Rapid urbanisation and the rise in energy consumption in India calls for a development model that ensures a significant portion of the increase is met from clean and affordable energy
As India urbanises at a rapid pace, there’s a daunting challenge in balancing higher energy use and intensity with a development model that is not fossil fuel-intensive and slows the growth of carbon emissions. Besides the mega cities, hundreds of smaller ones are growing exponentially across the country and there is urgent need to increase access to clean, affordable and reliable energy.
Although per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in urban areas in the global South are still far lower than in the developed world, they are adding substantial load in terms of total emissions. In 2010, India, China, developing Asia, Africa and Latin America comprised about a quarter of total urban GHG emissions from the core sectors of buildings, transport and waste disposal.
In a business-as-usual scenario, those regions are projected to be responsible for about 56% of total urban emissions in 2050, says a new study by the World Resources Institute (WRI). With future electricity demand projected to increase, national and local governments must make decisions now about their future energy infrastructure, said the study titled Powering Cities in the Global South that was released today.
The study contends that solutions exist that can address both the needs of the urban under-served and provide economic and environmental benefits to the whole city. They point to three key solutions — speeding up the shift to cleaner cooking; scaling up distributed renewable energy; and increasing the energy efficiency of building and appliances — where cities and governments can play an implementing role.
In India, for instance, 80% of all buildings that are projected to stand in 2030 were not yet built as of 2010. The country, like many others in the global South, is at high risk of locking in decades of future inefficiency, high costs and high emissions, which would lead to costly renovations in the future. There is also the additional challenge in meeting increased energy demand while addressing system inefficiencies.
The study found that on average, residential tariffs increased by 15% and commercial tariffs rose by 16%, an annual increase of roughly 6%, between financial years 2009 and 2013. As the cost for grid electricity rises for customers and the cost for solar photovoltaic falls, it will become an increasingly appealing option for consumers, it says.
Although the adoption of rooftop solar in India has sputtered in residential areas, even after various incentives, lead author Michael Westphal of WRI’s Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities says the prospects for expansion are good. “Our data show that rooftop solar is now within the cost (LCOE – levelised cost of electricity) range of natural gas-fired generation in India,” Westphal told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “We also see the incentives getting better, as many Indian states have adopted net metering policies.”
The study points to the encouraging example of Delhi, where net metering exists. Homeowners can either own a solar power system or lease their roof to project developers. The electricity generated from such a system meets the rooftop owner’s energy needs, with the excess fed back to the grid.
Also, in Gujarat the government has implemented a rent-a-roof programme, in which residents rent their rooftops to private solar energy companies that pay them INR 3 (USD 0.05) for every unit of energy produced.
On household energy use, there has been a substantial increase of cooking gas supply in Indian cities. In urban areas of the country, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) use has been growing at about 10% per year and now about 65% of urban residents use LPG, co-author David Satterhwaite of International Institute for Environment and Development said.
“The subsidies for cylinders have helped,” Satterhwaite told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “The government could also help to catalyse new consumer finance models that address the cost issue for poorer households, such as the use of pay-go finance.”
Given that India is in the cusp of massive urbanisation and per capita energy use intensity in cities is expected to rise rapidly, it is imperative that it moves on a new low-carbon development pathway for the well-being of the people and for long-term economic productivity, says Westphal. “The enabling conditions are critical, including getting the prices right and adopting supporting policies. India has adopted a number of RE (renewable energy) fiscal and regulatory policies and targets at the national level, and these could be strengthened and additional policies adopted at the state and local levels.”
Although the number of urban buildings will increase dramatically, India’s enforcement of efficient energy use in building has been choppy. “Cities need to realise that it is in their best interests to enforce and even strengthen national building codes,” says Westphal.
An encouraging sign is that the carbon intensity of urban power grids will decline in the coming years in India. “Currently, the electricity grid is pretty dirty, but it will likely decrease as the country relies less on coal and scales up RE (renewable energy),” Westphal told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “The solar goal to install 100 GW by 2022 is a positive step and the government leadership should be lauded.”
Ultimately, all countries need to adopt a price on carbon. “All countries, including India, need fossil fuel subsidy reform,” said Westphal. “The IMF has calculated that post-tax subsidies amounted to about USD 300 billion in India in 2014. Fossil fuel subsidies are subsidies to pollute the environment and damage people’s health, and furthermore, they disproportionately benefit the wealthy.”