In­dia, still tied to coal, backs so­lar as Paris cli­mate talks loom

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - An­nie Ban­erji

Un­der a blis­ter­ing sun, work­ers in­stall a sea of so­lar pan­els in a north In­dian desert as part of the gov­ern­ment’s clean energy push - and its trump card at up­com­ing cli­mate change talks in Paris. Af­ter years of bet­ting big on highly pol­lut­ing coal, In­dia is un­der huge pres­sure to com­mit to cut­ting car­bon emis­sions ahead of the ma­jor meet aimed at forg­ing a global cli­mate pact.

But the world’s third largest emit­ter ar­gues the bur­den should lie with in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries, which have been ac­cused of hypocrisy in heap­ing de­mands on poorer na­tions.

In­stead, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s gov­ern­ment is bank­ing on in­creas­ing so­lar ca­pac­ity five­fold to help cut crip­pling black­outs and bring power to 300 mil­lion In­di­ans cur­rently liv­ing with­out.

The gov­ern­ment hiked its re­new­able energy tar­gets last week when it be­came the last ma­jor econ­omy to re­lease its pledges for the Paris talks.

A corner­stone of its cli­mate change pol­icy, the so­lar plans come even as In­dia boosts coal pro­duc­tion to meet its grow­ing needs, ig­nor­ing calls to slash its de­pen­dence on fos­sil fu­els.

With its year-round sun­shine, bar­ren plains and low-cost labour, the north­ern desert state of Ra­jasthan lies at the heart of Modi’s re­new­able energy am­bi­tions.

“So­lar gives you a steady in­come, steady re­turn. Here the main raw ma­te­rial is the sun,” Ra­makant Ti­bre­wala, chair­man of Roha Dyechem, a lo­cal com­pany mak­ing food colours which has jumped on the so­lar band­wagon.

Af­ter in­vest­ing 800 mil­lion ru­pees ($12 mil­lion), Ti­bre­wala has built 67 glis­ten­ing rows of pan­els in a Ra­jasthan so­lar park, shared with four other lo­cal com­pa­nies and spread over 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres).

Ti­bre­wala said he ex­pects to be con­nected to In­dia’s main grid in the com­ing weeks, pro­duc­ing 25 megawatts of power, and hopes to see a re­turn in sev­eral years.

$100 bil­lion needed

With the cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing pan­els fall­ing and con­sumer de­mand ris­ing, for­eign firms are also turn­ing to In­dia. Ja­pan’s Soft­Bank, US-based SunEdi­son and China gi­ant Trina So­lar have all pledged in­vest­ments in re­cent months.

But much more money is needed to reach the gov­ern­ment’s cur­rent goal of 100,000 megawatts of so­lar power by 2022, up from 20,000 at the mo­ment. Modi, a green energy en­thu­si­ast who helped cre­ate so­lar parks in his home state of Gu­jarat, has called for $100 bil­lion in in­vest­ment.

His gov­ern­ment has pledged to smooth the path in a coun­try known for its in­fu­ri­at­ing lev­els of red tape, as well as pro­vid­ing tax breaks and other in­cen­tives for in­ter­ested com­pa­nies. “We do need money,” Upen­dra Tri­pa­thy, the top of­fi­cial in the new and re­new­able energy min­istry, told AFP. Tri­pa­thy de­nied the gov­ern­ment was un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to trans­form its energy sec­tor, say­ing in­stead the “whole world” was im­pressed by In­dia’s


“On its own, it (the gov­ern­ment) thinks it is good for the globe. And it thinks it is good for the coun­try,” he said.

‘Cat­a­strophic’ coal

But even as In­dia hikes up so­lar power, the gov­ern­ment has vowed to dou­ble coal pro­duc­tion by 2020 to one bil­lion tonnes to meet the needs of its bur­geon­ing econ­omy, which grew by seven per­cent in the first quar­ter, match­ing China.

In­dia, which sits on the world’s fifth largest coal re­serves, al­ready re­lies on coal-fired power sta­tions for 60 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity.

Af­ter storm­ing to vic­tory at elec­tions last May, Modi pledged to bring elec­tric­ity to the mil­lions of poor who are not con­nected to the coun­try’s over­stretched power grid.

Ex­perts warn In­dia’s con­tin­u­ing de­pen­dence on coal will be en­vi­ron­men­tally dev­as­tat­ing, and call for a cap on emis­sions which are blamed for cli­mate change.

“For a grow­ing coun­try like In­dia, which will be re­quir­ing enor­mous amounts of energy in the com­ing years... to base its pri­mary re­source on coal is go­ing to be cat­a­strophic, not only for In­dia but also for the world,” said Kr­ish­nan Pal­las­sana, In­dia di­rec­tor of the non­profit Cli­mate Group.

Modi came un­der pres­sure over the is­sue dur­ing his trip to the US for the on­go­ing UN Gen­eral Assem­bly.

But the premier told a fo­rum that the fo­cus should be “cli­mate jus­tice” rather than cli­mate ac­tion, say­ing rich coun­tries should help poorer ones which suf­fer the most from ris­ing sea lev­els and droughts blamed on global warm­ing.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who piled pres­sure on Modi dur­ing his visit to New Delhi in Jan­uary, urged world lead­ers to step up ef­forts for a “strong” cli­mate agree­ment at the year-end talks.

But Modi has said In­dia will not be forced into com­mit­ting to a timeline on curb­ing emis­sions.

“De­vel­oped coun­tries must share clean tech­nol­ogy, pro­vide fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the de­vel­op­ing world to com­bat cli­mate change,” Modi said at a Septem­ber meet­ing of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in Delhi.


In­dia has big plans for ma­jor so­lar plants - but small-scale op­tions are also prov­ing use­ful.

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