‘Gargantuan task’: why India’s revolving push will be difficult

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New York Stock Exchange-listed solar developer Azure Power said in an email that the company had legally purchased 91 acres (38 hectares) in the village from “registered landowners” and that it is “incorrect and erroneous” to say that the land was forcibly taken.

The company’s position is strongly contested by Timungpi and other residents of Mikir Bamuni village who claim that their rights as established tenants and farmers have been ignored. Local officials and police did not respond to requests for comment.

However it plays out in district court, the dispute is not just about India’s often tangled land ownership rules rooted in its colonial era. It also illustrates the complexity and immensity of the challenges facing the country of nearly 1.4 billion people in meeting its renewable energy goals for the next decade.

Over the next 20 years, India’s electricity demand will increase more than anywhere else in the world. Unlike most countries, India has yet to grow and lift millions of people like Timungpi out of poverty, and it will have to build a power system the size of the European Union.

How India meets its energy and economic needs will have an outsized impact on global climate goals. The country is a major contributor to greenhouse gases from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at last year’s UN climate talks that India would increase its electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels to 500 gigawatts by 2030 – up from 104 gigawatts at the start of this year.

To meet its targets, India needs to add four times the amount of electricity produced by an average nuclear power plant – every month until 2030.

These short-term energy targets will do little to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius (34.7 Fahrenheit) – the level beyond which scientists warn of catastrophic climate impacts, scientists had warned at last year’s UN climate conference.

But for India it will still be a “gargantuan task”, requiring investments of between $20 billion and $26.8 billion, when only $10 billion is available, a parliamentary committee said last month.

Some barriers to renewables — such as the need to build electricity storage when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing — are global challenges. Others are more India-specific – like the question of who owns the land in poor communities that bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis and the need to realign power systems that have relied on coal for centuries.

While there is no clear roadmap yet for India’s renewable energy push, experts cite a federal report from last year that indicated an optimal mix would get more than half the solar and wind power in the country by 2030.

But large solar and wind installations are causing conflict with local communities. This is partly because land ownership is unclear at many project sites. For example, some communities have used the land for centuries to farm or graze livestock without legal rights to it.

As governments and corporations focused on moving away from fossil fuels, these conflicts were “safeguards” that needed to be managed, Kanchi Kohli, an environmental researcher at India’s Center for Policy Research think tank.

Mandatory environmental impact assessments have been removed for solar and wind projects to make them more viable. But environmental problems still arise.

For example, in April 2021, India’s Supreme Court ordered solar power transmission lines to be underground after environmentalists reported the lines were killing critically endangered Great Indian Bustards. Nine months later, the federal government said burying the lines to protect the birds would be too expensive and would hamper green energy development. The court hears the case again.

India could reduce its reliance on large solar parks by building solar panels on city rooftops.

The country’s initial rooftop goals were modest, but in 2015 it set a goal of 40 gigawatts of rooftop solar, enough to power 28 million homes. Customers were allowed to send electricity back to the grid – and the sector grew.

In December 2020, the federal government changed rules prohibiting large industries and businesses from sending electricity back to the grid. These trading groups are among the highest earning customers of ever-cash-strapped Indian power utilities, which lost more than $5 billion in 2020.

With industries returning power to the grid in the evening when demand and electricity prices are highest, distribution companies were losing their best customers, said Vibhuti Garg, an energy economist at the Institute. energy saving and financial analysis.

“They were losing money,” Garg said.

The cost of installation makes rooftop solar too expensive for most homeowners. This was the case of Siddhant Keshav, 30, an entrepreneur from New Delhi, who wanted to install solar panels on his house. “It just didn’t make sense,” he said.

Homes accounted for less than 17% of India’s rooftop solar in June 2021, according to a report by Bridge to India, a renewable energy consultancy. And India has only managed to meet 4% of its 2022 rooftop solar target.

Wind could become another important part of India’s clean energy portfolio. But the “most attractive, juicy and windy sites” have small turbines using old technology, said Gagan Sidhu, director of energy finance at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water think tank.

By removing old wind turbines built before 2002, India could unlock 1.5 gigawatts of capacity, according to a 2017 study by Indo-Germany Energy Forum, consultancy Idam Infra and India’s renewable energy ministry. But experts said it was unclear who would do the renovation and foot the bill.

With a coastline of more than 4,670 miles (about 7,500 kilometres), India could potentially build enough offshore wind farms to supply about a third of the country’s electricity capacity in 2021 by 2050, according to an assessment conducted by the Global Wind Energy Council.

But these are very expensive to build – and the first such project, a wind farm proposed for the Arabian Sea in 2018, has yet to start.

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Ghosal reported from New Delhi. AP reporter Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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