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Week 6 Webinar Report: Making Bengaluru Energy Independent

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Week 6 of “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and Inclusive”



Earlier this year, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) voluntarily committed that the metropolis of Bengaluru would take steps to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement: i.e., to take local action that would help the world contain global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. 

On the occasion of the 2021 World Water Day, Environment Support Group (ESG) commenced a webinar series to discuss and debate what it takes for Bengaluru to become a climate friendly metropolis. The webinar series is a process of engaging with multiple thematic issues, concerns and imaginaries with leading officials of various State and civic agencies, subject matter experts, youth, representatives of various sectors and residents from diverse sections of the city.  And it is also a process of collectivising diverse views and solutions with necessary nuance. 

In coming together this way, the steps necessary for effective and just waste management, provisioning adequate water, and safe housing for all, ensuring universal public health and public mobility, providing infrastructure that is inclusive, and building energy systems that are earth-friendly, along with governance that is decentralized and deeply democratic will be interrogated and pragmatic solutions identified for action. In the process, we hope to construct an assemblage of visions of Namma Bengaluru and how the metropolis can survive with its limited resources for the benefit of present and future generations and the good of the world.

Week 6 : Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and Inclusive

Mr. Karthik Anjanappa, Research Associate at ESG, set the tone for the discussion by drawing attention to the massive amount of energy consumed on a daily basis in Bengaluru city – the metropolis alone consumes 4,000 MW of the 12,500 MW consumed in Karnataka. He highlighted how there is great inequity in power supply, pointing out while Bengaluru’s glittering malls, IT parks and luxury homes receive 24×7 power supply, villages just outside the city face frequent power cuts, often lacking the electricity to even lift water for irrigation. He highlighted a violent consequence of the city’s insatiable appetite for energy – transmission lines are increasingly cutting across eco-sensitive zones and forests of the state, greatly harming biodiversity in these areas. 

Karthik also alerted the audience to other forms of electricity that keep the city moving, noting that Bengaluru is the second biggest consumer of petrol (at almost 100000 kilo litres per month), and third of diesel, amongst all metros in India. Drawing attention to the adverse impact consumption of these fossil fuels have on the city’s air, Karthik said: 

“The dependability on private vehicular movement which has increased manifold is exerting a very heavy price in fuel cost, and also the pollution it causes – Bengaluru is amongst the most polluted metropolises in the world.”

Winding up his intervention, Karthik posed a series of key questions for the speakers’ consideration. “Is it possible to keep this city running with this pattern of consumption and demand for energy?  How are BESCOM and KPTCL sustaining this supply? What are the challenges of the petrochemical sector in supporting fuel demands?  Is there a way that we could shift to more sustainable sources, such as renewable energy, and can those transitions be just for all involved?  Will such just transitions require Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Authorities to imagine futures that are based on sustainable energy systems, in contrast with the prevailing extractive and unsustainable systems? And can we ensure all homes (be they of rich, poor or middle classes), institutions, offices, government buildings will find ways to consume less power and shift to alternate forms of locally generated power?”

Mr. Rajesh Gowda, MD of BESCOM, brought to light some statistics related to energy usage in Karnataka. He noted that out of 70000 million units required in Karnataka, 20000 million units are consumed by irrigation pumps used by farmers. Mr. Gowda proposed that solarisation of these pumps would bring about huge savings in terms of power-purchase costs and transmission costs. This would have a domino effect on bringing down energy costs for consumers as well. 

Another major area Mr. Gowda focused on: decentralization of energy generation. He highlighted that a shift towards decentralisation would bring greater equity in distribution and make energy more affordable. He noted that out of BESCOM’s total revenue of Rs. 22000 crores, a shocking 83% is power purchase costs and transmission amounts to almost 19,000 crores. So any savings in the power purchase cost can be transferred to consumers. Mr. Gowda observed that if consumers installed solar panels on their rooftops, they would stand to save a lot of money on their monthly electricity bills. He noted that conditions for rooftop generation of solar energy in Bangalore were ideal – with the city being blessed with a high solar irradiation of 240 – 300 sunny days a year. 

