Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 18 March 2023
- The Demand for Land in India’s Renewable Energy Sector
- The Role of Digital Public Infrastructure
The Demand for Land in India’s Renewable Energy Sector
Context: If the rush to build renewable energy capacity results in the loss of forest cover, India’s annual carbon emissions could rise.
GS Paper-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
What actions should India take to balance its goals for installing renewable energy with its commitment to reforestation, reduce the impact on its forest cover, and reduce carbon emissions? (150 words)
- Over the last century, energy transitions were gradual and driven by market forces, which typically do not account for negative externalities such as local pollution and carbon emissions.
- However, the current global energy transition is distinct from earlier transitions as it is policy-driven and aimed at mitigating market failures related to pollution and carbon emissions.
- Renewable energy (RE) has been the primary focus of this policy-driven
- However, the highly decentralised nature of RE necessitates elaborate installations like solar panels and wind turbines, which incur high material and natural resource costs, primarily land, to produce usable amounts of electricity. As a result, generating one unit of electricity from renewable energy sources is significantly more expensive than generating one unit from fossil fuels.
- The country of India’s updated nationally determined contribution does not take into account the increased demand for land for RE projects (NDC).
- Historically, as energy transitions advanced, the amount of energy released during combustion increased significantly while carbon emissions decreased as a result of the increased hydrogen content.
- The hydrogen to carbon ratio (H/C ratio) of wood was approximately 0.1, followed by coal with a ratio of 1, oil with a ratio of 2, and finally natural gas with a ratio of 4.
- The gradual increase in H/C ratio gave rise to the idea that hydrogen was becoming the dominant fuel in the energy market, potentially becoming the sole carrier of energy.
- This market-based transition, however, has been somewhat disrupted by the recent policy-driven energy transition towards renewable energy sources, with electricity replacing hydrogen as the main energy carrier.
- Every previous energy transition has also resulted in a rise in the volumetric or gravimetric energy density of the dominant fuel.
- Due to hydrogen’s low volumetric energy density, using it as an aviation fuel is difficult, as natural gas has a significantly lower volumetric energy density than crude oil.
Requirement of land
- Vaclav Smil, a well-known environmental scientist, compares various energy sources using power density. Power density is expressed as energy flux per unit surface (water or land) in watts per square metre (W/m2).
- Smil’s calculations for power density take into account the land needed for downstream processes like waste disposal as well as the land needed for upstream processes like drilling and mining.
- Solar, wind, and biomass energy sources have lower power densities than fossil fuels like crude oil, natural gas, and coal.
- In contrast to previous energy transitions, which aimed to transition towards fuels with higher power densities, the current energy transition aims to do the opposite.
- Studies indicate that wasteland is frequently found in India’s sun-friendly regions. However, according to projections, deserts and dry shrublands will only host a small portion of solar projects.
- Due to its uninhabitable terrain and lack of supporting infrastructure, wasteland is frequently avoided by developers, which raises costs.
- But using waste land cuts down on the socio-economic and environmental costs of using agricultural land for projects involving renewable energy (RE).
- It is estimated that India will need between one and three percent of its total surface area, or roughly fifty to one hundred percent of wasteland, to meet the 175 GW RE goals.
- According to a study, if solar PV generates 78% of India’s electricity by 2050 and 3% of it comes from rooftop solar PV, the required land area could be as much as 2% of the country’s cropland.
- This might result in the clearing of unmanaged forests, which would violate India’s NDC commitment to add new forest and tree cover as a carbon sink by 2030.
- According to the 2022 land gap report, India’s pledge to reforest would require the use of 56 percent of the nation’s land area, which is significantly more than what larger nations like the USA (14 percent) and China (2 percent) call for in similar pledges.
- Othear estimates propose that 30-40 million hectares (M ha) of land, equivalent to the combined area of Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal, would be necessary for reforestation.
- The country’s targets for installing renewable energy (RE) have not been well integrated with India’s reforestation pledge, leading to a land-use competition that might favour RE installations backed by significant economic interests.
- The loss of forest cover, which could potentially offset the majority of India’s 3 BT of annual carbon emissions, could result from rushing to install RE capacity.
The Role of Digital Public Infrastructure
The article emphasises India’s crucial role as the G20 Presidency in developing digital platforms and e-governance services to digitally transform the world while highlighting the absence of digital payment systems in 133 nations worldwide.
GS Paper 3: Science & technology, Infrastructure
How challenging will it be to implement the Digital India plan? How do we overcome the same as a result? (150 words).
- Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft have been at the forefront of a massive explosion in innovation and value creation during the first two decades of the twenty-first century.
