Learning from India’s power revolution

India growing fast

While its skyrocketing population and fast-developing, mobile-using economy are fueling India’s demand for coal and oil, the country is under increasing global pressure to substantially curb its greenhouse gas emissions.

And even though India is responding to that challenge with some aggressive renewable energy mandates, there is concern from the nation’s leaders about removing the use of oil & gas at the risk of constraining the country’s ability to create jobs, build out infrastructure, and lower poverty levels.[1]

In a country in which nearly one-third of the population lacks adequate access to the electrical grid and half of all homes experience a power outage every day, leaders simply cannot afford to pull the plug on fossil fuels. After all, the country’s reliance on coal lies at around 60%.[2]

UK is more established

In the UK, similar calls for a more renewable-heavy mix should, in theory, be easier to meet. The nation is on a much more solid economic footing, and its infrastructure, while aging, is much more established than India’s. Power outages are sporadic, and generally limited in scale.

As such, the country should be more capable of weathering a significant reduction of its use of fossil fuels. It should also be able to shift much of that effort to the generation and delivery of renewable energy forms.

Surprising comparison?

It might therefore seem surprising that India can even be compared with the UK with energy from renewable sources – India currently generates just 6%[3] of its energy from renewable sources, compared to 7% in the UK.[4]

Both countries have also established strong targets to increase the use of energy consumption from renewable sources. The UK is bound by the target to make 15% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. However, the impetus under a new Conservative government in the UK to meet these is not as strong as it has been.[5]

On the other hand, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is beating its own targets, having increased its renewable capacity by 13% in 2014.[6]

And in early October, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar pledged that by 2030, 40% of India’s power would be generated from renewable sources. The population is projected to grow by 1.5 billion people in the same period, so the increased energy capacity required will be enormous, for both renewables and fossil fuels.[7] The scale of this ambition is remarkable.

Opportunity for innovation

Despite fossil fuel generation being deeply entrenched in the UK – on average, UK residents use approximately 40% more energy than their Indian counterparts[8] – the underlying factor for greater energy efficiency in India is the opportunity to implement new and innovative forms of energy generation.

The reason for India’s growth in this field of renewable energy is simple: the nature of the infrastructure, or rather lack of it, in an emerging nation means that India can re-invent for itself how power is generated and distributed. Less entrenchment can allow greater flexibility.

Landmark telecom deal

We should therefore not be surprised that India is one of those leading the way in energy innovation, with projects like the recent landmark deal signed by Intelligent Energy.

Here, Intelligent Energy will manage the power supply of thousands of mobile telecom towers, initially optimising performance of the existing diesel backup generators, but ultimately in the longer term, replacing them with highly efficient hydrogen fuel cells – helping Indian telecoms to leapfrog some of the infrastructure challenges and growth pains.

Developing markets

Policy-makers in developed markets are beginning to rethink the security and overreliance of their power grids, and as infrastructure creaks in Europe and North America, the need for alternatives to fossil fuels becomes more pressing. There are clear lessons in energy innovation which can be learned from developing markets like India.

India is catching up fast. Ernst & Young’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index 2015[9] rates the UK and India at #8 and #4, respectively – India has jumped up three places since last year.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and so in India, driven by its rapid economic growth, we will see in just a short few years a swift transition from straggler to world leader in clean energy.

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