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Solving the energy puzzle


Chairman and Managing Director, Suzlon Energy

I am a traveller — not by profession but, rather, for my profession. My business has taken me around the world many times. My travels have given me the opportunity to witness the modern world’s glory and also to come face-toface with some of its disappointments. In this world of contrasts, many basic human needs have been left unfulfilled — food, water and energy.

At first glance, all three challenges seem unconnected. But are they? To me, they all seem to be the consequence of one basic fundamental mistake.

We face food shortages because we have eroded irrigation land, burned down forests and created an imbalance in the very source — nature. Our industrialization is based on rich intensity, but highly polluting energy sources contributing to climate change, which in turn has led to extreme cases of droughts and floods — the reason for water shortage. Lastly, we are heavily dependent on depleting sources of nonrenewable energy, ignoring the vast renewable natural resources.

The common thread running through all our challenges stems from our approach — or rather the lack of it — towards nature. The connection runs deeper. Today, brilliant minds from across the world have figured out solutions to meet our food and energy requirements — better irrigation methods, desalination processes, and the like — but all of these improvements are energy intensive. So, if we can solve the energy puzzle, we open up several more opportunities to meeting our food and water requirements.

A puzzle is defined as a mass of irregular pieces, which when fitted together form a complete picture. Now, look at the world map — doesn’t the definition fit? Irregular shaped countries and continents, with inequitable distribution of resources, in different stages of growth — all fitting together to form one complete picture. It is obvious then, that a problem which plagues the whole world needs a solution that is applicable to the whole world.

The root of the energy puzzle is simple — we need a lot more energy than we are producing; the developed countries need to sustain their growth, the developing countries to power their own growth and progress. The challenge is to meet energy requirements in a fashion that is both responsible and sustainable; a task made more difficult due to issues of energy security and climate change. But, at the heart of every challenge is an opportunity. The opportunity here is to make most of the natural and abundant resources with which the world is blessed; closing the energy gap with power generated from renewable resources, which are clean, green and plentiful.

The average global power consumption currently stands at 15 terawatts (TW), and the global wind power potential alone is 72 TW. A single average-sized wind turbine can prevent the emission of 1,500 tons of CO2 each year. Renewable sources are not only part of the solution to our depleting fossil fuels, they are the also the way towards a healthier planet.

Recognizing the solution, though arguably the biggest step, is to win only half the battle. The components that are popularly believed to be up against each other — different energy segments, countries and even divisions among Governments, industry and academia — are all, in reality, crucial pieces of the puzzle. All have to work together to provide a level and transparent playing field, where no borders exist and everyone is aiming to reach one objective.

This is not easy, but at least we benefit from knowing how the completed puzzle would look. Global leaders would keep differences aside and focus on creating global solutions. The world would have a truly diversified energy portfolio, in which the mix assures energy security and minimizes the environmental threat. The best of the developed world’s technique and expertise would be used to develop new “green” markets with the least resistance. Governments, the private sector and the regulators would realize that they all seek a common goal — to serve the world’s people — so they would encourage and collaborate with each other.

It is agreed that the past attempts at an agreement legally binding on all nations have faced more than one roadblock, but none of them were without a positive outcome. COP15 brought together 120 heads of State and Government, 114 of them voluntarily signing the Copenhagen Accord. Since the conference, the number has gone up to 139 countries — a clear indication that each nation wants to seek the path towards a greener tomorrow. The climate summit may not have achieved its targeted outcome, but it did certainly bring us a step closer to it.

So COP16 in Cancun should be a platform to gain knowledge on what worked and what did not. Governments around the world have applied very successful policies and mandates such as renewable standards, feed-in tariffs, renewable energy certificates, cap and trade, and unique initiatives like wind auctions. The private sector has contributed immensely, resulting in improved production processes and cutting-edge technological advances. They have set the lead, and clearly shown that the path towards a greener tomorrow, though difficult, is not impossible.

I believe that sharing knowledge is invaluable to solving the energy puzzle. The next step is to take solutions that have worked locally on to the global stage, so that the picture is complete. Let the dialogue begin, I believe we can — and shall — solve this puzzle if we really want to. I certainly do.

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