India’s energy transition under Narendra Modi

Photo: India’s oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

By Prabin Kumar Padhy

Prabin Kumar Padhy

Before we delve deeper into the energy future of India and how India shifted its focus, it is pertinent to understand the term “Energy Transition” first. Energy Transition is a significant structural change in energy system driven by the demand for and availability of different fuels and result from the depletion of energy sources. In other words, a systematic shift from a specific or existing energy supply to another pattern of energy system.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) defines it as “a pathway toward transformation of the global energy sector from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century.” If we turn the pages of history, we can see how societies have gradually transitioned away from one energy source such as from wood to coal, coal to electricity, gas and fossil fuels.

Over couple of decades back, when international science authorities linked global warming to carbon emissions from fossil fuels, countries across the globe have been gradually changing focus to zero carbon energy from clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro otherwise known as renewable energy.

Why is energy transition important?

Our Earth’s surface consists of 75 per cent water and 25 per cent land. A huge proportion of water content is spread across continents in solid form of Ice. With the gradual rise of Earth’s surface temperature over the years or global warming, the ice is melting continuously and land masses are being washed off.

 The global natural calamities such as rising sea levels, cyclones, floods, droughts, forest fires, etc are also caused due to these geological changes both in surface and atmosphere of earth. If we don’t check ourselves now, then there won’t be anything left to sustain for our future generations, hence the need.

The United Nations body, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has warned that global warming from pre-industrial levels must not exceed 1.5-degree Centigrade in order to avoid irreparable damage to the planet.

As per the data of IPCC, around 25 per cent of C02 emissions come from electricity and heat production. Another 24 per cent come from agriculture, forestry and other land use. While the industrial sector accounts for 21 per cent and transportation 14 per cent, it is surprising to note that about 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from fossil fuels.

Considering the seriousness of the above, 196 countries joined together in 2015 with a pledge to slowdown global warming by cutting emissions and other steps by signing the Paris Agreement, the world’s first comprehensive climate change agreement.

The objective of the agreement is to maintain the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2-degree Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to carry out measures to limit the temperature increase to 1.5-degree Centigrade.

The Indian Scenario

If we look at the South-East Asian region, major industrial players like China aiming for Carbon-neutrality by 2060 and South Korea and Japan pledged towards carbon neutrality by 2050 through energy transition. India, another key industrial power house, is none the less far behind with its energy transition progress and climate policies.

With a population of over 130 crore and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, as per the IEA 2020 report, India is the third largest global carbon emitter.

Even though not fully in sync with the long-term temperature goal of 1.5-degree Centigrade of the Paris Agreement, India has managed to put forth policies that neither major players like China, Japan or Korea and even the EU have been able to put in motion.

Thanks to a visionary Prime Minister like in Narendra Modi. He has knack for both industrial and economic development of the country while maintaining its natural environment in place and adhering to the Sustainable Development Goals.

“While policies that promote the use of natural gas and renewables in power generation are important to reducing global carbon emissions, it will take a collective change in behaviour to reverse the effects of climate change,” said Modi during the CERA Week on Mar. 5.

He has stressed India’s goal to boost the share of gas in its fuel mix to 15 per cent from the current 6 per cent by 2030 and to reach Paris Agreement climate targets much before it.

He is quite optimistic about role of gas in India’s energy future. At present, in India, while LNG is used as fuel, there has been a sharp increase in India of non-fossil fuels and renewables in the share of its energy consumption, clearly stating India’s stand on Energy Transition.

Steering the Energy Transition drive of India and keeping in motion the visions of Modi, Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan, while speaking at the joint conferences of the 11th World PetroCoal Congress and World Future Fuel Summit on Feb. 16, said that India’s energy demand is going to increase in the future, and it has taken a number of concrete steps that are shaping India’s energy transition pathways for a low carbon economy.

In order to create a global model of energy justice, India is on a path to balance between affordability and accessibility.

Considering Modi’s roadmap for energy justice resting on five key enablers: energy availability and accessibility to all, energy affordability to the poorest of the poor, energy efficiency, energy sustainability and energy security, there are certain action plans charted out for energy transition as was indicated by Pradhan:

1.  Accelerating efforts to move towards a gas-based economy

2.  Cleaner use of fossil fuels particularly petroleum and coal

3.  Greater reliance on domestic sources to drive bio-fuels

4.  Achieving the renewables target of 450 GW by 2030

5. Increasing the contribution of electricity to de-carbonise mobility

6. Moving into the emerging fuels including hydrogen

7.  Digital innovation across all the energy systems

Driving the Energy Transition move of India, Pradhan, who is known for his go-getter and result driven achievements, is confident that India will chart its own course responsibly and will be a key player in global energy transition.

Another big move India has done so far is the use of bio-fuel to cut down on the import of crude oil. Ethanol blending has come a big way since Pradhan talked about it two years back in CERA Week meet.

Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol or drinking alcohol) is made from molasses, grains and farm waste and it is environment friendly.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, it has worked well as sanitisers and recently a historic movement made when Modi launched the Ethanol blending pilot project in three petrol pumps in Pune out of the E100 Plan across India.

Now, with 20 per cent Ethanol blending with petrol, India will save $5 billion (Rs.30,000 crore) in imports. As PM Modi says, “ecology and economy can go together, India’s green future looks promising.

On other fronts, India’s Solar Capacity increased by 13 times in the last six years, 370 million (37 crore) LED bulbs under UJALA Scheme and more than 10 million (one crore) smart LED street light reduced around 43 million tons of carbon emission annually.

According to Pradhan, the plan is to achieve 40 per cent electricity generation from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. The “One Sun-One World-One Grid” is another ambitious initiative that will connect 140 countries through a common grid, which will be used to transfer solar power. 

Of late, some international experts are sceptical about India’s Energy Transition owing to the management of the COVID-crisis, post-COVID economic recovery and its ability to rely on its own manufacturing base amidst disruption of renewable supply chains, reorientation of energy and climate policy, Indo-US relations amid a new Joe Biden administration.

However, the solid action plan, ongoing policies, and result driven approach of the Government of India and the execution at the ground level, will certainly prove India’s mettle in Global Energy Transition.

While India ranks 87th World Economic Forum’s Global Energy Transition Index (ETI-2021), it is miles to go, but justifying Pradhan’s words that “India will chart its own course in Energy Transition”, India has certainly come up to reach the global expectations in near future, not to forget the financial benefits India is going to avail including a boost in employment.

As PM Modi says, “Now is the time to think logically and ecologically, after all, this is not about me or you, it is about our planet’s future.”

(The writer is an Information Technology and Management consultant, based in Bhubaneswar, Odisha)

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