Solar should not be sole climate basket
India is taking a proactive role in combating climate change by spearheading a global solar alliance. This is welcome. There are energy economists who are so sanguine on the prospects of solar energy as to forecast all energy in the globe being drawn from this source by 2030. They extrapolate the steady reduction in the cost of solar power and of electricity storage to reach this conclusion. If it happens, well and good. India should have an aggressive research project in solar energy, so as to both contribute to new cutting-edge technology in the field and also usefully absorb advanced technologies that others produce. Yet, it would be a mistake to put all our climate change fighting eggs in the solar basket.
India must be equally aggressive, if not more, in exploring clean coal technologies, to exploit the country’s most abundantly available fossil fuel in the least damaging fashion. The technology options are not limited to going ultracritical with power plants, so as to double thermal efficiency, and deploying highquality filters and precipitators and catalytic converters to minimise emission of greenhouse gases from thermal plants. Another route is to convert coal into natural gas, preferably in situ, and burn the gas in combinedcycle plants to raise thermal efficiency to close to 60%. Experiments are on elsewhere in the world to crack natural gas, that is, separate the molecules of carbon and hydrogen that combine to form methane, and use hydrogen as fuel. When hydrogen burns, the output is heat and water. Some try to use biotechnology to raise sunlight-to-food conversion in photosynthesis. Others seek to grow tough plant fibre, absorbing carbon dioxide in the process, and use the fibre to reinforce concrete. Nuclear fission and fusion remain attractive research propositions for the future.
Apart from energy source, India has to also focus on how cities are planned to minimise commutes and to maximise use of public transport for the commute that cannot be avoided. As India urbanises fast, how well it is planned will determine our carbon footprint