Early this year, the World Health Organization concluded that the air in Delhi was the worst among 1,600 cities in 91 countries. This was on the basis of the most widely accepted measure of air quality: The density of particulate matter (PM 2.5), fine and extremely dangerous particles that can get lodged in the lungs. Other Indian cities are not far behind.
Pollution is also impacting agriculture, and studies show that yields of some crops have halved over the past 10 years.
Switching to cleaner fuels for transportation, and producing power through renewables could cut emissions substantially. We asked a few experts how we could get to a cleaner, greener India.
Natural Gas For Transportation
Global gas prices have begun declining sharply since the shale revolution in the US. Gas use in India did not take off in the past decade, mainly because of shortages. CNG use is limited to Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, and a few cities in Gujarat. This could change soon, thanks to increased supply: Availability is set to grow over the next few years, as gas utility GAIL has been contracted to buy gas from a variety of sellers in the US, Canada, Russia, Australia and Turkmenistan. The supplies coming in, either as LNG or through long-distance pipelines, have the potential to change India’s energy-mix substantially.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley announced the first steps to enable this in the 2014 Budget. He rolled out plans to double India’s gas pipeline network to 30,000 km.
Much of this will allow the gas to move from terminals to urban demand centres around the country. Once more gas is available easily and widely, more heavy-duty users like truckers are likely to switch.
Subsidies on diesel have been removed and this could further help reverse the process of dieselisation. One recent initiative is the ministry of railway’s plan to run trains powered partly by gas. Dual-powered (CNG and diesel) trains are being tested on the Delhi-Rohtak-Rewari section.
Grid Parity For Solar Power
The Holy Grail for solar energy advocates is the point at which solar power becomes cheaper for the consumer compared to conventional (coal-based) power being delivered by the state electricity boards. With falling prices of solar equipment, what seemed improbable in the past is now within our grasp. With tariffs coming down steeply, per unit cost in some states is already less than that of power produced from imported coal.
The big push could come from the new Ultra Mega solar power plants that the government is planning to roll out.
These new projects, of 1,500 MW and above, are being planned in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and are likely to have much lower capital costs.
Experts like Tobias Engelmeier of solar power consultancy Bridge To India say this could bring down unit costs to below Rs 6. Solar power plants are modular and easier to build when compared to conventional power stations.
However, they require large tracts of land and this could be a bottleneck. The other factor to work against price parity, warns Engelmeier, is the fact that coal prices are softening, and could bring down the cost of coal-based power.
10 Million Rooftops For Solar Power
(This story appears in the 09 January, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)