The recently released ‘Climate Change Mitigation Report’ of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is yet another reminder that we have just a decade to stabilize emissions. Rapid economic growth in India and China has turned them into significant emitters. Although per capita emissions are low, their growing stature as economic powers has put the climate change spotlight on both. China’s political presence in Bangkok, in sharp contrast to India, is an indication of how it is in building its position.
Sadly, the Indian government is yet to formulate a vision to address the issue of climate change. It has not even begun to communicate the gravity of the crisis to its own people. Within the government, confusion persists on whether India should do something to clear the mess or insist that it will do nothing as it has not created the problem. Conflicting views emerge from the various concerned ministries.
The ministry of environment and forests plays by the rule book of yesteryears, giving the impression that climate change is a secondary issue and not India’s responsibility. The ministry of new renewables prefers to play a very secondary role in the energy sector. Meanwhile, the ministries of finance and power seem to live in a world of simple arithmetic driven by short-term thinking. For fear of compromising economic growth, they are unwilling to internalize the cost of climate change into energy generation costs, thus blocking the development of renewables. They do not see that energy efficiency is a “win-win” solution, a source that can free up an enormous amount of energy at a fraction of the cost of building new power plants. The silver lining is the ministry of external affairs, which admits that “climate change needs to be addressed on a war footing; India will need to formulate coherent policy that would marry the twin goals of environment protection and economy”.
The missing piece is a new vision based on proven and clean technologies and factoring massive improvement in energy efficiency measures cutting across all sectors. The recently released Greenpeace Energy Scenario, Energy [R]evolution, shows how this can be achieved.
As per the estimates of the ministry of power, the total energy required by 2031-32 is around 900 gigawatt (gw). The Energy [R]evolution Scenario provides an alternative pathway. About 38% of this would be met by energy efficiency measures and the rest through a phased increase in the use of renewable energy in the order of 10% by 2010, 20% by 2020 and up to 50% by 2050. It shows the way for a gradual phasing out of coal from the current levels of 67% to 20% by 2025 and down to 7% by 2050. Gas would form a bridging fuel. Carbon emissions would remain at the current levels of 1,100 million tonnes.
All this calls for an enormous redirection of investments. Typically, the investment required to save a megawatt is significantly less than to build a new power plant. Investment costs of “producing” savings, i.e., making energy available for other uses by improving efficiency, range from as little as Rs20 lakh/MW in the household lighting sector to Rs70 lakh/MW in the commercial and industrial sectors. But there are significant challenges around creating efficiency projects that are bankable and of significant scale. These need efforts on a war footing. If this is done, the efficiency sector can see an investment of approximately Rs1.5 lakh crore in the next 30 years.
Among the renewables, wind energy in India is already a success story. India has the fifth highest grid-connected wind capacity in the world, and Indian companies such as Suzlon are emerging as key global players. The coming 20 years need to see an addition of 50,000MW from wind.
Even with all this, we can’t move away fully from fossil fuels. Here, India should prioritize investments heavily in gas-based power plants. From the current 30gw in 2003 it needs to grow to 130gw by 2030.
All the above steps will allow us to move away from coal—the fuel that produces the highest emissions per unit of electricity generated. The investment cost of the alternative proposed would be less than that of the coal-led path, but the end-user cost of electricity from gas and wind will be higher under current market conditions. This will change with the emergence of a stable price for carbon. Given the global urgency of tackling climate change, internalization of associated costs in energy prices is inevitable.
It is critical to start now, and the best way forward is to cut inefficiencies. This is why Greenpeace is advocating phasing out of the incandescent bulb. Every one talks of it—even companies that manufacture the incandescent bulb—but very little is happening, since it continues to dominate the marketplace. Banning the bulb, a seemingly simple solution, can effectively save close to 12,000MW of electricity and reduce 4% of India’s total carbon emissions. It would also place India in a position of strength, as one of the first few players in the global climate politics which has taken a proactive step to combat climate change. All that’s required is political will!
G. Ananthapadmanabhan is executive director, Greenpeace India. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org