Phasing out reliance on fossil fuels, transitioning to renewable sources of energy is critical
Payal Seth and Palakh Jain | April 20, 2022
On April 4, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 6th Assessment Report that discusses its findings to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The report brings to our notice that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the near future will constitute a “critical level”, leading to significant risk to humans and ecosystems and hence must not be crossed. It also asserted that climate change is impacting the entire planet, with 3.6 (out of 7.9) billion people being extremely vulnerable to the climate impacts. The report also noted that if the world undertakes sustainable efforts to lower GHG emissions in the coming years, then the risk can be avoided. It pointed out that India needs to start planning climate adaptation policies that can not just focus on the immediate risks but also ensure long-term strategy for sustainable development.
Coal under spotlight
One of the key recommendations of the report was that the energy sector needs a major overhaul, ranging from lowering the use of fossil fuels, extensive electrification, to propagating the use of sustainable alternative fuels. With respect to India, the report specifically mentioned that India shouldn’t devote resources to building new coal plants. Furthermore, all the current coal power plants that do not have the capacity to capture and store carbon (CCS) should be shut down by 2050. How is India deploying its current coal resources? According to a January 2020 report by the Central Electricity Authority, the country’s total coal-fired capacity is expected to be 267 GW by the end of 2029-30 and is currently at 10% of the global capacity. Also, 33.1 GW of coal-fired capacity is being built. None of the existing coal-fired power plants has the IPCC-recommended CCS facility. Clearly, there is an untapped potential to lower GHG emissions by using sustainable resources.
Untapped potential in renewable energy
The IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla said, “Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential.” The IPCC estimates that solar panels have the potential to lower carbon emissions by 4.25 gigatons per year for this decade. With the price of solar-powered electricity falling by 85% in the past decade, the report stressed that phasing to solar energy is the most feasible option. This, however, will require simultaneous investment in the use of energy storage and demand-side management. There is further potential for diversifying into other renewable sources like green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced by using the electrolysis process and splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity for this process is sourced from renewable sources like solar or wind, making the entire process emission-less.
The IPCC report needs to be read in the context of India’s commitment to making it into a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2070. Meeting this pledge necessitates reducing and phasing out reliance on fossil fuels. Transitioning to renewable sources of energy is a critical part of this solution. It is in this context that we discuss the role of the public and private sectors in addressing this opportunity. India’s solar capacity is fifth in the world, rising from 2.6 GW in 2014 to 30 GW in 2019. There have been several initiative to promote solar power. For example, the PM KUSUM scheme was launched in 2019 to assist farmers in installing solar pumps and solar power plants. Furthermore,India committed to the National Hydrogen Mission in August 2021 to build 450 GW of renewables by 2030, sending a strong signal for the higher demand for green hydrogen. However, public investment in the hydrogen energy transition is still low.
The way forward
This is where the private sector can bridge the energy infrastructure gap. For instance, Adani Green Energy Ltd. (AGEL) is the world’s largest solar developer. On March 1, 2022, AGEL announced that its subsidiary Adani Renewable Energy Holding Private Limited received the letter of award to build a 150 MW solar power project. They are also planning to invest $70 billion over the next decade to become not only the world’s largest renewable energy developer but also produce the cheapest green hydrogen on earth. The government could develop further incentive mechanisms for higher participation of the private sector in bringing about sustainable changes in lifestyle to mitigate climate change.
The Adani Group’s vision is to make renewable energy a viable and affordable alternative to fossil fuels, in line with the recommendation of the current IPCC report. The commitment can propel India to be the front-runner in the production of green energy.
Payal Seth is a PhD Scholar, and Palakh Jain is an associate professor, at Bennett University.
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