- These, along with Chinese firms Alibaba and Tencent, dominated the global sphere in digital advertising, commerce, messaging, cloud infrastructure, social media, and mobile operating systems, among others (DPI).
- DPI is an open-source identity platform that can be used to access a wide range of government and private services by developing applications and products.
- It encompasses digital forms of identification and verification, civil registration, payment (including digital transactions and money transfers), data exchange, and information systems.
- These public digital platforms are adaptable, localizable, and interoperable, and they make use of public data to support open innovation models.
- For example, the interoperability of the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) architecture is echoed in over 300 banks offering linkages to bank accounts via UPI, which is accessed by consumers via 50-plus third-party apps.
- Principle: The DPI platforms are founded on core principles such as consent-based data sharing protocols, openness, equity, inclusivity, fairness, transparency, and trust, all of which contribute to closing the digital divide.
- Importance: As a result of DPI’s low-cost and inclusive platforms, India has been able to push the boundaries of public service delivery and digitally leapfrog, with the public sector defining regulatory boundaries and the private sector innovating and competing in the marketplace.
- DPI also enables nations to maintain strategic control over their digitalization processes, as well as to ensure digital cooperation and long-term capacity.
- According to a recent Bank for International Settlements (BIS) study, India has delivered in 10 years what would have taken 50 years to achieve without the DPI.
- According to the Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research (C-DEP), national digital ecosystems could add more than 5% to India’s GDP.
- Applications: In contrast to the technological innovations that previously emerged from the developed world, India is regarded as a global trendsetter in the DPI movement, having established multiple large-scale DPIs:
- The JAM trinity, which connects Aadhaar, mobile phones, and bank accounts
- Digi Locker for digital storage and document management
- Bharat Bill Pay, an all-in-one payment solution
- Unified Payment Interface (UPI), Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems (AePs), and Immediate Payment Service (IMPS)
- CoWin for immunisation
What factors contributed to India’s digital platforms’ enormous success?
- PMJDY (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana): When the scheme first began in 2015, only 15% of the accounts were operated by women; this figure has since risen to 56%.
- Furthermore, 67% of account holders are from rural and semi-urban areas, bridging the gender gap.
- Over the last eight years, 460 million accounts have been opened, with the average deposit per account increasing by 71%.
- India’s digital public infrastructure is credited with this massive digital inclusion.
- E-commerce: For example, numerous apps such as PhonePe, GPay, and AmazonPay enable payments with the click of a button.
- Additionally, the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) provides access and equity to small and medium-sized merchants by establishing open and decentralised DPI and limiting digital monopolies.
- It is significant because only 15,000 of 120 million retailers use digital commerce, whereas the estimated size of online shoppers is 220 million by 2025.
- This means more options and higher quality for customers, as well as increased competitiveness and efficiency throughout the value chain.
DPI push in India’s Union Budget 2022 (4 key announcements)
- Health: An open platform that includes digital registries, a unique health identity, and a strong consent framework.
- Skilling: A Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood (DESH-Stack) is being developed to assist citizens in upskilling through online training.
- Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP): To simplify the movement of goods across modes of transportation and travel.
- Mobility: An “open source” mobility stack for facilitating passengers’ seamless travel.
- DPI may expose citizens to risks such as data-driven behavioural manipulation, identity theft and fraud, and exclusion from essential public services.
It may also create a new economic divide between countries that are ahead of the rest in terms of digital public infrastructure.
DPI Enhancement Suggestions
- New DPI tools based on a whole-of-society approach: For example, the multi-stakeholder initiative GovStack is developing a secure and standard-based approach to help countries begin their digital transformation journey by adopting, deploying, and scaling digital government services.
- New models of digital cooperation: The joint management and maintenance of DPI by sovereign entities necessitates cross-country collaboration on strategic decisions such as choice, data portability, interoperability, and so on, in order to create and support new models of digital cooperation.
- People-centered approach: While investing in DPI should be prioritised, efforts should be made to ensure inclusivity by focusing on equity, good governance, and regulatory frameworks to ensure that no one is left behind.
- The Digital Public Goods Alliance outlined a vision for DPI in a 2021 report that protects inclusion, trust, competition, security, and privacy, as well as public value and private empowerment.
- Bringing in local stakeholders, such as universities and accelerators, to collaborate with government partners may aid in long-term capacity investment in DPI implementation and maintenance.
- Global cooperation: In 2022, the United Nations Development Programme, the Digital Public Goods Alliance, and countries around the world agreed to share best practises for DPI implementation.
- India’s G20 presidency has the potential to play a critical role in stewarding inclusive approaches to digital transformation, improving, securing, and broadening access to DPI through international cooperation and strengthening multilateralism to transform people’s lives and the larger global good.