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India – an interesting and challenging energy future

Prime Minister Modi of India has pledged to provide electricity to every one of the 300 million Indians living in the dark, not an insignificant promise considering the size of the country and the scale of work and investment that will be required. Modi has also recently increased his 2022 target for renewable energy from an achievable 20 GW to a very ambitious 100 GW. The installation rate required to achieve this would exceed the current renewable installation rate of China and the USA combined. With solar construction in country between 2014 and 2015 reaching only 4 GW, the challenge is significant. In order to promote the delivery of solar power to the grid, Modi announced last week that requires the state-controlled power company to sell cheaper coal power along with more expensive solar as a single unit. Singrauli in North India is the first coal plant to take part – the 1700 MW unit’s output will be sold along with power from 3 GW of solar installations. Other steps are also being made to promote solar elsewhere and the world’s first 100% solar powered airport, Cochin International, was opened in the country last month.

India recognises that, for the moment, the means to securing a reliable electricity network is not a choice between renewables and fossil fuels, but rather a combination of both to secure base load and output. Almost 75 GW of coal capacity has come on-line since 2010, bringing the total capacity to almost 165 GW in 2015. A further 512 GW of capacity has been proposed but only 75 GW is currently permitted and 69 GW under construction. For the moment only 1 in 6 of coal plants proposed in India are actually reaching completion. Part of the problem is the domestic situation in India – the ongoing coal shortages, inadequate coal deliveries and a relatively ineffective transmission and distribution grid (electricity loss >25%). However, funding is also a significant issue. Sources such as the World Bank have ceased all funding of any coal-related activities in India. The UN has been more pragmatic, continuing with funding with the understanding that investment is needed to ensure that any new plants built are clean and efficient. Japan has also stepped in, using climate change funding to help build high efficiency plants in India. And it would seem that India is stepping up to the clean coal challenge by proposing a new set of emission standards for particulates, SO2, NOx, and mercury for new plants which are similar to those set in the EU and China. Again, this would be a significant commitment which will incur both technical challenges as well as significant cost.

And so India is going through an incredible period of change in the energy sector. Now is the time to visit the country and to chat with those involved at ground level – the regulators, the utilities and the industry. The IEA CCC, the US State Department and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) together are running a series of clean coal workshops in Chenna, India, from 16-20th November. These workshops will cover energy efficiency as well as options for multi-pollutant emissions control. Check out http://mec11.coalconferences.org/ibis/MEC11/home for more details on how to take part.

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