Trust the Indians to develop a more pragmatic vision for their environmental priorities. They don’t worry about global warming, no, their focus in developing solar, wind and biomass energy sources is energy self sufficiency. With limited oil and gas resources and finite good quality coal reserves, the Indians are looking to develop 20,000 mw of solar energy power by 2020 according to the National Action Plan on Climate Change launched last year.
56% of India’s 1.1bn people do not have access to electricity and yet India still manages to be the world’s 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, 40% of which come from coal power stations according to the Washington Post. India has refused to sign up to the formal caps on carbon omissions saying their first priority is poverty eradication according to Bloomberg.
At the moment, India produces only around 3% of its power from all renewables, the problem is that while the government has given generous tax breaks to firms investing in making renewable energy equipment they have not been willing to pay a premium for the electricity that equipment produces. “Unless the government guarantees that it will purchase solar power at a lucrative cost with feed-in tariffs, the industry will not take off. We end up exporting three-fourths of solar cells and photovoltaic modules to Europe,” said an executive of a solar power company. With a well developed metals industry and strong engineering skills, the industry does have the potential to generate significant jobs, both for the production of the power generation equipment and the installation around the country, but as in the west it seems some subsidy would be required.
However, where India is succeeding is in off grid developments, lighting up the homes of the rural poor with roof mounted solar panels. But here, the technology is different from that which may eventually fuel power generation for the national grid. Evidence elsewhere has shown wind, thermal solar and biomass make more viable large scale generating sources than photovoltaic cells. One positive macro trend is India has developed rules mandating that commercial buildings use solar energy to source 25% of their hot water supplies. With abundant sunlight and a relatively skilled low cost labor base you would think this would be a straightforward route to reduce energy consumption for buildings but municipal bodies have been slow to comply.
India does have an interesting plan for re-forestation or afforestation as it is termed and, unusually for India, even has $2.3bn set aside to fund some 6 mn hectares of forests across five states according to Reuters. May be they are hoping they can buy off western criticism of their greenhouse gas emissions by planting counterbalancing forests to soak up the carbon.