A national perspective on the availability and utilization of various energy resources is presented. A comparative analysis of the modern and traditional resources with respect to their costs of development and cost and energy efficiencies of converting them into usable motive power is included. It is shown that traditional resources compare favourably with modern resources and that modernisation of energy resources in the last three decades has not increased the overall availability of energy for the nation. This is so despite massive investments in the development of modem energy resources.

1. Introduction:

A great deal of discussion goes on about the energy crunch. Several alternatives are suggested viz., off shore gas, oil, solar-heaters, photo-voltaic etc. But the obvious and perhaps the cheapest, i.e. the traditional sources of energy, is forgotten. This is the tragedy of our developmental effort.

This paper examines the status of modern and traditional energy resources in India. The traditional resources in question are firewood, dung and animal power. The motivation for this study has been that vast sections of this country's population depend on traditional resources, but three decades of planned development seems to have deprived these sections of their energy supply. This article therefore examines the availability, supply and utilization of modern and traditional resources. The relative merits or otherwise of using different energy sources have also been quantitatively evaluated.

It is hoped that the information presented in this article will help in focusing attention on the kind of energy debate that is relevant to this nation.

Modern commercial resources of energy viz., coal, petroleum,' hydel and nuclear power are relatively intense resources. These resources are harnessed in large scale at coal mines, in fairly localized oil-fields and in gigantic hide and nuclear power stations. These are then distributed over long distances to the actual consumers. These resources are therefore well suited for the modern industrial organization which requires centralized \ production and control of economic activity.

The traditional resources viz., wood, animal dung and animal power are relatively diffuse sources of energy. Their potential in India is substantial, but it is widely distributed. Therefore in a given location only small quantities are available. Such resources are therefore well suited only in an environment where the economic activities are decentralized.

Historically the shift from the traditional to the modern resources in countries like Britain was necessitated, among other things, by the failure of these countries, with their small land mass and sub-arciic weather, to generate sufficient amount of traditional resources like wood. The adoption of the new resources in these countries required new and more centralized technologies. This in turn generated further reliance on modern resources to the exclusion, of the traditional resources. Interestingly, this process, within a space of 2 centuries, has led to a state where we have come to believe in the intrinsic superiority of the modern resources over the traditional ones. The above belief holds even in countries like India, where not only some of the traditional resources are in abundant supply but also more of the traditional resources can be easily developed. This is due to the availability of a large land mass and an year round supply of sunshine. In India, the net result of this myopic development strategy is that three decades of planned development has raised the availability of modern resources to 91.7mTbeq., while during the same period we have lost 64 million hectares of forest cover which could regenerate annually 320 mT of bio mass amounting to 130 mT beq. Thus the net amount of traditional resources lost in terms of firewood alone is one and a half times the total availability of locally produced modern resources in 1980.

It is easy to grant that the modern industrial resources of energy are better suited to the running of the modern centralized organization of production. After all, the two have developed together. However the intrinsic superiority of the modern resources is in need of investigation. It is by no means obvious that the modern industrial resources are cheaper and easier to develop, more cost effective and more energy efficient, in all countries.

We begin by making a survey of the presently available (in 1980) energy resources in India and their utilization. We then make a comparative analyais of the cost of developing modern and traditional resources. Finally we make a comparative analysis of the cost and energy efficiency of converting of modern and traditional resources respectively into usable motive power. We find that in India today on none of these counts the modern resources fare better than the traditional ones.

2. Availability and Utilization of Various Energy Resources in India ;

2.1. Availability of Modern Resources:

Major modern commercial resources of energy in India arc coal, petroleum and hydel power. Nuclear power forms a small part of the energy resources.

In 1980 India produced 120 mT of coal. The average heating value of Indian coals being about 5000 kcal kg., this coal represents an energy resource equivalent to 60 mT beqyr.naptha. Therefore 2.5 mT of fertilizer represents 5 mT beq. of imported resources. Thus total imported resources in 1980 amount to 26'5 mT beq.

