With solar and wind now being the cheapest sources of electricity, India needs to take charge and join industrialised nations in becoming net carbon neutral. Elaborate.

Published: December 11, 2019

Climate change can be experienced across the world and time is running out for mankind to get to zero carbon emissions. France, UK have a legislation to become net carbon neutral by 2050, while The EU is also moving in that direction.

India has shown leadership by committing to a highly ambitious voluntary national commitment at the Paris Agreement. It was followed by the establishment of the International Solar Alliance. 

Launched in 2010, has a target of generating 20,000 MW of solar power by 2020-22. This goal has already been achieved, and the prime minister has announced that India would take renewable energy capacity to 450,000 MW. The time is ripe for India to achieve net carbon neutrality. Further, India  needs to pursue a low carbon growth trajectory in relation to industrialised countries while ensuring its per capita emissions does not exceed theirs. 

As developed countries look to achieve the zero per capita carbon emission by 2050, can India achieve a similar position ?

72% of electricity generated in India is via coal which is the largest sources of carbon emissions in India. With electricity from solar and wind becoming cheaper, it makes commercial  sense to fully exploit their potential and not burn coal. Take the case of Germany which is already getting 46% of its electricity from renewable sources. India needs to raise its share of renewables from around 10% at present. 

Harnessing electricity when the sun is not shining is a challenge, though technologies exist for its storage. As their cost fall rapidly, they can be deployed. One of the oldest ways to do this can be seen in the pump storage in a hydropower plant, where electricity generated during the day can be used to pump water up the dam’s reservoir and this flows down at night to generate electricity. Pump storage site development can be a good starting point, with Sardar Sarovar and Indira Sagar dams becoming potential sites. 

The next largest contributor to carbon emissions in India is Transport. Electric vehicles have zero carbon emission of their own and as carbon emission per unit of electricity declines and becomes zero, EV carbon emissions too would become zero.  Germany is working on a pilot project with overhead electric cables on highways so that hybrid trucks can run on the highway with electricity. India can work this way rather than having a CNG network on the highways. In this case, the Railways is moving towards full electrification as it makes good commercial sense. Therefore, surface transport can become carbon neutral with no significant additional cost.

The Indian industry is becoming more energy efficient, and is well poised to move towards lower carbon emissions along with global industry. For India to be among the first countries to become net carbon neutral it should take on the leadership and consider to become one.

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