India Plans First Offshore Wind Farm, Continued Coal Expansion

World's biggest democracy promises huge renewables push, stays defiant on coal

2 min read
India Plans First Offshore Wind Farm, Continued Coal Expansion
Photo: Graham Crouch/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The energy picture for the world's biggest democracy will always be a bit muddy. All in the space of a week, India announced plans for its first offshore wind farm, promised an enormous expansion of solar power and other renewables, seen its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi have supposedly productive talks with President Obama on climate change, and stood defiantly behind plans to also rapidly build up coal-fired power infrastructure. Providing electricity for 1.4 billion people—300 million of whom currently lack any access at all—is more than a bit complicated.

First, the good news: the government of India announced that a memorandum of understanding has been signed toward building the first offshore wind farm in the country, a 100-megawatt "demonstration" project off the coast of the northwestern state of Gujarat. Construction of such a plant is still a ways off, with feasibility studies and other preliminary steps standing in the way. But Piyush Goyal, the Indian minister for power, coal, and new and renewable energy, pointed out that with 12,230 kilometers (7,600 miles) of coastline the opportunities for rapidly scaling up offshore wind are huge.

In an interview with The Guardian published today, Goyal stressed that renewables are coming to India in a very big way. "We will be a renewables superpower," he said. He sees the market expanding so rapidly, in fact, that he predicted that US $100 billion will be invested in renewable energy over the next five years alone. The previous government had a target of 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2022, but Goyal said the real amount installed will "be much, much larger." How about 10 GW of solar every year, and another seven or eight GW of wind?

The money is already starting to roll in to India. In September, the Asian Development Bank announced loans of $150 million for transmission projects specifically intended for renewable energy in the state of Rajasthan. This is still largely an untapped market, however; in spite of the country's size, India has only around 32 GW of installed renewable energy so far. Of that almost 4 GW are small hydropower facilities, and almost 22 GW are wind.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi visited the United States this week and discussed climate change with the President Obama and other leaders in Washington, D.C. Modi told reporters that the U.S. and India will "consult and cooperate closely" on climate change, a welcome baby step given the prime minister's on-again, off-again attitudes on whether climate change is really a threat.

But only days after that announcement, Goyal betrayed some of India's underlying attitudes about the climate elephant in the room, coal power. He denounced the developed nations' concern over Indian coal expansion as "homilies and pontificating, having enjoyed themselves the fruits of ruining the environment over many years." That isn't wrong, of course, but it also isn't very productive: You guys wrecked the world for a while, now it's our turn. He said that "coal also would have to expand in a very rapid way" in order to fulfill the promises of bringing power to those who don't have it.

So billions in solar investment, a burgeoning offshore wind industry, improving transmission infrastructure, and a bevy of new coal plants: India truly does have an all-of-the-above energy strategy at the moment.

Photo: Graham Crouch/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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