India, along with many other countries, is heavily reliant on coal. Up to 40 percent of India’s current CO2 emissions come from coal fired power stations. Last year alone India approved 173 coal fired power plants. There’s a lot of pressure on the Indian government and businesses to sustain the current level of approximately 9% economic growth, and coal is fueling a good part of this. But for how long, and at what cost? Aside from the environmental impacts alone, the price of coal in the global market has been skyrocketing. And the Sierra Club reported today that the increasing costs are halting construction of a number of coal power plants.
Much of the coal lies underneath India’s dwindling forested and rural farm lands. And the domestic supply of coal isn’t enough; the country could soon end up importing up to 57% of its future coal supply (India currently imports coal from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa). This could also have serious implications for the U.S., which is considering exporting coal from Wyoming via ports in the Pacific Northwest.
Indian states such as Orissa have paid a high price for mining. Orissa is extremely poor and suffers from environmental degradation. Communities there do not benefit economically from coal mining and are often displaced from their lands due to mining. Andhra Pradesh is another state with high poverty levels that is investing in coal, and is considering building a whopping 63 coal powered plants. Last month the UK Guardian reported that Andhra Pradesh plans to build a new fleet of coal-power stations that could make it one of the world’s top 20 emitters of carbon emissions.
Despite promises that the coal-generated electricity will benefit Andhra Pradesh, opponents say that the power will be exported to large cities and heavy industry, leaving the local communities to deal with toxic waste and pollution.
Yet there are signs of hope. Many people and organizations are actively promoting renewable and off-grid alternatives, especially for the over 400,000 Indians who lack access to reliable electricity. Providing them with viable, renewable alternatives is the key for a sustainable future. Small scale, decentralized clean energy will also deliver it to rural citizens quicker and cheaper.
It’s bad enough to continue relying on coal when it’s a domestic source; it’s even worse to have to import dirty fuels when other options abound. Fortunately, innovators are up to the task, with Indian entrepreneurs coming up with creative and sustainable initiatives:
- Creating mobile phone enabled “pay-as-you-go” solar home system (SHS) technology (Simpa Networks)
- Using waste rice husks as fuel to produce off-grid renewable electricity for rural villages (Husk Power Systems)
- Installing over 115,000 solar lighting systems in rural households and creating a rural financing program to overcome financial obstacles (SELCO India)
Slowly, countries are beginning to realize it is time to move away from expensive coal and invest in renewable energy. Keep your eyes open for amazing entrepreneurial initiatives coming at us from all over the globe.