Feature Report: India and Energy

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India and Coal: The Difficult Energy Transition of Developing Countries

India has launched an impressive renewable energies program, but its coal consumption will continue to grow in the years ahead. This illustrates the difficulty of launching an energy transition when economic growth, demographic pressure and the emergence of a middle class make all forms of energy necessary.

A worker breaks coal by hand at a factory near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh (Northern India). ©DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP

With 1.3 billion inhabitants1, India is the world's second most populous country, after China. In less than seven years, it should overtake its Asian neighbor and see its population rise to 1.5 billion by around 2030. In 2035, India aims to be one of the world's top five economies, with major development in its middle classes. This demographic and economic expansion means that the Indian sub-continent has a growing need for energy. Its energy consumption has doubled since 1990, making it the world's third-largest consumer, after China and the United States. Of course, average per capita energy consumption remains very low.

7.6%: the growth in Indian GDP in 2016, the highest rate worldwide.

 

At present, India’s primary energyAll energy sources that have not undergone any conversion process and remain in their natural state.. mix is dominated by coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... (more than 50%), followed by oil (30%) and natural gas (nearly 8%); the latter two resources are mostly imported. India has launched major renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... programs, particularly in solar photovoltaics (see Close-Up). But its dependence on coal should continue to grow, at least for some years, before (perhaps) leveling off. The latest figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA)An independent, intergovernmental organization founded within the framework of the OECD...2 show that Indian demand for coal should increase 5% per year until 2021. India has the world's fifth largest coal reserves and therefore access to a low-cost local source that employs millions of unskilled workers. (It should be noted that coal demand will be even higher in Vietnam and Indonesia, with a 7.2% annual rise in both cases.)

While demand for coal is rising in India, it is stabilizing in China where consumption levels in 2021 should be below those of 2013. India's difficulty in following China's example is due to a much higher birth rate and rapid economic growth that it justifiably refuses to curb. According to Indian national statistics, between March 2015 and March 2016 growth in GDP was 7.6%, the highest rate worldwide.

However, India is making undeniable efforts to promote an energy transition. For a long time India hesitated to make international climate commitments, putting forth its needs for growth and calling attention to the historical responsibility of rich countries. Nonetheless, it resolutely committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gasGas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions. Its national contribution at the COP 21 in Paris was applauded by recognized non-governmental organizations like Climate Action Tracker3 which analyzes all countries' commitments. In particular, India aims to:

As evidence of its commitment, in June 2016 India canceled the construction of four major coal-fired powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... plants and reduced its program in this sector. While its capacity was intended to increase from 211 GW in 2016 to 289 GW in 2022, it will now only grow to 239 GW.

Indian demand for coal should increase by 5% per year until 2021 according to the International Energy Agency.

 

India ratified the Paris AgreementOil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. The gesture may seem purely symbolic, but it was an indisputable domestic signal. The image of Gandhi - living very simply, weaving his own clothes - is a very strong one for the Indian people. Coming from Narendra Modi, a prime minister with a Hindu nationalist background, the message goes beyond a simple economic commitment.

As in China, the new Indian willingness is strengthened by the problems of urban pollution, resulting from surrounding coal-fired power plants, an exponential increase in vehicles running on fuels not subject to European standards and the lack of truck traffic regulations. Pollution has reached alarming levels in the capital New Delhi where the level of fine particles is the world's highest according to the World Health Organization (WHO).