India And The Vision of a Green Country

India was one of the most prominent and impressive countries present at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference. A waterfall in the India pavilion, numerous multimedia exhibits and an entire army of panelists were painting a very clear picture: the nation’s clean energy future is being actively worked on and is extremely fast-approaching. This is exactly what the World needs, especially from the most populated country in the World, and everyone present was understandably thrilled by what they saw.

But is this a realistic goal to expect? Reality tells a slightly different tale. In the age where most countries in the world have ceased usage of coal to produce power, India still heavily relies on this extremely archaic and environmentally damaging power source. Even if they were to switch to solar or wind electricity, which were the focal point of their presentations at the conference, the sheer amount of people using the power grid would make this a near impossible feat to achieve in a short period of time. There is also the attitude that India, a still developing country, should be allowed to grow using fossil fuels as other major countries have done in the past. Couple all of this with the staggering population of 1.3 billion, it starts to become clear that the ambitions presented in Paris are very positive, but ultimately largely impossible to do in a span of 10-15 years.

Despite all of this, you could say India has an advantage over the rest of the world by, in some ways, starting with a clean slate. While superpowers like the US or the UK have a challenging and expensive task to replace existing fossil-fuel infrastructure with clean energy, most of India’s infrastructure doesn’t even exist yet. This gives them a huge advantage of allowing them to invest into wind or solar energy straight away instead of spending huge sums of money into modifications and re-builds.

The economic aspect is only one side of the problem. A huge factor of India’s effect on the environment comes from the people itself. An alarming two thirds of households continue to rely on primitive sources of energy such as cow dung patties, straw, charcoal and firewood. Almost all the rest comes from oil and coal. This is of course not just due to the lack of education, but also because these sources of energy are incredibly cheap and easy to replenish for a low to zero income family living in a far-off village.

The current Modi administration has pledged to increase the share of non-fossil-fueled electricity to 40% by 2030, as opposed to the current 24%. In 2016, they went further, increasing this prediction to 60%. Sure, hydro power is India’s biggest non-fossil source of electrical energy, but issues in obtaining permits, acquiring land and negotiating compensations for locals and communities displaced by damns are a major factor in hugely slowing down the transition.

A shimmer of good news is that solar power is plunging in cost rapidly. A new solar power plant is, as it stands today in 2020, cheaper than a coal plant. This does breathe some hope in India completing at least part of their prediction. Solar power would also solve the issue of a vast majority of rural areas simply not being reached by the grid as the infrastructure for this can be set up pretty much anywhere very quickly and cheaply. This, of course, cannot be the solution to this problem, but it is certainly a massive first step.

There are, of course, way more ways to produce clean energy than just solar, wind and hydro plants, such as exploiting natural gasses, but this is an entirely different subject which brings forth more challenges to implement.

To conclude, while India’s predictions, as ambitious and far-fetched as they may be, do instill hope and the willingness of the government to take action is certainly a breath of fresh air, there are still countless challenges to overcome. The most important steps to ensure progress is being made are for the government to make sure the transition is smooth and quick with as little political intrigue involved as possible, and more importantly, to educate its people in cleaner and more environmentally friendly practices. After all, the fight for a green future starts with the actions of the individual.