Opinion
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Sun, wind, energy and some hot air
Armin Rosencranz and Pitamber Yadav
| 03 January, 2016
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The recent Paris Agreement on Climate Change requires India to reduce its heavy reliance on coal, which today supplies 70 per cent of India’s electricity, and gradually to replace coal with renewable energy. One of the aims of the agreement is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels and to try to lower the increase to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve common goals, most of the 198 participating countries proposed ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’. According to the Agreement, these contributions should be ‘ambitious’. The Agreement and its targets will be reevaluated every five years and possibly accelerated. 

India, China and the US played key roles in facilitating the agreement. In the build-up to the conference, each of these countries committed to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.  But India’s climate change rhetoric has varied little since 1992: The West must make substantial contributions financially to facilitate India’s reduction of greenhouse gases and to adapt to the effects of climate change. While waiting for the West to step up to the plate, India must deliver on the promise made in Paris to increasingly rely on renewable energy; it also must prove to its citizens that economic growth will continue.

The Paris Agreement pressures India to reduce its extensive use of coal. India can’t quickly drop coal as a main source of energy generation: it has already set a target of 1.5 billion metric tons of coal by 2020.?Article 2 of the Paris Agreement clearly states that it aims at “making global finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse-gas emissions and climate resilient development”. The Agreement seems to undermine Prime Minister Modi’s aim to increase per capita energy generation and electrify the entire country.

In its Nationally Determined Contributions submitted at Paris, India shamelessly asked for $2.5 trillion to meet its clean energy goals by 2030. (Only four of the world’s countries have total economies that exceed $2.5 trillion!) Obviously, large amounts of money, multiplied by the needs of other developing nations, would come from profit-seeking corporations. The required investment, according to Power Minister Piyush Goyal, would amount to approximately $90 billion. In the government budget for 2015-16, Rs. 2700 crore (between $400 and $500 million) has been allocated for energy generation through solar energy. This amounts to less than 1 per cent of the total required investment.  

Late in December 2015, India increased the subsidy budget for fitting solar-rooftop power systems eightfold to 50 billion rupees ($753 million) in a bid to expand installations by a similar amount by 2020. So now the GOI is ready to spend 1.2 per cent of Minister Goyal’s required investment in renewable energy.

In 2010, the Government of India launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. The objective of the Mission is to make India a global leader in solar energy. The aim was to achieve a target of 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022. The target was later increased to 100 GW in the 2015 Union budget. Solar photovoltaic (PV) will be responsible for creating more jobs than any other energy source. Pursuing the goal would give India a much needed solution to unemployment in India’s expanding population. 

India is the world’s fifth-largest wind energy producer and has 20 GW of installed wind power. But this potential can grow four to five-fold provided there is expansion in installed capacity; the wind industry can materialize as an important generator of jobs for the skilled as well as unskilled workforce. But in order to move forward, the government needs to address the issue concerning the financial debt of the state utilities. Government should first reduce the debt that is preventing expansion of these sources of renewable energies.  

In the Paris Agreement, India pledged to have clean energy generate 40 per cent of its energy needs by 2030; it currently lingers below 8 per cent at 37 GW. This means that in order to meet the 2030 target, India needs to add around 185 GW.  This target seems impossibly ambitious, particularly when investment in renewable resources like wind and solar energy is falling. In the wind energy sector, India generated 3 GW annually till 2011. As the investment has dropped, the annual production has dropped to 1.5 to 2 GW every year. In the current financial year, 0.644 GW has been produced. In order to meet the goals of 2022, wind energy needs to produce at least 100 GW by then. 

Similarly in the solar energy sector, India is adding 1 GW annually. With six years to go till 2022, 100 GW of solar energy needs to be produced! The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. But there are quite a few other ways to get renewable energy, and added  together - with sound energy storage and grid balancing technologies in place - it should be possible eventually to use renewables for all of India’s energy needs.

The government’s ‘Make in India’ programme requires building infrastructure, providing energy access to all. It is natural that India’s emissions will rise. The Indian government has consistently assured that there will be no impact on India’s aim of achieving sustainable growth while at the same time reducing carbon emissions. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has announced India’s goal of generating 100 GW of solar power and 60 GW of power from wind. India’s current policy framework to address renewable energy seems widely unrealistic. India is clearly not willing to give up on economic growth, while at the same time it doesn’t have either a policy framework or a capacity to address its climate change commitments.  

If India is able to achieve its goals, which is in fact a big ‘if’, then it will assist in reducing what is known as “emissions intensity” – namely the amount of carbon emitted per unit of energy produced. The commitments that have been made by India are huge, but what matters now is how well India balances its economic growth while respecting its promises made in Paris. India should aim to establish a sound policy framework that is transparent, consistent and benefits the country in the long-term. Supreme importance should be given to co-ordination between the central and state government. Without the existence of co-ordination, it will be impossible to implement ambitious national targets set for renewable energy generation.

At the moment, India must balance the promises of economic growth with climate change mitigation. India needs to take a forward looking approach and invest generously in renewable resources. Renewable technologies are labour intensive: investment in these resources would also lead to the creation of more domestic jobs as well as the production of clean energy. 

 The writers are, respectively, Professor of Law and a fourth year law student at the Jindal Global University.

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