India's energy landscape is changing so swiftly that researchers are having a tough time keeping up with it.
Prospects for the country's coal sector continue to drop along with the falling price of renewable energy. Some situations seem to be developing in the time it takes to get a research paper out.
In July, for instance, the nonprofit CoalSwarm conducted a survey of proposed coal plants in India and found 370 in the pipeline, amounting to around 243 gigawatts of power. The survey came a year after an International Energy Agency projection that India would be responsible for around half of the coal-fired power capacity added globally until 2040. A research paper based on the survey, which was released recently in the American Geophysical Union journal Earth's Future, determined India would be unable to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement if all those plants were built.
But between the time the survey was conducted and the time the paper was written, the Indian government concluded it would not require any new coal plants for at least a decade. About 50 GW of planned coal capacity has either been shelved or left inactive, and the country has targeted a 275-GW renewable energy share for 2027 instead.
“When I worked on this back in June, I thought, wow, these coal plants are really going to lock out renewables,” said Christine Shearer, a senior researcher with CoalSwarm, regarding the study. “But now they're getting so cheap and increasing so far that I'm thinking that no, they're not going to end up being stranded. It's amazing how quickly things are changing.”
India accounts for about 4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the Paris Agreement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed that by 2030, at least 40 percent of the country's electricity will be generated from non-fossil sources. The goal includes 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022.
Shearer and her colleagues note in the research paper that India's climate goals, which include reducing emissions by around 35 percent of 2005 levels by the end of the next decade, would be a distant dream if planned coal projects were to be completed. Moreover, said Shearer, many of the proposed plants are simply unneeded.
“India has been pursuing a lot of power bids recently for solar and wind, which are coming in even cheaper than coal. So what we're really seeing is kind of the vestige of the previous perception of coal being a way to meet power needs, now coming up against a new reality where renewable power can deliver the same thing,” she said.
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