In the hydel power sector India has an installed capacity of ' 12000 MW, the total estimated potential being 44000 MW. At a capacity utilization of 0.55 the total energy produced is 46000 million units (mU). This energy if produced in thermal power plants at an efficiency of 0.2 will require 19 8 mT beq.

Thus the total availability of modern resources in 1980 stood at 118.2 mT beq. Of this only 91.7 mT beq. represents domestic production (Table—1(a)).

TABLE — 1 (a)

Availability of Energy Resources in India :1980 Modern Industrial Resources.


Actual production.

Thermal equiva-

lent. (mT beg.)


120    mT



8.5 mT



46000     mU


Total (domestic)






Imported crude

15    mT


Imported petroleum products

6.5 mT


Imported fertilizer

2.5 mT


Total (imported)



Grand total



2.2 Traditional Resources :

The major traditional resources of energy in India are firewood, dung and animal power.

In !980, India had 36 million hectares of land under forest cover out of a total land area of 330 million hectares. Area under forest cover in 1947 was in excess of 100 m. ha. The estimated production of firewood in 1980 is 100 mT. This represents an energy resource of 40 mT beq. This potential in 1947 was probaly 200 mT beq., considering that under normal conditions a mixed culture of forest cover will produce 5 T ha.

Estimated production of dung in India is about 1000 mT, from a total bovine population of 278 million. This dung has a heat value of 75 mT. beq. In addition if processed anaerobically 1000 mT of dung will leave 850 mT slurry having high fertilizer value. The slurry costed at Rs. 50 ton is equivalent to 17 mT of synthetic fertilizers or 34 mT beq. . Thus 1000 mT of dung has an extra thermal value of 34 mT beq. The total thermal value of the dung is therefore 109 mT beq.

Out of the total of 278 million bovine population, 78 million are milch animals and the rest draught animals. Assuming that an animal develops 0.2 kilowatt, the total power potential of these animals is 36,000 MW . Assuming that these animals are used for 2100 hrs/yr. at an utilization efficiency of 0.9, the energy produced is 75,600 mU. This energy if produced from thermal power plants will require 32.5 mT beq.

Thus the availability of traditional energy resources in 1980 amounts to 181.5 mT beq. as shown in Table—1 (b). This is to be compared with 118.2 mT beq. produced from modern resources (Table—la).

TABLE—1 (b).

Availability of Energy Resources in India: 1980 Traditional Resources.


Actual production.

Thermal equivalent


100 mT



1000 mT

75 + 34 (fertilizer)


75600 mU




Whenever motive power is involved, its butane equivalent is calculated on the . basis of the total amount of butane required to obtain the said amount of motive power via a thermal power plant operating at an on site efficiency of 0.2.

Thus even today the availability of traditional resources is about one and a half times the modern. resources. This is not surprising, because the majority in India live outside the modern industrial sector. This is well known though not very well appreciated. It is perhaps relevant to recall that 30 years of industrialization has led to the total domestic generation of 91.7 mT beq. of modern resources while during the same period, the nation has lost 64 million hectares of forest cover which must have yielded besides many other products, 130 mT beq. of traditional resources for the non-industrialized part of India.

2.3 Utilization Various Energy Resources :

The break up of utilization of the different resources together with the efficiencies is shown in –Appendix A.

The installed capacity of thermal power plants is 17000 MW. Fifty million tons of coal is used in this sector producing approximately 59300 mU of electrical power.' There is a transmission loss of about 23% in delivering this power to the consumer. This brings down the overall efficiency of conversion to 0.15. Thus the total motive energy delivered) is about 45000 mU. The remaining 70 million tons of coal is used to deliver 23.25 mT beq. of thermal energy to the industrial and house-hold sectors.

Petroleum is largely consumed for generating motive power through automobiles. Total consumption in this sector is 14.9 mT which delivers about 51000 mU of energy to the consumer. (The other major sector of petroleum consumption is the synthetic fertilizer industry where 10 mT of petroleum products are used to produce 5 mT of synthetic fertilizers. The thermal use of petroleum accounis for 6.9 mT delivering 3.3 mT beq. of thermal energy to the consumer (sec Appendix—A). Of the 46000 mU of electric power produced in hydel power plants, 23% is lost in transmission and the net motive power delivered to the consumer is 35000 rail,

Firewood is almost wholly consumed for delivering thermal energy to the rural households. Efficiency of utilization is at a low value of 0.1. 40 mT beq. of firewood delivers only 4.0 mT beq. of thermal energy.

