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Several geothermal provinces in India characterized by high heat flow (78-468 mW/m2) and  thermal gradients (47-100o C/km) discharge about 400 thermal springs. After the oil crisis in 1970s, the Geological Survey of India conducted reconnoiter survey on them in collaboration with UN organization and reported the results in several of their records and special publications . Subsequently, detailed  geological, geophysical and tectonic studies on several thermal provinces .These investigations have identified several sites which are suitable for power generations well as for direct use. These provinces are capable of generating 10,600 MW of  power (Rani Shanker, 1996). Though  geothermal power production in Asian countries like Indonesia, Philippines has gone up by 1800 MW in 1998,  India with its 10,600 MW geothermal power potential is yet  appear  on the geothermal power map of the world!  Availability of large recoverable coal reserves and a powerful coal lobby is preventing healthier growth of non-conventional energy sector, including  geothermal. However, with the growing environmental problems associated with thermal power plants, future for geothermal power in India appears to be bright.

Present status of non-conventional energy resources

The estimated power shortage in India in the next five years is about  43,000 MW. This demand will increase in the coming years due to economic globalization.  Though India boasts of generating eco-friendly energy sources during the coming millennium, the present  power generated through non-conventional sources is far less than the installed capacity of the power plants (Table 1). Thus the total installed capacity from renewable stands at 1313 MW which is 2.6 % of the total potential.  Though capital subsidy and financial incentives are given by the Govt. of India, non-conventional energy  sources are not able to bridge the gap between demand and supply of power. Geothermal energy, a non-conventional energy source, has not so far put to use though its  power generating capacity is of the order of 10,600 MW.  Neither the Govt. bodies nor the independent power producers (IPPs) are aware of this vast resource in the country.  When non-conventional energy sources have the potential of generating about 60,600 MW power, which is more than the required amount for the next five years, then why Indian is not keen in developing this source in bridging supply-demand power gap?  The answer lies in the 192 billion tones of recoverable coal reserves which is encouraging coal based power projects  and hampering the healthy growth of  non-conventional energy programs. In addition to coal, availability of naphtha in the world is adding fuel to the fire!.

Table 1. Power production status  of non-conventional energy in India


Renewable Power                   Potential                    Achieved


Wind Power                        20,000 MW                  1,000 MW

Small Hydro Power             10,000 MW                     172 MW

Biomass                              20,000 MW                     141 MW

Solar photo- voltic Power    20 MW/sq.km               810 KW    

Alternative Energy Solutions - A Possible Answer to Global Oil Dependency


Some recent developments demonstrate the growing potential of solar power. By 2010, five solar-thermal electricity generators in the Australian desert will produce enough electricity to supply a million homes. (See Desert Solar Energy or Km-high convection tower in Australia). Studies have also looked at the feasibility of space-based solar power. (See Solar Power Sattelites)

Further progress has been reported in the area of photovoltaics. Professor W.S. Sampath and his research group at the Materials Engineering Laboratory at Colorado State have developed a manufacturing technology to efficiently produce low-cost, high-power photovoltaic solar cells. According to Sampath, photovoltaics, the new generation of solar energy, can be one of the most affordable and efficient energy sources of the future.
"Without moving parts or external fuel, photovoltaic devices directly convert absorbed sunlight into electrical current," said Sampath. "The high-powered devices produce no waste or pollution, and by using the technology developed at Colorado State, the devices can potentially be mass produced at low costs." (See
Photovoltaics as Clean Energy)

New variations on wind energy are also becoming more viable as UK's first offshore windfarm was unveiled near the coast of Northumberland last December. (See See Wind Farm sets Sail or Fresh wind farm drive). Researchers in British Columbia claim that the recently devised Davis Hydro Turbine works like an underwater windmill that could meet up to 40 percent of the world's electrical needs while not harming the environment or depending on solar cycles. (See Device Captures Energy from Tides)

While energy from cow-dung is not new to India - (Gobar-Gas plants have been around for more than a decade), the trend is now also picking up in the farmlands of the US. (See Holsteins in the Energy Business) Using what is called an anaerobic digestor, a California dairy farmer produces enough energy every day to run his 130-acre, 350-head Butte County dairy farm, plus the family home - and then sell the excess to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (See Dairy turns Waste into Fuel)