Mr. Gowda highlighted a new scheme of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), which offers a subsidy for consumers wishing to install solar panels on their rooftops. As per this scheme, MNRE offers central financial assistance of 40% in for less than 3 KW capacity and 20% for more than 3KW and more. Registrations for this scheme can be made on the Soura Gruha Yojane portal. Concluding his presentation, Mr. Gowda actively encouraged Bangaloreans to switch towards rooftop solar:

“Bangaloreans should really come forward to solarise their roofs using the subsidy offered by MNRE. BESCOM will be there to ensure that due diligence is taken care of. This will offer us the triple advantage of reducing power-purchase costs, having lower carbon footprints and finally lower energy charges. All of us can contribute to and be a part of this transformation.”

Dr. Tejal Kanitkar, Associate Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru began her intervention saying that when we talk of energy consumption in India, or in Indian cities, there is a need for the discussion to be focused also on equity in access and development of energy. Sharing there has been a substantial reduction in energy consumption patterns last year, given the pandemic and lockdown enforced. She went on to contrast the per capita energy consumption of 2020 with 2019, with the latter seeing consumption of 7000 KW hours per person which is almost less than 30% of the world average. 

She stated the energy consumption levels of developed nations like the US and other developing nations like Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, who use 80,000, 9,000, 16,000, 26,000 KW per person respectively, are higher than the Indian average. This low consumption level is indicative of the lack of access to adequate energy in India, including in cities, and highlights the disparities  within the nation.  Dr. Kanitkar stated that per capita energy consumption of urban areas in India is 90% higher than the rural areas, and this is another stark indicator of energy inequality. 

Moving on, she said that disparities do not stop here, energy access and consumption is also subject to income disparities and accentuate them. As an example Dr. Kanitkar cited that 45% electricity consumption happens within the richest income decile, while its just 6% for the poorest income decile. She  expressed her surprise at  BESCOMS’s claim that the highest slab of domestic consumption in Bangalore gets to pay less than the average cost of electricity supply – in effect the rich are subsidised by the poort.

In her opinion this rural urban divide represents a highly unequal distribution of electricity particularly, and the urban poor are doing much worse as compared to the rural middle income decile.  According to her

“Energy use in the urban areas is typically characterized as a consumption problem in the prominent literature, ‘cities as islands of consumption’, and this I think ignores the historical process of development of the city; the accumulation and movement of capital in the city, its transformation potential and what the city provides and why such differences exist.” and she poses the question “Is the city a place of production and therefore a place of consumption or vice versa?”

Dr. Kanitkar  said the question changes if the city is looked at primarily as a site of production. Energy in cities is used very little in operational services but is used extensively in a variety of production activities and is equally embedded in the infrastructure of the city. She said that there is a need to expand the scope of discussion to understand why the city consumes what it does and to imagine the city as a control volume and as a sustainable and equitable unit. She stressed the  need for mediating energy consumption in terms of economic structures and social relations.

Dr. Kanitkar pointed out the  built environment of the city actually includes a lot of embedded energy which is usually not accounted for when calculating energy use. Even in the construction of green buildings, the concentration is laid mostly on energy usage of the building after construction is complete and not while it is getting constructed. Dr. Kanitkar listed out types of secondary sources of energy which include electricity, LPG, petrol etc, out of which electricity is closely connected with the functioning of urban systems like transportation, water and sanitation etc. She drew attention to how entire systems collapsed during floods in Chennai, Mumbai due to electricity failures and said:

Resilience means there has to be diversity of energy use. You cannot concentrate your energy sources to one particular kind – either renewable or fossil fuel – if it has to be resilient to extreme events which we are likely to see more often

