Question: Can India shift entirely to sustainable energy? The short answer is yes. The long answer is what you’re here for.
The brilliant British physicist, mathematician and renewable energy advocate David MacKay has an excellent book called Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air (from which a significant chunk of the philosophy has been derived). Which is just what India needs right now. But (surprise!) in the run-up to the ongoing general elections, both major national parties’ manifestos have been sorely lacking in terms of a plan for India’s energy policy.
The Congress’s manifesto mentions in passing that it “will formulate a policy on clean energy in existing power plants that use fossil fuels, and promote green energy to enhance the share of solar and wind energy in the total supply of energy”. Meanwhile, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto aims to “achieve 175 GW of renewable energy capacity and strive to achieve 10% blending of ethanol in petrol”.
Both are inadequate for a country that is estimated to be home to 1 in 6 people on earth by 2030, and is also one of the fastest growing economies of the world.
The case for a fully green grid (renewables plus nuclear) is straightforward. To avoid a global catastrophe, the consensus is that we need to prevent global mean temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We’re already at 08.-0.9 degrees.
To avoid the ‘2C limit’, as it’s often called, is a bleak challenge. One widely accepted study predicts that 60% reduction in global CO2 emissions by 2050—which is a Herculean task if you think about it—will most certainly still result in disaster. What we need is around 85% of emissions cut by 2050.
But coming back to our initial question, yes, we can—in theory—sustain future energy needs completely with clean energy. But the devil lies in the details, and the reality is that getting to 100% sustainability is a ridiculously difficult challenge. The real question is, just how do we deploy our resources to do that.
In that spirit, I’ve embarked on a little exercise to break down the numbers and construct a possible energy ecosystem for India. All calculations and references are provided at the end. I encourage you to check that out and formulate your own energy mix. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Into the rabbit hole
The US. China. India. Top three energy consumers in the world, at least, in aggregate. But once we account for population, things look a little different.
India’s energy consumption then is roughly 20.3 kilowatt hours per day per person.