Covid-19: Challenging times underscore the importance of energy planning and data management

Share

The Covid-19 global pandemic has created unprecedented worldwide health and economic crisis. The energy sector, as a critical enabler of modern life, is uniquely affected by this crisis but is also essential for global and national response and recovery efforts.

The impact caused by the coronavirus crisis has highlighted how much modern societies rely on energy sources like electricity. Electricity is critical for operating the ventilators and other medical equipment in the hospitals treating the soaring numbers of critical patients. Billions of people are now confined to their homes, resorting to teleworking to do their jobs, e-commerce sites to do their shopping, and streaming video platforms to find entertainment. 

A reliable energy supply underpins all of these services, as well as powering the devices most of us take for granted, such as microwaves, home water pumps, and light bulbs. 

Further, many countries have imposed lockdowns. India is amongst them. In a lockdown situation, the government machinery has put up all its efforts to ensure access to clean cooking fuels apart from providing 24×7 electricity. 

Due to restriction in movements and lockdown of many industries, the demand for transportation and electricity has gone down substantially. Economic activities have nearly come to a standstill. The oil refiners have slanted down crude processing due to demand crush in the transport sector. The electricity generators are bound to reduce their plant load factor (PLF), which ultimately impacts operational costs. Coal India Limited, which is the dominant thermal coal supplier to power generators, is facing challenges in their coal offtake.    

Given the close links between energy and economy, an impact analysis is needed to evaluate the sector and initiate suitable measures against unusual circumstances.

Need for a national energy data system

Energy data is a critical enabler for policymakers and the research community in formulating and analyzing energy policy action, crisis planning and performance evaluation of energy sector programs & policies. The provision of such data requires institutional mechanisms and processes to collect, validate and disseminate data promptly. 

There is a need for a national energy data system that is robust and efficient in collecting and delivering energy data. In India, we have four ministries (Ministries of Coal, Power, Petroleum and Natural Gas, and New and Renewable Energy) to deal with energy, which often leads to situations that lack coordination. 

In challenging times, a comprehensive analysis may reduce uncertainty and will ensure optimal decisions to minimize economic loss. 

Challenges galore

A lot of crucial energy data is still in physically scanned formats and not available in digital form. Sometimes data is also unreliable, which creates a challenge in pandemic scenarios and leaves the country at the risk of not knowing the exact situation. 

Several government institutions have sufficient legal authority to collect energy data and share it among different departments for administrative reasons. However, they have a limited mandate to disseminate this data to the general public. 

Apart from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), which is responsible for disseminating statistics, only the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has the mandate to disseminate electricity data. 

A lot of energy data has inter-linkages. The coal sector will have implications in the electricity and industry sector. For the future, hydrogen can be produced from many sources like biomass, oil and renewable energy. For better planning, there needs to be a single place that collates all the data from all the different responsible ministries and departments.

There are many gaps in energy consumption data because it is more difficult to gather this data, and because existing mechanisms to collect such data are insufficient. 

Several recent initiatives such as the formation of the National Statistical Commission and the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy attempt to improve data collection, assessment, sharing, and dissemination. However, this does not explicitly cover data related to the energy sector. 

The initiative by NITI Aayog

Given the above challenges, government policy thinktank NITI Aayog initiated an exercise to strengthen the Indian energy database. Eight sub-groups were created for demand (Buildings, Industry, Agriculture and Transport) and supply sectors of energy (Coal, Oil & Gas, Electricity, Renewable Energy), with each sub-group on energy data management headed by a joint secretary-level officer of the respective ministries.

Based on the sub-groups’ report, NITI Aayog is working on a roadmap to improve the energy data management system. It will play an integrated role in coordinating all energy-related data.

A centralized energy data unit can provide a one-stop solution for India. The Energy Information Administration of the USA, and International Energy Agency (IEA) for OECD countries, maintain the respective countries’ data in one place. However, the IEA also collects data for the entire world. 

An institutional mechanism needs to be created for energy data management where all demand and consumption data related to all forms of energy are maintained at one place which can be used by researchers, policymakers, business strategy formulators and performance evaluation of energy sector programs and agencies. 

Recent advances in information and communication technologies can help improve efficiency in energy data management.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.