Who would ever expect a country with generations naively leaned towards fossil fuels and struggling to lighten up their houses will be blessed with solar power. Sounding like intercession, today, a livelihood is well upholstered to arrogate a technology-driven life. Apparently, the black smut coal field where nourishment of human-kind was painted black has open-armed the genesis of “Green Energy”. Not only feeding clean power needs but also giving a new dividend for propelling a better life. India has a diverse and dynamic culture and terrain. Hence, with growing urbanization and mapping villages to the mainstream, the electricity demand in the country has gigantically stemmed. The egalitarian dialogue for power and turning towards a sustainable and green power has also been a vicious cycle. Palm-greasing, local strong-fist people, poverty and lack of awareness have mismatched the calculation of basic demand and supply. In this scathing situation, an independent and also minimal influx of solar power like LED lights or charging mobile phones seems to bring some hope for these vast locales.
But looking at broader canvas, larger off-grid systems and DC powering houses powering small-scaled businesses and also homes can blaze a trail on creating a better individual livelihood. In 2014, when the BJP government came to power, India had the world’s largest energy access deficit in terms of electricity–270 million people, accounting for just under a third of the world’s deficit, according to the World Bank’s 2017 State of Electricity Access report. A strategic turnaround for solar power was underlined when tariff rates crashed over the years. From a tariff rate of around Rs 12 per unit in 2010, solar power touched a tariff of Rs 2.44 per unit in the recently auctioned Bhadla Solar Park, Rajasthan. Solar panel prices have fallen by 85 percent over the last five years. At an instance, today, solar power prices are even cheaper than India’s coal-based thermal power plants. The country’s largest power company, NTPC, sells electricity from its coal-based generation units at a princely Rs 3.2 per kilowatt-hour. The sudden proposition of setting up new renewable goals has certainly befogged analysts and researchers to cope with the new pulse.
Coal Mines – The Abundance and Redundancy of Humanity in ‘Black’
India is a home to 30 most polluted cities in the world. India produces 89 minerals operating 569 coal mines, 67 oil & gas mines, 1,770 non-coal mines, and several more small mines, running into over a lakh. About one million people on an average are employed on a daily basis at these mines, with the sector contributing about 5 per cent to the country’s GDP. A coal sector which is less named aspiring and respiring keeps a brutal dossier of unaccountable number of workers been undesirably perished in the black cemeteries. This sector faces a fatal accident every seven days arguably making mining the most dangerous profession in India. Records show that a majority of mining accidents in India involve roof and side wall collapses of a mine. The Directorate General of Mines Safety figures suggest annual fatality rate is 0.21 in India (taking into account the total number of mines), down from 0.36 about five years ago. If these fatal deaths were not enough to reveal the destitute situations in the coal mines, then the toxic emissions constantly fuming the air is known to contain 40 to 50 hydrocarbon compounds, and many of them are toxic or carcinogenic. These vast fields have been cursed with zero vegetation, no animal life, tress are a far beyond story and life cannot be spelled through literature. India has rich coal reserves, but imports much of its coal, since coal brought into the country is subject to fewer regulations than domestically produced coal.
Present Coal Development and Sigh of Relief for Solar
Coal secretary says Coal India, known as the largest coal producer company in the world is expected to achieve its 2016/17 production target of 575 million tonnes and aims to raise output to 1 billion tonnes by 2020. Lately, Coal India has earmarked a capital expenditure of Rs 8,500 crore in 2017-18 to expedite mining projects and ramp up production. The government-owned miner also plans to invest Rs 6,500 crore to set up power projects, revive a fertiliser plant and acquire coal blocks. Coal India had spent Rs 7,700.06 crore in 2016-17. These figures critically woo the dream of green and sustainable energy in this country.
Although, state-run NTPC Ltd., India’s largest power producer, along with RattanIndia Power Ltd. are considering installing solar panels over land initially intended for thermal projects. NTPC said lately that it’s aiming to have 30 percent of its capacity come from non-fossil fuel by 2032. Analysts have rightly calculated that even when the share of non-fossil fuel power rises to 40% by 2030, as proposed currently, that will mean only a 4% reduction in the share of coal in India’s energy mix (i.e. from the current 61% to 57% level), given another 200 GW of coal-fired capacity is in the pipeline to be commissioned over another ten years. As part of a longterm strategy the government, in fact, has raised the target capacity addition of solar-based power generation to 100GW, while generation from other renewable resources including wind, biomass and hydro was envisaged at 75GW. These targets, proposed to be attained by 2022, entail an investment of close to US$100 billion. A government release earlier said that in the solar sector alone the target would principally comprise of 40GW rooftop and 60GW through large and mediumscale grid-connected power projects. Accordingly, the programme would make India one of the largest green energy producers surpassing several advanced countries. The government also expects green companies from China, Japan, USA and Germany will take part in the investment programme that will help India’s current solar generation of about 13.11 GW transition to 100 GW over a period of next five years.
