A sea of solar panels in a north Indian desert is part of the government’s clean energy push. Photo: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images

In India, the world’s third largest emitter of GHG emissions, a staggering 74% of the country’s electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants, and coal use is continuing to increase as the population continues to grow. But new data suggests that coal usage might be slowing as India, for the first time, is investing more money in solar power than it is in coal. As the Independent reported, “According to the International Energy Agency, India’s move towards spending on renewables has been driven both by policy and by the rapidly falling costs of bringing solar power online.”

As Inside Climate News explained from their coverage of the IEA report:

  • India’s switch to more renewable power in the past few years has been driven by a combination of ambitious clean energy policies and rapidly decreasing costs of solar panels that have fueled large utility-scale solar projects across the country
  • The report found that renewable power investments in India exceeded those of fossil fuel-based power for the third year in a row, and that spending on solar energy surpassed spending on coal-fired power generation for the first time in 2018.
  • Not all new energy investments are going into renewables, however, and coal power generation is still growing.

But how long coal use is expected to continue to grow in India varies by different analyses. For instance, BP estimated that India’s overall energy demands could nearly double by 2040 as a result of population growth and economic development. On the other hand, the IEA has projected that coal-fired power will decline from 74% of total electricity generation today to 57% in 2040 under current policies as new energy investments increasingly go into renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

Earlier this year India announced that is planning to bid out 500 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy generation capacity by 2028 to achieve its goal of 40% electricity generation from non-fossil fuels by 2030. Anand Kumar, secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy explained that of the 500 GW, 350 GW would come from solar, 140 GW from wind, and the remaining from small hydro, biomass. 

Why This Matters: Elections in India are still ongoing and the future development of the nation’s renewable resources will depend heavily on its elected officials. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to form the government again, the party has had a mixed record on climate change. Most recently Modi has launched a series of renewable energy projects in India and the hope is that if he is elected again that he can steer India away from dependence on coal despite campaign promises of economic development and ambitious infrastructure projects.

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