Quantcast
Insights

India's Huge Commitment to Renewable Energy Provides 'Gift to the World'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed India’s “megawatts to gigawatts” challenge at the Renewable Energy Investment Summit (RE-Invest) last week, building on his existing commitment to 160 gigawatts of solar and wind by 2022. Energy Minister Piyush Goyal doubled down, saying that he expected that the already ambitious goal might well be substantially increased for the third time in nine months, and told the audience that “the government stands committed to making renewable energy India’s gift to the world.” Goyal then went on to promise that India would create a consortium of the “300 days of sunshine nations” to further bring down the cost of solar power. And long time renewables advocate, Rail Minister and former Coal and Power minister Suresh Prabhu declared that the Prime Minister’s “Swach India” (Clean India) campaign needed to be matched with Swach Shakti (Clean Power).

Energy Minister Piyush Goyal doubled down, saying that he expected that the already ambitious goal might well be substantially increased for the third time in nine months, and told the audience that “the government stands committed to making renewable energy India’s gift to the world.”

The conference was India’s first big renewables trade convention, and it made lots of news. The Climate Group released a new analysis of the business opportunity from off-grid renewables in India, concluding that by 2018, in only three years, this would have become at least a $150 million dollar business, but also pointing out that the current regulatory regime makes getting to scale very difficult for businesses seeking to serve households currently denied electricity.

Anil Ambani, one of India’s major industrialists, laid out the case for solar energy in an extraordinarily informative opinion piece in the Hindustan Times, identifying with tremendous specificity exactly what it would take for India to realize its potential, arguing that “The future of energy is solar and it is very bright” and making clear that India can solve the problem of its limited unused land area by putting a full 40 percent of the country’s total solar generation on roof-tops. Ambani is not just opining. His company has committed to build 6 GW of solar power in the State of Rajasthan, which would equal all of its conventional power generating capability, making Reliance perhaps the first major fossil fuel company in the world to switch to clean energy.

And UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg challenged India to recognize that the public health costs of continuing to rely primarily on coal for its electricity were no longer tolerable. Bloomberg, with whom I am working on the Envoyship, also told key Indian business and governmental leaders that they should be cautious about assuming that needed financing would be there long term for coal power, since investors were beginning to shy away—from concerns about climate implications but also because solar was clearly going to be cheaper over the next three decade. Investors, Bloomberg argued, are worried that coal plants may become stranded because they are no longer competitive.

But Bloomberg was enormously bullish about India’s clean energy opportunities.

“The fact is: People want to live in cities with clean air and water, good public transportation, and streets that are safe for walking and biking. And where people want to live, businesses want to invest. The good news is, as Prime Minister Modi is showing, confronting climate change goes hand-in-hand with smart economic growth. And from my experience, he is absolutely correct to make cities a central focus of his work.”

India is particularly vulnerable to the downside of fossil fuels and global warming. The City of Mumbai, which generates 40 percent of the nation’s tax revenues, has a larger population at risk from sea level rise and storm surge than any city on the planet—2.5 million residents are already forced to live below the high tide line at present sea level. The nation, only a year ago, was spending 5 percent of its national income importing coal and oil. Paying for imported carbon had forced the Reserve Bank of India to raise interest rates to growth-strangling levels, and the economy had tanked. Suddenly, with oil temporarily at a more reasonable price, and coal following it down, interest rates have been slashed. The Indian economy is beginning to hum again. But rates are not as low as business would like. RBI is being cautious, worrying that cheap oil and coal are a momentary relief only. If a booming India keeps relying on imported carbon to fuel its future, the cost will, indeed become unbearable, and fairly soon.

But GW of solar power don’t stoke the demand for imported coal. Nor does moving goods from trucks to railroads. Rail Minister Prabhu seems confident the next budget will give him the resources to begin rebuilding India’s rail system, which now carries only 1/3 of its goods. (In China and the U.S. rail handles 50 percent of all goods traffic.) And the main focus of Bloomberg’s India visit, Modi’s aspiration to create 100 Smart Cities, offers India a key strategy to minimize its reliance on imported fossil fuels. As Bloomberg points out, in most America cities most of the carbon pollution comes from transportation—but not NYC, where transit carries the bulk of the burden. Given the size and density of cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chenai, India doesn’t have the option of adopting auto-centric growth—Delhi cannot become Houston. So New York ought to be their model. And if it is, India will need a fraction of the oil per capita that the U.S. uses, even as it catches up economically.

So India can have its Swach Shakti moment, its gigawatts of solar and wind, its high performance urban development, its inclusive, low-carbon growth. But there are two major threats.