Can Sun Clear the Black Clouds?
According to a survey, investments in renewable energy are crucial for India to meet its climate change goals, such investments shall be made at a calibrated pace looking into the total cost accrued to the society. It adds further that the social cost of renewable at Rs 11,000 per MWh, as of now, is around three times that of coal. On the back of prolific growth in non-conventional power, Ernst & Young reckons that India is the world’s second best market for investing in renewable energy. The Narendra Modi government has moved decisively to assure private renewables developers by backing a payment security mechanism. Last year, the Solar Energy Corporation of India, the country’s largest solar power purchaser, was included in a tripartite agreement between the Central government, state governments and the Reserve Bank of India, which safeguards it against payment defaults. While solar energy becomes cheaper, the cost of coal power is rising in India. It’s becoming more costly to mine at home and faces tougher environmental regulations, BNEF(Bloomberg New Energy Finance) said in a report. Low demand is also an issue.
The levelized cost of energy from a new super-critical coal plant in India stands at 3,541 rupees a megawatt-hour, or 3.54 rupees a kilowatt-hour, meaning it’s above the 2.44 rupees a kilowatt-hour achieved at the recent auction, according to BNEF. The cost of new emissions rules increases the cost of new coal plants further to 3,890 rupees a megawatt-hour, or 3.9 rupees a kilowatt-hour, BNEF said.
Analyst Tim Buckley said the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel and towards solar in India would have “profound” implications on global energy markets. According to his article on the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’s website, 13.7GW of planned coal power projects have been cancelled so far in May – in a stark indication of the pace of change.
Strong Solar Roar of India
An energy blueprint released recently by the Indian government predicts that 57% of total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027, exceeding the Paris Agreement’s target of 40% by 2030. Currently, almost 33% of the country’s total energy comes from non-fossil fuel, which makes the Paris target relatively unambitious. It looks like India is almost three-and-a-half years ahead of schedule. But in terms of large-scale implementation, neither solar nor coal are easy options in India. For solar energy to be reliable and widespread, the country would need to build grid infrastructure on an unprecedented scale.
Algorithm of IRR Prospering Solar
Top of the list is the decision of the government to provide security to bidders that the solar power generated will be bought by the government and payment will be ensured. This has been done by setting up the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) under the ambit of the tripartite agreement for payment security against defaults by state distribution companies. This single move has transformed solar power from a power sector play to a financial one. Investments are based on how much internal rate of return (IRR) the project can generate. Many investment firms and banks are partnering with companies who understand the solar sector to invest in India as the risk has been taken care of by the government, making the project as good as a financial instrument with visible cash flows. A double-digit IRR is good enough for most foreign players. Apart from ensuring purchase and payment, the government has also taken care of the next big issue, land. Solar companies were finding land acquisition one of the biggest hurdles in setting up solar power plants. The government has now allowed companies who specialize in land acquisition, and state governments, to allocate land which can be leased out to parties interested in setting up units. Currency fluctuations also play an important part as most of the panels are imported. In the case of Bhadla Solar Park rupee appreciation helped bring down cost of power purchase further. Finally, it is the way in which solar power farms are constructed that has helped in bringing about a boom in solar power. Most players, rather than purchasing solar panels, enter into a long-term lease with the supplier.
Coal and Solar – Leaders Yielding New Political Speech
At UN Climate Conference in Paris last year, India, with its resolute stand on the use of coal was seen as the major holdout to any meaningful dialogue on climate change. The country had then categorically stated it was at least two decades away from reducing its coal use. Asserting strongly, and also speaking for all economically underdeveloped countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there that the consequences of the industrial age powered by the fossil fuel were evident, especially on the lives of the poor. Former Power and Renewable Energy Minister of the country, Piyush Goyal, certainly prompted a new notion. He said, the country would not be apologetic about having to use coal in future while all developments in the US and the West for over 150 years were on the back of the coal itself. It’s also acceptable that the government’s electoral promise of bringing quality electricity to 28 million more homes by 2022 still requires capacity addition of many more thousand megawatts too.