UK's first dung-fired power station began producing electricity last July. Methane gas from fermented dung slurry will power the plant at Holsworthy in Devon and produce electricity for the national grid. It will also provide hot water for low-cost heating around Holsworthy, and organic manure for farmers to use on their land. (See Dung Power Station Fires Up)

New research has turned up other innovative solutions. An Icelandic team has invented a device which can produces electricity from water using a "Thermator" that works on the thermo-electric effect. Professor Thorstein Sigfusson, of the University of Iceland, says it works by translating the difference between the temperature of hot and cold water into energy. (See Iceland Invents Energy from Water-Machine)

Research by University of Massachusetts microbiologists (as reported in Science magazine) suggests that certain microorganisms known as Geobacters can transform organic matter commonly found at the bottom of the ocean into electrical energy. (See Microbes turn Under-water Gunk into Energy)

Several new power alternatives have also emerged in the arena of transportation. Thanks to pressure from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, Delhi's buses and three-wheelers have now switched to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Seoul has also begun a switchover to CNG. Other Indian metros, and cities in Indonesia, Iran are considering similar moves. Cairo and Dhaka are also drawing up CNG plans so as to reduce intolerable levels of urban air pollution and reduce consumption of petrol or diesel.

Ethanol-doping or Ethanol fuelled cars is another option. Last year, the Government of India made doping of petrol with 5% ethanol mandatory in nine states and four union territories, following the success of pilot projects in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. According to the Indian Sugar Mills Association, most Indian distilleries are currently producing less than 1.5 billion litres of alcohol against their production capacity of 3.2 billion litres. The mandatory use of 5% ethanol (with plans of increasing this to 10%) will improve the capacity utilization of the distilleries. (See Doping of Petrol with Ethanol and Sugar Industry By-Products)

Although, to date, implementation has been stalled due to foot-dragging by local governments and sections of the oil industry, the use of ethanol not only reduces vehicular emissions, it is also a good replacement for lead additives in gasoline. By blending 22% anhydrous ethanol with gasoline to produce gasohol, Brazil has been able to eliminate completely the requirement for lead (or MtBE) as an octane enhancer. (See Cleaner Fuels: Ethanol). Sweden has begun to promote ethanol derived from grain and timber. (See Ethanol - Large Potential)

Bio-diesel is another important emerging alternative. The essential element of biodiesel is oil - whether from an animal or vegetable source (extracted fresh, or recovered from waste). Treated with alcohol and a catalyst, mixed for an hour then left to settle overnight, the result is a pure diesel fuel compatible with currently manufactured motor vehicle engines. Not only are bio-fuels less polluting, (they emit lower levels of CO, SO2, CO2, and fewer harmful particulates), the fuels are typically biodegradable - 98% within 21 days (fossil oils - 50%) - and do not give off the offensive, choking smell when used. (See Sustainable Transport Fuels)

Oils from soy beans, sunflowers, canola or cotton seed, waste products such as fryer oils and cooking grease, as well as beef tallow and pork lard, can all be used as sources for biodiesel. In addition, inedible oils from wild trees can also be used. Udupi Srinivasa, Chief Programme Executive of the Sustainable Transformation of Rural Areas (SuTRA) project noted that biodiesel fuels could completely replace fossil fuels. In his presentation on "Biofuels: powering India's future" at the Bio 2002 conference in Bangalore, he observed that oil bearing trees like the pongamia pinnata, (known as Honge in Kannada), was ideal for this purpose. Dr Srinivasa was first made aware of the potential of the Honge tree when vilagers in Kagganahalli mentioned that their grandparents had used the inedible Honge oil for lamps!

In Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, the Azamshahi Textile Mills, set up by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1940, generated all the power needs of the factory using non-edible oils until its recent closure; and it had surplus power left over for the city's needs. Since Dr Srinivasa's rediscovery of the potential of he Honge tree, Dandeli Ferroalloys of Dandeli, Karnataka, converted all five of their diesel engines to run entirely from Honge oil. Powered by Honge fuel, Kagganhalli's villagers have now been able to pump enough water to turn their dry and desolate village into one that can produce watermelons, mulberry bushes, sugar cane and grains. (See Inedible Oils as Biodiesel)

On December 31, 2002, the Indian Railways conducted a successful trial run of an express passenger train on the Delhi-Amritsar route using five per cent of "biodiesel'' as fuel. The fuel is extracted from the seeds of the `Jatropha' plant which is well-adapted to semi-arid or arid conditions and demands low soil-fertility and moisture. (See Biodiesel: First trial run on Train)

The Rural Community Action Centre in Tamil Nadu State has also demonstrated the biofuel potential of the plant and a successful demonstration has also taken place in Bamako, Mali. There are reports that Jatropha may also be used for biodiesel in Ghana, while in Gambia, groundnut oil is planned for biofuel use. Plans are afoot to increase awareness and set up demonstration projects in other African nations such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Sudan. (See Jatropha News)

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in India (CSIR) has shown that the Pongam Tree (Indian Beach) can also be used as a diesel equivalent. The Newsletter of the Combustion, Gasification & Propulsion Laboratory, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore has identified several other potential energy sources including trees such as the common Neem, Mohua and Sal.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, city buses have begun to use diesel doped with 20% biodiesel derived from Soy Beans while ongoing experiments evaluate jet fuel doped with biodiesel. (See Soybean-fueled buses roll in Iowa)

In Greenville, Carolina, Matt Hafner, a Clemson-educated mechanical engineer, re-fitted his 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel truck with about $600 worth of parts so that it could run on used vegetable oil. His truck starts off using regular diesel fuel, but can switch over to vegetable oil when the engine temperature reaches 170 degrees - usually after about five to 10 miles of driving. The vegetable oil is obtained from fast-food restaurants who are only too happy to give away the oil left behind after frying. The truck's performance is comparable to diesel. Hafner learned to convert the truck's fuel system from a book titled "From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel." (See Diesel Truck Run On Used Frying Oil)

Studies have also been conducted to demonstrate the viability of hemp oil as a fuel. Hemp oil converts fairly simply into a biodiesel fuel once mixed with caustic lye dissolved in methanol, a technique which makes the oil less viscous and more combustible. Environmental defense attorney Don Wirtshafter, (proprietor of the Ohio Hempery, the company providing the oil) notes that fuel and glycerine are generated from the process, and the glycerine can be used to make soap or candles. Potassium hydroxide used as the caustic agent results in fertilizer. The only modification made to the hemp car was the replacement of rubber hoses with synthetic rubber tubes - biodiesels erode rubber. (See Hemp Car to make Record Trip) There has also been some research in extracting fuels from used tires. (See Biofuels Resources)

British Industrial chemist, Paul Day (and founder of AquaFuel Research) has been conducting research on a fuel mix that blends diesel with water using a stabilizing extract from castor beans. Experiments have indicated that the blend burns more efficiently and lowers emissions. (See Kitchen Recipe for Car Fuel)

At the Paris Motor Show (Sep, 2002), a French company unveiled their latest model of a car that can run on compressed air, aimed at urban delivery vehicles, taxicabs, and other urban drivers. (See
France to unveil air-powered car). A Swiss manufacturer demonstrated a car that used fermented organic household waste as one of its fuel supplies. (See Veggie Car).

Environmental engineers at Penn State have shown that by that by using certain industrial wastewater as feedstock, and fermentation using hydrogen producing soil bacteria, hydrogen for energy uses can be released continuously. Wastewater from confectioners, canneries, sugar refineries, rich in glucose and sucrose could be used to drive cars. (See Hydrogen from Waste Water)

While some of these technologies are still in an early stage, Hybrid cars that are twice as fuel-efficient as regular cars are already running in California and Japan. Moves towards energy alternatives are no longer in the realm of fantasy but are now very realistic options. These must be actively supported and encouraged by democratic and progressive organizations throughout the world.