Author: Future of Coal in India – Anurag Sehgal, PGPPM 2015

Transition from conventional sources to more efficient and green energy is more need of the hour than ever. We all have learnt that during the worse phase of the current pandemic. But is this move so easy? is this transition so smooth?

Anurag Sehgal in his book, Future of Coal in India: Smooth Transition or Bumpy Road Ahead? attempts to throw light on the subject and gives a closer picture of reality. The book is a result of intense study, research in an amalgamation with the rich experiences the authors bring in. The book has already made it to the list of BookAuthority’s Best New Energy Policy Books making it a must-read for people interested in energy.

Can you please tell us something about yourself.

I have always struggled to answer this question to be honest, there is this huge repertoire of responses (labels) one carries in one’s professional life, but I don’t like to have deep associations with such labels, hence the challenge in answering this question. I like to think of myself as a lifelong learner. Although, as far as labels go, I have an engineering degree (mining engineering) from IIT(ISM)-Dhanbad (2006) and PGPPM from IIMB (2015), and a range of experiences in-between with the Corporate/Not-for profit world but I like Prof. Rakesh Godhwani’s self-description on his linkedin profile best; it says “nobody”. I would like to be able to say that I am a “nobody” too, but I am not Zen enough; an aspiring Yogi maybe 😊.

Can you please tell us more about the book you have co-authored Future of Coal in India?

This book is a co-edited volume by me, Dr. Rahul Tongia (who is based out of Bangalore incidentally), and Puneet Kamboj and is a result of several years of research and engagement in the energy sector at my then employer – the India affiliate of the Brookings Institution (now CSEP India), a leading US based Economic and Policy Think Tank.

This book discusses the future of coal-based power in India, which is about 3/4rths of all electricity generated in the country, in light of growing RE (Renewable Energy). And, I would like to think that the book is unique, and likely a first of its kind for India, in its attempt to cover all of the key institutions that impact electricity generation and related sectors (coal mining, railway transportation, RE and carbon emissions, etc.), in a single volume.

Sixteen contributing experts describe, across twenty chapters, the current challenges facing the electricity and coal sector in the country, including in some detail the historical forces that shaped up this space and what lies ahead for this sector with the growth of RE (renewable energy). The keyframing being policies that balance India’s growth aspirations (affordable power) while reducing emissions.

What intrigued you to write on this subject?

Mainly our research on this space at Brookings Institution, and the absence of an authoritative volume that covers all of the myriad aspects of energy policy in India.

This book is mainly targeted at people who have some context of energy sector already – policymakers, to get an overview of the entire landscape of energy policy – but also energy policy enthusiasts who would like to know more about the nuances of the institutions that work the levers of energy policy in India.

Your book outlines a number of challenges to India’s transition to cleaner energy sources from coal. Can you summarize some of these challenges?

Coal played a big role in industrial revolution, all industrialized economies developed on the back of cheap power supplied by coal. Even today for developing countries, like India, coal provides affordable power, and it helps that it is easily available (abundant domestic reserves and lot of global trade), coal based power is reliable (no complicated technology required), but carries harmful emissions.

Coal remains key plank for Indian energy security because of the key points mentioned above and the government still plays a large role, in one form or another in this space. Given, India runs a fiscal deficit and has large publicly funded social programs there is a need for more private investment in power sector, but banking NPAs (non performing assets) and public sector borrowings crowd out access to capital for the private sector, while global financial institutions have stopped/ are stopping funding coal based power. Also, existing power plants struggle with limited capacity utilizations adding to the NPA problem of the banks.

India needs affordable power to power industrial growth and achieve its development targets. However, RE bundled with storage (battery) is still expensive and intermittency is a challenge with cheap unbundled RE at the moment thus coal remains the fuel of choice. The question for India then is how it can best balance both – affordability and emissions.

In addition to the above, there are a number of institutions whose fate is intertwined with coal based power – CIL (Coal India Limited), Indian Railways, a number of power generating companies etc. the employees and communities dependent on coal in India, in one way or another, is non trivial. So the question is not only about lives (emissions) but also that of livelihoods (jobs).

In short, what is the Future of Coal in India?

I would have to say that the future depends on the choices we make, while there are no easy choices, a lot that needs to be weighed. With this volume, we did not set ourselves to provide specific answers on the future of coal in India, but the idea was to identify the key variables and multiple paradigms that the problem can be expanded in; as Dwight Eisenhower (34th President of the US and a WW2 veteran) once said “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it” and that is exactly what we attempted with this volume.

How has your corporate experience helped you in writing this book?

My past experiences added more context to my analysis and the frameworks that I had learnt helped me sort the problems in solvable chunks. However, the tone of research for this book was quite different from a typical corporate problem. The problems that we encountered were more open ended, nebulous and unstructured which was not always easy to sort/simplify but that is what made the process of publishing this book a great learning experience for me.

Having authored a book, what have been your key learnings from this experience?

I have worked in the energy space in one form of another for the last 13 years but writing this book was a great learning experience for me, as I interacted with experts in government institutions, private sector, and representatives of the consumer right forums, academics and policy analysts. Having co-edited this book, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the myriad nuances that makes streamlining this space a difficult problem to solve.

Any fond memories from your days at IIMB.

I miss the greenery and the tranquility of the campus. I still remember the first ice breaker session of our batch with Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, she conducted the sessions with so much energy, it set the tone for the rest of the year. Weirdly enough I miss the food on the campus too, I’d imagine everyone usually hates the food on University campuses almost universally, but I loved the morning breakfast in the canteen, maybe it was the early morning nip in the air and the beautiful Bangalore weather.

A Hobby you pursue in your free time.

I mostly read in my free time, and practice mindfulness/meditation. I have set myself the ambitious target of reading a book a week this year, it’s a steep goal but I am hoping I will at least make 50% of that target !

You can grab your copy of the book on the links here Amazon India & Amazon USA. The book is also available in Europe on Amazon.