electricity for its agricultural operations and this means a biomass requirement of 25kgs per day which is not very difficult to ensure with forest conservation and reutilisation of agricultural biomass. Solar panels have become more efficient with time but the problem of storage still remains expensive. However, for providing 1 unit of electricity for domestic use not much investment is required. The technologies for distributed electricity generation are there but unfortunately the will to implement them on a large scale in rural areas isn't and so there seems to be no prospect of light at the end of the tunnel for the Adivasis in Alirajpur!!!

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