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Leaders and laggards in green energy

According to reports, in the last decade, India has grown at an exponential rate — and so has its energy needs. It is a nation of a billion people; can their needs be met?

We have over-invested in building more power plants that run on a fuel which will eventually run out, and under-invested in solutions that will make the country energy-independent.

In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh under UPA-1 released the National Action Plan on Climate Change to cut down India’s carbon emissions. To build momentum in the renewable energy sector, the concept of Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) was introduced, which targeted a generation of 7 per cent of India’s total electricity using renewable energy sources in 2012 and 15 per cent by 2020. To achieve this, each State was told to set an RPO target.

But the momentum fizzled out. Only seven States out of 29 achieved their targets. According to a Greenpeace report “Powering Ahead with Renewables: Leaders and Laggards”, the States cumulatively brought down the national RPO target from 7 per cent to 5.44 per cent.

This lack of consistency between the Centre and States translated into a loss of nearly 4,500 MW of electricity, which is enough to power Bihar for two years. The actual achievement rate of RPO targets dropped even further, leading to a shortfall of 5,960 MW — enough to light up all of Delhi for a year.

Among the worst-performing states on the RPO index are high-energy consumption States like Delhi, Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The national capital, in particular, stands out. Despite getting 350 days of sunlight a year, Delhi set a meagre target of 2 per cent and achieved only 0.01 per cent, virtually adding no green electricity in its supply chain.

Delhi aims to become a world-class sustainable city, but with no intent of generating sustainable energy. Other States with similar potential and resources are doing have done better.

Tamil Nadu produces 40 per cent of the country’s total wind power. Gujarat, on the other hand, is basking in solar energy. After the innovative solar plant built atop a Narmada canal in the remote village of Chandrasan, the State is aiming for a 500 MW solar park, twice that of China. Bihar, meanwhile, is in the midst of an energy revolution. The State is gearing up to source a third of its electricity from renewables — a startling achievement for a poor State where 70 per cent of the population has no access to electricity.

Other bountiful States which saved the RPO index from crashing are Rajasthan, Karnataka and the neglected hill State of Meghalaya. Sadly, these high-performing States have now lowered their RPO targets for 2013, due to lack of rewards or penalties in the existing RPO framework.

The disparity between States with respect to the RPO target shows that most States are not interested in switching from unviable coal to sustainable renewables. States such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat or Karnataka have performed well because they are naturally blessed with huge resources. In Bihar, pro-active leadership has shown how renewable energy can help the State overcome its energy crisis.

The existing RPO mechanism is toothless as it gives lethargic States such as Delhi and Andhra Pradesh the discretion to set unambitious targets. Worse, it has turned renewable energy into a responsibility and burden of a few.

The existing policy needs to be replaced with a mandatory mechanism that is based on equity, and takes into account the power purchasing capacity of States and its consumer profile. The right place to start would be the national capital.

Delhi has the resources and money available to harness solar energy on a large-scale by investing in rooftop solar panels. Its people have pockets deep enough to pay for renewable energy, unlike the poor of Jharkhand or Orissa.

It can even help by financing clean energy projects in States like Bihar or Rajasthan. Being the country’s capital and huge energy guzzler, the State must inspire the rest by generating its own green energy.

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