Have we brought power cuts on ourselves? Arun B Karuppaswamy
- Not much attention has been paid to energy conservation as a means to reduce the country's power problems.
In average middle class homes, the refrigerator, the water heater and the air-conditioner would account for much of the power consumed. In other words, heating and cooling constitute the major chunk of power consumption. Certainly, in the present day, every average middle class Indian home uses at least the refrigerator regularly. It accounts for 25-30% of power consumption at my home (I do not use an electric water heater or air-conditioner).
I am no Luddite but certainly we need to re-think on the usage of these appliances. I would leave out the water heater (which is used only during winter when it is unavoidable), take up air-conditioning later and discuss the refrigerator first. This is probably one of the few appliances that runs and consumes power throughout the day.
Stored in the refrigerator are vegetables, milk, packed curd, dosa/idli batter, leftover food items, bread, biscuits, fruits, jam, pickle, meat, eggs, water, ice-cream/ice and the like. This is a result of our changed lifestyle and the fact that we no longer use alternative methods that would have been used had there been no refrigerator at home. Leftover food, large quantities of vegetables and fruits, bread and biscuits occupy the refrigerator just because we have a bigger than required storage space. We prefer to store vegetables bought in bulk for a week or two to buying them on a daily basis as we used to do a decade ago.
The changing lifestyle has led to vegetable vendors vanishing from streets. We shop at retail outlets on weekends. Now that we have stopped preparing meals in the right quantity, we always have leftover food to be stored. We no more prepare curd, nor do we use earthen pots to keep water cool during summer. In fact, it is difficult to find earthen pots sold on the streets these days.
If we revive some of these forgotten methods and switch back to the olden ways of purchasing vegetables, fruits, egg and meat as and when required, we could manage with a smaller refrigerator and thus reduce energy consumption to a great extent. Probably, we require just less than half the refrigeration space that we use now. Further, by choosing to have ice-creams only at shops, we would not need the deep freezer. Only essential items will remain in the refrigerator.
Switch to CFLs
Indian homes should switch to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or the LED based lighting instead of using incandescent lamps, which are being phased out in many countries.
Unlike many western countries, we are blessed with a climate that does not necessitate (in most parts of our country) any heating or cooling system in buildings apart from the use of fans. But in recent years, there has been a surge in the use of air-conditioners in both domestic and commercial establishments (Even in Bangalore where I stay air-conditioners are used though the weather is pleasant almost around the year). A decade ago, air-conditioners in shops were a rarity. Now, every moderately sized shop, mall, supermarket, cinema hall and the like are air-conditioned. It is luxury and not necessity that drives the use of air-conditioners.
If the practice is left unchecked at this stage, we would soon get addicted to air-conditioners, considering them a necessity. Though one might argue that the growth of industries in the past decade is what has contributed mainly to the increase in power requirement in the non-domestic sector, a survey of power consumption due to use of heating/cooling in commercial establishments would certainly indicate their significant contribution to the power requirement from this sector. In my opinion, a ban on use of air-conditioners in commercial establishments will not be a harsh regulation.
On the industry side, the software boom in the last decade has also contributed to the increasing use of air-conditioners. While it is true that servers in these companies do need cooling systems, it should be analysed whether entire buildings need to be air-conditioned.
Again, in commercial and industrial establishments, the use of power for lighting, operating elevators/escalators and the like needs to be regulated.
Role of the government
It is certainly an individual's responsibility to cut short his/her energy consumption. However, government can introduce regulatory and educational measures to bring it down. I put forth some measures one can immediately think of.
1. Classify home appliances into categories of luxury and necessity, and into higher and lower energy-consumption, and impose very high taxes (that will make people avoid buying them) on those which fall under the luxury-cum-higher energy consumption category. For example, a smaller-sized refrigerator (say, less than 100 litres capacity) can be considered a necessity, while a larger one can be considered a luxury and higher energy-consuming.
2. Phase out and subsequently ban incandescent lamps. Subsidise CFL to those who cannot afford to buy it (when some States can hand out laptops for free, this certainly is possible!). And, take measures to safely dispose them of after use.
3. Plant and maintain trees in residential areas so as to have natural air and cooling.
4. Set up shop space for vegetable vendors in residential areas so as to encourage people to buy vegetables and fruits regularly.
5. Have a different electricity billing plan for houses with air-conditioners (already being done to some extent as electricity charges mostly increase when the total monthly consumption is more than a minimum limit).
6. Ban air-conditioners in shops, malls, cinema theatres and the like.
7. Make it mandatory for commercial establishments like malls to have some percentage of the total space allotted for planting and maintaining trees around the building.
8. Educate people on energy conservation methods (say, through advertisements in popular media channels).
9. Form an expert committee to study possible means of reducing energy consumption in the country and implement feasible methods at the earliest.
With proper energy conservation methods, our country can very well be rid of the power problem for several years with the existing power production.
(The writer's email ID is post2akp@...)