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Understanding India’s energy transition in global context

10:00 AM-12:30 PM, 18th December

Chair: Ajay Mathur

Speakers: Michael Grubb, Navroz K. Dubash, Radhika Khosla, Ashok Sreenivas

Click for: Q&A | Promo Video

India faces three substantial challenges in the coming decades with enormous implications for its future energy demand. First, India has yet to provide clean cooking energy to 800 million people, and electricity access to 200 million people; failure to achieve this will dramatically reduce the human development possibilities for vast numbers of Indians. Second, India has to create jobs at pace with our shifting demography, which cannot happen without more and better power – electricity demand is likely to at least double in the next fifteen years at a time when clean energy is rising up the national and global political agenda. Third, the quality and form of India’s urban transition has enormous implications for energy needs.  Managing these simultaneous pressures poses a severe challenge because India has to transform to the energy sector of the 21st century even as we grapple with 20th century problems of waste, theft and unreliability.

Moreover, India’s energy transition is taking place within a larger global energy context, which will shape available supply options. Globally, the steep fall in price of renewable energy technologies has sparked a conversation about how, not when, economies will transition to a predominantly renewable energy future. However, the transition costs and challenges are potentially substantial and hotly disputed. Moreover, global oil and gas economics and politics have been cast into uncertain territory with the development of shale oil and gas technologies. And not least, the imperative of addressing climate change in the face of ever more dire warnings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change hangs like a shadow over global energy futures, and in particular puts pressure on an expansion of coal-based energy.

Historically, India has viewed pressures to mitigate climate change, in particular, as a threat to development. And indeed, India’s energy needs remain substantial, and any pressures to absolutely limit energy use or increase the costs of energy will have negative social and economic effects. At the same time, India is grappling with many other challenges that could also be solved by judicious shifts toward energy efficiency and cleaner energy: energy security due to import dependence in oil could be mitigated by renewable powered electric cars;congested cities could be cleared by energy-saving public transport; and air pollution could be mitigated through energy efficiency and renewable energy. The question before India, therefore, is whether India can productively leverage global energy trends through a judicious mix of demand and supply approaches even while meeting its own energy needs? Or do these trends pose a challenge to India as the country expands energy use in service of development?

From one perspective, rapid global change provides an opportunity: India has yet to lock into technologies and institutional paths that were designed for coal, oil and centralized power, and can build an energy and electricity system better suited for the 21st century.From the other, negotiating a complex technology and institutional transition,while dealing with the overhang of 20th century energy problems of low access and weak and inefficient systems, seems only to be a challenge.

This panel will explore to what extent India’s energy transition, in the context of a global energy transition, provides opportunities versus throws up challenges, and what India can do to effectively negotiate this transition.