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Woman using a solar cooker in Gongma, India © Baciu

Leading India Toward a Clean Energy Revolution

India is currently in the midst of the world’s largest renewable energy expansion program.

India is the world’s fourth fastest growing economy. It has also undertaken a gamut of policies for the development of the country. In a rapidly changing world, industrialization and climate change have become the new normal, and India stands at a crucial juncture in devising its energy and climate policy. Recently, the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, North Korea’s provocative missile tests, instability in the Middle East and the rise of populism have all signaled a reshaping of the global geopolitical order.

India also holds the distinction of being the world’s fourth largest energy consumer, with a large part of this demand being met by importing fossil fuels. The country is facing many challenges in terms of its development ambitions vis-à-vis its environmental protection effort. At the same time, in a nation with over 1.3 billion people, of which many lack access to basic necessities for survival, India is committed to lifting a large proportion of its population out of poverty by accelerating efforts in its national policies without harming the environment. This is a massive task.

According to estimated projections, India’s energy demand is likely to grow from 570 million tons of oil equivalent to over 1,200 million tons. Rapidly declining oil reserves and looming uncertainty over oil supply, along with global price fluctuations and the impact of climate change, have affected the global status quo of energy security. At this critical juncture, a clean energy revolution is the need of the hour and climate finance is essential.

The inspirational message to take away is that India is currently in the midst of the world’s largest renewable energy expansion program, on course for 2022, and we can expect this project to usher in a new era in the nation’s energy sector. The government’s expansion plan aims to add 175GW of renewable energy into the country’s energy avenue. Since 2015, an ambitious target of adding 100GW of solar power and 60GW of wind power into India’s energy supply by 2022 has been in the pipeline.

It is imperative at this critical point to find a balanced way to meet the requirements of of world’s population and at the same time tend to develop, improve and improvise the existing infrastructure of civil society. At a time when the climate is changing — bringing with it extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels and an increase in annual mean temperature — creating a brighter, more secure and green future and focusing on energy security should be of prime concern for policymakers around the world.

The economy of a country is largely propelled by fossil fuels. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gases are emitted through electricity and heat production (25% of emissions); agriculture, forestry and other land use (24%); industry (21%); transportation (14%); buildings (6%); and other economic activity (10%).

With the creation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) during the UN Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) in Paris, India aims to boost its usage of solar energy, leading the fight against climate change.

The ISA is a joint movement of 121 developing and developed countries on the ultimate quest of bringing about an energy revolution. India’s objective of aligning its development policies with the ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals corresponds with reality on the ground, which becomes ever more evident as time progresses.

According to National Geographic, “That India has brightened dramatically … is not a surprise. The country is home to more than its fair share of people living without electricity, and its government has been working to change that by establishing a rural electrification program and investing heavily in renewable energy.” A recent report highlighted the achievements and initiatives taken by the Indian government. The findings show that over 13,500 of more than 18,450 villages have been electrified as of May 2017. Solar and wind energy have a record low tariff. In 2016-17, the net capacity addition of renewable power exceeded that of conventional power for the first time.

The installed capacity of renewable energy sources was 31,692.14MW in 2014 and, as of March 2017, the power sector saw an installed capacity of 57,260.2MW of renewable energy sources — an 80% increase over three years. Adequate power is available to meet the demands of consumers who have access to electricity. In 2013 and 2014, the supply gap in terms of available energy and peak demand stood at 4.2% and 4.5% respectively and has since decreased to 0.7% and 1.6% respectively in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, both solar and wind energy accounted for 3.5% of power generation in India. A successful transition of the ongoing energy program would mean the production of solar and wind power would quadruple by 2022.

In creating a well-established renewable energy infrastructure, there are many challenges that experts must take into consideration before strategizing the next step for storing the invaluable amount of produced energy. A range of problems exists, like that of the location of production grids, the transmission of power to household consumption and, as a consequence, a significantly higher degree of costs associated with it. Wasting renewable energy on the production grid is a serious problem and efforts to mitigate this must be made. Due to storage and other technical problems, the grids are not able to preserve optimum amounts and, therefore, a significant part of renewable energy is squandered.

Supply and Demand

Renewables have the potential to meet supply when peak demand necessitates it. The reform is vital for India’s energy security, and both the government and its citizens must play an active role in paving the way for renewable energy. The important aspects of optimum resource utilization, its accessibility and affordability to low-income groups will play a crucial role in bringing a clean energy revolution. A higher degree of reliability with efficiency, hi-tech solutions and low operation and maintenance costs is required. In order to bring on robust change, the authorities concerned with this important assignment can look to the less-tapped avenues of tidal energy, hydropower and biomass, biogas and geothermal energy.

It is time now to move from a fossil fuel-driven energy economy to a clean and renewable energy economy, making solar energy an important aspect of national energy needs. India must aggressively pursue its efforts in nuclear energy, providing a special emphasis on safety. The avenues for clean energy are still in a nascent phase across the country, but its use is growing. If the plans and policies are properly executed, then India could certainly lead the way toward meaningful and long-lasting progress.

The 21st century is at a critical juncture where the powers of science and technology have greatly shaped the world to a great extent but at a massive cost. If due care and steps to slow down fossil fuel consumption are not made, an inevitable collapse of human civilization can no longer be avoided. Governments, the public and private sectors, civil society and the next generation need to step up and work together. A great deal of responsibility lies with the public in order to understand the importance of clean energy, be sensitive to environmental issues and demand change.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Baciu / Shutterstock.com