[Indian Cabinet Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Harsh Vardhan (second from right) announced at the 7th Clean Energy Ministerial that India would double its investment in clean energy research from $72 million to $145 million. Shown with Vardhan (from left to right) are: James Gordon Carr, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources; Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s Vice President of the Energy Union; and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. |Photo Credit: Sunita Sohrabji]

India West

By: Sunita Sohrabji

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — India, which has led the world in LED lighting by providing more than 100 million of the energy-efficient bulbs to its residents, will double its investment in clean energy research from $72 million to $145 million, announced Indian Cabinet Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Harsh Vardhan here June 2 at the 7th annual Clean Energy Ministerial.

More than 50 million households in India – representing 300 million people – lack access to electricity, noted Indian Joint Secretary of New and Renewable Energy Tarun Kapoor, during a panel discussion at CEM. India has the largest electricity grid in the world, but 11,000 villages across the country are not plugged in, he said. Families who are left out are either very remote or very poor, said the secretary, noting that the government’s first priority is to equip every Indian household with power by 2020, than to make sure that the cost of connectivity is low enough to be affordable to even the poorest of poor.

Connected regions often lack adequate or inconsistent energy, noted Kapoor, adding that “mini grids” may play a major role in getting the entire country consistently lighted. Around 300 micro-grids are currently up and running, but Kapoor said they are currently not practical for remote regions, since micro-grid owner/operators would need at least 200 households to make energy affordable to consumers.

Kapoor told India-West that the Indian government will also have to consider “off the grid solutions” such as micro-grids, solar-based home energy systems, and solar lanterns. The explosion in cell phone usage — India is the largest market for cell phones in both rural and urban areas — has driven the need for consistent energy sources, said Kapoor, explaining that India’s residents want to be able to charge up their phones.

Vardhan and Kapoor joined their counterparts from 20 countries around the globe for the two-day conference organized this year by the U.S. Department of Energy, a follow-up to the Paris climate change talks last December. India announced in April that it would ratify the break-through treaty proposed at the Paris summit, which 20 nations have already signed. The treaty commits its signatory countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon output in a measurable way, which is reported every five years to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.

The treaty also requires its signatories to set ambitious financial goals to clean energy and climate change research.

Three new global campaigns were launched at CEM7: the Advanced Cooling Challenge; the Energy Management Campaign; and the Corporate Sourcing of Renewables Campaign.

The conference was also the first meeting of “Mission Innovation,” an initiative announced by 20 countries last November, ahead of the Paris talks, which aims to accelerate the pace of clean energy innovation. Mission Innovation countries will spend $100 billion on green energy research and development.

India is one of the drivers of the initiative, stated Vardhan, adding: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a heart and soul interest in Mission Innovation, which reflects the collective desire of nations to work together to provide clean energy, achieve breakthroughs, develop cost reduction strategies, and joint research as well as advancing private sector investment.”

India’s investments in clean, green energy will be focused in 10 areas, including green vehicles, bio-based fuels, solar, hydrogen, cleaner fossil fuels, carbon capture and usage, more efficient electricity grids, energy storage, and carbon-negative technologies.

Vardhan noted that India was focused on energy access for its poorest citizens, and said that the country has already provided 35 million free gas cylinders to rural women to eliminate the tedious daily hunt for wood fuel; a total of 50 million gas cylinders will be distributed.

More than 770 million LED bulbs will be distributed throughout the country, stated Vardhan. LED bulbs use roughly one-tenth of the energy of traditional halogen bulbs; a typical LED bulb has a life of 80,000 hours, while a halogen bulb typically lasts only 5,000 hours. India has also been able to dramatically reduce the cost of an LED bulb from $5 to a mere 80 cents; the minister proudly announced that this landmark was achieved without subsidies or grants.

India hopes to lead the world in energy-efficient heating and cooling appliances, said Vardhan. Room air conditioning use in India currently uses about 40 to 60 percent of all energy produced in the country, especially during peak summertime use. Residential and commercial AC usage is expected to increase in India by almost 50 percent in the next two decades, noted a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz related a conversation he had last year with Modi, in which the prime minister stated that the affordability of new technologies would be key to their deployment.

Indian American scientist and researcher Arun Majumdar, currently the director of the Jay Precourt Institute of Energy at Stanford University and the founding director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, led a lunchtime panel discussion titled: “Towards a Clean Energy Economy.” Panelists included former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, University of California president Janet Napolitano, and Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate.

Shultz – who in 2010 led a campaign in California to defeat Proposition 23, which sought to overturn the state’s Global Warming Act — noted that big research and development efforts have paid off. “Let’s have a continuum of support,” said the affable septuagenarian diplomat, also stating his support for a new, higher carbon tax.

This story was originally published on India West.