The Question of Energy For All

  August 10, 2016

To answer this question, we must first understand from where do we get our energy. What is the source of the energy we use? The energy that we normally use in our homes is derived from fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. They provide us with electricity to light our homes, gas to help us cook our food, and fuel to run our cars. And these resources are all non-renewable, which means they will eventually finish. As per estimates of proven deposits, the world has only about a 1,000 billion tonnes of coal and about 15,000 billion barrels of petroleum left. Going by the current rate of use, the crude oil reserves are expected to last till 2052 and coal reserves till 2088. Which is why we need to use them sparingly, conserve them. There is another side to the issue of energy conservation—everybody needs energy, but can everybody get it? Is India able to provide energy to all its citizens? When we conserve the energy we use, does the saved energy reach those who have no access to energy? In these two pages, let’s reflect a bit on these questions ...

 "There is another side to the issue of energy conservation—everybody needs energy, but can everybody get it?"

 A rapidly waxing candle

Energy is the moving force of both life and the non-living environment surrounding it. In fact, it can be argued, life is merely intelligent channelling of energy. No species has been able to channel energy better than humankind. All the major developments in civilisation, from the time we lived in caves to the time we are planning to send a manned mission to Mars, have all been a result of some breakthrough in the management of energy by us.

When we discovered fossil fuels a few centuries ago, a new era of technology, which we now know as the industrial revolution, was made possible. But while it made production faster, more efficient and less labour-intensive, shortened distances, and increased leisure, industrial revolution also made us dependant on fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are a concentrated form of energy which took billions of years to form. In the last couple of centuries, we have used so much of them that they are on the verge of being depleted. Their use has also contributed majorly to climate change. If we do not cut on their use now, we may no longer have any left to use. That will bring our civilisation to a sudden, shocking halt. Or climate change might claim us all as its victims.

Hunger for a light bulb

Energy, like everything else, is not equally distributed. While sections of the society in some countries use large amounts of energy, others hunger for a light bulb. Take electricity as an example. In 2013–14, the per capita per annum consumption in India was 957 units, compared to US, where it was 12,954 units. But even in India, some 250 million people have no access to electricity at all. They use kerosene for even the basic purpose of lighting.

What is the lesson here? While the world is trying to move towards “cleaner” forms of energy—renewable energy—you cannot expect the poorest of the poor to make that shift without making the distribution of energy more equitable. A poor villager using fossil fuels for cooking cannot be blamed for greenhouse emissions and squandering away precious resources, unless she is given an affordable, easy-to-use alternative. A rich businessman flying a private jet for a vacation cannot make the same excuse.

In addition, access to energy opens up millions of opportunities for the underprivileged—economic, educational, cultural etc. It is, therefore, fitting that conservation of energy and fighting climate change be married to the dream of Energy for All.


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