One-third of the 1000 mT of available dung is burnt as dung cakes for household energy delivering 2.5 mT beq. of thermal energy. Remaining 670 mT of dung is used as farm-yard manure. At a price of Rs. 35/- per ton this manure is equivalent to about10 mT of synthetic fertilizer, which requires 20 mT of naptha to produce.

Animals produce 75600 mU of usable motive power at the point of consumption.

Thus the total motive power obtained from industrial resources is 167000 mU as. against 75600 m from traditional resources. The total thermal energy obtained from t industrial resources is 19.25 mT beq. from traditional resources. The total synthetic fertilizer produced is equivalent to 10 mT beq, as against 20 mT beq. from traditional resources. These results are summarized in Table—2.

It should be noticed that the relatively low efficiencies of utilization of the traditional resources are not because of their inferiority but because most of the traditional resources are used in the domestic sectors. In this sector the efficiency of even coal consumption is not markedly different. As we shall see below, if used in other sectors, say in generating motive power, the traditional resources can be used with as good an efficiency as the modern resources.


Utilisation of Various Energy Resources in India: 1980.

Form of energy
Butane Equi. of Mod.   Indus (mT beq.)
Fire Wood
Butane Equi. Of radiitional. (mT beq.)
Motive Power (mU)
Thermal (mT beq.)
Fertilizer (mT beq.)

It should also be noticed that to completely replace the traditional resources with modern industrial resources we need to triple the domestic production of coal. On the other hand the industrial resources can' be almost completely replaced simply by more efficient use of' dung. 1000 mT of' dung which today provides only 2.5 mT beq. of thermal power along' with 20 mT beq. of fertilizer, can be more efficiently utilized through available technologies, to produce '75 mT beq. of gas.

This gas at an efficiency of 0.33 can provide all the motive power that comes from modern resources and still leave 40 mT beq. for thermal purposes. At average efficiency of 0.6 this additional gas will be sufficient ,to provide 24 mT beq. of thermal energy. This process will also supply 34 mT beq. of fertilizer.

This of course does not imply that wc can run the present industrial organization using traditional resources. To imagine that giant industrial installations can be run on biogas is patently absurd. All that We want to show is that if the question is of obtaining a certain amount of motive or thermal power it can very well be obtained from traditional sources. The purposes for which this thermal and motive power is used and the sections of the community that benefit from it will of course differ with differing resources. In fact this is what makes the choice of resources and the concomitant technology a political decision rather than a technical decision.

3. Relative Investment Costs of Resource Development:

Though, present (day availability of traditional resources is higher than that of modern resources, ,it is often argued that increasing the availability of traditional resources requires much higher investments. Let us investigate this contention.

To obtain 50 mT of butane equivalent from coal we need to produce an additional 100 mT of coal. At present day estimates, .developing 100 mT of coal resource requires an investment of about Rs. 4000 crores. This excludes investment required in the deve¬lopment of additional, transport facilities,,. to move 100 mT of coal from the pit-head to the consumer point. The investments required to produce the same amount of butane equivalent via petroleum, hydel or nuclear sources is much higher.

Producing 50 mT of butane equivalent via firewood requires growing of 120 mT of firewood. If this is done through a mono-culture e.g., casuarina, subabul, etc., area to be afforested will be 4.0 million hectares. This requires an estimated investment of Rs..l200 crores. Thus the development of the traditional resource is much cheaper than that of the modern resources.

To put these figures in perspective let us remember-that India's import budget for petroleum and petroleum products in 1980 was about Rs. 4000 crores. Thus with just one year's petroleum bill about 12 million hectares of mono-culture forest could be developed This forest, from the fourth year onwards, will provide a recurring energy source of 150 mT beq. ; five times the energy equivalent of petroleum importedin" 1980.