  • As Piyush Goyal points out, low carbon development costs less long term than fossil dependence—but it takes more capital. India’s can’t finance the low carbon energy and infrastructure it needs from its own resources—it needs access to Western financial markets with their lower interest rates. Assuring that liquidity is the most important challenge facing the Global North as it gets ready for the Paris Climate Summit. In the Great Recession nations ensured banking liquidity, and justified it as self-protection. Now we need to do it for climate protection.
  • As Ambani and other Indian business leaders were reminding their political leadership this week, India still has an unfulfilled reform agenda. Regulations need to assure solar developers that if they provide power they will get paid. Rules that hamper off-grid developers from borrowing money need to be simplified. If India is to install 160 GW or more of renewable power it must make it in India. That means much easier permit processes for factories and transmission lines. If investing and building new manufacturing capacity in India continues to be a herculean task, dragged down by the relics of India’s permit raj, the 160 GW dream will remain an aspiration only.

So it is true, as the conventional wisdom has it, that India and the US have different responsibilities in combating the climate threat. What isn’t true is that the argument ought to be about who is going to sacrifice, since sacrifice is not the key to progress—collaboration and cooperation are. After the last week, I would gently suggest that it is India, not the US, which is closer to genuine climate leadership.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Public Utilities Should Embrace Renewable Energy Revolution, Not Get Run Over By It

Why Utilities Hate the Clean Power Rule

A Modest Proposal to Suppress the Whiskey Rebellion and Heal American Politics (With Apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Animation showing percent of acres burning worldwide. NASA / GSFC / SVS

New NASA Study Solves Climate Mystery, Confirms Methane Spike Tied to Oil and Gas

By Sharon Kelly

Over the past few years, natural gas has become the primary fuel that America uses to generate electricity, displacing the long-time king of fossil fuels, coal. In 2019, more than a third of America's electrical supply will come from natural gas, with coal falling to a second-ranked 28 percent, the Energy Information Administration predicted this month, marking the growing ascendency of gas in the American power market.

Keep reading... Show less
Pexels

Forest Gardening With Space for Wild Elephants

By Michael B. Commons

In my collaboration with Terra Genesis International, I have been given space and support to investigate what we may call "Regenerative Pathways," looking at real life examples of functional farming systems that we can identify as being on the "Regenerative Agriculture Pathway."

While these farms/farming systems might be called "Regenerative Farms," we see regeneration more as a long term process and continuum that we can evaluate through indicators such as soil health, water retention, biodiversity, community health and more.

Keep reading... Show less
Slava Bowman / Unsplash

How Can We Help Put a Human Face on Climate Change?

By John R. Platt

Communicating the truths about climate change isn't always easy. Sometimes the effects of climate change seem to hover in the future, or are occurring most visibly in other parts of the world. Other times they're subtle—at least for now. And of course, there are some people who just don't want to hear anything about it.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Aerial view of Yaguas River and the Cachimbo tributary. Alvaro del Campo, Field Museum

Peru's Newest National Park Safeguards 2 Million Acres of Amazon Rainforest

The Peruvian government announced it will establish a new and enormous national park in the Amazon.

Yaguas National Park, located in the northern region of Loreto, consists of 2,147,166 acres of rainforest, a vast river system and is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals, including giant otters, woolly monkeys, Amazonian river dolphins and manatees. The park also features 550 fish species—one of the richest fish faunas in the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Molteno Dam Reservoir in Cape Town. Wikimedia Commons

Will Cape Town Become the First Major City to Run Out of Water?

Cape Town is on track to become the first major city in the world to run out of water.

The world-renowned tourist destination—and the second-most populous urban area in South Africa after Johannesburg—could approach "Day Zero," when most taps run dry, by April 21, Mayor Patricia de Lille said Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
The mountains of Haiti. PO2 Daniel Barker / DVIDS

Haiti’s Most Popular Ecotourism Destinations

The tropical Caribbean island of Haiti is a paradise with a rich, fascinating history, natural wonders and diverse cultural offerings. It has also been named by some as the next big thing in regional tourism.

But ecotourism in particular could become important for Haiti, with its rich land and sea biodiversity. Globally, the business of ecotourism generates more than $600 billion a year and is connected to hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
iStock

Nearly All Coastal Governors Denounce Plan to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling

Politicians from coastal states around the country continue to call for their states to be exempt from the Trump administration's proposed expansion of offshore drilling following its politically-tinged decision last week to remove Florida from the plan.

The Interior Department said last week that Secretary Ryan Zinke had spoken with seven coastal governors opposed to drilling, including the governors of North and South Carolina, Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's office told press Zinke would consider removing the state from the plan following their call, while California Gov. Jerry Brown's office reports that Zinke promised to travel to the state to further discuss the offshore leases.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Rob Hainer / IStock

In Alabama, a Cleanup Unearths Toxins—and Scandal

By Matt Smith

Lot by lot, backhoes and dump trucks are scraping and hauling away yards on the north side of Birmingham to remove soil laced with heavy metals and other industrial wastes—the legacy of this city's years as a steelmaking power.

Federal prosecutors say that effort also uncovered something else: a scheme to save polluters millions by putting the neighborhood's representative in Montgomery on their payroll.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!