No Roads and No Electricity: Why Fossil Fuels are Indispensable for Development
I live in the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore. Except for the tech companies, there aren’t many similarities between Bangalore (now Bengaluru) and the Silicon Valley in California.
I live in the northern part of the city. Roads here remain in an unusable condition. They are worse than any bad road you would find in the U.S. The road leading to my neighborhood—frequented by thousands of cars every day—has remained dug up for more than 400 days now. In fact, reports indicate that around 30,000 roads in the city of Bengaluru remain either dug up or in worse condition.
Electricity infrastructure experiences frequent failures and inability to cope with even a slight drizzle of rain. Power blackouts—like the one that occurred in New York in early July—are an everyday event in many parts of India.
That is an appalling situation even by Third World standards, given that the city is the hub of some of the richest tech companies in the world.
Despite rapid economic development in India, some of India’s biggest cities still lack basic infrastructure and sanitation facilities. One reason is how rapidly its economy has grown—outpacing the growth of its infrastructure.
With 1.3 billion people, India’s developing economy can only achieve infrastructure progress in its major cities by achieving rapid economic progress. The economic progress in turn is primarily dependent on its energy sector. Energy is the backbone of any developing economy.
Ever since the liberalization of its economy in the 1990s, India has progressed by leaps and bounds. The manufacturing and service industries are slowly drawing people away from agriculture.
Many forget that this propulsion of India’s economy in the past three decades, and of any growing economy for that matter, was made possible because fossil fuels have provided energy and improved agricultural outputs: the two key pillars of India’s economy.
Today, India produces more electricity than required, but the transmission infrastructure is far behind the standards of developed countries. Fossil fuel provides more than three-fourths of the country’s energy. Fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides have helped the country produce enough food for domestic consumption and export.
Twenty years ago, everyone I knew was aware of the fact that coal is one of the major solutions to our energy problems. We were right.
Today, coal is not only the country’s largest contributor to electricity, it is also the cheapest and most abundant source, resulting in uninterrupted power supply in places that have good grid infrastructure.
Our infrastructure—including transport and other public utility systems—will improve only as our economy continues to use the coal reserves, the existing oil resources, and the newly discovered natural gas reserves.
India’s defiant embrace of fossil fuels, despite pressure from anti-fossil establishments, gives hope to residents like me who can dream about a future with drivable roads and uninterrupted power supply.
Featured image by John Fornander on Unsplash.