Though India promised to reduce emissions at the Paris meet, it faces a huge financial hurdle of $2.5 trillion and several challenges before it can come anywhere close to fulfilling its pledges.
By Swati Prasad
The world recently cheered the agreement at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21). It has been termed as the “triumph of international diplomacy” as it struck a balance between the interests of the developed and the developing world.
India had a big role to play in arriving at this historic pact. Being the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and a developing economy with 300 million people living without electricity, India did not set an emission cap and stressed its inability to drop coal from its energy mix.
In its INDC (intended nationally determined contributions), submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Modi government said India intends to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP from 35 to 33 percent by 2030, and aims to achieve about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources during this time-frame. “It’s a very ambitious target,” said Damandeep Singh, director, CDP India, which works with corporations to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. But there are several challenges India will need to address before it comes anywhere close to fulfilling its pledges.
India’s commitments in Paris have huge financial implications. It has put the cost of meeting these pledges at $2.5 trillion between now and 2030. This includes several costs, including that of adapting to climate change, implications for agriculture, disaster management, etc.
But then, there is little India can expect in terms of foreign aid. “The international commitment is only $100 billion for climate finance and that too for all developing countries together,” says Rakesh Kamal, program officer, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
India, in its INDC, has stated its intention to install a capacity of 175 GW of renewable energy, up from around 25 GW today. “This implies an investment of around $175 billion,” says Singh.
India’s commitments in Paris have huge financial implications. It has pegged it at $2.5 trillion between now and 2030. And
little can be expected by way of foreign aid.
India needs equity, rather than debt, in renewable energy projects. Today, businesses lack confidence while investing in green energy. For instance, some state regulations don’t permit companies to transmit power generated (through renewables) to other states, says Singh.
Such bottlenecks have been cited by big companies like Wipro in joining CDP and The Climate Group’s RE100 global platform, wherein companies commit to becoming carbon neutral by relying 100 percent on renewable power. Infosys recently became the first Indian company to join RE100 and aims to become carbon neutral by 2018. “India needs to create business confidence, so that companies are willing to put in money in renewables and greener technology,” adds Singh.
Analysis of INDCs conducted by international research organisations reveal that there are two pillars to achieving its goals—first, reducing the energy intensity of the GDP and second, reducing the carbon intensity of electricity. Both require green technologies. The first pillar requires efforts at reducing energy demand through energy efficient infrastructure, appliances and lighting options (such as increased reliance on LED bulbs). The second requires non-fossil, fuel-based power generation.
India is harnessing both wind and solar energy to meet its renewable energy targets. Unfortunately, both these energy sources have downsides, which need to be overcome through further research and investment in new technologies. Take the case of wind energy. According to a report published by CSE in 2013, wind power can substantially impact ecology and human health. A lot of the potential for wind lies in the Western Ghats, which have considerable forest area. At present, there is no regulation that prevents wind installations from being set up in areas that can damage the ecology.
A senior scientist working with the government on renewable energy confirms this. “India is not taking strategic steps to counter the negatives of wind energy. There is no planning to mitigate ecological and health impact or even an adequate focus on economic viability and efficiency of wind energy projects,” he said.
Even solar energy is not entirely safe. There are reports that solar modules contain several potentially dangerous materials such as silicon tetrachloride, cadmium selenium and sulphur hexafluoride. Most solar panels have an expected lifespan of 20 years. India is also a dumping ground for Chinese solar cells, which have a lower lifespan of around 15 years. So by 2030, India will have a significant number of dead panels piled up, which are said to be carcinogenic.
According to Aruna Kumarankandath, program officer, CSE, there is a huge market worldwide built around recycling of solar panels and up to 80-90 per cent of the solar cell can be recycled.
“Unfortunately, no such disposal industry is prevalent in India. Since this is not an immediate problem, there is little in terms of policy and regulation in the country,” she says.
India has a long to-do list for meeting its Paris pledges. The first step is research. Let’s take the case of solar panels. “India is not doing any research on module efficiency (the ratio of the electrical output of a solar cell to the incident energy in the form of sunlight),” said the senior scientist. Module efficiency in India is only 12 to 16 percent as compared to several other countries that use advanced solar panels of efficiency up to 25 to 28 percent. When module efficiency doubles, you need lesser panels for generating the same amount of electricity. This also saves space.
The second step is to go in for newer technologies. There are innovations that need a huge market like India. One such technology is by researchers at Michigan State University—a fully transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass (like your smartphone’s screen) into a photovoltaic solar cell. It holds tremendous promise for India. “If this technology is widely adopted, the windows of tall buildings in cities like Bangalore, Mumbai or Gurgaon can become energy generators,” said Singh.
The third step is to rely on economies of scale. Quoting the example of how the price of LED bulbs has come down due to increased demand, Singh is of the view that greater focus on renewables will encourage energy firms to reduce the price of their equipment. Companies like Siemens AG are working on reducing the price of its renewable energy solutions.
Citing the example of offshore wind energy, which is today prohibitively expensive for a country like India, Bernd Eilitz, a spokesperson of Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Division, said: “Siemens’ cost out target (to reduce cost of technology) is to bring technology to the market that allows to produce offshore wind energy for less than Euro 0.10 per kilowatt-hour by 2020 (a 50 percent reduction from the current rate).” India has suitable sites in terms of wind conditions and water depths for offshore wind.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle before India emanates from the unrealistic targets set by the Paris agreement and the fact that it doesn’t set limits on how much countries can emit. The agreement’s aim is to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialization levels.
The INDCs of all countries imply a 2.7 degree Celsius of global warming by 2100. “Comparing the existing INDCs to the available budget indicates that for a better than even chance of meeting the 1.5-degree target, the remaining carbon budget is exhausted well before 2030,” says Kamal.
The carbon space for a 1.5-degree Celsius target is so limited that developed countries will have to reach net zero emissions in the next five to 10 years. “Developing countries will have some more time, but their development space will be so constrained that they will need massive support in terms of finance, technologies and capacity so that they are able to meet their basic development and poverty alleviation needs while remaining within the available carbon budget,” Kamal adds.
Then again, India needs to be self-reliant, and can’t expect much support from the developed world. With a poor track record on delivering projects and lack of adequate awareness amongst India’s 1.25 billion pollution and its policy-makers on the hazards of climate change, there is a lot of ground India has to cover before its pledges in the Paris agreement come up for review in 2023.