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The Power of 50 Watts: Preventing the Next Big Crisis

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” wrote Lenin. The novel Coronavirus pandemic may have brought our world to a standstill but the underlying shifts in the economy are momentous. Further it highlights our capability for rapid change and coordinated, collective action. Will we rise up to the occasion to deal with the double whammy of an economic downturn and climate change in an energy efficient way at the same time?

The Covid19 pandemic is a crisis the likes of which we have never seen before. It is a watershed event and is already reshaping world politics and economics. What has been most significant about the crisis has been our capacity to respond, understand our responsibilities to the society at large and take actions in the larger societal interest sacrificing our short term goals. All kinds of sacrifices made for one purpose: our survival.

The biggest lesson we hopefully have learnt is to “listen to the science”. The failure to listen to medical experts and scientists led to tragic consequences which could have been easily avoidable especially in certain developed economies like USA and Europe. Ignoring public health experts thus had an immediate and visceral impact. More people got sick. More people died.

But make no mistake, there is another crisis coming. One that is more stealthy and insidious than this virus. Perhaps nature has been giving us countless warnings when it comes to this crisis. A crisis, whose impact on human lives and livelihood would be catastrophic. A crisis which would place even greater disruptions on the economy, threaten food security and increase strain on public health systems. A crisis, for which there would be no vaccine. Yes, climate change. And as shown by the Coronavirus pandemic we can avert the worst impact of such a global crisis by taking even small personal actions inspired by bold leadership and effective policy.

Economy as a Catalyst for Energy Efficient Actions

The government will play a huge role in mitigating the ravages of the Coronavirus pandemic to the economy. This could be an opportunity to revive the economy while keeping energy efficiency at the core. The way we jump-start our economy could very well define our preparation for the impending climate change crisis. One thing is for certain though; it cannot be Business As Usual!

Any action which the government takes will need to revive consumer spending while bringing in energy efficiency into the system. In 2009, the US government introduced a program called “Cash for Clunkers” which incentivised consumers to trade their old inefficient cars for more fuel efficient ones. A program on similar lines must be introduced for Indian consumers for energy efficient appliances which would have the primary benefits of boosting consumer spending in energy efficiency with secondary benefits in distributed renewable energy and employment generation and skill development.

And so the government must institute a program which replaces the old inefficient and ubiquitous fans with 5 star rated BLDC fans. The consumer brings in an old inefficient fan and gets a cash credit voucher which could be redeemed at the purchase of a new 5 star rated fan.

And Little by Little, A Little Becomes a Lot

The macroeconomic impact of such a replacement program will be huge. Each fan might save only 50 Watts but the power of small actions can make a big difference! If we assume there are 27 crore households with each household having an minimum of 2 fans, running for an average 12 hours a day, 300 days a year, the replacement program will save about 97 billion units of electricity every year.

This would be equivalent to shutting down about 18 coal based thermal power plants. Imagine the greenhouses gases saved (68.6 Million Metric Tonnes of CO2 emissions), the amount of fossil fuels burning avoided (30 Billion Litres of Petrol) and the billions of foreign exchange not paid (USD 8 Billion assuming USD 50 per barrel of oil).

The secondary benefits of such a program would also be significant. Roof-top solar would be cheaper with lower solar panel and inverter capacity needed, thus giving a boost to the national target of 40GW of solar rooftop by 2022. The employment generated in the replacement program and the rooftop solar program would be huge given the scale of usage of fans in India. Further with greater energy efficiency and lower power bills, households and individual consumers will have more money to spend on other consumption, spurring the economy further. Energy efficiency thus doesn’t demand any sacrifices in consumer behavior and makes commercial sense for the consumer as well.

With the success of such a program the government could fast track its standard and labeling program, educating consumers more about energy efficiency and incentivise more energy efficient appliances like washing machines, pumps, refrigerators and air coolers. After the government’s successful LED replacement program, it should look to accelerate not slow the transition to a more energy efficient future. After all Energy saved is Energy produced.

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