Crisis chance for turnaround

Crisis chance for turnaround

S. Sivadas

S. Sivadas

In reviving its economy post-Covid-19, India could turn a crisis into an opportunity by resetting its energy spending to favour clean energy, enabling citizens to continue enjoying the unprecedented clean air and blue skies bestowed by the lockdown.

As a start, the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, could solarise over 39,000 unelectrified health sub-centres—the first point of contact between the primary health care system and the local community — serving 230 million people in rural India. That is the recommendation of 20 leaders from top think-tanks, renewable energy companies, industry groups, and health care services, who wrote to Mr. Modi on April 30, while there is still time to tilt policy.

Another way of shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy, say experts, is for the government to transfer some of the massive subsidies currently given to fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Other recommendations on how to follow a green pathway to economic recovery are not only pouring in from India’s think-tanks but some of the world’s biggest economic institutions.

'With this restart, a window of hope and opportunity opens… an opportunity for nations to green their recovery packages and shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient,' the United Nations climate body chief, Dr. Patricia Espinosa, said on April 22.

A new report that analysed India’s subsidy support to its energy sector, by think-tanks International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), made similar recommendations.

'There is a phenomenal opportunity for India in re-thinking if there is a better way of spending these [coal and oil and gas] subsidies to make them investment-worthy,' said Dr. Karthik Ganesan, a research fellow at CEEW and one of the authors of the report.

It is true that government subsidies for renewable power generation have grown threefold over the five years to 2018-19, from Rs 3,224 crore in 2014 to Rs 9,930 crore in 2019, largely driven by India’s climate promise of deploying 175 gigawatt (GW) by 2022, as per the report.

However, these are only a fraction of the subsidies given to carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas: India spent about Rs 83,134 crore in 2018-19 on subsidies to coal and oil and gas. That is seven times more than the subsidies for renewables, said the April 16, joint report by IISD-CEEW.

Currently, 56 per cent of electricity comes from coal, 36 per cent comes from oil and gas and about 3 per cent comes from renewables. India has made good progress in greening its power generation: Renewables now account for nearly one-fifth of India’s total installed power capacity, up from 13 per cent in 2014.

The country’s energy demands have fallen by up to 30 per cent during the first week of lockdown that began on March 25. Now, as economic activity revives, demand for coal and oil will increase, but the rate of growth will be low and this presents an opportunity, said Dr. Vibhuti Garg, senior energy specialist at IISD and a co-author of the IISD-CEEW report. Any increase in demand can be met through more offtake of cheaper, renewable energy, she added.