The fact that Asia’s share in world GDP could grow to more than half of the world economy from its current level of 35% during the next thirty years, speaks volumes of the pace at which economic activities are taking place. The recent growth stories of South-East Asia, India and China imply that the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors in these parts of Asia are taking a leap. The annual average growth rate of Asia’s energy demand between 1980 and 2007 was recorded at 4.6%, (far exceeding the world average of 2.0%), driven by very high rates of 5.5% and 6.0% of China and India respectively. Asian region currently shares about 30% of the world energy demand and will increase remarkably with further economic growth. It is the energy sector that critically supports the growth of secondary and tertiary sectors, and thus the aforementioned figures suggest that there is a steep upward trend in the energy demand in these economies as well.
Such high growth in the energy consumption clearly suggests that large quantity of power generation is taking place. Because most of power generation requires combustion of fossil fuels (coal) and great quantity of water for cooling purposes, increasing pressure on the natural resources is also a case in point. The depleting resources are a matter of immense concern. At a time when climate change threatens with sporadic precipitations and severe droughts have become a frequent phenomenon in various parts of Asia, the large amount of water consumed in power plants makes the problem of water shortage all the more acute. Coal, a form of fossil fuel is an exhaustible resource and is depleting faster than ever. Given the pace at which energy production is taking place, the future production would falter in the long run.
The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) wrote in their report ‘Energy Outlook to 2035 in Asia and its Pathways towards a Low Carbon Energy’ that by the end of the forecast period, fossil fuels would be responsible for about 80% of the increase in world primary energy consumption. This will translate into 44% increase in the emission, from 2007 level, reaching up to 41.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. China and the whole Asian region will account for about 30% and 60% respectively of the world incremental growth of CO2 emissions to 2035.
The fact that this sector is a boon as well as a bane is already quite evident. We are fast approaching the contingency state, which will hit business and non-business communities alike if we do not stand prepared. Therefore, the challenge before the power sector is to maintain pace with the rising energy demand as well as support the economic growth and still be able to control climate change and optimally use the fossil fuel so that the day zero reserves does not arise sooner than expected.
On one hand there are threats like high GHG emissions, water shortage and depleting natural resources, arising because of fast expanding power sector and on the other hand the sector plays an instrumental role in the overall economic growth. This indeed poses a tough challenge, especially before the emerging economies of Asia in so far as ensuring a sustainable growth is concerned. All of these issues enunciate that there is significant sustainability risk associated with the power sector which may manifest sooner or later with a high probability and magnitude.
Now the question is how to tackle the aforementioned challenges. Although, fossil fuel based power generation will continue to take place because it still is the most economically viable method till date, we need alternative solutions to reduce the burden on natural resources that also adds to the power supply improving the energy security. The foremost thing that needs to be implemented on a large-scale is the highest possible levels of energy efficiency by means of switching to such technologies or adopting such methods that improves the productivity of any given system, i.e. making the system lesser energy intensive. We also need technologies that make power generation more efficient. For example, the development and introduction of high-efficiency coal-fired power generation and clean coal technologies such as Combined Cycle Systems are urgently required to be incorporated in the planning of new power plant projects. Also, international transfers of advanced technologies to the Asian countries will contribute to improving energy and environmental issues in the region.
Renewable energy is gaining widespread popularity and is looked upon as a very promising alternative to easy pressure from the fossils fuels, will improve energy supply and is pollution free. In order to meet the growing demand, nuclear energy will play a major role in Asia as non-fossil fuel, where ensuring energy security will become the direst need. Nuclear power plants need to be increasingly installed along with safety-enhancing technologies. Wind power and photovoltaic power generation are also desirable options among environmental measures.
Improved technology to ensure more efficient production, energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy such as wind,solar etc. will ensure energy security, lower the rate of fossil fuel depletion and reduce the environmental burden.