The energy underdog- Bioenergy

The energy underdog- Bioenergy
India’s approach towards Sustainable Development

Written by- Titash Bhattacharya

3rd year,
Christ deemed university


India being the fastest growing economy, is ‘burdened’ with the key factor that drives any country’s economy- Energy. India is currently the fifth power generator in the world. India is also ranked 4th in the Asia Pacific region based on the overall power[1]. The energy sector in India is quite diverse and has been improving at a real rapid pace. The Indian energy sector has seen an coherent improvement related to the renewable energy source sector, even though the start is slightly slow. With rapid growth and needs to be met, India is expected to face a daunting challenge in meeting its energy needs which are to be met, by providing adequate energy to all keeping in mind sustainability and affordability of the energy and the resources. This also takes us into questioning and rationalizing the energy security that India has to assure.
India’s power sector is constantly undergoing significant changes that is redefining the energy industry’s outlook. Sustainable economic growth has continued to drive the electricity demand in India. The Government of India has its focus on attaining ‘Power for all’ by 2019 has put significant pressure of the energy sector and has also accelerated energy capacity addition in the country.
A diverse and new energy source is Bioenergy which is available to help us to meet our demand for energy. It is a form of renewable energy that is derived from recently living organic materials known as biomass. It is an organic matter derived from trees and plants, or from human and animal waste.
Bioenergy and the Energy Sector in India:
The two dominant players in the energy sector in India is coal and fossil fuel which comprises of roughly 59% and 40% of the market share in the energy production. This has been to cause three main issues for the country, which are (i) rapid depletion of the resources, (ii) pollution and (iii) disparity between the rich and the poor to avail the resources with time. India has seen a rapid change in the past two years with respect to access to power supply- with a coverage of 99.4% pan India[2]. Coal dominates the Indian commercial energy market followed closely by oil and gas.
Bioenergy, derived from renewable bio-mass resources provide a strategic advantage to promote sustainable development along with supplementing conventional energy sources. This would help India in meeting the rapidly increasing need for transportation fuels, and which are associated with high economic growth. Biomass provides 32% of all the primary energy use in the country at present[3]. Amongst the renewable power potential, biomass power amounts to 1.86% of the total as of 2017[4].
Biomass has traditionally been used in rural areas, particularly by the poor. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in its action plan of 2016 has given special emphasis on the usage of bioenergy through bio-fuels and bio-gas. The RD&D projects are sanctioned to various R&D/academic institutions, industries etc. Due to this effort taken by the MNRE, there are currently close to 30 sanctioned projects that have been assigned to various groups and bodies to handle the production, transportation etc. of bio-gas[5][6]. Hence, its seen as to how the government is in support for the same as the needs has been realized.
Bioenergy Technology (BET):
Bio energy has been around the society for a really long time, at least in the way of bio fuel. The best example that can be seen is the usage of firewood and dung cakes for meeting the cooking needs, particularly by the poor. But post 2014-15, the usage in the villages has reduced and these traditional usage has been substituted by the LPG cylinders. LPG and kerosene are currently being projected as alternatives to solid unprocessed biomass due to improved thermal efficiency. But one thing that is to be kept in mind is that these are non-renewable sources and there wont a feasible foreseeable future which would guarantee the energy security, unlike that of the bio-fuels. Based on a study conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA), about 585 million Indians were dependent on biomass for cooking and heating in 2000 and by 2030, it is projected to increase to 632 million[7].
There are primarily two categories of BETs:
a.      Biogas: which is produced when organic materials, are digested in the absence of air. It acts as an excellent energy source for fuel and is used for clean cooking without indoor air pollution[8].
b.     Biomass gasification: is a process in which there is an incomplete combustion of biomass resulting in production of combustible gases consisting of Carbon monoxide (CO), Hydrogen (H2) and traces of Methane (CH4
The modern bioenergy technology is seen to provide opportunities in meeting energy needs in a sustainable manner by improving quality of life and preserving the environment along with addressing climate change.
Bioenergy Technology and Sustainable Development:
