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Photo by Bert van Dijk

India's New Green Machine

January 13, 2017 | Jian Rzeszewicz

Solar energy is poised to be at the forefront of clean, renewable energy that could potentially surpass fossil fuels usage in the near future. Currently holding the title of 4th most carbon-emitting country on the planet, India has big plans to tap into this energy alternative with the help of their latest project – the world’s largest solar power plant.

The plant (boasting a footprint of over 2,500 acres) will power close to 60 million homes across the country by the year 2022. Although it came with an expensive price tag - $679 million – the solar-powered beast will reduce India’s carbon emissions by a significant 35% within the next two decades. Even the plant’s solar panels are cleaned daily by a mechanism completely powered by the sun.

Despite promoting this costly plan, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to express the country’s need to supplement its energy demands with coal. Production of coal is set to double by the year 2020, a plan that Modi claims will give electric access to the people as quickly as possible. Due to a higher ash content in India’s coal, metals and toxins are set free upon burning, bringing up concerns about individual health and air pollution. However he upheld India’s commitment to green infrastructure in early October of 2016 when he officially ratified the Paris climate change agreement, requiring all countries involved to construct a plan to decrease the rise of Earth’s temperature. The construction of the solar plant is a product of the agreement, and originally, the country’s goal was to produce 40% of its energy without fossil fuels by 2030. A 10-year energy blueprint published in December of 2016 now predicts that 57% of India’s energy will be fossil fuel-free by 2027, well-exceeding the objectives agreed upon in Paris. Experts predict that the cost of solar-powered electricity will also be 10% lower than coal by 2020, a positive sign for those in competition with pro-coal companies.  

Electricity generated by the plant will not only put a dent in India’s carbon emission issues, but also provide access to a more reliable power source. Currently, millions of citizens fall subject to frequent power outages that can last hours at a time – or receive no electricity at all. When a grid goes down, life goes on hold. Even simple tasks such as cooking or completing homework become reliant on sources like kerosene lamps, which have been known to cause long-term respiratory problems. In 2012, India experienced the largest power outage the country had ever seen, plunging over 700 million people into darkness. Three out of the five electrical grids abruptly shut down, leaving miners trapped, surgical operations on standby, and drivers in a chaotic frenzy without functional traffic lights. With solar-powered electricity, the people of India can finally depend on a system that can sustain their lifestyle and keep them and the planet in better health.

Although a complete elimination of fossil fuels is likely a very distant goal, the country is making leaps and bounds towards a more sustainable future. With a new, greener horizon in store, will India still be labeled 4th highest in carbon emissions? Stay tuned.

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