I Bringing 12,m. ha. of land under forest cover will generate additional benefits. Most important are the prevention of soil erosion, control of floods, maintenance of water table and-humus in soil, etc. Besides, such investments provide vast employment opportunities to the rural population! Incidentally, today, we lose an estimated 6 biliion tons of soil every year through floocls. These floods wash away 6 million tons of nutrients each year. | It should be remembered that India has over 45 million hectares of deforested barren land. Therefore, availability of land for forestation does not pose any problem.

4.Comparative Costs and Efficiencies of Motive Power Generation :

The costs and efficiencies of utilization of various resources depend on available technology. All of the technological innovations so far have taken place in the utilization of modern industrial resources only. Therefore the cost and efficiency comparison between- traditional and modern industrial resources at this stage may weigh against the traditional resources. However, as we show below even under the present conditions the cost comparisons are not unfavorable.

Coal:Thermal power plants in India are generally in the range of 150—200 MW. The overall efficiency of conversion at plant site is 0.2. In addition there is a transmission loss of 0.23 of the power produced. So the net conversion efficiency is only 0.15.

The investment required is Rs. 7000—8000/KW of installed capacity. However the average capacity utilization is rarely more than 0.56. Since there is a loss of 23% during transmission only 43% of the installed capacity is used to deliver power to the consumer. Therefore, the investment per kilowatt of useful power is actually Rs. 15000—18000.

The cost of power to the consumer then turns out to be Rs. 0.85 per unit. The details of the cost calculations are given in Appendix—Bl.

Gobar: The technology for community size go bar gas plants is now established. The efficiency of conversion of the gobar gas to electric power is 0.33. This is better than that of coal because of the fact that gobar gas is a very clean fuel. Since the small amount of power developed by a community size plant (8.5 KW) can be used locally, there is no transmission loss.

The cost of such a gobar gas plant is estimated to be Rs. 14000 per kilowatt of installed capacity. Since most of the cost is towards the gas plant, and not to the power generator (an I.C. engine), decreased capacity utilization affects the cost of generation only marginally. The estimated cost of power produced is about Rs. 0.66 per unit (see Appendix—B2).

Firewood: Currently available technologies require gasification of wood to combustible gases (thermal efficiency about 0.6). This gas can be burnt in an I.C. Engine to develop motive power. The conversion efficiency of gas is .0.33. So, overall efficiency of conversion is about 0.2. Once again, there are only marginal transmission losses.

For a firewood unit of 60 K.W capacity the investment is about Rs. 21000 per kilowatt. Assuming a 80% capacity utilization, which is reasonable in view of the small size of the plant, the investment per kilowatt of usable delivered power is about Rs. 26000. Net cost of delivered power from such a plant is Rs. 1.27 per unit (see Appendix—B3).

Thus coal can be converted to motive power at 0.15 efficiency at a cost of Rs. 0.85 per unit. The corresponding number for gobar are 0.33 and Rs. 0.66 per unit, and for firewood are 0.2 and Rs. 1.27 per unit (see Table—3).


Investment, Efficiency and Cost of Motive Power Generatioan Through Various Resources.



Investment (Rs,j KW. delivered power

Cost Efficiency






Coal Gobar















Once again, it is to be noticed that traditional resources compare favourably with
modern resources.

It should be remembered that above comparisons are , based on technologies which in the case of traditional, resources have undergone no ,technological development ,for decades. .Qnce the switch to traditional resources is made in earnest, .there is no reason to believe that technological innovations will-.not-take place. , After all .the innovative' capabilities 'of the human race have not been exhausted by the British Industrial Revolution.

Let us give just one example of the type of innovations that, are .possible.! In the , case of firewood, it is quite .possible to use a steam engine with reciprocating mechanism to generate motive power. Under present .conditions, investment, for power, generation via this route will be about Rs. 8000 per ilowatt or lower. This is much lower than the investment involved in the gasification route,. However, the overall efficiency of conver¬sion via steam engine has remained low at 0.07. Therefore, the major component of cost of generation is the cost of firewood. If this alternative is taken up seriously, then the firewood availability will, have to be augmented. This would bring down the cost of firewood from the present level to a more reasonable figure (say, Rs. 100 per ton) equaling the cost of coal at pit-head (Rs. 85 per ton). The estimated costs of power generation with firewood’s at Rs. 100/- per ton are about Rs. 0.81 per unit. This cost is comparable to the cost of delivered power from modern power
plants. Yet steam engines have been phased out.

