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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 18:49 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 18:49 | SYDNEY

India and energy: Rediscovering serendipity

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5 June 2009 11:03

Here in Australia we are slowly re-awakening to the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and its surrounding states. But long before the end of the first millennium AD, Chinese junks were plying their trade routes out to the east coast of India, and Arab dhows penetrated through to the East China Sea. Today we use the Old Persian name for Sri Lanka — known then as Serendip — to describe the notion of ‘accidental wisdom’. It's a good descriptor for what those early traders displayed, by capitalising on the routes that skirted that very island. 

In later centuries, West Europeans became East Indiamen, and joined their Asiatic forerunners, taking advantage of the Roaring Forties’ slingshot from the Cape of Good Hope, before heeling 'hard a’ larboard' just short of the West Australian coast (though not always, as the ill-fated Batavia crew tragically discovered).

Dominating this historic trade superhighway is India, whose energy security is increasingly dependent on these routes. Finding the energy it needs now and into the future is a clear concern, including for Dr Ligia Noronha, who is in Australia in her capacity as inaugural Michael Hintze Fellow in Energy Security at the Centre for International Security Studies, at Sydney University. A Senior Fellow and Director of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, Dr Noronha is addressing the question of how India’s growing energy needs are shaping its foreign, security and trade policies.

India’s scale always produces startling statistics: like how 2.8 million barrels of oil are unloaded daily into India, of which 70% is from West Asia. However, many of Dr Norohna’s points about India are also pertinent beyond the sub-continent. For any outspread populace like India’s, supply of energy across the countryside is just as challenging as sourcing it from overseas. Moreover, India is just one emerging economy whose energy demands contrast widely with those of more developed economies. In India’s case, over 700 million are dependent on traditional wood and dung biomass for energy. They must compete with a bounding hi-tech export economy that is crucial to India’s balance of payments. 

In Australia, concerns like these of strategic partners and neighbours deserve our interest, but that requires an elevated and broader energy security debate. Understanding the relationships between energy dependency, vulnerability, diversity and sustainability for each economic sector is crucial to any such debate. 

Even more important are the strategic as well as economic benefits of diversity and sustainability of energy resources. Diversity of energy sources can act as a hedge against vulnerability. Similarly, improving a sector’s sustainability through renewable sources and reducing consumption can guard against dependency upon remote and vulnerable energy sources. 

Sound ecological policy often involves investing in renewable energy and having smaller, more numerous and diverse sources of energy. In implementing those environmental policies, however, there is also the ‘accidental wisdom’ – a real serendipity — of practical and helpful international strategic policy to be realised.

Photo by Flickr user Monster, used under a Creative Commons license.

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