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The generation of solar energy also forms part of the BJP’s plans to ‘double farmers’ income by 2022’ in view of enabling food providers to also take on the role of becoming energy providers.

New Delhi: On Monday, the BJP unveiled its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. As part of plans laid out in terms of improving the country’s infrastructure, the vision document notes the importance of boosting the country’s renewable energy capacity, while also mentioning the gains made in the last 5 years.

The party states that it will work towards “ensuring a right mix of energy” that could lead towards “a cleaner environment”.

Reiterating the progress made between 2014 and 2019, the manifesto states that as of February 2019, the installed renewable energy capacity stands at 76.87 GW and this is “on track to achieve our goal of 175 GW by 2022.” Alongside such progress, the party promises to continue their efforts in this regard and also to invite more countries to become members of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

ISA is an alliance of 121 countries, initiated by India under PM Modi, aimed at exploring opportunities in solar power while reducing reliance on fossil fuels. This feat won Modi the Champions of the Earth Award, the UN’s highest environmental honour in October 2018.

As part of road connectivity plans also, the party has stated its commitment to launch a programme “for promoting clean energy and battery operated vehicles.”

The generation of solar energy also forms part of the BJP’s plans to ‘double farmers’ income by 2022’ in view of enabling food providers to also take on the role of becoming energy providers.

BJP Manifesto Vs Congress Manifesto

“The BJP manifesto is essentially talking about continuity of policies set in place for renewables in the past 5 years,” Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said.

As for a comparison, Bhushan said that Congress’s plans on energy are “a bit more futuristic” and overall, “is a better vision”, even though the plans may not be as comprehensive as what has been outlined in BJP’s manifesto.

“For example, the Congress’ manifesto spoke of plans to decentralise renewable power and to provide electricity for cooking, as against LPG,” Bhushan noted.

In their manifesto, the plans laid out by the Congress could briefly be detailed as formulating policies on clean energy in existing power plants that use fossil fuel, enhancing the share of solar and wind energy in total ‘green energy’ and providing access to electricity

in rural areas by promoting investment in off-grid renewable power generation where both ownership and revenues will vest with local bodies.

BJP’s Promise of Renewable Energy in 2014

Giving a thrust to renewable sources of energy as an “important component of India’s energy mix” was one of the BJP’s agendas during the 2014 elections too. Additionally, the 2014 manifesto also spoke of expanding and strengthening the national solar mission.

But did the BJP government walk the talk on renewable energy?

“If there is something that this government did during its tenure, it was to increase the ambition of renewable energy,” Bhushan said. Laying out the numbers, he explained that the increase in the solar power target was five-fold, from 20 GW to 100 GW by 2022. This was part of the ‘solar mission’.

“Even if we do not meet the 2022 target, I think we are on the right trajectory because of the falling costs of renewable energy,” he added.

On January 21, the CSE released a report on the state of the renewable energy sector in India. According to this assessment, “At under Rs three per unit on an average, wind and solar energy is now cheaper than coal power.”

“This government definitely deserves credit for enhancing the ambition and giving a signal to the market that the country is ready for renewables,” Bhushan said.

Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), a Delhi-based non-profit organisation, reviewed 12 coal-generation projects and 60 renewable projects in 2017 and found that the coal projects received about thrice as much investment as the renewables and that the coal projects were primarily funded by government-owned entities.

So, what’s happening in India? Isn’t clean energy, especially solar, one of PM Modi’s pet projects?

While renewable energy is being promoted, coal too has been receiving quiet pushes over the past five years.

“When someone asks me what India’s energy policy is, I say ‘all of the above’. Coal, oil, gas, renewable, hydro,” Bhushan noted.

He acknowledged that there have been flip-flops in the past five years that could have been avoided. But he notes that the markets will sort this out. “The kind of NPAs (non-performing assets) that are building in the banking sector because of investments in the coal and thermal power sector are substantial.”

“In the long-term, the push for coal, oil and gas is largely driven by markets and not by governments,” Bhushan said. “So, even if the government wants to boost coal, it cannot because coal is now expensive.”

Path Ahead
“On good days, when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, renewable energy meets some 12.5 per cent of the country’s electricity needs”, the CSE report stated. “On other days, it is over 7 per cent,” it said.

“This is not small but it is not big either,” the report adds.

“Both the BJP and the Congress are looking at the environment as an add-on rather than as an integral part of every economic activity,” Bhushan said.

“For example, if you are looking at the agricultural sector, water management must be a central issue. So, if you want the industrial sector to contribute to the GDP at a rate higher than 25%, then environmental policies must be an integral part of this to sustain the growth. You can only solve environmental problems if policies that are farmed for this purpose are an integral part of all economic activities,” Bhushan said.

He further said that renewables fall under a co-benefit agenda and they meet energy security needs and environmental requirements in view of climate change.

Elaborating on the same, Bhushan said that India imports about 50% of the natural gas it consumes, about 30-40% of its coal requirements and about 80-90% of its oil needs. “So, whatever we can substitute with renewable, it would improve our energy security. This would also improve our forex situation and address the problem of climate change,” he added.

So, boosting renewable power is ideal for any nation. And in taking note of this, both the major political parties in India—the BJP and the Congress—have included their aims to encourage the production of renewable energy in India.

The article, first published in the News18, can be accessed here.

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