Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Road to a carbon-free future

Sunday Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

Most of us will have taken our vehicles to the local mechanic or the automotive workshop for servicing or repairs some time or the other. But how many of us would have as much as even spared a thought to what goes on inside the workshop or given the mechanic a second look.  We ignore them and barely mumble in monosyllables to describe what the problem is rather condescendingly. Now even that is becoming less and less necessary.  Computers and software have taken over from human minds the role of diagnosing problems, at least in the automated shop floors of the bigger workshops. So that’s how technology is changing the face or way we do things.

Also read: Flying high, higher

My visit to workshop

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a workshop for the first service of a friend’s new vehicle. And an interesting journey it was to a world of cars and more cars. At the stroke of 9 o’clock, a driver came to take the car and pick us up, and after a two-hour drive, dropped us at the company’s brand-new workshop. After a warm welcome, they kept us in good humour in a small but comfortable lounge, serving water and coffee. Naturally, no lunch was offered. Lunch is provided only to first-time customers who visit the workshop immediately following their purchase from the showroom for extra fittings as required. 

Probably as a spin-off from the downturn in the economy and the consequent drop in sales revenue, car manufacturers, it seems, have stopped the practice of three free services for new cars. Instead, there’s only one full free service post purchase.

Also read: Standing the test of time 

The competition, no doubt, is stiff. Most manufacturers, domestic and multinational car makers, have deep pockets. Those who haven’t been able to do well, despite their stature as big brands with solid pedigrees, have downscaled or have withdrawn from the Indian market. 

Staging a comeback

Others, especially domestic players, have rejigged their technology and marketing approaches to stage a comeback and capture a bigger pie of the seemingly ever-growing automobile market. Rejig to the extent of a complete overhaul of engine and innovation in design, making new cars that are more futuristic and modern – these are companies who know the Indian market well and are here to stay.

With the debate and action on carbon-free non-fossil fuel vehicles, the way forward for everyone – vehicle manufacturers and customers – is confusing and difficult, to say the least. But, for now, it would appear that Electric is here to stay.

Also read: Ode to the GP

Going electric seems to be the buzz

We can expect better efficient engines that can save fuel, but India is yet not quite ready for non-fossil fuel vehicles fully taking over. The overall demand, numbers involved and the sheer unpreparedness at both policy and manufacturer levels, can mean some time more before you can expect change. 

In the world around us, we hear of AIdriven cars and electric vehicles, including from Tesla, the US automotive and clean energy giant, and the like. Going electric seems to be the buzz these days!  So, that would mean India looking at not just fuel efficiency but also non-fossil fuels to reduce the carbon footprint, sooner than later. 

Carbon footprint

The aviation world, though, cannot be seen yet as being without fossil fuel dependent. The industry has increasingly taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint, the motivation for which has largely come from the compulsion to reduce operating costs. Be that as it may, all fuel-efficient measures would necessarily lead to leaving less carbon footprints around the globe. 

Also read: Simla of my dreams

While booking plane tickets, you get an idea on the carbon footprint of your individual actions, such as by flying, through the mention by the airline on how much less or more as the case be, percentage wise, the carbon footprint they leave, in this case fossil fuel burning by the plane.

Planes flying higher and higher

Planes have started flying 33,000 feet or higher. The thin air creates reduced drag on the aircraft, which means the plane can use much less fuel in order to maintain speed. On longer domestic routes, this is why we see planes climbing to 30,000 feet or higher as the cruising altitude.

Reduced spends on fuel is great news for airlines affected by the overall drop in passenger traffic owing to a variety of reasons.

Also read: The wheel has come full circle 

Although when flying to high altitudes, the engines would need extra fuel during the climb, not to speak of the need for oxygen for the engines to function. But for long-haul flights and even for relatively longer domestic routes – Trivandrum-Delhi or Chennai-Delhi et al – the extra fuel to attain high altitudes is squared off by the overall savings in fuel, and of course, reduced carbon footprints as a result.

The deleterious consequences of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the earth need not be overemphasized. The more aware we are of this, the better it is for the globe as a whole. 

Travel if you must

Used effectively through proper messaging, carbon foot-printing can be a valuable tool to make people think about their actions, and of their negative impact on the environment. Travel if you must could be beneficial not only to reduce your carbon footprint but also help not put a hole in your pocket. The message must go out that it’s tiny drops that make an ocean. No contribution is small or big. In fact, everything counts. We, as individuals, count.

Also read: Tellicherry on my mind

People and governments are talking of zero, or net zero emissions, as a report by the Asia Society Policy Institute on carbon neutrality focused on. Is this achievable or will it remain a pipedream? There are several issues to take into account, especially resources.

Upbeat on India’s future

The Institute’s ‘Getting India to Net Zero’ report, released in Delhi earlier in the week by Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is currently President of the Assembly & Chair of the Council of Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), looked at India’s prospects ahead. They are egging India to bring forward the deadline for targets from 2070 to 2050, which is also expected to boost GDP growth in the process. There would be a cost though, beginning with an investment requirement of $13.5 trillion. Its claims include benefits that would mean an additional 15 million new jobs by 2047. Both Rudd and Ban Ki-moon are upbeat on India and its future. 

Can we yet think of a world that is one hundred percent carbon-free in all human endeavours and activities? Or is it too utopian a concept?

Cochi internation airport, fully solar energy powered

Fully solar energy powered

As an innovator and technology developer, with achievements in renewable energy, India can look to a sustainable development future with clear targets and goals. Our track record in both intent and actions have been quite exemplary. Renewables are being looked at as options to mitigate climate change effects. As early as 2015, one of our international airports with high volume traffic, the Cochin International Airport (CIAL), became the first in the world to become fully solar energy powered. CIAL also became power-positive from energy-neutrality earlier in the year with the commissioning of a 12-MWp solar power plant near Payyanur in Kannur district of Kerala, with a unique feature of terrain-based installation that protects the geographical characteristics of the area. Gujarat too has shown the way forward for other states in promoting the use of solar power.

This is perhaps the only way to meet the crying need of millions of Indians and also to counter climate change and other challenges effectively. 

Also read: Chennai for all seasons

Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"

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