School of Transnational Governance

India's transition to renewable energy

STG Policy Leader Fellow Akhilesh Magal discusses India's ambitious energy targets - and what needs to be done.

 India is a major greenhouse gas emitter and one of the world’s biggest emerging economies.

With rampant issues of infrastructure and income inequalities, critics were sceptical when the country ratified the global climate agreement in October 2016.

India committed to reaching three key goals by 2030: slashing greenhouse gas emission by 33-35%, increasing renewable energy to 40% of installed power capacity and creating a carbon sink of up to 3 billion tons of CO2.

However, critics are not wrong in saying that the road ahead is fraught with complications. 

In his talk as a Policy Leader Fellow at the School of Transnational Governance, Akhilesh Magal of the Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI) spoke about the challenges India faces as it attempts to transition to cleaner forms of energy.

One of the largest obstacles is the country’s heavy reliance on coal, which is one of the world’s most polluting fossil fuels and the source of 70% of the country’s electricity. 

For Akhilesh Magal the country’s targets under the Paris global climate agreement “can certainly be termed as ambitious”, though they can be interpreted in different ways.

‘India has certainly come from a really low base [...] to doing a lot compared to the international community, which is really great for such a poor country’- Mr Magal said - but emphasised how ‘unless some very strong policy measures are in place’ such high targets will be unrealistic.  

Attaining these goals is dependent on the transfer of technology and finance from foreign countries. 

High renewable energy targets will be unrealistic, unless some very strong policy measures are in place

Professional service firm Ernest and Young ranked India fourth in its Renewable Energy Country Attractive Index in 2018 and the country projected to attract $80 billion dollars of investment in the next four years. 

However, Mr Magal said crucial support from foreign countries has not been enough. 

Luckily, India can count on its rich potential of solar and hydropower, two key sources of renewable energy. 

Once the necessary technology and funds have been secured, issues with land acquisition, income inequality and the diversity of energy demands are a significant hurdle in switching to green energy sources.

Despite the existence of issues around acquiring land to build wind farms and solar parks, renewable energy can spur local economies.

Speaking of his home state of Gujarat, which boasts one of India’s most important industrial centres, Mr. Magal said solar power can also benefit the agricultural sector, which employs around half the state’s workforce. 

Underground water pumps are a prime case, with 30% of Gujarat’s energy requirements coming from farmers.
Mr Magal said solar pumps provided as part of renewable energy efforts have also provided farmers with an extra source of income, as they can export excess energy back into the energy grid. 

Despite the potential benefits for local populations, renewable energy is not high on the list of priorities for Indian public opinion. For Mr Magal, this is down to more pressing developmental priorities, like access to water and education, whilst environmental awareness is more widespread, such as the protection of soil, water and natural resources. 

According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change commissioned by the United Nations, India is one of the countries expected to be hit the hardest by climate change in the future. 

 Biographical Notes Akhilesh Magal