Indian energy minister pledges renewables revolution

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India’s energy minister, Piyush Goyal, has spoken bullishly of the country’s intention to become a renewables superpower over the next decade – with solar PV power to the fore.

Speaking to U.K. newspaper The Guardian in the week that Indian Prime Minister met with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss energy and manufacturing, Goyal said that India’s previous goal of installing 20 GW of PV by 2022 was too conservative.

"This target will be smashed," Goyal claimed. "It will be much, much larger. I think for India to add 10 GW a year of solar, and six, seven or eight of wind every year is not difficult to envisage.”

Goyal’s comments were tempered with a warning to Western governments that India’s transition to its energy future will not happen completely cleanly, speaking of a "very rapid expansion" of India’s coal-fired electricity generation as the country cranks up its plans to bring electricity to the 320 million Indians who live off the grid.

"Our commitment to the people of India is that we should rapidly expand the energy sector, reach out to every home, and make sure we can do a diesel-generator-free India in our five years,” said Goyal. And while off-grid solar PV installations are the ideal replacement for many remote villages and towns, coal will play its part too.

"Coal will have to expand in a very rapid way," added the minister, who would not be drawn on predicting how big a share coal will play in India’s future energy mix. "I would wish that the proportion of renewable energy was higher but my fear is that, even if I would want to do more, I may not be able to fund it. Coal I would be able to fund unlimited.”

Although Narendra Modi’s government has pledged to invest $100 billion in renewable energy in the next five years – and took the difficult decision not to impose stinging tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels – Goyal warned Western observers that India’s huge energy expansion would still follow a path well-worn by first world countries.

"Western countries have gone through their development cycle and enjoyed the fruits of ruining the environment over many years and are now giving us homilies and pontificating on responsibilities to the environment," said Goyal. "I think they need to recognize the cost to the world’s environment that they have caused – and continue to cause – and set their house in order before sermonizing to developing countries."

Modi meets Obama

After an eventful first 100 days in office since election in May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week ticked off every new head of state’s priority #1: a meeting with the U.S. President.

Modi and Obama met in Washington Tuesday to discuss ways in which the two countries can more closely collaborate, with the issues of energy and manufacturing first on the agenda. "When we meet in Washington, we will discuss ways in which we can boost manufacturing and expand affordable renewable energy while sustainably securing the future of our common environment," wrote Modi and Obama in a joint op-ed published Tuesday in the Washington Post.

Modi received a warm welcome in the U.S., with the Prime Minister politically diplomatic in his rhetoric on energy and renewables, despite his energy minister’s more strident words this week.

India’s renewable energy proposals will surely meet Obama’s approval, but reports that India’s coal-fired electricity production between June and August this year increased 21% on last year serves to underline Goyal’s stance – despite greater collaboration with the U.S., India is going to do things its own way.