India Cementing its Positions as World Leader in Renewable Energy
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India was one of the two countries singled out by US President Donald Trump when justifying his decision to roll back out of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord (PCA) involving 195 nations. The invective rhetoric against India and China ended with Trump questioning India’s ethos. “India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries,” as he indicated that India signed the PCA for money. This reputation looks out-of-date now that both countries have effectively reduced their reliance on fossil fuels, and have greatly accelerated their investments in green energy. The tangible progress made by India, which is also the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is astonishing, and worth celebrating. Experts now say that India is on its path to become a world leader in renewable energy.

According to a forecast made by Climate Action Tracker released last week at a United Nations climate meeting, India should easily exceed the target it set in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. India is expected to obtain forty percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2022, eight years ahead of schedule.

It’s quite ironic that the two nations that had only recently started industrialization have been pushed by world leaders to sign the Paris Deal. From their perspective, most of the damage was already done by countries who had already industrialized more than a century ago.

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Trump did not stop with a single reference to India, as he delved into a victimhood narrative repeatedly: "China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it: India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours. Even Europe is allowed to continue construction of coal plants."

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The general population of India lives below the poverty line. It has lower per-capita emission than in richer countries with high consumption. On top of all of this, India is currently uplifting a substantial percentage of its population from abject poverty to middle-class living.

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It has every incentive to continue down the path of the current low-cost coal power infrastructure. But all this newly achieved economic growth won’t count if ultimately the planet goes toast.

World’s Biggest Polluter is now a World Leader in Renewable Energy

India has made substantial investment into renewable energy at the cost of short-term growth. The developing nation doesn’t take its pledge to prevent climate change lightly.  Last week, Indian Prime Minister Modi said it would be a “morally criminal act” for the world to not do its part on climate change.

The Modi government has set the target to 100GW solar capacity by 2022 – five times higher than its previous target. The extremely ambitious goal will bring the nation of 1.3 billion people closer to the Modi government’s commitment of providing 24-hour electricity to all Indians by 2019.

The question is an open one: Is this target achievable?

1.) Lack of Primary data 2.) Poor transmission infrastructure, and 3.) Lack of access to finance has clouded the possibilities of a sunshine sector that is seen as crucial to India’s groundbreaking energy goals.

However, recent signs show that the country is starting to make tremendous progress. It has signaled the world that it will become a world leader in renewable energy. In fact, consulting giant Ernst & Young estimates India is the world’s second best market for investing renewable energy.

With 250-300 clear sunny days in a year, India’s solar power reception is about 5,000 trillion kilowatt hour per year. This means that just 1 percent of India’s land area can meet the nation’s entire electricity requirements till 2030.

Such potentials have attracted foreign capital, which will ultimately help script India’s solar success story. In fact, recent developments in green energy has brought India onto the world map.

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Largest Solar Power Plants in the World

Believe it or not, the largest solar power plant in the world is in India. The Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park, in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, has an installed capacity of 1000MW. It is spread over 5,811 acres of land and packs 4 million solar panels. The solar park was built at the cost of one million USD, with Greenko, SoftBank Energy, Azure Power and Adani Group as joint developers. It will produce 2,600 million units of power per annum.

The world’s second largest solar power plant is also in India. The plant, in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, is spread over 2,500 acres and consists of 2.5 million solar panels. The Kamuthi Solar Power Project can produce 648MW of power and is enough to power 750,000 homes.

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The Indian Ministry of New & Renewable Energy has also approved the installation of 15 GW of new solar projects. A majority of these projects are “ground-based,” utility scale grid-connected solar parks, encouraging the use of wasteland across the nation. At the same time, the government is also adding 1GW of new solar power capacity to rooftops dotted across the nation. It also plans to install 44MW of solar PV on canal tops and banks, an innovative concept first piloted in Gujarat in 2012. These canal-top solar power projects require no land to set up the panels, and at the same time limit the evaporation of water from canals and reservoirs.

In a recent auction, developers of solar plants offered to sell power to the grid for 2.62 INR per kilowatt-hour. Now, this number is 50 percent less than what solar plants bid a year ago, and 24 percent less than the price of electricity generated from coal-fired plants.

World’s First Solar Powered Airport

Located in the Southern state of Kerala, also known as ‘God’s Own Country,’ is the world’s first airport to function completely on solar energy. Spread across a field of 46,000 solar panels tapping into the sunshine, the 12MW solar plant is expected to produce 18 million units of power.

Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), is the fourth largest airport in the country in terms of passenger traffic and requires 48,000 units of electricity per day. It will be able to prevent 3,00,000 tons of carbon emission from coal-fired power plants over a period of 25 years. The solar plant cost 10 million dollars to construct and the solar panels are expected to last roughly 25 years. Cochin airport also plans to sell the surplus electricity to the local electricity utility.

Apart from saving money, the airport will significantly reduce global warming by producing greener and cleaner energy. The Indian government has been encouraging local airports to consider how they can incorporate green energy into their operations.

Project Green Ports

India is also the first country in the world to run all government ports on renewable energy. All major ports – Chennai, Cochin, Ennore, JNPT, Kandla, Kolkata, Marmugao, Mumbai, New Mangalore, Paradip, Visakhapatnam and V O Chidambarnar will be made cleaner and greener. The Modi Government is now setting up projects across all 12 ports for power generation from renewable energy sources.

Besides, the ‘Project Green Ports’ initiative will also look into oil spill response facilities, prohibition of garbage disposal into the sea and improving the quality of harbor waste.

Big Nuclear Power Push

India is planning to have 14.6 GW nuclear capacity by 2024. Due to trade bans to nuclear programs and their access of limited thorium for nuclear power, the development of nuclear energy is a bit hampered by that. Just because you have nuclear, shouldn't stop you from pursuing solar as well.

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Green energy has become a darling investment area for India. The country has the largest thorium reserves in the world. The processing of thorium is cumbersome at the moment. However, India is now looking into better technology to make it up and running. Recently, it announced plans to build 10 nuclear reactors to produce clean energy. It is a part of the Modi Government’s largest scheme to make India self-sufficient in its unending energy needs. The development will also boost India’s position as a global leader in green energy. The nuclear reactors are set to generate 7,000NW of power, almost doubling the country’s current nuclear power capacity of 6,000MW.

Cancellation of Coal-fired Plants

In recent months, India has canceled several coal-fired plants, as solar energy prices come crashing through the floor. The government admitted canceling of proposed 14GW of coal-fired power plants. The potential $9 billion cost of building is no longer viable because of competition from green energy sources.

Moreover, the existing plants are running below 60 percent of capacity. In May, the Modi government lowered its annual coal output to 600 million tons from 660 million. This is hopeful news for the rest of the country. Any move away from coal would make a substantial difference in public health.

There are, of course, formidable challenges. India still cannot supply power to a large majority of its citizens that live in rural areas. Currently, there’s a huge rural electrification project going on. It’s uplifting to know that the Indians who’ll get electricity for the first time will get it from clean energy sources.

There is also a lesson here for the United States.

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