During a recent trip to India, as my hotel lights flickered on and off throughout the day and night, I was struck by the immense challenge of bringing clean and reliable power to a country where hundreds of millions of people lack access to electricity and more people have mobile phones than a toilet inside their home. With just under 1.3 billion people, India is predicted to overtake China within the next 15 years as the world’s largest population. However, in stark contrast, almost all of China’s population has access to power.

Part of the purpose of the trip was to speak at a recent meeting on Smart Cities for India, as the new government is making a push to promote this concept and build 100 smart cities, bringing modern technology to the urban environment in multiple sectors, including energy.

Decentralised energy and the smart city concept are perfect complements, as greater use of decentralised energy within an urban environment will make the power delivery system more robust, reliable and ‘smarter’. With predictions of over 30 cities of greater than 10 million residents by 2025, the transformation to a smarter city needs to happen rapidly.

WADE recently worked with the International Energy Agency (IEA) on an update to the combined heat and power/district heating and cooling scorecard for India. As discussed in the report, primary energy demand in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and India is now the third largest consumer of energy in the world. A net importer of fossil fuels, the power sector is very much a coal-based industry, with coal representing around 60% of installed capacity. India has not met its targets for additions to generating capacity and now faces a deficit of almost 10% – which explains the flickering hotel lights.

With respect to combined heat and power, India is reported to have 3 GW of installed capacity, with 2.3 GW being bagasse-based as India is the second largest producer of sugar cane in the world. District cooling is far less prevalent, although there are some projects underway.

The report does an excellent job of identifying a number of the existing barriers to greater deployment and policies that can be implemented to encourage adoption of CHP/DHC technologies. What might be most useful, though, is if the current government understands that decentralised energy is a smart way to go and includes it as a central part of the push to promote smart cities.

While touring some of India’s historical sites I saw how buildings from hundreds of years ago were cooled with the district cooling technology of the day – gravity-fed water circulating behind the room walls. I also had a chance to visit a WADE member company, Thermax, which has just released a highly efficient triple-effect absorption cooler that is being used at its factory in a district cooling application fired by renewable biomass.

India was once a leader in smart city design, but it will take much more than talk to deliver the promise of smart cities for the future – it will take concerted action and investment by the public and private sectors to make this dream a reality.

David Sweet   David Sweet
Executive Director,
World Alliance for Decentralized Energy
dsweet@localpower.org