Natural Gas Vehicles – On the Road to Greater Acceptability
As India stops walking and starts driving, we see more and more vehicles jostling for space on our crowded roads and parking lots. The economic and environment costs of this have been enormous. Our cities are incredibly polluted and our fuel import bill has escalated at an alarming rate. If the right steps are not taken, Indians on the move today could very well bring India to a halt in the not-so-distant future.
The solution lies in India converting more and more to a Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) programme. Across the world, the transportation sector uses natural gas in a variety of ways. The technology currently available allows vehicles to run using Compressed Natural Gas, Liquified Natural Gas, gas-to-liquid technologies or fuel cells. Environmentally conscious countries have put in place measures whereby large fleets of vehicles like public transport buses, which are centrally maintained and fuelled, run on natural gas. This reduces the costs otherwise involved in using technology.
The Indian Scenario: India’s energy security as well as the decline in quality of life due to rising pollution levels has made it necessary that we ensure greater acceptability of NGVs. As per the Centre for Science and Environment, the transportation sector used a mere 2 per cent of the available natural gas in the country. A Fact Sheet produced by the institution states that there were 7 lakh natural gas vehicles in the country in 2010. This is expected to go up to 58 lakhs in the coming decade. Delhi, of course, was a major success story with nearly 2 lakh NGVs on its roads.
One of the drawbacks to greater acceptability has been problems with the availability of natural gas. But the government is now focused on improving the natural gas infrastructure. Even as projects are being implemented to increase the length of the gas pipelines criss-crossing the country, the number of cities covered by the City Gas Distribution network is expected to be around 200 in 2014. This should increase access to natural gas refuelling centres and will thus lead to greater acceptability of NGVs in the near future.
Benefits of Using NGVs: The macro benefit of converting to a NGV programme would be the diversification of India’s fuel basket. This would reduce the fuel bill, releasing money for development works, thus benefitting people at the micro level.
There will also be an improvement in the quality of life in the bigger cities and metros. Depending on the kind of natural gas used and the technology adopted, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 30-55 percent as compared to petrol and diesel. NGVs are also safer and more efficient. Natural gas is lighter than air. It therefore dissipates faster as compared to diesel or petrol, making it less flammable in case of accidents. Natural gas is cheaper and it also results in lower maintenance, bringing down the cost of running your car or bus fleet in the long run.
Better energy security and lower pollution levels are thus the main reasons why most countries across the world are seriously contemplating perusing an NGV programme.
Kerala Moves Ahead: The project of Kerala Gail Gas Limited – a joint venture between Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation and Gail Gas – should soon make the state an important player in the country’s NGV scenario. The City Gas Distribution system being put in place envisages setting up CNG refuelling facilities at bus stations across the state. The financially strapped Kerala State Road Transport Corporation will thus have access to a cheaper fuel. Once the conversion to CNG takes place, it will also dramatically reduce its maintenance costs. And as the Delhi experience has proved, the conversion of the public transport system to natural gas will help bring down pollution levels.
The initial costs of converting to NGVs are high. But the economy and the environment will benefit enormously in the long run.