Business, Economics and Jobs

India's brownouts cost the environment, too


Indian boy Nagesh of the semi nomadic Lambadi tribe fills one liter bottles with petrol and diesel at a road side shop on the outskirts of Hyderabad on May 13, 2011. The prevalent use of diesel-powered generators -- thanks to India's chronic electricity shortage -- has become a serious environmental hazard.



Now running in India's residential neighborhood: Millions of noisy, smoky, inefficient diesel generators. And the environment is paying the price.

According to the Indian Express, diesel-powered generators -- used by malls, restaurants and well-heeled citizens -- are among the fastest growing polluters in India. And because the government continues to fail to provide enough electricity to prevent chronic brownouts across the country, some of which last hours at a stretch, the problem looks set to get worse.

"Data from the petroleum ministry reveals that after vehicles and the farming community, the largest amount of diesel is being guzzled by DG (diesel generator) sets...." the paper writes. "At 7 per cent, DG sets’ share in the diesel consumption pie may seem small in comparison with other segments such as transport (63 per cent) and farming (17 per cent) but it is a newer phenomenon and one that is growing fast."

Industry estimates say sales of diesel generators, already at 200,000 or so per annum, are growing around 25 percent a year. Meanwhile, the 20-plus percent government subsidy on the fuel -- meant to help farmers and keep trucking costs down -- are essentially giving everybody cash back for polluting.

“Diesel is subsidised by the government for the benefit of the farming community and for cheaper transportation of essential goods but it is more than obvious that this subsidy is being abused,” the Express quotes Sumit Sharma, a fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), as saying. Meanwhile, Greenpeace says that telecom operators and tower companies currently spend around $2.3 billion annually on diesel generators to run their network operations, which translates into a loss of around $475 million in subsidies for the government.

What's worse: while the European Union has set a benchmark of 10-15 parts per million of sulphur in diesel emission, the sludge sold in India contains 300 to 350 parts per million, according to CSE.

Happy breathing.