India’s blackout signals urgent need for clean energy restructure

2 August 2012

Aditi Dass, Director of Technology Programs India, The Climate Group, looks at how India’s blackouts over the past week are yet another sign that we must put clean energy at the heart of India’s energy system. Now.

Earlier this week, over 680 million people in India -- almost 10% of our global population -- woke up to stifling heat, no light in their houses and infrastructure mayhem, as the nation experienced one of the world’s biggest power blackouts.

And it’s not the first time either. We’ve seen enormous power cuts plunge large portions of the country into darkness too often in the past, each time with no lessons learned.

But this time, the power outage – and how it was coped with at all levels – has caused many to question how India will handle the huge energy demands that come with its rapidly emerging economy. As nearly 100 million people are expected to enter the ‘middle class’ bracket by 2030, India’s energy needs are inevitably skyrocketing.

While fingers were pointed at various Indian states taking more energy than they are permitted, a larger culprit is India’s heavy reliance on coal. Almost three quarters of India’s electricity comes from coal, much of which is imported.

Energy security is a major prerequisite for sustainable growth. If India is to continue on its accelerated path of economic growth, a low carbon future that uses cheaper, cleaner, more accessible energy is the only one that will guarantee prosperity. We must move from coal to clean energy.

If we make the move, the opportunity for India’s low carbon economy will be huge.

Clean energy, particularly solar and wind, could revitalize India’s failing energy system. 40% of India is still not connected to the grid – a number we could eventually connect via renewable sources.

HSBC research shows that the global market for low carbon goods and services will reach US$2.2 trillion in the coming decade. And India’s share of this could be US$135 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of 17% that is predicted to outstrip even the world’s most powerful economies.

Happily, India is already emerging as a world leader in the clean energy sector. It boasts a total installed capacity of 17 gigawatts and a target to achieve 74 gigawatts of grid-connected renewable energy capacity by 2022.

Beyond clean energy, energy efficiency could also be hugely improved. India’s energy efficiency market is set to treble to US$77 billion in the next ten years, driven by demand in industry, buildings, energy storage and transport.

But while India has achieved much so far in scaling-up clean energy and efficiency, we must do more. Government and business leaders must take bold action to mobilize and scale up clean energy technology and improve energy efficiency in India.

If we act now, India can take the lead in the global race to provide technology solutions that benefit business and industry, support foreign investment, boost global competitiveness, cut down on energy costs and ease coal dependence.

We cannot wait for another blackout. This is our final warning that we must adopt clean energy now. We must all drive the pace and scale of the Clean Revolution in India.

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