In that sense, Dr. Kanitkar suggested solarising the city to a large amount, if possible, may not make the  existing system resilient. Recalling  Mr. Gowda’s comment that Karnataka has a huge amount of renewable energy input; it is absorbing much more than its purchase obligation as mandated by the regulatory commission, has its cost. BESCOM has to pay a huge amount of idling costs of existing fossil fuel plants, and cited the Kudgi Plant as an example. To think of the city as sustainable, energy systems have to be thought of in its interconnectedness with other systems. She argued that there is a lot of scope to work on efficiency in the energy sector, such as demand side management, green buildings, CFLs (which have already been a success across the country).  However, building energy efficiency cannot be restricted to the use of electricity alone. She highlighted the importance of planning the city to radiate energy efficiency and promote better use of the limited sources of energy that is available.  

What about housing? Is the provision of housing by the employer close to the workplace. Does it make the fact that you may use less energy for transportation…Because that’s a huge amount of the city’s energy use. We have had this, Bangalore is for example is a city of employer provided housing…This has been the history of industrial living spaces. We have gone away from this in the suburban model”

Dr. Kanitkar concluded by saying that if we want to create a sustainable city, then thinking about how housing is provided to a large workforce becomes imperative. Creating localised markets, provisioning of daily needs close to home, provisioning of green lighting are some ways of creating energy sustainability. She pointed out that a large section of Bangalore is poor and will not be able to afford solar units at their rooftops even at subsidised rates. Equity can only be imagined when scope for local generation for domestic use is expanded:

“If you have more efficient planning you might reduce energy consumption. But if you want to provide equitable access you actually might increase energy consumption. Accounting for that increase in energy consumption, what is the way you should aspire for equity is, something that we need to think about quite seriously as we go ahead.” 

Mr. Nagesh Hegde, Former Senior Journalist, Prajavani began his intervention reminiscing about civil society agitations that took place in the past against Kaiga nuclear power plant, Sharavathi dam, and other major environmentally destructive projects. He mentioned how as part of such agitations various alternatives to energy sources were developed and presented to the central and state governments for their consideration. 

So making a case for alternative sources of energy, which he said remain far from utilised in the country and the state, he classified the energy scenario of Bengaluru into categories of external and internal energy sources and focused his intervention on utilisation of internal sources of energy. In the sector of solar power generation, the city as well as the state of Karnataka has done pretty well, said Mr. Hegde. He mentioned how BESCOM, for instance, is inviting (Expression of Interest) EOI for 30 MW of rooftop projects. Drawing attention to ‘cleansing energy’ he shared an instance when Sir M. Vishveshwaraya had considered waters jumping down Jog falls as a ‘waste of energy’. But when we see huge quantities of waste ending up in either water bodies or dumping sites, Mr. Hegde felt it seemed as though there is now such huge waste of potential energy.. 

Urban wastes, such as liquid waste and solid waste, can be used to generate useful  energy,  he said.The city releases about 1400 MLD of waste water out of which only 550 MLD gets treated, which is less than even 50%. He argued that all 34 STPs in the city are capable of generating biogas from sludge gathered, even with existing technology, yet none are exploiting this possibility today. He drew attention to some countries using sewage biogas to generate electricity for more than a decade, while there has been negligible efforts to employ the same in Bengaluru and expressed:

“60 MLD wastewater was supposed to be treated and 1 MW power was supposed to be generated. This would have benefits, because you could clean up a lot of Bellandur lake there by treating and producing wastewater…And Vrishabhavati is flowing as it had been flowing from the past 35-40 years. ”

He mentioned that the BWSSB spends Rs. 394 crores as power charges only to channel water into the city, be it from the river Cauvery or the borewells, besides spending electricity in sewage treatment. He cited the example of  countries like Senegal and Singapore where sewage and wastewater are being treated to generate both electricity and potable water and compares it with Yelahanka power plant in Bengaluru which draws water from Jakkur lake jeopardising the wetland. 

