Diversifying India’s energy mix

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Diversifying India’s energy mix

The ongoing process to make bilateral as well as multi-lateral green energy cooperation one of the strategic vectors of India's foreign policy connotes the assuring world-view of a responsive and responsible global power, writes Sreemati Ganguli

Apart from geopolitical rivalries and geo-economic calculations around energy as a commodity, energy as a resource has acquired a strategic character as it impacts on so many levels of human interactions — economic, social, political, bureaucratic, legal, technological and environmental.

So, strategising of energy has multi-pronged and multi-layered implications, for it becomes an integral and essential part of a country’s geo-strategic ambitions and aspirations. In the process, energy policy, as well as energy diplomacy of a country evolves to gain a strategic dimension, not essentially military in the sense, but a comprehensive character that focuses on so many inter-linked facets of strategy — political, economic, technological and environmental.

Energy security now embraces a much more multi-dimensional concept that goes beyond the traditional binary idea of security of demand and security of supply. The scope ranges from diversification of the nature of available energy sources (ie, bio-energy, nuclear, solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, and ocean energy), to ensuring efficient as well as ethical usage of energy resources, and to prioritising environmentally sustainable economic development.

For a country like India, to achieve the synergy between maintaining an economic growth rate of over seven per cent and the commitment to ensure the populace, environmental justice, needs investment in cleaner, greener technologies, global best practices and research and innovation of sustainable energy solutions — and this requires a new approach towards its foreign policy orientations, an approach that emphasises on green energy diplomacy as a strategic vector.

It is true that the search for renewable energy sources is a continuing process. Apart from a number of bilateral green energy treaties with various countries since 2005, India is a partner (along with the US, Russia, the European Union, Japan, China and South Korea) in the project International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) or the project to re-create the fusion process of the sun to produce energy for commercial use on earth. ITER is an ambitious project to provide green energy to the world.

But new initiatives and a new momentum have fuelled India’s definitive foreign policy push towards strategising green energy, a significant foreign policy vector. India’s new energy policy, as proposed in 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, envisaged on achieving 175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy by 2022 — 100 GW of solar, 60 GW of wind, 10 GW of biomass and five GW of hydro electricity — to change its energy mix with an increased percentage in favour of renewable energy.

It is important to note in this vein, when India’s candidature for Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in June 2016 was supported by a large majority of members of the group, it was not only a vindication for India’s impeccable non-proliferation record, unlike some of its neighbours, but it was also an international support for India’s plan to change its energy mix through better access to clean energy; to acquire newest civilian nuclear technology; to limit its carbon emission percentage and reduce air pollution from coal-based power plants.

It is also significant that India not only ratified the 2015 Paris Climate Change pact, thereby paving the way of its entering into force in November 2016 and signed the October 2016 Kigali Amendment to the 1989 Montreal Protocol, but it also took a leading and principled stance during the negotiations of both these global treaties to put forward the rights of developing countries to provide economic security to its population, without jeopardising the global climate change goals.

Also, it is notable that the International Solar Alliance, an initiative by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the conclave of 121 sunshine countries, ie, countries with high solar power potentials, situated between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, was inaugurated in Paris, to make a positive contribution to the common goals of increasing utilisation of solar energy in meeting energy needs of International Solar Alliance member countries in a safe, convenient, affordable, equitable and sustainable manner.

Cooperation in renewable energy sector now is a vital component of India’s foreign relations, most notable instances being those with the US, Japan, Germany, France, the European Union, Canada, Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Also, such cooperation is initiated with traditional energy partners like Russia as well as with new partners like Mongolia, South Africa, Mozambique and others.

This provides India with a new space of cooperation with international partners, and at the same time newer areas of engagement and interdependence arise in spheres of science and technology, research and development and better usage and management of energy. Also, such engagements are meant for long-term and multi-dimensional investments for Indian foreign policy as international energy collaborations thrive on the strategic vision to find sustainable solutions that impact the lives of global population.

Energy security in a comprehensive way is fundamentally linked with global environmental security as unrestrained and inefficient use of fossil fuels exacerbates carbon emission that helps depletion of ozone layer of the environment, leads to the rise in the sea level as an effect of melting of the Polar ice cap with dangers for not only the global marine ecosystem but also for the population in low-lying areas and small islands, whereas resultant rise in the global temperature level impacts on extreme weather events like drought, floods, storms, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. It is not only a point of academic discussions, as the whole world witnessed 2015 and 2016 as the hottest years in human history. In such a scenario, the ongoing process to make bilateral as well as multilateral green energy cooperation one of the strategic vectors of India’s foreign policy connotes the assuring world-view of a responsive and responsible global power.

(The writer is fellow, Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, University of Calcutta)

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