2016-09-27
India: The clean energy opportunity

In the last six months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama have held historic meetings, brought India and the US closer together, and created a partnership to jointly seize the enormous economic and environmental opportunities, driving both countries towards a clean energy future.

Addressing climate change will be challenging for each country in different ways, as we transition away from economies based on fossil fuels. But the clean energy future promises opportunities that dwarf these challenges: greater energy access, lower and less volatile energy costs over the long term, keeping energy dollars closer to home, spurring high-tech innovation, growing clean energy jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution.

Eight years ago, with a focus on seizing these opportunities, the state government of Massachusetts (a small state in the US with a population 6.5 million) worked with the high-tech sector, universities, the investment community, municipalities and non-governmental organisations to re-write our energy reality.

We harnessed markets. We brought regulations into the 21st century. We tried innovative policies. We encouraged new financing mechanisms. We opened the door for innovators to innovate and business people to grow businesses.

Our goal was to take an outmoded energy system that was steeped in a 100-year history and unleash companies and entrepreneurs, cities and towns, and customers to deploy solar and wind power, buy electric vehicles, build smart grid infrastructure, develop new storage technologies and invest in a cleaner, more reliable, more stable system.

The results have been astonishing, and on this Earth Day, it proves the notion that economic development and environmental protection can go hand in hand.

In 2007, Massachusetts had just over 3 megawatts of solar capacity; today we have over 700MW installed, and will more than double that by 2020. Modi’s call to grow Indian solar from 3 to 100 gigawatts by 2022 seems more than possible in this context.

In 2007, we had just over 3MW of wind capacity; today, we have installed 103MW of land-based wind and are poised to launch a new era of off-shore wind development.

Massachusetts has tripled the energy we’re saving from efficiency initiatives and today leads the US in energy efficiency deployment.

Working with eight other states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, we instituted the country’s first carbon cap-and-trade programme and lowered carbon emissions by 40 per cent from power plants while pumping almost $2bn into the regional economy.

Massachusetts now has over 5,500 clean energy firms and nearly 100,000 clean energy workers, with 10 per cent  annual job growth in each of the last five years. These jobs span the value chain from electricians to architects to research chemists to engineers to lawyers to plumbers to designers to small business owners.

There is no question that the US and India are vastly different countries with different institutions, histories, politics, culture, markets and industry. But both democracies are committed to the economic development of their citizens. Both know that energy security and reliability are necessary for a thriving economy. Both are challenged to provide their people with clean air and clean water. Both want to avoid what the international scientific community conclusively says will be devastating impacts of unchecked climate change. Both have universities, institutes, start-ups and huge corporations defined by world-class entrepreneurial, solution-driven innovation. And both have unparalleled human capital — scientists, engineers, technologists, educators, and business leaders. In short, both are poised to seize control of their energy futures and launch a comprehensive clean energy revolution that drives economic growth.

It is no surprise then, that for each example of a successful leap towards the clean energy future in Massachusetts and the US, India has led also: growing solar from under 10MW to over 3,000MW in the last five years; ramping up wind power from 15GW to 24GW between 2011 and early 2015; encouraging widespread use of cleaner fuels for buses and auto-rickshaws in Delhi; devoting significant resources to study advanced biofuels led by the India Institute of Chemical Technology; and expanding the exploration of energy storage and Smart Grid.

Some argue that addressing climate change and moving to a clean energy economy is not ripe, is too costly, or will result in job losses. We’ve proven these wrong. How can we, as two nations of entrepreneurs and innovators, of business people and problem solvers, fail to harness this shared strength? It is time to seize the enormous clean energy opportunities before us and grow our economies while leaving the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.

The writer, a fellow at Harvard University, is a former state utility and environment commissioner in Massachusetts, US

(This news story is from The India Express)