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India and China: Global Engines of a Green Energy Future ; Raakhee Suryaprakash

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Article 09/2022

A Green Energy Future is essential for climate action and global net-zero ambitions. As we live through the regime  of the sustainable development goals (SDGs, 2016-2030), this paper will present the idea of India and China as global engines of a green energy future through the lens of SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy Access) and SDG 13 (Climate Action). Green Energy is energy generated from natural sources that are renewable, and its generation doesn’t harm the environment. E.g., Solar, wind, small hydel (hydro-electricity), geothermal, tidal, biofuel, Green Hydrogen, even Nuclear power, etc. There is a lot of scope for sustainable development and more than five years into the time frame, countries are still making slow progress and need a lot of energy, and hopefully energy sources with low carbon footprint to ensure climate action. India’s annual energy consumption is still low (6830 Terrawatt hour/year) and we need more power to grow. To fulfil nationally determined contributions (NDCs), countries need to lower the carbon intensity of their energy mix.

We are living through a third industrial revolution, characterized by the fillip to the foundations of an industrial age with revolutions in communication: the connectivity of an internet, transportation: electric vehicles and power sources: renewable energy (non-fossil sources of power). In the Paris Climate Accord countries committed to a just transition to a green energy future. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate catastrophe makes the transition to renewables an urgent necessity. It is essential that we take urgent action to combat both and their impacts.

The climate crisis is a complex issue and a just transition to a net-zero, renewables-powered future requires “multilateral global change to energy, transportation, agriculture, land use and other parts of the economy all at once.” It will also involve off-setting the risks of setting off a populist backlash while decarbonizing the planet’s economic systems by ensuring large-scale redistribution of wealth so that the poorer sections of society don’t bear the cost of the green transition but instead benefit from it.

India and China got a bad rap at the Glasgow Climate Summit (COP26) for watering down the declaration – calling for “phase down” instead of “phase out” of coal. Both these countries are major carbon emitters but per capita their carbon emissions are nowhere near the Western world. In fact the efforts of these two Asian Titans in adopting Green Energy is a major reason for the innovation and drop in prices in the sector. It is not without challenges but the large and small projects and policies facilitating the green transition in India and China serve as growth engines and climate action boosters within the countries and in the developing world through organisations such as the International Solar Alliance (India and France, COP21) and the One Sun, One World, One Grid (India and UK, COP26).

India and China’s Green Energy projects are massive and their innovations in smart metering, battery technology, green hydrogen, electric vehicles, green public transport and energy infrastructure projects are powerful and unique green growth engines that needs to be replicated across the globe.

At present all said and done renewable energy forms only about 18% of the global primary energy supply and this needs to change. The NDCs in the Paris Agreement is a major step in this move to increase the green energy component of the global energy mix which is still mainly fossil fuel powered. In total installed capacity terms the world leaders in renewable energy systems include China, United States, Brazil, India and Germany.

INDIA

In November 2021, India cleared a major green energy milestone nearly a decade ahead of its NDC – its installed renewable (non-fossil fuel) energy capacity stood at 150.54GW more that more than 40% of its total capacity. This includes 48.55GW solar, 46.51GW big hydro, 40.03GW wind, 10.62GW bio-power and 4.83GW small hydro power projects. (While big hydro from Dam projects are a major non-fossil source they are not exactly clean energy as their ecological footprint is huge, thus for green energy consideration small hydro only is counted) India has since revised its green energy NDC by aiming for more than 400GW of non-fossil power by 2030. In both India and China coal remains the mainstay of the both nations’ energy mix but both nations are also increasing capacity for nuclear power as well as setting up big renewable energy targets.

India is betting big on becoming a world leader in solar and wind power generation and its two billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani are competing and fuelling this green energy transition. In January the Indian cabinet approved Rs. 12,000 budget for phase II of the green energy corridor. Ambani plans to invest $10 billion over the next three years to increase capacity in solar, green hydrogen and battery technology and fuel cells. Meanwhile Adani announced plans to invest $20 billion over the next decade through mega solar and wind power projects, energy infrastructure and green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is hydrogen that is generated by electrolysis powered entirely by renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Policies and projects and budgets for green energy corridor, wind-solar hybrid policies, green bonds, the Make in India push for indigenous photovoltaic fuel cells and panels as well as initiatives such as the PM-KUSUM (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan) smooth the way to a green energy future in India. Incentives to central public sector undertaking (CPSUs) to generate greid-connected solar power and ease-of-doing-business and loans to set up solar parks on fallow farmlands to boost farmer incomes are accelerating the green energy transition. Early adopters and innovators and organizations such as the Barefoot College, SELCO as well as the ISA and OSOWOG will pave the way for this green energy transition.

