A lot of ink is being spent on the Modi government’s three-year scorecard these days but there is little mention of one remarkable success story with the most far reaching consequences for the future. That is the rise in energy from non-conventional sources. In that sense, the Paris Accord of 2015 is truly a landmark for India. At that meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed the government to installing 160 gigawatts (1 GW is 1,000 megawatts) of solar and wind power by 2022. That is on track but the more significant figure is that the country could also be accounting for 40 per cent of its power from non-fossil fuel sources by that date, eight years ahead of schedule.

One massive but largely unmentioned thrust area is LED bulbs as the illuminator of choice. Some 770 million street and household lights are being replaced with LED and this is to be done by by 2019. It translates into 20 GW of energy saved and tens of thousands of crores, while lighting up many more homes. It would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 million tonnes, almost as much as Chile’s entire output in 2015. In the last three years LED prices have fallen by 85 per cent, making Indian bulbs the world’s cheapest.

The price of solar power is also falling off the proverbial cliff. At the latest auction in May, solar farms in Rajasthan offered to sell power at `2.44 per unit. That is lower than coal power from the National Thermal Power Corporation at `3.20. It is true that the price does not reflect the subsidies being offered but as solar use rises costs may fall further with economies of scale. The real bonus here, though, is the continuing decline in carbon emissions. That would mean not only cleaner air and water but also help to slow down global warming.

The biggest change undoubtedly is in the government’s attitude. The UPA regimes before that had hedged and pleaded that they should, as a developing economy, not be held to the standards of Europe and the US. They were hesitant to commit to specific targets for emission reductions. By contrast the Modi government in 2015 promised specific reductions in carbon emission and significant additions to clean power commission. As energy minister Piyush Goyal told the recent Vienna Energy Forum, “Everything changed in 2015 with the Paris climate agreement. We must decouple economic growth from environmental impacts and leave a better world.”

India’s record so far in green energy makes nonsense of the tired response that industry and carbon emissions are inseparable twins, that you can’t have development without dirty air, and other similar bits of folk wisdom. It is worth noting that the current US administration has gone with that sentiment from the start. The world’s technology leader is committed to reviving coal in an extraordinarily retrograde step. Whether it changes that tune and in what way is not clear but the omens are not auspicious. Meanwhile, lesser lights like India are showing the way ahead. The solar revolution is not only creating thousands of new jobs and technological opportunities but plans for industry and manufacture need not stall on concerns about rising power plant pollution. It also means that the government should be reconsidering its plans for nuclear energy, which has been effectively priced out. The Russian reactors at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, have a negotiated price of `6.30 per unit, the Westinghouse offer is `9, and the French Areva wants `12. This does not include the cost of decommissioning and the peculiar hazards of nuclear plants. Fukushima 2011 is a frightening example.

It is not all rejoicing, however, as a decline of the coal sector means tens of thousands of jobs lost in mines and plants. We also have to reckon with the impact of plant closures on the banking and finance sectors, which have massive investments in thermal energy.

Nevertheless, this is an occasion for celebration because the news that China too is on track to exceed its own targets for clean power provides real hope that we may, in the next decade, be able to slow down global warming significantly. China has decided to scrap plans to build more than 100 new coal power plants and has reduced coal use for the third successive year. In other words, its fossil fuel use may have peaked and it is likely to decline from now on. Goyal too hopes there may be no need to build coal plants beyond those already under construction and that every government vehicle will run on solar power after 2030. As the world’s number one (China) and number three (India) producers of greenhouse gases clean up their acts the twin nightmares of civilisational collapse and species extinction recede, even if only by a little.

First published in the June 2016 print edition headlined “The world of clean power”.

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