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India Chases Clean Energy, but Economic Goals Put Coal First

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In the shadow of a retired coal-fired power plant in India’s capital, Meena Devi is trying to make her family’s home — four brick walls with a tin roof — a safe place to breathe.

The factory’s chimney was dormant years ago by court order, but her air is still a hazard, from vehicle exhaust to construction dust to ash from burning crop stubble in the neighboring state. is filled with

Emissions from the many coal-fired power plants still operating around New Delhi create toxic smog that blankets the city each winter, endangering people of all backgrounds. Sometimes it’s Devi who adds to the smoke in the wood fire she burns when her husband, a home painter, is out of work and her family doesn’t have the cash to refill the cooking gas cylinders. .

The central government gives poor households small subsidies to cook gas as a cleaner alternative to firewood, but the main energy subsidies go to gasoline and diesel consumers, mostly to benefit the middle class. Utility that burns coal.

“When I’m lighting the churha, my throat burns and the children can’t breathe.”What can I do? We are not the only ones causing pollution. ”

Debi stands at the crossroads of the global challenge of how to empower the world’s poor and combat climate change at the same time.

In India, as in many other countries, political and economic considerations have led to an energy strategy that seeks clean energy and burns fossil fuels at the same time. This is an approach that ultimately prioritizes safety over climate.

Despite promises at conferences on climate change to lead the world’s transition to green energy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is in full expansion mode at the fossil fuel front. Affordable and reliable prices for electricity and petrol are a top priority.

According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, India’s fossil fuel subsidies will be nine times as large as clean energy subsidies in 2021.

The investment has plagued green energy advocates, but officials have pushed India’s ambitious economic growth target of $3.2 trillion in 2021 to $5 trillion in annual GDP by the end of 2021. target) can only be achieved through a radical increase in dirty and clean energy. The same goes for energy sources.

“Energy security is my number one priority.

“I will not compromise on the availability of power for the development of this country,” he added.

India will soon have the largest population of any country, so India’s choice is important not only for the health of its citizens, but also for its prospects of limiting global warming to sustainable levels.

Amy Myers-Jaffe, an energy and climate expert at New York University College of Technology, said: “The trajectory of their emissions will be a key factor in determining whether global emissions can reach net zero by mid-century.”

India’s environmental record is mixed at best. This has brought the cost of renewable energy down to one of the lowest in the world. This means less smoke in New Delhi and other Indian cities rated as having the worst air in the world.

renewable energy in india rose to 163 GW in August From a few megawatts in 2010, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a Cleveland research group. In addition, renewable energy accounts for his 40% of the country’s installed power generation capacity, with a target of increasing to 61% by 2030.

However, coal is the cornerstone of India’s power system and the most persistent cause of urban air pollution. The average coal power plant in India is 14 years old, compared to the global average of 20 years. Coal-fired power plants typically operate for 30 to 50 years.

Even as India’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2070 leads to clean energy sources gradually taking up a larger share of the energy mix, there is still plenty of room for coal-fired power to grow. And the widespread lack of regulation could mean that emissions will rise significantly before coal power peaks.

In 2015, India’s coal-fired power plants were mandated to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. Adoption of technologies to capture these contaminants is limited. Firms repeatedly extended to complyAround Delhi, only two of the 12 coal-fired power plants are compliant.

Yet the Modi government has offered to finance a new coal plant near the capital. Extensive pipeline of new coal infrastructureIt provides $2 billion in annual subsidies to listed Coal India.

“Coal pricing methods and subsidies are leading to increased air pollution from power plant emissions,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

“The whole world knows that Delhi is a heavily polluted area,” Dahiya added. “On the contrary, they are looking to add another factory,” he continued, referring to the Modi government. “It defies all logic.”

Like many countries, the war in Ukraine has made India wary of its dependence on foreign energy, especially oil. About 85% of her 5 million barrels consumed daily are imported. The government has opened up nearly one million square miles of her territory, including pristine coastal areas and offshore waters, for natural gas and oil drilling, attracting the attention of Exxon Her Mobil, Total and Chevron. .

Investing in fossil fuels runs counter to the increasingly compelling economics of renewable energy in India.

After more than a decade of public and private investment, solar power is plentiful in India and as cheap as any other energy source. An aggressive biofuel policy that has led to a 10% ethanol blend saves the government $5 billion a year in oil imports. India is sucking up foreign direct investment, dubbed green hydrogen because it is produced by renewable energy.

India’s national oil company, ONGC, is adding renewable energy to its portfolio, and Coal India is proposing to install a solar power plant on a landfill. Indian refiner giant Reliance is selling assets to Saudi Aramco to raise money to expand its solar panel production and establish a green hydrogen infrastructure. India’s largest coal suppliers, Reliance and Adani, have committed to net-zero targets and pledged tens of billions of dollars to green energy projects.

India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, so India’s adoption of cleaner fuels could help the world avoid climate disaster. However, India’s projected energy needs include an astronomical increase in oil, gas and coal consumption. This suggests that India’s dangerous air quality problem, and what India claims are tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, could get worse before it gets better.

“We have approached transition, environment and sustainability with almost religious fervor,” India’s Minister of Oil and Natural Gas Haddeep Singh Puri said in an interview.

“But to make a realistic transition, we have to live through the present,” he said.

India is taking advantage of Moscow’s heavily discounted supply of crude oil, which currently supplies about a quarter of its daily needs. Low oil prices have also enabled New Delhi to keep its citizens out of inflation by keeping pump prices low.

The government cut excise taxes on petrol and diesel twice last year and called for tax cuts in states controlled by Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The move most likely helped the government avoid the political turmoil over high gas prices and shortages seen in neighboring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

“More than inflation, we have kept people out of chaos,” Puri said. “If there was no gas,” he added.

Half of Delhi’s emissions, ranked as the world’s most polluted capital, vehicle traffic, but there is little incentive to drive less. About 60 million people in India refuel daily.

But in a country of about 1.4 billion people, millions more suffer from bad air with little benefit.

In Subhash Camp, a Delhi slum where Devi lives, women gather in narrow alleys lined with electrical wires and decorative strands of marigolds. They describe their child having a respiratory illness that he was born with or that it developed quickly and required expensive hospital treatment.

They also talked about how free cooking gas cylinders and subsidized gas in recent years are helping children have a little more control over the environment, and the consequences of not having the money to buy gas. also explains.

“My kids say, ‘Please Mama, don’t light the Chulha. I can’t breathe,'” said a construction worker and mother of three who goes by one name. Reshma said. “We think about pollution, but we have to make food.”

The Modi government says it plans to shift away from energy subsidies after spending billions on oil and gas exploration and coal expansion.

Karan Deep Singh contributed to the report.

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