I got to be honest. Until an hour back, when I got a phone call, I must have thought about Andaman & Nicobar islands perhaps once or twice in my life. Once, certainly when it was massacred by the Tsunami of 2004, and once before that, perhaps when I watched an old Tamil movie that was set in that beautiful island.
The almost hour long phone call from a person in Andaman and Nicobar Islands changed all that. For the past one hour, I have been reading of nothing but the Andamans…why was that so?
I think it had to do with the amount of passion that the caller had. Here was a chap who was genuinely concerned about using renewable energy (he kept referring to it as non-conventional energy), and wherever he turned to complain about the lack of awareness about renewables in Andamans, it appears it fell on deaf ears. And what does he do in desperation? He picks up the phone and calls a chap in faraway Chennai (that’s me) and tells the sob story in an hour-long narration.
Here are the highlights of what he said (some of the data he mentioned probably were not exact, but I checked, most of his data quite fit in):
1. Andamans has just about 5.25 MW of renewable energy power, through a small hydro plant (in fact, it appears that outside of this, all power generated is through – diesel!)
2. Andaman & Nicobar predominantly depend on diesel for power generation; the island uses about 250 kiloliters of diesel every day for powering the population. (This link says about 65 MW of power is generated everyday by diesel), so that puts the total installed capacity of electricity at about 70 MW. That gives a per capita installed capacity (taking the total population at 4 lacs) of 175 W, which is better than whole India’s per capita installed capacity of 125 W. Anyway, the point is the dependence on diesel – over 90% of power generation is diesel based. For an island economy that contains no diesel of its own, that does not bode well.
3. The caller said that many folks in Andaman pay just about Rs 1-1.5 per kWh, while the total cost of producing power from diesel could be well over Rs 15 per kWh (he felt it could be even higher if one were to take into account other overheads present in Andamans).
4. The caller’s main complaint was that nobody really cared a damn about renewable energy in his island. Even though there were some 150 folks employed under the renewable energy department of the main power producer, he said that most of these folks did nothing – came late in the morning and were in their homes by afternoon. Essentially, he felt that the government might as well shut down the renewable energy department instead of making a song and dance about it and doing nothing in reality. I did some research on renewable energy potential in A&N, and this was a useful document which says that there is interesting potential in A&N for solar, wind, hydro, biomass and ocean (yes, tidal!) power. Now, that’s cool. And while the caller complained that almost nothing had been in renewables, it appears that some work had indeed been done – a total of 170 kW of solar PV had been established across 24 locations, though for the rest of the renewables, work seems to have stopped at the feasibility study stage.
5. Based on what the caller told me, I’m not optimistic about the potential of solar in Andamans – as they have about 6 months of rainy season. That will pretty much make solar PV even more uneconomical (even in the most sunny areas, solar PV will take years to achieve grid parity), even though the island’s power economics are different given that 90% of power is generated using diesel. But wind might have better potential perhaps in such islandish areas?
6. The island seems to have already attempted having solar street lamps, and going by what the caller told me, the experiment has been a reasonable success.
7. In sum, the caller felt that the Indian government should do more to get higher penetration of renewables. I fully agree. In a land where 90% of power is generated from diesel (which anyway costs Rs 12-14 per unit), renewables are likely to be far more competitive – wind and small hydro will in fact be far cheaper than diesel-based power! True, we need to figure out if the island indeed has good potential for wind, solar, biomass and hydro, but then it is worth figuring this out soon. 250 kiloliters of diesel per day implies about Rs 450 crores of money down the drain every year, so allocating a few tens of crores to assess the potential of renewables and taking the first steps appears to me to make definite economic sense!
1. A useful link on the status of renewable energy in Andaman – from the Andaman electricity department – http://electricity.and.nic.in/links/REnergy.htm