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India's search for energy security explained

Published 05 Dec 2019
Jordan Paiva

India is transforming and diversifying its energy sector by investing heavily in renewables while also looking to source fossil fuels from a wider range of countries, says prominent energy and security expert Dr Ashok Sharma.
His sharp analysis of the rising economic superpower was presented to a recent AIIA Queensland audience in Brisbane as Dr Sharma launched his latest book India’s Pursuit of Energy Security: Domestic Measures, Foreign Policy and Geopolitics.
Dr Sharma says the country’s energy needs changed in the 1990s with the rapidly expanding services sector the most striking feature in what had been an economy dominated by agriculture. A national energy policy within Indian legislation emerged at this time.
Prior to this, India’s strategy was focused on uninterrupted energy sources, which was reflected in its use of coal, oil and natural gas sourced from both its domestic reserves and the Middle East. Now, Dr Sharma says, India was reducing its reliance on the Middle East with attention paid to affordability of sources, particularly natural gas. This would explain why India was looking to Africa and Australia in its search for affordable fossil fuels.

However, Dr Sharma did stress that India was looking to reduce its dependence on oil, coal and gas and shift to more environmentally friendly renewable sources of power. This is seen in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on energy deals wherever he goes. One such deal is with neighbour Nepal, which sources its energy needs from hydroelectric sources.
Dr Sharma says India is also interested in nuclear power which provides vast amounts of electricity at any time of day in any type of conditions.
He did touch on the risks of atomic energy and cited the infamous nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. However, with hindsight and extra care taken in this arena, Dr Sharma says that the possibilities for nuclear were endless.
When looking towards wind power, geo-political issues arise. China holds most of the rare earth metals required to produce wind turbines, placing the two powers head-to-head in the Asian arena.

Dr. Sharma closed the seminar by fielding questions from the audience. Here, he emphasised that while the environment is a major concern, India cannot realistically focus on it only in terms of energy, and this also goes for concentration on economic stability at the cost of the environment. India must find the middle path between economic stability and the environment to achieve prosperity.

Ashok Sharma is currently a Visiting Fellow at the UNSW Canberra, at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute of Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra, and the Deputy Chair at New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Auckland.