5. Conclusion:

Let us now return to the question we started with : Are modern resources of energy intrinsically better than the traditional ones ? At least in the context of India we strongly suggest that the answer to this question has to be in the negative. Neither in terms of availability, nor in terms of costs of development, nor in terms of efficiency of utilization, do modern resources appear superior to the traditional resources. Then why this concentrated effort to shift to the modern resources? The only answer can be that modern resources help the changeover of economic organization from a spread-out to a centralized system. At least in the case of the energy resources in India the modernization does not seem to be increasing the total availability of resources. It is only increasing the availability in certain sectors keeping the overall resources nearly constant. The question seems to be. who gets the energy, not how much energy the nation gets. And indeed modern organization moves the energy into fewer and fewer hands.

The conclusion may not look surprising if we quote figures from another sector, that is, agriculture. In the years 1970-80, the consumption of synthetic fertilizers in India increased from 2.3 mT to 5.2 mT. (During this period, total area under cultivation was about 124 m. ha.). The area under irrigation increased from 38 m. ha. to 52 m. ha., while area under high yielding verities increased from 15*8 m. ha. to 41 m. ha. However, throughout this period, the food production has remained at an average of 111.4 mT compared to an average of 105-8 mT at the beginning of the decade (averaged over the period 1967-72). The additional fertilizer and irrigation must have increased the yield per hectare in areas benefitting from such developments, viz., Punjab, Haryana, etc. If the overall average production remains much the same then the increase in some areas must have been at the cost of lowering production in other areas. Thus the net result of modernisation in agriculture is that the food has moved from somewhere else to areas endowed with modern agricultural facilities—without much change in the total supply.

If the above data seem to be too particular to India let us add that inspite of
continuing modernization of agriculture, overall world average yield of paddy has not significantly increased over the past fifty years. Any increase in production anywhere in the world seems to result in a corresponding decrease in production elsewhere.

The most probable conclusion seems to be : Modern scientific processes edistribute resources, but do not generate them.

Author: Bombay Group


* For trie purpose of comparison, in this article we shallfelways quote energy resources in terms of their butane equitant (beq). One ton of butane equivalent (1 T beq.) is equai to ten million kilo, calories. Contribution from Bombay High in 198Q was 6,6 mT beq. In 1981 tht Bombay High\production has risen to 8.5 mT beq

* Data obtained from several coal based power plants indicate that 1.05—1.1 Kg. of coal is required per KWH (1 unit) of electric energy produced at site. This gives an overall on tit* efficiency' of 860 5000, i.e about 0'2

* Whenever motive power is involved, its butane equivalent is calculated on the . basis of the total amount of butane required to obtain the said amount of motive power via a thermal power plant operating at an on site efficiency of 0.2.

* International price of synthetic fertlizer is around 2500/ton of nitrogen. This excludes donkeys, horses, yaks, elephants, etc.

* Investments will be much higher if a mixed culture forest is to be grown. In such a case, the plantations will, however, yield many more products other than the firewood,

* Efficiency .based on Energy delivered to consumer, per unit beq. used at the
power plant.

* Via gasification.

* Vial steam engine with.' firewood costed @ 100/- per ton


  1. Half Yearly Power Survey", The Economic Times Research Bureau, Economic Times, 23rd Nov. 1981.

  2. Financial Performance of Petroleum Companies', The Economic Times Research Bureau, The Economic Times. 25th November 1981.

  3. ' Indian Agriculture ', A financial express symposium. The Financial Express,24th September 1981.

  4. 'HomoFaber'. by Claude Alvares. Allied Publishers, 1979. Chapter 4

  5. Nature Protection and Modern Society', sponsored by Max Mueller Bhavan, (Bombay, November 20, 1980.

  6. The Political Economy of Agrarian Change', by Keith Griffin, Macmilian '(London), 1979.

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