One of the most essential International Conventions, The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), along with the Brundtland Report had laid down the concept of Sustainable Development which states that: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs[10]”. With rapid growth across nations and on the brink on global transformation in 2015, the international community had decided to set out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals[11], which are to be achieved by 2030.
Goal 7 of the same deals with ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’. It deals with how the Energy sector has its link with the economic and environmental sustenance and states that “ focusing on access to energy, increased energy efficiency and the increased use of renewable energy through new economic and job opportunities is crucial to creating more sustainable and inclusive communities and resilience to environmental issues like climate change.[12]India has adopted these general principles and has incorporated similar provisions under the government based advisory-cum-think-tank NITI Aayog, in their proposal on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Targets, CSS, Interventions, Nodal and other Ministries, 2016 under ‘Goal 12’ that deals with Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns that has to be overlooked and promoted by the MoEF[13].
There was a promulgation of incorporating national policies related to bio-fuels, clean environment and renewable energy. The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy’s proposed National Policy on Biofuels, 2018 has keeping in mind the goal that is to be met is passed by the Government.
The exposure of the Indian Energy and economy sector to the international energy markets is quite significant and high. Recently, there have been advances taken by both governmental and non governmental institutions in ensuring the availability of BET is provided locally to the Indian market based on the production and consumption of bioenergy for the purposes of agriculture, industrial and household usage, which cost less than that of fossil fuels[14]. It would be viable for India to use the benefit of it being in the tropical zone and exploit the renewable resources than being dependent on the conventional scarce resources from foreign countries, whose costs are increasing day-by-day. It would make economical sense for India to invest in the local sectors, especially agriculture, from where the majority of the raw material required for bio-energy would be procured from. By doing this, not only will the energy sector progress, the local economies would increase and strengthen along w
ith the opportunities regarding better and rising standards of livelihood, along with ensuring self-sufficiency and energy security.
A few ways as to how the impact of BET can be seen and linked to sustainable development has been briefly explained in the following points:
a.     Poverty Reduction:
Goal 1 of the 2015 SDG is the eradication of poverty. This essence of sustainability of bioenergy projects closely is tied to how the community would benefit from the government sanctioned projects. The primary driving force for acceptance of such project  is massive generation of employment opportunities along with contribution to regional economy and income improvement. Being is heavily labour induced energy sector that India has with respect to Bio-energy, these projects will help to propel the job creation in the unskilled and semi-skilled labour sector in India. Generally, these opportunities would include direct employment in jobs involving fuel or crop production, construction, operation and maintenance of conversion plants, transportation of biomass. Local production of bioenergy and its usage can be seen as means of alleviating poverty and improving food security through income generation.     
b.     Energy Efficiency:
By improving energy efficiency India can meet the dual objectives of promoting sustainable development and of making the economy competitive[15].Energy Conservation is taken as enhanced importance holding a view to conserve the depleting energy resources. The Government has been seen to approach the energy demand of its citizens keeping in mind the minimum growth of CO2 emissions, by promoting greater use of renewable energy mix by the use of solar, wind, thermal and bio-energy sources. By having the continuous usage of bio-energy, India can save up on its non-renewable resources and move towards advancement and improvement of the energy sector. This would also ensure that there is a support given to the cause of ensuring and using clean fuels which would significantly help in the preservation of the environment and reduce the CO2 emissions by a huge magnitude. The incorporation of BET would ensure the growth and development of the Energy sector and ensure availability of energy to all the people in India. It will also, with technological developments and advancements, open the gates for India to sell such clean sources of energy to the international market, making the energy sector significantly efficient in the coming years. India has already seen significant FDI in the energy sector between 2000-2018, with a total investment of US$ 14.18 billion[16].
