Nuclear-Free Future

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5 November 1998

Hari Sharan

Suppose the average African or Asian were to use as much energy as the typical American. The outcome? Not a pretty movie premise: it would be good-bye Gaia, mean global collapse, spell doomsday. Not all the Bruce Willis clones in stardom could save us from the (certain) unHollywood ending.

The problem is, such a dead-end script is no imaginary scenario. It’s the direction humankind is moving, fast. The patent political slogan throughout the industrialized world remains: “Business as usual! Prosperity for all!” It doesn’t matter whether one lives in Texas, Bavaria, or Scotland: the groans and cries of the outraged atmosphere are merely registered as an occasional flicker during the evening’s slate of prime-time programming. We’re living beyond earth’s means. For the sake of future generations, it’s time we did something.

One man from Asia, India’s Dr. Hari Sharan, is doing something. His recipe to edge the world back from calamity: “We must end the over-consumption and wastage in the North, and increase energy services and consumption in the South.” Dr. Sharan’s concerns are not only theoretical, but also practical: with his network of R&D partners and engineering and manufacturing companies in India and Switerland, he builds decentralised power stations based on a biomass gasifier that runs an engine to provide energy. Designed for conditions in rural India (Bangalore), that same technology, slightly modified, has also been put into operation in Switzerland (Chatel-St-Denis). It’s something which we don’t witness often: technology transfer in reverse – from South to North.

Dr. Sharan grew up in northern Bihar, one of the India’s poorest regions. He has a degree in mechanical engineering from Bihar Institute of Technology (India), and a Ph.D. in combustion and heat transfer from the University of Manchester (UK). After a R&D career in the power technology field with a Swiss company (Sulzer), he joined one of the largest power equipment companies in the developing world (BHEL, India).

“My life motto? Renewables for peace!”

Dr. Sharan’s current focus includes the definition of policy changes necessary in the North and the South to cope with the impending climatic catastrophe, and the implementation of renewable energies to make the world’s collective future sustainable. He tells us, “My life motto? Renewables for peace!”

Anyone can ask questions. But Dr. Sharan provides answers. For instance: how can the energy needs of a rural district be ensured using solely such renewable resources as biomass, organic refuse, solar energy, or water? The answers can be found in Sharan’s “Rural Energy Programs,” answers tailored to the disparate exigencies of regions scattered throughout the developing world.

Dr. Sharan’s arguments have firm footing – he’s put them into practice. One example of his many successes: Dr. Sharan founded and presides over an organization called FREND (Fund for Renewable Energy–Decentralized). Recently, his organization built a paper mill in Bundelkhand in Central India, an arid locale where poor soils offer meager agricultural returns. Traditionally considered, Bundelkhand is not an apt place for a venture start-up: 72 percent of the local population is illiterate and the rate of unemployment approaches 50 percent. But Dr. Hari Sharan is blind to such MBA considerations; his programs are never exclusively technical or based on high profit margins, but, taking into consideration local living conditions, holistic: by completion of the project, FREND will directly employ 100 people (70 of whom are native to the region) as well as create 200 spin-off jobs. The energy is delivered by a biomass power plant, the biomass here being Ipomea, a weed which clogs canals and rivers. A parasite acts as catalyzer, winning from some 600 barrels of Ipomea energy enough to make 200 barrels of paper. Not only is the project environmentally sound, but it improves the region’s economic footing. Again, Dr. Sharan has demonstrated that imperatives moral and economic need not always have a mud fight.

We’re riding a curve that bends towards doomsday: prosperity in the North means more energy usage, energy largely derived from non-renewable resources, and the South is hungry to catch up with us. The status quo can drive a thinking person into apathy or cynicism. But not Dr. Sharan. Instead, he has put to work on the problem one of the world’s most noble sources: his brain.

–Claus-Peter Lieckfeld

English version: Craig Reishus