As China and India move away from coal, whose power plans are greener?

China and India are the two largest emerging economies and their economic development has been fuelled primarily by coal. And lots of it. China burns more of the black stuff than any other country, with India ranking third.

But the countries are also racing to develop other types of energy resources. Currently, India has about 32 gigawatts of wind power and 12 gigawatts of solar power within a total generation mix of 320 gigawatts. Renewables (excluding large-scale hydropower) account for about 17% of its total power output.

In comparison, China has 149 gigawatts of wind and 77 gigawatts of solar – far ahead of its neighbour, although with less renewables as a proportion of installed capacity because its energy mix, at 1,646 gigawatts, is more than five times greater than India’s.

But while China got off to an early lead in renewables, India is looking to catch up over the next 10 years. So which country will be crowned the greenest?

Plans at the ready

Both China and India publish five-year plans for economic development, and have done so since 1951. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan runs from 2016-2020, whereas India’s runs from 2017-2022.

The countries also publish separate plans focused specifically on the national power sector. In November, China published its Energy Plan for 2016-2020. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Power in India has published a five-year National Electricity Plan since 2007. It published its draft third National Electricity Plan report in December 2016.

That draft made a number of predictions and suggestions for how India could meet electricity demand during the current 13th (2017-2022) and then 14th (2022-2027) five-year periods. The Indian government is expected to approve a final version soon.

Given that the planning periods between the two countries are closely aligned, this provides an opportunity to compare their respective energy strategies.

Coal out, renewables in

India’s draft National Electricity Plan affirms a strategy of rapid renewables expansion. It aims to have 175 gigawatts of renewable capacity installed by 2022, meaning an additional 100 gigawatts of solar power and 60 gigawatts of wind power.

Over the five-year period, this will result in a 10-fold growth in solar power, equivalent to an annual increase of 60%; while wind capacity will double. The plan also estimates that by the end of the 13th five-year plan period (2027), India will have 275 gigawatts of renewables. In comparison, China’s 13th five-year plan electricity and energy plans aim to have 110 gigawatts of solar and 210 gigawatts of wind capacity online.

So if India can meet its targets, it will go from having less than a seventh of China’s solar power capacity to being almost equal within five years.

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