Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Nov 02, 2021
As part of the decarbonisation experiment, India can offer to lead a globally supported, incremental climate-action plan for the world
The New India Accelerator proposal: Playing to India’s strengths This piece is part of the essay series, Towards a Low-Carbon and Climate-Resilient World: Expectations from COP26
The 26th Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) presents India with a golden opportunity to showcase bold new thinking as well as climate leadership. India can offer to host a decade-long large-scale global decarbonisation experiment with impact measurement—contingent on adequate international funding and technical support. This “New India Accelerator Proposal” will be “additional” or incremental to the Indian government’s ongoing, self-funded climate-change efforts under its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) commitment to the Paris Agreement. The proposed decarbonisation experiment, subject to external funding, would include (i) ring-fenced, rapid deployment of existing clean-energy technologies in large numbers; (ii) an R&D partnership for green technologies still at the experimental or testing stage; and (iii) a global knowledge-sharing initiative, on lessons of experience in resolving institutional and implementation challenges that arise from going green at scale. The third component will be particularly useful for developing countries and could shorten their learning curves.
The future economic growth projections indicate that large, unmet needs for cooling, buildings, transport, and cooking require clean-energy solutions on priority to avoid solutions involving fossil-fuel-based electricity.

Why India?

In the context of climate action, India’s strengths include: (i) its sheer size and headcount, which will likely enable detectable emissions reduction if a substantial percentage of the population is assisted to shift to clean energy on a “war-footing,” helping move the needle globally; (ii) a heritage of frugal innovation and low-cost, rugged and no-frills manufacturing, making it a worthy R&D partner; (iii) adequate availability of trained manpower for intensive data capture and data analysis for continuous impact evaluation, making it a reliable M&E partner; (iv) demonstrated willingness of large cross-sections of the population to rapidly adopt modern, money-saving technologies; and (v) large populations at both ends of the energy consumption spectrum, and everything in between: those whose per capita energy use is nearly undetectable and still represent the “access” side of the story, as well as those whose annual average per capita energy use exceeds the US or Canada figures and who will help the world by going green. The future economic growth projections indicate that large, unmet needs for cooling, buildings, transport, and cooking require clean-energy solutions on priority to avoid solutions involving fossil-fuel-based electricity. India needs to be ahead of the curve and find clean solutions acceptable to consumers.

The New India Accelerator Proposal: An Overview

As part of the decarbonisation experiment, India can offer to lead a globally supported, three-part incremental climate-action plan for the world.
  • Rapid deployment of existing clean technologies: India can add a substantial number of new clean-energy users in the next five years, based on the existing, commercially available technologies—temporarily bypassing market mechanisms by moving to a war-footing and relying on large-scale public procurement, instead of treating clean-tech products as consumer goods and waiting for market mechanisms to allocate them to end-users in large numbers. To this end, existing manufacturers and vendors should be paid for supplying the hardware, but not by the consumers themselves.
  • Accelerated development and testing of “work in progress” clean technologies: India has a vast reservoir of skilled human resources, which it can offer as “sweat-equity” for R&D, field-testing and data capture. Additionally, it can facilitate no-frills, frugal manufacturing of technologies that are yet to be commercialised (e.g. direct air capture, long-duration energy storage, green hydrogen applications in heavy industry, new battery technologies, next-generation nuclear reactors, decarbonising shipping, and aviation and heavy freight vehicles).
  • Support for sustainable clean-technology deployment in other developing countries: India can offer low-cost software developers, remote monitoring of energy equipment, cloud-based data storage and its own data analytics capability to other developing countries willing to join in the COP26-supported clean-technology conversion initiative. India can lead regular online meetings for remote monitoring, knowledge-exchange, benchmarking of equipment performance, and solving implementation challenges (e.g. helping electricity distribution companies, or DISCOMs, with remote-monitoring, data analytics, and various reporting capabilities that developing countries need but may not have access to). Furthermore, India has 600–700 administrative districts—with vast diversity in terms of topography, population density, income, livelihood activity, temperature, micro-climate, and geographic characteristics. Of these, many clusters have similarities with other developing countries’ economic and physical characteristics and populations, based on which India can offer voluntarily participating countries the opportunity to pursue “twinning arrangements.” Finally, periodic information-sharing for benchmarking and troubleshooting implementation challenges will speed up the learning curve for all participants seeking to accelerate the global adoption of clean energy.
India has a vast reservoir of skilled human resources, which it can offer as “sweat-equity” for R&D, field-testing and data capture.

