20 April 2010

India & China: The Renewable Energy 'Outsourcees'?

By: Kaavya Nag

News reports coming out of the United States suggest that India and China are 'stealing' US solar jobs - what with companies halting manufacture of solar panel components in America. In this capitalistic global economy, profits mean too much for private companies to have nationalistic or altruistic bottom-lines. So if BP solar made a purely business decision by halting production in the US while opening manufacturing plants in India and China, then such a move should come as no surprise.

Agreed - such news is alarming, because it gets one thinking this could well be the precursor to another outsourcing blitzkrieg. But blaming third-world eager beaver private players for snatching away US skilled and semi-skilled jobs may not be a completely fair diagnosis.

Any student of history will know that an explanation for present-day happenings could well lie in the past. So simply pointing a convenient finger at India and China for taking away what is not theirs, may not be an objective enough analysis.

China's first-mover advantage

Long before the phrase 'low-carbon' became uber-cool, China had enacted (in 2006) a series of laws and policies that would push the country's renewable energy mix up to 15 percent. What this effectively did, was to create the space for clean-energy businesses to thrive in the settings of a booming national economy.

In this capitalistic world, and one in which China fought for no caps on trading in other sectors, developed countries were justifiably peeved with the Chinese government's active policy of creating unfair market barriers for foreign firms hoping to get a slice China's profit pie.

But we have to give it to China - they had the foresight and the stubborn will to enforce their policies. We also cannot claim that their renewable energy boom came in 2010 - everyone had seen it coming since 2008. China has now become the fastest growing wind-energy market, the world's largest producer of wind turbines, and is home to Suntech, the world's largest producer of solar photovoltaics by volume.

The elephant moves pre-Copenhagen

India has awoken late - just pre-Copenhagen. But in the short (by Indian standards) span of one year, missions have been approved and budgets allocated to respective ministries and agencies. The juggernaut has been set in motion, and will move faster in two years from now - at least for solar energy production and energy efficiency.

Also heartening is the knowledge that our leaders know that they need to capitalise on the time they have now, and on the world's opinion of India.

Domestic moves towards renewable energy in the energy mix and a lower-carbon economy will obviously have desired and beneficial side-effects. Those could even multiply with South-South cooperation - if the camaraderie between Brazil, South Africa, China, Russia and India develops the way it has in the past six months. 

US inaction post-Copenhagen

The US Climate Bill bore the promise of change. To the world, a first-step commitment to tackle climate change, to potential job-seekers in the US, clean-energy jobs, to potential entrepreneurs, the promise of a booming business. But is has been so late in coming, that one cannot blame other first and fast-movers for seizing the opportunity first.

When every nation wants to be a 'deal maker' and everybody wants to 'be the change', opportunity can be created, capitalised on, taken, and lost, but it cannot be 'stolen'.

07 April 2010

India before the low-carbon tipping point

By: Kaavya Nag
Renewable energy is now in fashion in India, and one of its biggest promoters is the government. That is undoubtedly a good thing, because so as far as reach goes, they beat anyone else. What with the power to make policies, issue policy directives, enact bills and create directed programmes such as the Remote Village Electrification Programme.

Apart from policy and programme related actions, the Union government has taken it upon itself to green the Parliament House, and to push for all government buildings to install solar panels on their premises. Then there is the very likely possibility of solar electricity getting subsidised by 30 percent for those who wish to install solar panels on their rooftops (grid connected). If states back this with more subsidy, home owners could get a total of 50 percent subsidy on power generation from solar panels.
A proposal by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to mandate all mobile service providers to to get their power from solar panels rather than from diesel, could translate into a saving of 5 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and about 2 billion litres of diesel each year.
All of these initiatives are either part of or tie into, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM).

New Delhi, courtesy the Commonwealth Games has taken it upon itself to go greener. The Thyagaraja Stadium will be run on solar energy for the period of the games, following which the power it generates will go to the grid. Naveen Patnaik, Orissa's CM has pushed through rural electrification using solar power, for 3000 remote villages across the state. The Punjab government in collaboration with US companies are all set to create a network of solar power plants that are expected to generate 1000 MW of solar power.

Then there are the private and the public-private players. BHEL wants to re-enter the wind turbine manufacturing market. Suzlon just landed a massive deal to produce wind turbines for a company in Gujarat.

The list of announcements and projects in the pipeline goes on. Although India is a big country, the thought that comes to mind is, are we on the path to a game-changer? Are we at that tipping point that Malcom Gladwell so expertly enumerates in his book with the same title? Arguably India is a big country with a billion plus people, and clearly, we are still far from that tipping point. But just to preempt some thought, are the 'settings' right for us to get there there and beyond?

The government is trying to tweak settings across the board - the JNNSM and the NMEEE are two examples. Even hard core 'developmentalists' would agree that a move towards energy sources that ensure energy security are in any nation's best interests. And we have no dearth of people and networks who can potentially create a meme so powerful that it spreads like a virus.

So here's to a new hope and a new tipping point!