24×7 Power for All: Post Rural Electrification Roadmap

In March 2019, India achieved nearly 99% rural electrification status. The electrification scheme also known as Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or Saubhagya electrified more than 45,000 households every day for last 18 months. This showcased India’s commitment towards progress, understanding electricity as one of the basic requirements of life. Considering that more than 68% of people in India live in rural parts of the country, this was a decisive action and the journey from the drawing board to success has given India a very realistic idea of how to lead the country towards wholesome growth.

However, electrification of households do not necessarily mean uninterrupted power supply 24×7, which was targeted to succeed by March 2019. Unfortunately, there is still a major gap between electrification and receiving reliable power supply in major states like- Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Therefore, in order to consider 24×7 power for all a reality in the near future, we need to identify hurdles and find solutions.

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Global PV Solar Growth Analysis and Scenario in India

China’s policy shift, mega tender cancellations and policies levying taxes and duties on solar industry in India, feed-in-tariff cut in Japan have made 2018 the year of uncertainty for solar. However, surveys suggest that global PV solar installations will see nearly 18% rise in 2019, finally reaching and may be surpassing 100 GW capacity addition. Although, at the end of 2019, we would still be far from ‘0’ emission future, rising PV installation growth and emergence of new markets within developing countries will get us closer to that goal.

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Exorcism of Unemployment- Switching to Solar

Current progress in India indicates incredible growth in business and industry development, testified by the country’s acquirement of 77th position On World Bank’s Ease Of Doing Business Report from 126th rank in 2016. However, factoring in 6.1% (NSSO data) current unemployment rate it is important to note that unemployment in the country is surging faster than development and job creation. Improving functionalities and inner mechanisms through policy reformations have done a great job in India, but as a scenario indicates, the country needs a saviour to significantly increase job development.

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Opportunity Like Solar Needs Initiative Like Manufacturing!

The growth of our society is dependent on energy. And, since we have built our world using limited fossil fuel reserves, continuously shrinking reserves have created scarcity for energy, and given rise to energy cost. Currently, more than 1 billion people live without electricity and continuous fossil fuel generation has led to environmental degradation. World’s decision to opt for sustainable energy in such a scenario can be considered as a decisive step, right before we would have crossed the point of no return.

Opting for green energy transition can offer release from economic and environmental binds of fossil fuel. However, to unleash green energy transitions’ full potential, which promises to build a better economy and industrial structure for a country, countries need to focus on manufacturing. Let us see why it is important.

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Keeping it cool: The urgent need to control emissions before it’s too late

A recent report by The Centre for Policy Research and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has predicted that India’s CO2 emissions from energy generation will nearly double in 2030 from its 2012’s emission figures. Although, this 91-98% increase in CO2 emission is still going to be in line with nationally determined (in Paris Agreement) CO2 emission level; factoring in 2012’s emission figures-2 billion tonnes of CO2, it is safe to say that the rise is considerable.

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The Bittersweet Dilemma

The research report showed that recently introduced policies (2015 and beyond) are well in their way to lead India towards a faster than predicted green energy transition, which will shrink coal’s dominating share in India’s energy equation and reduce per capita emissions than today’s global average. In that case, we can come to an understanding that the policy interventions and Government initiatives towards renewable energy (especially solar) growth will have a material impact on reducing India’s future emissions.

The report also shines light on the fact that even if India’s emissions doubled by 2030, it will be lower than China’s equivalent emissions in 2015. Therefore, it can be considered as a progressive environment building up towards a sustainable green future, right?

Well, it is progressive indeed but we also have to understand that although, this is a move towards success, the picture is not very appealing right now. The efforts need to be considerably increased to reach and frankly surpass the goals. It will help us reduce our carbon emissions even more, which is a necessity.

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The Current Scenario

Presently, India is going through terrible shifts in environment behaviour, due to increased CO2 emissions within the country and the world. There are unprecedented spells of hot weather, change in Monsoon bringing issues of droughts and flood, significant fall in crop yield that can destabilize the social, economic structure of the country, adding to the turmoil.

Research has found that areas in north-western India, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh have seen considerable drop in crop yield and suspected to fall further due to changing climate. As India is dependent on agriculture and about 60% of its agriculture is supported by rain, higher or lower than average rains are affecting the country. Also, rising carbon dioxide levels due to global warming is suspected to shrink down the amount of protein in crops like rice and wheat, which are the primary food source for majority of the population in India. Such conditions are leaving populations at risk of malnutrition, low immunity and raising the risk of diseases affecting the population severely.

India recorded its hottest day in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, when the temperature reached 51 degree C and according to a research by MIT in the US, the temperature in India will further increase in coming years.

Coastal cities like Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai are also suspected to be affected by sea level rise. Rising sea-level and surges of storm would also impact agriculture, degrade groundwater quality, increasing the risk of contamination in water, and giving rise to diarrhoea and cholera.

Way Forward

With effects of climate change getting dangerous every year, countries like India need to boost efforts at reducing CO2 emissions now, which is an opportunity now through opting renewable  energy transition (mainly solar). We, as a country, should understand that lowering our future CO2 emissions in comparison to industrial giant China’s past emission statistics (its 2015’s emission statistics) is not a win for us now and we need to rectify internal mechanics to support renewable energy growth. It is important to highlight that The Government of India introduced National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) in 2010-11, as India’s carbon tax, levying duties on coal to fund cleaner energy projects and combat climate change. And in last 6-7 years, India has collected more than Rs 54,000 crore through clean energy cess by levying taxes on coal mined or imported. However, it is important to note that only half of the total collected cess (22,063 Crore) was transferred to NCEF from 2010-2017. From that amount, the investment towards projects were amount INR 17,469 crores from 2011 to 2017, and MNRE’s share from that amount was INR 12,429 Crore. On top of that, the Government of India using NCEF fund to compensate various state Governments for their loss in revenue due to GST, clearly contradicts with India’s green energy vision and initiatives.

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India must utilize initiatives such as NCEF and incorporate other policies such as- carbon pricing, while supporting renewable energy growth through investment and encouragement. It is apparent that joining the fight against climate change is not a choice anymore it is a necessity. Although initiatives of the Government should be appreciated, we should not sit idly by the predictions of a marginal success. We need to focus at prioritizing the renewable energy industry and solving its critical issues through investment and policy intervention to create momentum and see our country solve not just energy issues, but create a better social and economic structure that works towards restoring the environment.

Note: This article was published in prominent solar magazines like- EQmagpro, Energy Economic Times on 17th November 2018.