Energy strategy

As China and India move away from coal, whose power plans are greener?

In the years ahead, China looks set to lead on renewable energy, but India’s power sector will be greener overall.

China and India are the two largest emerging economies and their economic development has been fuelled primarily by coal. And lots of it. China burns more of the black stuff than any other country, with India ranking third.

But the countries are also racing to develop other types of energy resources. Currently, India has about 32 gigawatts of wind power and 12 gigawatts of solar power within a total generation mix of 320 gigawatts. Renewables (excluding large-scale hydropower) account for about 17% of its total power output.

In comparison, China has 149 gigawatts of wind and 77 gigawatts of solar – far ahead of its neighbour, although with less renewables as a proportion of installed capacity because its energy mix, at 1,646 gigawatts, is more than five times greater than India’s.

But while China got off to an early lead in renewables, India is looking to catch up over the next 10 years. So which country will be crowned the greenest?

Plans at the ready

Both China and India publish five-year plans for economic development, and have done so since 1951. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan runs from 2016-2020, whereas India’s runs from 2017-2022.

The countries also publish separate plans focused specifically on the national power sector. In November, China published its Energy Plan for 2016-2020. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Power in India has published a five-year National Electricity Plan since 2007. It published its draft third National Electricity Plan report in December 2016.

That draft made a number of predictions and suggestions for how India could meet electricity demand during the current 13th (2017-2022) and then 14th (2022-2027) five-year periods. The Indian government is expected to approve a final version soon.

Given that the planning periods between the two countries are closely aligned, this provides an opportunity to compare their respective energy strategies.

Coal out, renewables in

India’s draft National Electricity Plan affirms a strategy of rapid renewables expansion. It aims to have 175 gigawatts of renewable capacity installed by 2022, meaning an additional 100 gigawatts of solar power and 60 gigawatts of wind power.

Over the five-year period, this will result in a 10-fold growth in solar power, equivalent to an annual increase of 60%; while wind capacity will double. The plan also estimates that by the end of the 13th five-year plan period (2027), India will have 275 gigawatts of renewables. In comparison, China’s 13th five-year plan electricity and energy plans aim to have 110 gigawatts of solar and 210 gigawatts of wind capacity online.

So if India can meet its targets, it will go from having less than a seventh of China’s solar power capacity to being almost equal within five years.

And India is not just bolstering its renewables targets, it also plans to weaken the position of coal in the energy market. The National Electricity Plan estimates that India will need only 44 gigawatts of new coal power capacity to ensure it can meet electricity demand between 2022 and 2027. But with 50 gigawatts already under construction, the country could build no coal power plants in the coming decade, and still have a 6-gigawatts capacity surplus.

Overall, India’s plans will see it develop 248.5 gigawatts of coal power by 2022, whereas China, which has also placed a strict limit on coal power, will cap capacity at 1,100 gigawatts.

India to overtake China

With renewables expanding and growth in coal power slowing, India estimates that non-fossil fuel sources will account for 47% of domestic energy capacity by 2022, with the share of coal power falling from 60% to 48%. By 2027, renewables could increase their share further to 56.5% of total power capacity.

Non-fossil fuel generation is also expanding in China but will do so more slowly. By the end of China’s 13th five-year plan (2020), 39% of the country’s power generation will be from non-fossil sources, while coal power will account for 55% of generation.

So, if everything goes to plan, then India will draw a higher proportion of its power from non-fossil fuel sources and so be greener and less carbon-intensive. But its non-fossil fuel generation capacity will still be less than one-third of China’s.

This article first appeared on the Southern Energy Observer Weixin account and chinadialogue.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.