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How India is leading the energy efficiency revolution

According to reports, during the past century, rapid strides made by economies towards development and industrialization have led to an increase in the global carbon footprint. This is demonstrated by the paradigm shift in the attitude of countries party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which reflects the seriousness of countries towards the challenges posed by climate change as well as the way the consequent damages are being discussed and addressed around the world. This renewed ambition to adopt the Paris Agreement, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as key blueprints for the future we want, is a giant leap towards our commitment to combat climate change. The success of these agreements, depends to a great extent on our adoption of clean energy. This is important not just for universal energy access but for each goal and commitment we as global citizens have set for ourselves.

Global demand for energy continues to rise, led by developing countries such as India and China, which indicates an expanding global economy. Although development in the energy sector has improved energy access for people, the negative environmental impacts that result from heavy reliance on fossil fuels are compelling governments across the world to seek more sustainable options to meet the ever-growing energy demand. Governments are now rethinking their respective energy polices and have begun to embrace various forms of clean energy, such as renewable and nuclear energy. While energy is not an end in itself, it is a critical ingredient in all economic endeavours essential for the provision of all human needs including adequate sustenance, shelter and healthcare. Even as the energy sector continues to expand, nearly a quarter of the world’s population remains outside its fold, with more than a billion people living without access to electricity. Access to sustainable, secure and cost-effective energy solutions offers a tremendous – and unique – opportunity to simultaneously provide modern energy to underserved populations, and serve sustainable development imperatives such as avoiding catastrophic climate change.

While policy interventions around clean energy take place at their own pace and time, one of the most economically feasible options available with citizens across the globe, is to adopt an energy efficient lifestyle. It is becoming increasingly clear that energy efficiency needs to be central in energy policies around the world. All of the core imperatives of a comprehensive energy policy – reducing energy bills, decarbonisation, air pollution, energy security, and energy access – are made more attainable if led by strong energy efficiency measures. As the world transitions to clean energy, the adoption of energy efficiency can make the transition cheaper, faster and more beneficial across all sectors of our economies. At present, there is no realistic, or affordable energy development strategy in progressive economies that is not led by energy efficiency.

Global energy demand and specifically those of developing nations are increasing by the year. However, global energy intensity, i.e., the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product, has improved by 1.8% in 2015. While this is a leap towards sustainable growth and development, greater effort is needed to move to a more efficient use of energy in order to meet climate goals. Although India has made rapid strides towards renewable energy by significantly increasing progress as far as solar and wind power is concerned, the fact remains that it will remain a predominantly fossil-fuel driven economy in the years to come.

Keeping this inescapable truth in mind, the Government of India, along with active support from its citizens, has kick-started a revolution in energy efficiency by introducing scalable and replicable demand side management initiatives. The country has not only established a comprehensive policy for energy efficiency – National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE), but has also executed successful demand side management programmes for consumers and municipal corporations to achieve overall energy savings while gradually mitigating the impact of climate change. The Government’s Unnat Jeevan By Affordable LEDs and Appliances for All (UJALA) scheme is implemented by Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a super Energy Service Company (ESCO) under the Ministry of Power. UJALA, the world’s largest zero-subsidy LED bulb programme for domestic consumers, is an example of a successful energy efficiency programme, designed to help the country achieve sustainable development by reduction of carbon footprint.

UJALA is purely a citizen-led initiative, with strong policy support from the government. It is an example of a self-sustaining government initiative that has not only surpassed traditional benefits, like energy savings and reduced carbon emissions, but has also triggered large scale investment in the manufacturing of LED bulbs, generated employment and other macro benefits. The success of the UJALA programme has demonstrated that such initiatives can not only be executed but successfully replicated for other appliances such as fans and tube lights. UJALA’s tangible benefits have resulted in healthy competition among all states governments in India to devise customized energy efficiency programmes and execute them independently, emulating the scalable models demonstrated by EESL, since achieving energy efficiency is a key element in the 24×7 Power for All agreement between the Central government and the individual state governments. In 2016, the UJALA scheme further included distribution of 20-watt LED tubelights and energy efficient ceiling fans, which are rated 5-star by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE). By 2019, the Government aims to replace 770 million old wasteful lamps with modern, efficient and longer lasting LED bulbs. To date, more than 230 million LED bulbs have been distributed across the country, completely transforming the way Indian citizens look at bulbs, energy efficiency and environment conservation.

The distribution of 230 million LED bulbs, 800,000 energy efficient fans and 2.3 million LED tubelights has cumulatively helped India save 32 billion kWh electricity annually, the production of which would otherwise have consumed 19 million tonnes of coal. This has led to an annual reduction of 25 million tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to growing approximately 600 million trees over a period of ten years. Adding to that, consumers are saving over ?124 billion on their electricity bills annually!

It is this success of UJALA in India that has motivated EESL to enter developed economies like the United Kingdom in order to replicate the scheme. With the launch of the UJALA scheme in UK, EESL shall also make an investment of £100 million in the country by 2020 with an aim to create space in the country’s £6.4 billion energy efficiency services market. Apart from providing LED bulbs, EESL would also provide better solar and heating systems to reduce the consumption of energy in the country, while helping the UK achieve its climate goals. Meanwhile, India is also providing similar assistance to its neighboring countries, namely Nepal and Sri Lanka, in their energy efficiency efforts.

To conclude, energy efficiency is currently the most cost-effective method of giving back a portion of what we take, to the environment. While adoption of energy efficient appliances may not provide immediate results as far as climate change is concerned, it has bearings on the future generations. By urgently and fully adopting an energy efficient lifestyle, the world can build a positive momentum towards transformation of a global energy system that will achieve our common climate change and sustainable development goals.

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