Clean Energy Alternatives Could Help India Avoid Another Blackout

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Amrita Batra, Program Assistant, India Initiative and Food and Agriculture, San Francisco

Over 680 million Indians across 20 of India’s 28 states were affected by the world’s largest power outage this week. While fortunately, a natural disaster was not the cause, nature may have very well played a leading role in the blackout. From scorching temperatures resulting in a growing reliance on air-conditioners, to a severely lacking monsoon leading to an unusually high dependence on energy-intensive irrigation, the changing climate worsens an energy shortage that many have already described as nothing short of a crisis.

But for a country like India, inherently complex and intricately woven by traditions and customs that change every few miles, the path to finding a solution for its “energy crisis” too, will require a range of solutions to come together, both existing and new.  As described by my colleague, Anjali Jaiswal, here and here, renewable energy, one of India’s more recent solutions to increase its energy supply, is also proving to be the country’s most promising solution. Prime Minister Singh recently highlighted the long-term role and significance of clean energy in India, in an address to India’s Parliament: “We are conscious of the long term need to shift to a pattern of energy use that is sustainable and preserves our environment and ecological harmony. Expanding clean and renewable energy sources is a key action area in our energy security strategy.”

Led by India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, early efforts have indeed resulted in successes for the country’s emerging clean energy markets. By the end of 2011, India’s total installed capacity of grid-interactive renewable power totaled 25,000 MW. Twenty per cent of this renewable energy was added in 2011- India’s highest renewable energy capacity addition in any given year. In money terms, renewable energy investments in India touched $103 billion in 2011- an increase of 52 per cent from the $6.8 billion invested in this sector in 2010.  The country’s nascent solar market is a shining example of clean energy potential in India – just earlier this week, solar photovoltaic power installed in India exceeded the 1 gigawatt (GW) benchmark.

Also earlier this week, as an outcome of the 2009 U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy, formed by Prime Minister Singh and President Obama, the U.S. launched a $20 million clean energy deployment program (PACE-D) to assist in the development of India’s low-carbon, energy-secure future. Over the next five years, the PACE-D program will support:

  • the increase of India’s renewable energy capacity
  • the acceleration of energy efficiency measures
  • development of clean energy technology

These clean energy milestones were eclipsed (no pun intended) by this week’s power blackout, a clear lesson that while India is taking bold steps to accelerate clean energy development in India, there is much more to be done, and done quickly.

This October, the energy spotlight will be on India once again, when Prime Minister Singh will inaugurate the “International Seminar on Energy Access” in New Delhi. Conceptualized around the United Nation’s declaration of 2012 as the ‘International Year of Sustainable Energy for All,’ the meeting will focus largely on the role of solar power for energy access and renewable energy storage.  Even before Minister Singh welcomes world leaders in New Delhi, the power outage has provided India with even more momentum in its drive to create, improve and implement policies to solve its worsening energy crisis. And at the top of its to-do list should be efforts to bolster its new, and yet increasingly reliable, clean energy market.

To learn more about the India Initiative’s efforts to advance clean energy development in India please visit www.nrdc.org/international/india

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