c.      Benefits to Environment and Climate change:
Global warming induced due to energy production and use has been seen as the major environmental threat. BETs can be seen as measures to mitigate the climate change impact by preventing emissions along with absorbing emissions by sequestering carbon through the photosynthesis process. Environmental considerations have always compelled in the greater use of sustainable technologies. BET-based power generation methods also substitute conventional grid electricity (fossil fuels, mainly coal). It helps in the reduction of SO2 and NOx emissions and ash production. Sustainable biomass supply also at the same time contributes to improving degraded lands estimated at 16–32 million hectares[17].
Analyzing the 2018 National Policy on Biofuels:
Recognizing the status of crude oil in the international market and its rising prices, has strained the economics of India being a developing country. Energy security in India would be vulnerable until alternatives to substitute/supplement crude fuels is developed based on indigenously produced renewable feedstocks. The National Policy on Biofuels was drafted by Ministry of New and Renewable Energy during the year 2009. Globally, biofuels have caught pace and attention in last decade and it was felt imperative for India to keep up with the pace of developments in the field of biofuels.
The preamble of the National Policy of Bio-fuels has clearly stated the concerns of the same and states that “with biofuels, the country has a ray of hope in providing energy security. Biofuels are environment friendly fuels and their utilization would address global concerns about containment of carbon emissions”[18]. The government has passed the Bill, even after considering the aspect that the approach adopted by India towards the bio-energy sources would lead to having a conflict between fuel and food security.
Nevertheless, the policy has been made to envisage development of the ‘next-generation’ fuel sources keeping in mind the intra-generational development measure, which is a key aspect of sustainable development. Currently, the bio-fuel produced in India has been done with the help with a carbon based compound, called ethanol. The policy has been seen to expand the scope of the various raw materials that can be used for the ethanol production. This would in fact help to improve the agriculture sector as well because of the demand of raw material lile sugarcane, starch, manure, rotten vegetables. Significant power has also been given to the National Biofuel Coordination Committee, which would work to also improve the lives of farmers by assuring them with crop security.
A few benefits that the Policy would bring in India would be as:
a.      Lesser dependency on Energy material Imports.
b.     Lower CO2 emissions due to reduction of crop burning and conversion of agricultural residues, as these would be used for the production of bio-fuel.
c.      Cleaner environment and reduction in the levels of Municipal Solid Waste (MSWs).
d.     Investment in Infrastructure and Development in Rural Areas and employment opportunities.
e.      Additional income to farmers.
f.      Self-sufficiency and energy security with access to the same to all regions.
With the immediate need for developing countries like to improve their energy sector whilst keeping in mind the sustainable development goals, there is a need to incorporate Bio-energy Technology in India, in the same manner as solar and other renewable energy sources. Having BETs would not only improve the energy sector, but also would help in improving the economy of the country as this would spill out new opportunities for the people. With the current situation of energy sources around the world, and the need for India to adopt measures for its energy sector BET is probably the best and quick method for India to improve its situations.

[1] Brand India, IBEF,
[2] Policies and Publications, Ministry of Power,
[3] India Biomass Energy, Energy Alternatives India, EAI,
[4] Energy Statistics 2019, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India,
[5] R&D Projects(Biogas), Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India
[6] R&D Projects(Biofuel), Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India,
[7] Bioenergy in India, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), 2010,,
[8] Id. at 7
[9] Id. at 7
[10] Sustainable Development, International Institute for Sustainable Development IISD,
[11] Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations India,
[12] Energy, United Nations Sustainable Development,
[13] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Targets, CSS, Interventions, Nodal and other Ministries 2016, NITI Aayog, at p.19,,)
[14]Supra, at 7
[15]Overview, Energy Efficiency, Government o
f India Ministry of Power,
[16] Power Sector in India,  Indian Brand Equity Foundation,
[17] N.H. Ravindranath & P.Balachandra, Sustainable bioenergy for India: Technical, economic and policy analysis, Energy 34 (2009) 1009,,
[18] National Policy on Biofuels(2009), Government of India Ministry of New & Renewable Energy,

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