Beyond Clean Energy

A global experiment to address and resolve climate-action implementation gaps can be valuable in accelerating awareness and experience, and can create momentum by focusing the conversation on concrete issues to improve the decision-making process. India is one of the few countries with sufficient size, complexity, and diversity to credibly offer to host such an experiment. Indeed, the proposal for global decarbonisation need not be limited to clean energy alone. The clean-energy focus can be considered “Phase One” of the project, since the proposal India puts forward at the COP26 must be pragmatic, manageable, achievable, and scalable–to ensure engagement from the necessary stakeholders. Thus, a first phase focused on clean energy can test the waters to see whether the model can attract sufficient long-term international funding. Based on the success of Phase One, the scope of the “Indian Accelerator Proposal” can be expanded to tackle other crucial, non-energy-sector aspects of climate investment. These can include new approaches to biodiversity conservation and land management for soil-based carbon sequestration; responsible agroforestry and the avoidance of monocultures and single-crop plantations; incentives for better “land use, land use change and forestry” (LULUCF); next-generation farm subsidies and ecosystem service payments (which Britain is currently experimenting with); just transition for coal mining communities; tackling plastic pollution; and ocean and fisheries protection. Each of these actions will involve years of upfront preparatory work for understanding and tackling existing vested interests, introducing new business models and new contractual arrangements, and retraining and re-skilling people to implement new commercial arrangements. India’s proposal, if funded by international partners, has the potential to initiate some of the global groundwork for these non-energy aspects, with Phase One committing to provide only insights and lessons, not measurable results, which can be incorporated in subsequent phases.
A first phase focused on clean energy can test the waters to see whether the model can attract sufficient long-term international funding.

