India – the challenge of low carbon growth


I’ve recently returned from India and have been reflecting on the scale of the challenge that the country faces to reduce its growth in GHG emissions. Below are a few observations on the scale of the challenge and possible low carbon options. In discussing these options, please be assured that I am not ignoring the overwhelming responsibility that developed countries have to reduce their per capita emissions in line with those in developing countries.

Quick State of Play

India’s GHG emissions are about 1.7Gt-CO2 and its population is about 1 billion, so this works out at about 1.5t-CO2 per capita. India is already the world’s 12 largest economy measured by capitalization and the world’s third largest economy measured by purchasing power.

Between now and 2030 India will grow; GDP is forecast to triple over the period, and the country’s population will reach about 1.3billion. Assuming business-as-usual, India’s emission will almost double over the same period, exceeding 3Gt-CO2, or 2.3t-CO2 per capita – that is still microscopic when compared with the developed country average of 14t-CO2 per capita.

The priority for India will be to meet the needs of its growing population for health, lighting, mobility, education, employment, security, comfort, higher living standards, reduced poverty. The challenge for India is to do so while limiting the growth in GHG emissions as much as possible.

The challenge for India is low carbon growth. But what does that mean?

For me, that will mean:

  • Low carbon energy supply
  • Building energy efficiency
  • Unique mobility solutions
  • Industrial innovation
  • Mass Innovation

We’ll look at each in turn.

Low Carbon Energy Supply

Total final electricity consumption in India is about 500TWh. Electricity demand is expected to grow at almost 6% per annum between now and 2030, meaning that India will need an additional 1,400TWh of electricity by 2030. The only realistic way of meeting this massive demand for electricity without increasing GHG emissions will be through nuclear and renewable technologies.

The development of nuclear options are already underway in India. Agreements are now in place with the US to support India’s civil nuclear programme and with French nuclear giant AREVA for the development of joint nuclear projects. India is also increasingly active in the design and testing of next generation fast breeder reactors and is developing its thorium resources (an alternative to uranium of which India has the third largest supply).If India wishes to cuts its GHG emissions growth in half between now and 2030, the country will need to build 75GW of new nuclear power to supplement the 4GW of nuclear capacity that is already in place (all last generation high pressure heavy water reactors). That would mean twenty times as much nuclear power as India generates at present. Already, 6 new plants are under construction with a capacity of 3GW (of which one in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, is a 500MW next generation fast breeder reactor) and at least a further 17 plant (representing more than 30GW capacity) in the planning and proposal stages. If we want to avoid massive GHG emissions from new coal-fired power stations, nuclear power will have to be the cornerstone of India’s low carbon growth.Renewables will have a key role to play too. India already has the fifth largest installed wind capacity in the world and has successful domestic manufacturing operations. Solar also offers some excellent opportunities given the high solar insolation across much of India (though at present there is less home grown innovation in this domain). However, realistically, the role that renewables are likely to play will be secondary to nuclear. India needs large scale, secure, base-load power – and it needs it quickly.

Building Energy Efficiency

Residential electricity consumption is about 125TWh and commercial electricity consumption is about 35TWh. These numbers have grown dramatically over the last five years, spurred on by economic development, increasing urbanization, and improving living standards. Over the last few years the average annual growth in electricity demand in these sectors has been greater than 13% per annum. And this trend is set to continue. Between now and 2010, the commercial building stock will need to increase by nearly 20 million square foot per year in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore just to keep pace with growing demand; in all of India the figure is estimated to be approximately 55 million ft2/year. This will require a total investment of more than US$1.3 trillion. Most of these commercial buildings have an energy performance of 200 to 400 kWh/m2/year. Similar buildings in North America and Europe have energy performance of less than 150 kWh/m2/year. So, opportunities exist to improve the energy performance of both existing and new building stock. This is particularly true of the new building stock, given the quantity of new development that will be required. Immediate opportunities include optimal climatic design, improvements to the building envelope, energy efficient glazing, energy efficient air conditioners, higher efficiency chillers, CFL and LED lighting, electricity monitoring systems and improved insulation. The potential exits to achieve energy efficiency improvements of between 25% and 40% in existing buildings and more than 50% in new buildings. Such improvements across half of the new building stock could deliver up to 160Mt-CO2 in emission reductions per annum by 2030.

Unique Transport Solutions

There are about 5 million private vehicles in India. But this will change dramatically over the next two decades. Rising purchasing power amongst middle class Indians coupled with falling vehicle prices, and low cost financing, will mean that India’s vehicle fleet will grow more than twentyfold, exceeding 100 million vehicles by 2030. If all of these vehicles are conventional fossil fueled vehicles, this will increase emission from this sector of the national fleet from about 25Mt-CO2 to more than 400Mt-CO2 in the space of twenty years. And this is just the beginning; vehicle numbers in India may reach 600 million by 2050. There are only two solutions to India’s transport needs. First find a unique public mobility solution. At this point we don’t know what that solution will look like, but it will inevitably include vehicle sharing, rapid light transit, rapid mass transit, massive upgrade to the national rail stock and infrastructure, ultra high-speed rail links and virtual working environments. Second, convert the transport fleet to an alternative fuel – and that means either electric or biofuels. Both electric and biofuels pose their own problems. The current electricity infrastructure could not possibly support the electrification of the transport system. So that means the massive roll out of nuclear would have to precede any electrification of the transport system. Alternatively, biofuels need land and resources, at a time when increasing population and climate change will put enormous pressure on both. There may be niche opportunities for emerging technologies, such as the deployment of compressed air vehicles for certain uses (for example to replace the ever present three-wheelers in most Indian cities). Transport is perhaps the most intractable of the sectors to address in India.


2 Responses to “India – the challenge of low carbon growth”

  1. 1 Dave

    just like to say hello & thanks for the info

  1. 1 Topics about Energycrisis » Archive » India - the challenge of low carbon growth

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