India’s energy challenge.
Posted on August 1st, 2019

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As billions of people lift themselves out of poverty, we’ll need a lot more energy. But at the same time emissions need to reduce dramatically. This is the dual challenge the world faces.

India, with its growing, increasingly prosperous population – and where emissions have risen sharply – captures the complexity of this challenge better than anywhere.

The dual challenge

Despite strong, determined investment in renewable energy, coal is still likely to play a big role in India’s future energy mix.

In a small family bungalow outside Kerala, four ceiling fans spin overhead, a TV sits in the corner of the living area, and a fridge buzzes in the kitchen. This average Indian home is only modestly powered – but the electricity it’s using mostly comes from coal.

156% – Growth in Indian primary energy consumption by 2040.

India’s robust economic and population growth means that energy demand is rising more quickly here than anywhere else.

Although investment in renewable power sources like solar and wind continues at a rapid pace, coal continues to dominate; as the growth in consumption cannot be met with renewables alone – at least not in the near future.

116% – Growth in India’s net CO2 emissions by 2040.

Carbon emissions are projected to climb even further in the coming decade, but the growth rate will slow.

Learning from the lessons of the West – building smarter, more efficient buildings and cities, for example – and replacing coal with lower carbon natural gas alongside renewables will play a crucial role. But it’s the Government’s ambitious policies that will predominantly drive change, and India is showing ingenuity and determination in developing smart solutions – and rolling them out on a massive scale.

Critical steps

A radical response to provide cleaner-burning LPG, more efficient LED lights, and broad investment in solar are just a few examples of India’s ingenuity and incredible ability to deliver rapid change.

20 Gigawatts – Government solar target 20GW capacity in 2022.

Sweeping solar

India wants 40% of its electricity to be renewably sourced by 2027, and most of that growth is likely to come from solar. The Government isn’t wasting any time: in a country where sunshine is in abundance, India is on track to become the world’s third-largest solar power generator after China and the United States.

In 2017, the Government began a massive effort to deliver power to every home in the country. Part of the ‘Saubhyga’ scheme includes supplying off-grid, remote households with low-cost, or even free home solar kits – enough electricity for lighting, a fan, and one DC power plug. The wider scheme has been transformative, with the government claiming over 99% of the country is now electrified.

In 2018, for the first time, India’s investment in solar power outpaced coal. The speed of this transition is driven by a combination of sweeping government initiatives and the rapidly decreasing cost of solar panels. This cost-reduction has also fuelled large-scale solar projects across the country. The results speak for themselves: last year, solar accounted for nearly 53% of new energy capacity additions in the country.

LPG: Cleaner cooking

On a dusty street on the outskirts of Chandīgarh, a mother in a vibrant green sari prepares a fire for dinner. Tonight it’s sarhon dā sâg – mustard leaf dhal served with roti. She’s using coal, a typical fuel source, along with dung cakes, firewood and kerosene.

Emissions from these dirty burning fuels are lethal for those living in close proximity to the cooking quarters. The latest report from the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre claims nearly a million people in India die annually from direct and indirect exposure of this kind of household pollution.

In 2014, the Government rolled-out a scheme to deliver cleaner-burning LPG to every household, and the results are nothing short of staggering.

The program, a straight-forward application process for a small, refillable LPG tank, has resulted in close to 80% of Indian homes having access to LPG in 2018, up 56% since 2016 according to the FGE.

In 2011, 89% of rural households used solid fuels for cooking

The government introduced 35 million LED lightbulbs.

LED: Increased efficiency

This year 30,000 existing incandescent streetlamps in the small north-eastern province of Tripura will make the switch to LED. It’s a sweeping and industrious change, but this massive government initiative is not the first from the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), part of the Union Ministry of Power in India.

In 2015, they introduced a radical scheme to deliver subsidised LED lights to every single household in the country through a simple online application. 35 million lightbulbs have been distributed under the scheme so far, each consuming about 80% less energy and resulting in annual savings of over 45 thousand kWh. The ultimate target of 770 million bulb replacements would mean a staggering 60 million tonne reduction in CO2 emissions.

Project director Saurabh Kumar says, “We hope to continue building on the momentum generated through this effort to continue scaling the Indian and global energy efficiency market”.

The future

“For countries where average energy consumption is less than 100 gigajoules per person, increases in energy consumption tend to go hand-in-hand with significant improvements in human well-being.”Bob Dudley, IP Week 2019

The world is facing a colossal dual energy challenge and countries like India are working hard, but everyone – particularly developed economies – must play their part.

According to BP’s 2019 edition of the Energy Outlook, improving energy efficiency in developed countries where consumption per person is considerably higher will be key to helping solve the dual energy challenge globally.

India and other developing countries do have an advantage, says Sashi Mukundan, BP’s Head of India. “New economies have the benefit of starting fresh with less polluting energy sources. For instance, switching to electric vehicles and distributed renewable energy across emerging economies. The reality is that a massive effort by all is needed to transition to a low carbon world and limit global warming.”

The Dual Energy Challenge is one of the world’s greatest challenges, but India proves that smart initiatives and robust action can deliver real change – and it’s offering great hope for the future.

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