In dealing with solid waste, he highlighted examples of Philippines and Pune which use it to generate bioenergy. IISc’s Centre for Sustainable Technologies has reported Bengaluru can generate 0.1944 million m3 biogas per day, which can act as a substitute for LPG, Mr. Hegde highlighted. 943 tonnes of food waste generated from marriage halls of Bengaluru could be used to generate biogas: 

‘Is there any facility to convert that into biogas, methane and electricity? A couple in Pune has used extractive distillation to produce black oil that is used by certain factories from plastic waste generated by 300-400 households”

He claimed that cow dung is the biggest wasted resource which can be easily converted into biogas and cited the example of Anandwan, a village that has been energy independent this way for long.  Focusing on the use of solar energy, Mr. Hegde said there is a need to involve the common man in such initiatives, which is a loophole in the existing solar policy. Bengaluru is one of the fastest growing cities and has a huge potential of employing its social, technological, political and economic  capital to find ways to sustain energy needs without costing the earth, Mr. Hegde ended on a hopeful note.

“We can restore our Earth. We can restore the energy deficiency faced by the common man and restore our beautiful city.”

Mr. Chockalingam, Mentor, Gram Seva Sangh, and an industrialist who lives in Bangalore, but off the grid, began his intervention by introducing the self-sustaining built environment of his own house. He mentioned how during the designing stage of his house, he had made up his mind not to use power from BESCOM and to live off the grid. He built the use of solar power for all types of energy requirements while constructing his home. He explained the Honge tree (Pongamia pinnata) planted in long lines outside his house not only provides shade and oxygen, but also a significant role in bringing down the temperature as well. As a result, he has no need to install air-conditioners at home. 

Referring to his solar rooftop, he mentioned how they expanded it from 1.5 KW to 2.2 KW to facilitate the use of an induction stove. He highlighted the wise land use of his terrace that allows him to do gardening and harness solar energy.

“We have lots of openings in the roof and it’s never a dull moment. The Sun is always welcome.”

The variety of vegetables and greens that the family grows, based on greywater recycling, closes any loss of water and energy: “We don’t waste even a drop of water”.  Besides, the vegetables are grown using compost from kitchen waste, and such activities are not just limited to his home but are also practiced at a community level, said Mr. Chockalingam. He went to address the issues of e-waste management emerging from the use of the solar panels and mentioned repurposing the panels into tables and notice board:

“There are so many imaginative ways that it can be used until a recycling plant is set up.” 

Mr. Chockalingam explained how a low maintenance bio digester designed by DRDO is used to treat black water to convert household discharge and that zero waste is the rule in his house and also within his community. He concluded by mentioning efforts taken by the community and neighbourhood, where all kitchen waste is composted, the STP is made operational, every drop of rainwater is collected and reiterated Mr. Hegde’s request, “we have to produce biogas” and expressed the possibility of doing it in the near future.

“We use the Sun. We are happy if it shines because we produce power. We are happy if it rains because we harvest rainwater. Everything is possible, we just have to arrange things in a fashion that we are able to use what nature gives us.”

Mr. Gowda in response to a question from Mr. Subbu Hegde said policy changes in net metering for encouraging the adoption of rooftop solar solutions are underway. He also stated that promotions of such systems must accommodate fluctuations between demands of different types of consumers, and also felt allowing net metering for high-end consumers would disincentivize DISCOMS. Mr. Gowda explained PPA conclusion would be long-term in nature, so as to encourage independent power production. 

Dr. Kanitkar responding to a question about government targets in renewable energy, felt  such targets adversely affect people from lower income strata. She shared her skepticism of India achieving the target of 170 GW electricity generation from renewables by 2022.  Such targets are being set by the PMO and people on the field are unable to work to such ambitious targets. Besides, these unrealistic targets  increase  the burden on DISCOMS who have to pay charges to the power producers, whether or not they need the power. She also pointed out that the total cost of renewable energy is actually higher than that of coal today. She drew attention to amendments in the Electricity Act which make DISCOMS the scapegoats for all such miscalculations, when in reality the policy changes forced top-down are the real cause for such unprofitable and unsustainable scenarios. She stressed the need to set targets taking into account local conditions and not just on the basis of potential to generate.