CHINA

In the case of China, the first impetus to its green energy transition came from severe air pollution which in turn led to the need to transition away from coal-fired thermal power stations. The world’s most populated nation has now committed to increase its non-fossil sources of power in its primary energy mix to over 60% within the next thirty years. As the billionaire in Don’t Look Up put it, China has its “giant panda paw” on rare earths necessary for renewable systems. By being an early adopter of green energy and securing resources and intellectual property to maintain its status as the industry leader China has ensured better energy security through renewables than through fossil fuels. China is a net importer of coal and also imports crude oil and gas and hence is subject to fluctuations caused by price rises and geopolitical and other supply blocks. Thus China’s green energy transition is a major step towards its energy independence from global and market forces.

China’s 13th and 14th five year plans (FYP: 2016-2020 & 2021-25) have prioritized low-carbon cities, climate action, and green energy transition. Following the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan and its development into a global pandemic that brought economies and global supply chains to their knees, China like other nations has a “build back better” plan that includes policies, incentives, funds and tax breaks for innovations in renewable energy, electric vehicles, green public transport (electric buses, mag-lev trains and electric road trains) access to raw materials essential to build renewable energy systems as well as green energy infrastructure – from smart metering and battery technology to mega projects such as mega solar and wind-solar hybrid parks and floating systems as well as ultra-high voltage transmission line for clean energy transmission with minimal wastage from where it is produced to where it is needed.

The financial crises and pandemic manifested in power shortages across China which in turn further hampers global supply chains because of the knock on effect of breakdown in production in the “factory of the world.” The power shutdowns in China even caused power crises in other countries and more dangerously in Chinese thinking slowed economic growth and caused social unrest within its borders.

Under China’s 13th FYP it set up wind power systems supplying 71.67GW of power to its grid. Ultra-mega solar parks and floating solar platforms as well as wind-solar hybrid off-shore systems are being created across China at rates not seen anywhere else in the world. And the most expensive part of the FYP is the Qinghai-Henan ultra-high-voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission line. Construction began in November 2018 and began functioning in December 2020 and cost $3.18 billion. It is a 1587km-long 800kV DC line to transmit renewable energy (up to 8GW) from the Qingzang Highland of the Tibetan Plateau to Central China.

China’s 14th FYP is geared towards adding to the progress made in the 13th FYP, especially in the green energy sector. According to the UNDP issue brief spotlighting climate and environment in the 14th FYP “indicates the general direction to a low-carbon transition. It touches on the energy mix, energy distribution, improving efficiency in resource utilisation, greening of all sectors, enhancing a green legal and policy environment, promoting the circular economy, as well as participating in and leading international cooperation on the climate change agenda.”

Both India and China suffer from air pollution, electricity shortages as well as having densely populated regions on the frontlines of the worst effects of climate change. Thus continuing to rely on polluting sources of power such as coal and allowing stubble burning while there are greener alternatives that put money in the pocket should not be the majority action condoned by the states and its citizens. Increasing clean energy infrastructure will boost sustainable development by providing the low-carbon fuel for the economy while options like bio-fuel from crop stubble will add to farm revenues thus empowering billions of workers in the agricultural sector which is still the mainstay of both these Asian superpowers.

By decarbonizing and decentralizing energy infrastructures countries can empower communities and citizens which in turn powers economic growth, job creation and innovation which are needed to ensure green transition and just transition in today’s pandemic and climate change–plagued  world economy. Boosting green funds, climate finance, green bonds and carbon trading can enhance the speed of this green energy transition and create partnerships for progress (SDG16, international, national, Global North-Global South, public-private, centre-state, etc.). The pandemic is just a harbinger of things to come as we live through mass extinction and the climate emergency and other expected and unforeseen threats to survival and thriving of our species. Thus the priority of nations should be to adapt, connect and empower its citizens and communities to ensure their resilience in the face of multiple existential threats at 100 seconds to midnight in the doomsday clock.

(Raakhee Suryaprakash is the founder of Sunshine Millennium and curates content for her RE. Plastic blog & Facebook page. She has been part of Climate Tracker since 2016 and the Gender Security Project since its inception.  She is also an Associate Member of the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and does not reflect the views of C3S)

REFERENCES

Raakhee Suryaprakash, January 9, 2022, video of power point, https://youtu.be/ppYrAuYvfAQ

UNDP, July 2021, Issue Brief “China’s 14th five-year plan: Spotlighting climate and environment”, https://www.cn.undp.org/content/china/en/home/library/environment_energy/issue-brief—china-s-14th-5-year-plan–spotlighting-climate—e.html

Why 94% of Chinese live right of the red line – shadow of the Himalayas: https://youtu.be/kVaBlat06Sw

China’s Climate Change White Paper: http://www.news.cn/english/2021-10/22/c_1310261903.htm

Climate Interactive

ASAP science, The Biggest Lie About Renewable Energy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bC-BYhuFUtY

Vital Voices webinar, “The Intersection of SDG 13 with Issue Advocacy”: https://www.gendersecurityproject.com/post/solving-the-climate-crisis-inclusively

Rohan Chakravarty, Green Humour, http://www.greenhumour.com/

Innovative Tech:  Why China is leading the way in Renewable Energy, https://youtu.be/Q3sIcY7QUXk

Bloomberg Quicktake: https://youtu.be/hJ7tltHvapc

Wikipedia for definitions


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