Renewable energy – The answer to India’s emission woes

— Shashwat DC

Inflection point – as defined by dictionary – corresponds to an event or a turning point after which a dramatic change, with either positive or negative results, is expected to follow. The choices made at that point will set the course of action in the future. When it comes to climate change, India, as a nation, is at that flashpoint. While the climate change debate has engulfed much of the world, India still seems tshutterstock_85657657o be rather oblivious to the perils it faces, moving about indolently launching this mission or that. Yet, recent cataclysmic events like the floods of Uttarakhand or the cyclones in Andhra Pradesh, seem to have jolted the comatose nation. Discussion, debate and deliberation on climate change and what it entails is just about picking up.

Even on a global front, India is now being painted as a climate villain, a polluting villain that under the name of climate-commons opposes any move to restrict or commit its own CO2 emissions. As the world moves towards Paris in 2015, where the big-ticket global treaty on cuts and  emission is supposed to be penned, India will come under increasing pressure to come clean on its own CO2 emissions. It’s about time the world’s fourth largest CO2 emitter capped its own emissions.

Recently, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published a report titled, “Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 report”, which revealed some not-so-startling facts about India’s CO2 emissions. For instance, India’s CO2 emissions in 2012 continued to increase by 6.8 percent to about 2.0 billion tons, making it the fourth largest CO2 emitting country. While on a per capita basis, India’s CO2 emissions were much lower than those of most developed countries and China, the sheer increase in population has been a big factor in increasing the emissions. The reason is evident from the fact that the increase in 2012 was mainly caused by a 10 percent increase in coal consumption, which accounted for two third of India’s total emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and 55 percent of those from its electricity production. In fact, according to the report, India added 2,336 megawatts (MW) of new energy capacity to reach a total of 18.4 GW, accounting for about 8.7 percent of electricity generation, up from two percent in 1995.

At a staggering 55 percent, coal is the primary fuel for electricity generation in India. Thus, any plan or mission that aims to reduce the nation’s CO2 footprint, will necessarily have to factor in this equation and this is where renewable energy acts almost like a panacea to all the ills. As of June 2013, the total installed capacity of electricity in India increased from 132,327 MW in 2006-07 to 2,25,793 MW. India has the 5th largest power generation portfolio worldwide and is the fourth largest energy consumer globally.

Yet, the generation is not sufficient to meet the demands. According to government figures, the peak deficit was nine percent in 2013, leading to a decision to add generation capacity of 88,537 MW, import 82 million tons of coal, etc. With some 36 percent still having no access to electricity, the deficit is only going to rise. And any attempt to match the same with additional imports of coal will only add to our climate woes. We have a vivid example of China, where cities have become unlivable thanks to the numerous coal-fired plants belching toxic gases into the air.

The answer lies in the non-conventional sources of energy. As of January 2013, wind power accounts for 8.5 percent of India’s total installed power capacity, and it generates 1.6 percent of the country’s power. Largely, wind power projects have been in the southern states of India like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Solar energy is the next big story – thanks to the proximity to the equator, India has an average annual temperature that ranges from 25–27.5 degree Celsius. This means that India has huge solar potential. Going by the sheer potential, about 5,000 trillion kWh per year energy is incident over nation’s land area, with most parts receiving 4-7 kWh per sq m per day, makes India one biggest case of solar power. Recently, the government announced an ambitious plan to produce more electricity from renewable sources as a part of its target to add 10 gigawatts of solar energy by 2017 and 20 gigawatts by 2022.

shutterstock_114381907Notwithstanding the sheer impact in terms of energy security, renewable energy can play a much bigger role in reducing CO2 emissions. While the current thermal capacity is going to continue, any further additions need to be made from renewable energy. It is a known fact that a single wind turbine runs practically emission-free power for up to 20 years. According to one study, in India, wind energy is expected to generate up to 338 TWh of electricity in 2020, which would reduce CO2 emissions by 203 tons. India could achieve 46-74 percent of the emissions reductions required in the energy sector by wind energy alone.

The big question is, will India make the right choices? We need policies, frameworks and market forces to make this change happen. The demand for power will only keep increasing; the critical point is how we will meet them. The way the rest of the countries are going, except for China, almost all developed countries are reducing their CO2 intensity. The day is not far when India will turn into the second-largest emitter. Should we wait for that day before we get our act right?

(This piece was originally posted on



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