Solar’s Organized Employment vs Enrolment Dysfunction of Labors in Coal
If the country has a decisive stance towards its 2022 target of 175 GW, the wind and solar industry together to employ over 300,000 Indians over the next five years. Currently, wind and solar together account for almost 14% of India’s installed power capacity. Analysts cite that over the next three years alone, the sector can generate jobs for about 80,000 Indians. The industry employed over 21,000 people in India in 2016-2017 and is expected to employ an estimated 25,000 people more in 2017-18, according to an analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a not-for-profit research organisation based in New Delhi, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit. About 64% of India’s population is expected to be in the working age-group of 15-59 years by 2026, according to Ernst and Young, a professional services consultancy. It is also likely to have the world’s largest workforce in the world by 2025. The green sector, with its employment potential, could pick a healthy chunk.
India is today one among top four job markets in renewables sector. In 2016, India accounted for 5% of the world’s renewable-energy capacity, and invested $9.7 billion (Rs 64,990 crore) in the sector, according to the Renewables Global Status Report 2017, released by REN 21, an international non-profit organization working on renewable energy. Direct and indirect jobs in renewables (excluding large hydropower) reached 8.3 million in 2016, with China, Brazil, the United States, India, Japan and Germany being the leading job markets. In India, estimated renewable jobs (direct and indirect) in 2016 were 385,000, 4.6% of the global total. Jobs in large hydropower projects (over 10 megawatt), which were estimated to be 236,000, are excluded.
When comparing to solar industry alone, coal has a haphazard employment base across the country. This sector has profoundly lacked the labor law and have dwelled humans at large scale(specifically local). There is no healthy life and workers tend to give up the job after a year or so. It can be said in today’s scenario coal industry shall be the rearmost industry where employment ratios see a prolific growth.
According to UNICEF’s report in 2013, some 28 million children work to supplement their families’ meagre income, 400,000 children aged between five and 14 work in various coal mines. Despite the 1952 Indian Mines Act that stipulates that no one under the age of 18 can be employed in the mines, many children do so anyway.
Rules mean little to the children who claw coal from the guts of the earth for a living. On a normal day, the workers (mostly underage) earn 200 rupees ($3.60) by going into these mines. Their future looks as bleak as the dark mines they are forced to work in. Schools are scarce in the region, and education is often seen to be a luxury.
How Solar Can Save Lives from Slaying of Coal?
When talking about India, about 115,000 people die prematurely from pollution caused by Indian coal-fired plants, including 10,000 children below age five. The health costs to India are about $4.6 billion (Rs 29,400 crore) annually, which is the cost of setting up five power plants of 1,000 megawatts (MW) each, or 2% of India’s installed capacity, every year. Emissions from an Indian power plant were estimated to kill 650 people, said this study of emissions between 2000 and 2008, conducted by Harvard University researchers.
Replacing coal-fired power plants with solar power installations could save as many as 51,999 lives every year, a study from the Michigan Technological University has found. Workers in all likelihood die of things such as asthma and congestive heart failure resulting from harmful emissions from coal-fired plants. If we talk of America, by transitioning to solar photovoltaics (PV) in the US, up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life.
Coal Will Silently Toast the Success of Solar
The cost of solar generation in India has fallen by more than half. The country’s competitive auctions for solar power have pushed prices below 2.5 rupees ($0.04) per kilowatt-hour. Solar is cheap and getting cheaper, and at a certain point it becomes hard to turn down as a marginal unit of new power generation. From 2030, solar would begin to sideline coal in India, with the pace of photovoltaic (PV) additions more than doubling from the 2020s to the 2030s, said the New Energy Outlook-2017 by BNEF. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, India has decided to halt further CFF extraction projects for energy requirements and instead; increase dependency on RE(Renewable Energy) through concerted efforts in R&D and government policies. Due to these efforts, RE such as solar and wind energy is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible. Further, due to fiscal and tariff incentives provided by the Government, India has become a hub for foreign investment in RE. Among other measures, India has liberalized the RE sector in recent years to facilitate transfer of foreign technology to hasten the shift from dirty energy to RE. Today, India boasts of some of the world’s largest solar plants which are located in the States of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Recently, India built the world’s first canal top solar power park in Gujarat which not only generates RE, but also saves land area (a scarce resource in an overpopulated country like India). India has built the world’s first fully solar powered international airport. Private sector participation in RE via public-private partnerships has also witnessed an upsurge as evidenced by Adani Group’s investment in the one of the world’s largest single location solar plant in Tamil Nadu. Apart from grid solar power installations, India has transformed millions of lives by providing non-grid solar lamps throughout rural India.