Executing the New India Accelerator Proposal

  1. In collaboration with willing state-owned electricity DISCOMs, identify and ring-fence a target subset of 80 million existing nationwide electricity connections (with minimum average consumption of 2,000 kWh/year in 2019), and fully convert these to clean-energy use for electricity and transport over the next five years. This initiative can rapidly convert at least 400 million individuals into first-time clean energy users, since each electricity connection has approximately five (household) or 10 (MSME) users, more if the connection is for a water-treatment facility, school, or clinic.
  2. Participation will be voluntary and offered to first-time users of solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles (EVs), electric cookers, energy-efficient appliances, and demand response through the Internet of Things (IoT).<1> A majority of the participants can be DISCOMs’ customers, with a minimum of 4kW connected load.
  3. After public procurement of the clean-tech assets, all clean-energy service delivery to end users would be done through qualified third-party operators, “as a service.” Therefore, the ring-fenced set of electricity customers will not have ownership of the clean-energy assets but will instead receive “solar as a service,” “battery as a service,” “EVs as a service,” or “electric cooking as a service,” and will also be eligible for on-bill financial discounts for demonstrating energy efficiency. There will be neither upfront payment by customers for clean-energy hardware, nor installation cost, nor payment for the additional wiring required. Customers will continue to pay their monthly electricity bills to DISCOMs, with a possible discount (say, 25 percent) relative to the 2019 bill for that corresponding month. This creates an added incentive for them to sign up for the scheme and agree to be tracked. Participants will need to agree to full-time monitoring and collection of their energy-use data up to 2030, in exchange for the financial discount during the life of the experiment.
  4. For Phase Two, which will be the R&D partnership, India must identify joint ventures, business organisations and domestic communities that are willing to serve as international field-testing laboratories, data collection and analysis hubs, or manufacturing sites for new climate technologies currently under development.
  5. Phase Three will focus on identifying, remote-monitoring, data-capturing and resolving the implementation challenges and institutional issues that will necessarily emerge in climate-oriented investments. Such an activity, involving documentation and analysis, will require specialist think tanks and software consulting firms to observe and track the progress of India’s greening efforts in diverse locations, as economic agents are required to develop new business models with new technology suppliers. This learning-by-doing experience, to be transparently undertaken in a global fishbowl, can create knowledge benefits for India and for developing countries as a group, as well as for the funding partners. The insights obtained will help other low-income and middle-income countries in leapfrogging their own learning curve on climate-action investment and accelerate their decarbonisation impacts.
The New India Accelerator Proposal will require substantial long-term international funding commitment as well as world-class professional coordination, to be carried out by a suitably resourced “project implementation unit” located in India. Table 1 summarises the incremental nature of the proposal, relative to India’s existing activities. As evident, the success of the Accelerator Proposal will be contingent on a decade-long commitment from the international community, both in terms of funding and collaboration. Table 1: The Incremental Progression of the New India Accelerator Proposal (2021–30)
  2021: Base Case with GoI Funding only 2030: With International Funding Only (Medium Case) 2030: With Funding, Technology Transfer, and Capacity-Building Support from International Partners (High Case)
Electricity Ramping up of utility-scale clean energy generation (target: 450 GW) Grid Enhancement Technologies (GETs) to improve the utilisation of existing Transmission Lines while planning their expansion; increased use of power electronics, automation and energy management software for better integration of clean energy in the DISCOM network; increased Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs). Integration of GETs; deployment of long-duration energy storage (LDES); complete DISCOMs modernization; full clean electrification of 80 million households with IoT; deployment of active demand response.
Transport Subsidies under FAME 2 for 2W and 3W EVs, demonstration of electric buses, network of EV charging stations. Expansion of EV market, targeting 80 million households for clean-mobility solutions; internal combustion engines (ICEs) retired. Fuel stations and gas cylinder distributors converted to battery-swapping stations for 2W and 3W EVs; EV charging network in place; good adoption rate of EVs.
Agriculture Solar pumps, feeder separation. Better implementation of solar pump subsidy delivery; monitor water–energy nexus; experiment with agrivoltaics pilots Diesel use by households for generators and personal transport negligible; LULUCF targets pursued through widespread agrivoltaics and agroforestry; knowledge gained and Phase Two planning commenced.
Buildings Nascent stages of green standards definition; advocacy for sustainable housing, with implementation responsibility resting with municipalities and local governments (not Central government); in-depth engagement at local levels, requiring large resources. Better implementation of existing green standards in Housing for All Programme; India cooling action plan improvement and better implementation; retrofitting of large stock of government buildings for increased energy efficiency. Massive sustainable upgrade of the Housing for All Programme; focus on business model of non-ownership sustainable housing; full engagement of stakeholders; circular economy + carbon-neutral buildings commonplace; no 60-year lock-in of energy-inefficient assets.
Just Transition Not yet started. Consultations; sustainable housing for unemployed miners; access to clean energy for mining communities. Coal miners consulted and plans in place; fuel stations converted; green housing the norm in the ring-fenced population.
Download the PDF of the report here.
<1> Demand response is a crucial pillar of energy-efficiency efforts and an important climate-action tool. In this case, IoT refers to a web-based communication link of the electricity supplier directly with individual household appliances. At times of peak demand, when the grid is congested and stressed, certain large appliances may be instructed in advance by their owners to reset themselves to consume less energy when instructions are received from the utility (e.g. raising the temperature on an air-conditioner, turning off a hot water heater, or pausing the load in a dishwasher/washing machine). At other times, the grid can benefit from increased demand, since electricity supply will be more than the demand at, for example, 2 a.m. Demand response through the IoT will ensure that large appliances are intentionally run at these off-peak hours, when electricity rates are lower.
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Mohua Mukherjee

Mohua Mukherjee

Mohua Mukherjee is the Energy and Climate Finance Expert: Program Ambassador Pro-Bono at the International Solar Alliance. She has worked as a senior development professional ...

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