India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has kicked off his first term in office with a promise that every home in the power-starved nation will be able to run at least one light bulb by 2019 – powered by solar.
“We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space,” said Narendra Taneja, head of energy in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which come to power last Friday (May 16) in the biggest electoral win in three decades.
Modi’s proposed “saffron revolution” is a political promise that holds a lot of appeal, as well as massive economic opportunity. More than 300 million people in India are estimated to be existing off the electricity grid, with national demand for power anticipated to double to 2020. According to the World Bank, blackouts reduce the country’s GDP by 1.5 per cent annually. In 2012, a blackout plunged 700 million into darkness for two days.
Certainly the news has been welcomed by India’s burgeoning clean energy industry – not to mention the LED lighting industry – especially considering Modi has considerable form in the renewables space, and particularly with solar. It is also a blow to the coal industry which presumed it was the only power source capable of delivering electricity, despite India’s notorious infrastructure problems.
In his previous role as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi pioneered India’s first incentives for large-scale solar power in 2009, fostering the creation of over 900MW of solar capacity – more than a third of the total capacity in the entire country. Wind power is also on the rise in the central western state.
Modi also oversaw Gujarat’s Narmada canal project — a first of its kind for India, in which SunEdison installed a solar array on top of the canal – and initiated a ‘rent-your-roof’ program, where households could lease their rooftops to companies like SunEdison for solar installations.
Now, as Prime Minister, growing renewable energy generation will remain one of Modi’s top priorities, according to BJP’s Taneja, especially solar, with its potential to create jobs and supply millions of households not connected to the grid, he told Bloomberg.
For coal exporting nations like Australia, however – who have been forging ahead with the development of new mega mines and infrastructure in the belief that coal is the only solution to India’s booming energy needs – this news will not be welcome.
As far back as mid-2012, signs were already emerging that a rebirth in the development Australian coal infrastructure was masking huge problems in the Indian energy market, such as poor supply and pipeline infrastructure and the increasingly unviable cost of coal imports.
And as recently as January, leading investment bank HSBC warned that the market value of the coal assets owned by Australia’s biggest mining groups could be slashed by nearly half – or more than $US20 billion – due to constraints of the global “carbon budget;” a concept HSBC says is gaining traction, given the climate science, and the implementation of pollution control policies in the US and China.
A month earlier, in December, the International Energy Agency trimmed its five-year forecast of global coal use, warning that environmental constraints, financing issues, and the current cost of coal exports raised “concerns about the economic feasibility of projects in the Galilee Basin.”
Now, India’s ambitious new five-year solar lighting goal further subtracts from the much diminished future coal equation.
As BJP”s Taneja has noted, the success of the Modi’s “saffron revolution” will depend on the cooperation of state-level administrations, who share control over the power industry with the central government. But with cooperation, the government expects solar panels could allow every home to have enough power to run two bulbs, a solar cooker and a television.