(EnviroNews World News) — India, a target of President Donald Trump’s wrath when he announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement (Paris Accord), is moving away from coal. That was evident on June 10, 2017, when the country’s government-owned Coal India Limited announced it would close 37 unprofitable coal mines.
Coal India is the world’s largest coal producer. It dug up 554 million tons of the black rock last year alone. Coal-fired power plants currently account for 63 percent of electric generation in the country, which still has 300 million people without electricity at all. There are 370 new coal plants being planned to close that gap – but it now looks as if many of them may not be built.
The reason is simple: solar now costs far less than coal. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), new coal plants in India can produce electricity at a cost of 3,541 rupees per megawatt-hour. Solar is 2,440 rupees per megawatt-hour.
That cost advantage is being reflected in business decisions, says BNEF. India’s largest power utility is targeting non-fossil sources for 30 percent of its generating capacity by 2032. The company NTPC Ltd., is now looking to install solar on land previously designated for fossil fuel projects.
India has committed to a target of 40 percent renewable energy by 2030 for power generation. BNEF projects that India’s total solar capacity will jump from 10 gigawatts in 2016 to 670 gigawatts by 2040. That will allow the country to generate more than half of its electricity with zero emissions. In addition, the government of the state of Rajasthan expects renewables to soon supplant traditional fuel sources and India’s Central Electricity Authority Chairman Ravindra Kumar Verma told BNEF that about 40 gigawatts of existing coal capacity may need to be scrapped.
A study published April 25, 2017 in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Earth’s Future, found that if all 370 planned coal plants were built, it could be impossible to meet the 2-degree Celsius global warming target. But the study also revealed that “proposed coal plants would also exceed the country’s planned growth in power demand.”
Ted Nace, Director of CoalSwarm, which tracks coal plant operations globally, said in a press release, “Bankers in India have come to recognize overbuilding of coal plants as a major waste of resources.”
The country is also looking at other, innovative ways to use renewables. Indian Railways is equipping 250 trains with flexible solar panels. The railroad, which carries 23 million passengers a day, says it could meet 25 percent of its total energy needs with renewable sources by 2025.