The discussion was carried forth by Mr. Leo Saldanha from ESG who pointed out that promotion of waste-to-energy plants would only lead to concentration of waste ex-situ. He mentioned that the transportation cost involved in carrying the waste away from the city is hardly factored in, and makes such an option economically inviable. Besides, incineration causes a huge environmental health impact and stressed, therefore, that local segregation and management of waste is imperative. 

Mr. Hegde acknowledged such health impacts of incineration and reiterated his earlier point of locally relevant solutions, such as ‘destructive distillation’ techniques, to manage waste. Mr. Hegde also proposed collection of methane, bottling it and distributing it locally, thus saving use infrastructure and transportation costs and fossil fuel consumption. Mr. Hegde also stressed that agencies like BESCOM must advertise and advocate rooftop solar energy production amongst contractors, architects and consumers.

Responding to a question Mr. Chockalingam shared how Green Building Codes were non-existent in India when he started building his house.  He feels we need to go beyond those codes and imagine newer ways to minimise energy and material use, pay keen attention to traditional knowledge and highlight the importance of architects and engineers becoming sensitive to prevailing challenges and demands of the future.

ESG will continue the webinar series “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and Inclusive” next Monday, 3rd May 2021 (6.00-7.30 pm on Zoom) addressing the theme: Securing Clean Air and Inclusive Mobility for Bengaluruwhere we explore the way forward for the metropolis to get off its high dependency on private vehicular use, making way for non motorised transport to achieve targets of carbon-neutrality. More details on this webinar series can be accessed at www.esgindia.org. A recording of the webinar is accessible here

Speaker Profiles

Mr. M.B Rajesh Gowda, IAS, Managing Director, BESCOM.

Mr. Rajesh Gowda is the current Managing Director of Bangalore Electricity Supply Company. He has a B.E. in Civil Engineering from Dayanand Sagar College, Bengaluru. His previously held positions include Assistant Commissioner, Doddaballapur; Land Acquisition Office, Bangalore Development Authority; Additional Deputy Commissioner, Bangalore Rural District; Managing Director, Karnataka State Warehousing Corporation; Secretary, Karnataka Housing Board; Director, Department of Agricultural Marketing and Managing Director, Karnataka State Agricultural Marketing Board 

Mr. Nagesh Hegde, Visiting professor, IIJNM

Mr. Nagesh Hegde is an Indian author, journalist, environmentalist, publisher and professor who has written over 40 books on science and environment. At present he is a visiting Professor at Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media. He holds a M.Sc. from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur and M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He has formerly worked with Prajavani, a leading Kannada daily as a journalist. Mr. Hegde has won many literary and environmental awards including the “Outstanding Environmental Journalist” award by the PRSI (Public Relations Society of India) and the Karnataka Rajyotsava award.

Dr. Tejal Kanitkar, Associate Professor, NIAS, Bengaluru

Dr. Tejal Kanitkar is an Associate Professor in the Energy Environment Program of the School of Natural Sciences and Engineering at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. She is a mechanical engineer by training and her research interests lie in the areas of energy, development, and climate policy. She has worked on trying to integrate perspectives from the natural sciences, engineering, and the social sciences to understand the interconnected aspects of energy production and access, scientific and technological advancement in this sector, and policy shifts and instruments, in terms of their importance for ensuring the development and economic wellbeing of people, especially in the era of acute environmental crises such as climate change. 

Mr. Chockalingam Muthiah, Mentor, Gram Seva Sangh, Bengaluru

Mr. Chockalingam is a mentor at Gram Seva Sangh. He is also an entrepreneur living off the grid for the past 15 years. He is actively pursuing self-sufficiency at his home and neighbourhood to help communities practice the same and lead a nature-friendly lifestyle . 

[This report has been prepared by Ashwin Lobo and Shrestha Chowdhury, Research Associates, ESG with inputs from Smruthi, Sneha and Breanne Coelho]

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