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India could become a Renewable Energy powerhouse if it invests in Research & Development

According to reports, with India attracting $4 billion in private investments in clean energy in 2010, there was little hyperbole in the initiatives named by Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah at the New Indian Express-Columbia University Conference on Clean Energy in New Delhi on Thursday, last week.

As Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, TNIE, pointed out in his introductory remarks: “We need a projected 900,000 MW of energy by 2030 but we have to get it in a way that minimises damage to the environment.” According to Abdullah, clean energy could well be the game-changer by way of a reverse brain-drain that attracts talent back into the country and helps India morph into a renewable powerhouse. Provided, of course, that India was willing to invest in research and development. The government would be happy to help, he said.

“We are ready. Our doors are open. We are ready to go. If you walk two steps, we will walk 100 steps,” Abdullah told the hall full of leaders from government, industry and academia who had gathered at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom for TNIE’s ‘Green India, Clean India’ conference. In the audience were experts from the world of conventional and non-conventional energy and eminent members of the Indian and US corporate world with a stake in the clean energy space. The speakers included union ministers, chief ministers, heads of India’s largest PSUs and other premier companies and American academics and speakers sponsored by Columbia.

Deepak Gupta, Secretary, New and Renewable Energy, said India would have to create enabling conditions like grid building and transmission infrastructure for optimum utilisation of green energy, while Vikram Mehta, CEO of Shell India, emphasised the need for greater coordination between the ministries that deal with clean energy. He appreciated the fact that “any investment in energy is complex and takes decades before you can shift the needle,” but felt that companies, particularly PSUs, were just not making the investment required, particularly in R&D.

Jeffrey Sachs, economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University—whom fellow green warrior RK Pachauri described as ‘the biggest name in clean energy’–advised India to adopt a judicious blend of policies instead of blindly copying the US model of fossil-fuel-driven growth. “The main message is don’t follow our (American) way,” said Sachs. He urged India to adopt a written clean energy plan that could bring down emission levels and urged a different approach to supplying energy to the people.

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