India Focus: 5 Big Ideas for a Bright Future

Credit: NRDC

In a major milestone, India achieved its goal of 20 gigawatts (20GW) of installed solar energy this week. That is tremendous solar energy growth in the last eight years and, four years ahead of the original National Solar Mission target of 20 GW installed capacity by 2022. Achieving the 20 GW mark of installed solar energy demonstrates how India’s strong commitment to clean energy expansion, and is positive indication that India is on its way to achieving the revised target of 100 GW solar by 2022.

The 20 GW of solar energy milestone shows that action on climate change is a big priority for India, as emphasized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech among global leaders during the recent World Economic Forum. Calling for greater global cooperation and “solidarity”, the speech indirectly took aim at inward-looking nationalistic policies, such as the Trump Administration’s America First policies. India is aggressively moving ahead with climate action and clean energy development that will protect people from climate harm and boost its economy. India’s doing several hard things at once, struggling to power its fast-growing economy, lifting millions out of poverty and building a clean energy economy. This is bold leadership.

Climate change is the “greatest threat to the survival of human civilization as we know it.” Failing to address it shows an “alarming glimpse of our own selfishness,” he said. “If we are all children of the earth, why is there today a war between us and the earth?”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Davos

India’s renewed commitment to action on climate change comes at a critical time since the national 2018-19 budget will be announced in February.  This budget is significant since it is the last budget cycle before the national elections in 2019. As our partner, Kanika Chawla at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water emphasized recently, India must show the renewable energy sector some budgetary money to advance national priorities like energy security, energy access, job creation and increased domestic manufacturing, as well as to display international climate leadership.

India’s Commitment to Clean Energy

India’s targets under the Paris Agreement are focused on clean energy expansion, with an early goal of 100 gigawatts of installed solar energy by 2022. The targets are based on domestic action and widely-supported across the government.

The key features of India’s Paris targets are:

  • Reduce energy emissions intensity by 30-35% by 2030 from 2005 levels
  • Increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 40% of India’s energy mix by 2030
  • Focus on a climate adaptation strategy of enhancing investments in development programs in areas vulnerable to climate change, including health and disaster management
  • Create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through increasing forest and tree cover by 2030

Big Opportunities for 2018  

India is on track to meet its climate target. This year and the 2018-19 budget are major opportunities to make even greater gains. Here are five big ideas to advance on clean energy, climate and health solutions in India.  

1. Energy Efficient Economy

Building on the successful launch by the State of Telangana and the hi-tech capital, Hyderabad, states and cities across India could scale up the groundbreaking online system for mandatory energy efficiency codes for commercial buildings. Buildings account for more than 30% of India’s electricity consumption, and the total built-up space in the country is growing at a tremendous rate. Energy efficient building codes can transform the way buildings are constructed and unleash significant energy savings while growing the economy and combating pollution.

2. Affordable Clean Energy Access

To achieve India’s clean energy goals, implementing innovative financing solutions is vital. India’s clean energy market is growing rapidly with more than 13 gigawatts of installed grid-connected solar capacity in 2017, and record-low bidding prices below Rs. 3.0 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (~$0.04) for utility-scale solar. India has moved from a scenario of power shortages to a power surplus, and increased clean energy in the grid. However, distributed solar energy, in particular rooftop solar installations, are lagging far behind the national target, barely reaching 1 GW of the total 40 GW target. The cumulative investment in rooftop solar from 2013 to 2016 is a mere $0.6 billion, much lower than the needed $48 billion. Key financing solutions, such as a green investment fund that can amplify the impact of limited government funds by using public funds as a financial lever to attract private investments for clean energy development.

3. Keeping India Cool

Expanding cooling strategies ranging from cool roofs to improved air conditioners is vital in India. In 2015, some 2,400 people died of heat related illness in India, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. As climate change is expected to make heat waves in India even more frequent and severe, the need for cooling is more important than ever. Air conditioning use in India is also expected to rise dramatically in the next decade. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can keep 1.3 billion people—many who lack a reliable supply of electricity—cool, without adding to the burden of air pollution and ramping up climate pollution. That’s why a combination of strategies, such as the proposed National Cooling Action Plan, cool roof programs, and climate-friendly air conditioners, among others are critical to beat the heat.

4. Fighting Air Pollution

Building on the innovative air pollution program by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, cities and regions across India could develop health-based programs. The Ahmedabad Air Information and Response (AIR) Plan is a health-based program designed to protect and increase awareness among residents on air pollution. Air pollution is the greatest contributor to pollution-related deaths globally, according to a major scientific study published in the Lancet. India accounts for the largest number of deaths with an estimated 2.5 million deaths. With the city’s Air Quality Index (AQI), developed by the SAFAR program from the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology-Pune as the center point, the AIR Plan focuses on health risk communication—with a program for children involving over 90 schools and a local expert group developing recommendations for mitigation and pollution reduction pathways—including plans for expanding electric vehicles.

5. Heat Action Plans

Strengthening and scaling up heat action plans and early warning systems across India is critical to saving lives and combatting climate change. Again, 2017 was the fourth straight hottest year recorded in India, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. Heat action plans include immediate and longer-term actions to increase preparedness, information-sharing, and response coordination to reduce the health impacts of extreme heat. Over 11 states and 30 cities have adopted Heat Action Plans in India. Both the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) are leading at the national level to engage local communities in preparing for extreme heat with forecasts and programs.

NRDC is honored to work with expert partners in India to implement and expand pioneering and innovate clean energy solutions with key stakeholders across India. Through clean energy solution, we aim to work with partners to increase clean energy access, grow India’s economy, and build healthy communities. The 20 GW of installed solar energy milestone is a strong motivation to achieve even higher goals in the future.


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