Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Modi and Obama Backstop Indian and Global Climate Action

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi [left] during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on 7 June 2016. (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge
The leaders of the world’s two biggest democracies—the U.S. and India—pledged at a White House meeting yesterday to complete their countries’ ratification of the Paris climate agreement by the end of 2016—a move that would bring the treaty into force before President Barack Obama leaves office.  Obama and Prime Minister Nahendra Modi also announced specific actions on energy and climate in a joint statement, including:

  • Initiation of preparatory work on a 6-reactor, 6.6-gigawatt nuclear power complex in India to be built by Westinghouse Electric, Toshiba Corp.’s U.S.–based nuclear engineering subsidiary.
  • A resolution to jointly broker an international agreement by the end of this year on the phaseout of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases.
  • New financing programs to catalyze renewable energy investments in India.
Phasing out HFCs could take a big bite out of projected global climate change this century, according to Andrew Light, a former advisor to U.S. Department of State on climate change policy and India and a fellow with the Washington, D.C.–based World Resources Institute. HFCs warm Earth’s atmosphere thousands of times more, molecule-for-molecule than CO2. Light says amending the Montreal Protocol to end their use by 2030 could, “avoid half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century.”

Reactor construction by Westinghouse, meanwhile, would culminate years of work to bring to India Western nuclear technology and financing (first approved for India by the U.S. Congress in 2008).  The joint statement said engineering and site design for six AP1000 reactors would start “immediately” in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Obama and Modi set a June 2017 deadline for the U.S. Export-Import Bank to finalize a financing package.

Nuclear remains a long road for India, however.  India has been trying to grow its nuclear power sector since the 1950s, and currently has just 5 GW of capacity generating about 3 percent of the country’s power.  Reactor projects can take a decade to complete.  Light at WRI says it would take a “huge acceleration in construction” for nuclear power plants to meaningfully contribute to India’s power supply by 2030.  Plus, adds Light, “costs have to make sense.”

Solar is now India’s energy source to beat on both cost and speed.  Solar installations doubled last year and could double again this year.  By 2020 India’s solar farms could be generating more gigawatt-hours of energy than the nuclear sector.

Much of the credit goes to the ambition of Modi, who has championed rural electrification and renewables since his election in 2014.  Under Modi, reverse auctions and other supportive policies have cut solar energy costs to below 5 rupees (7.5 U.S. cents) per kilowatt-hour—lower than India’s average wholesale power rate.  Indian energy minister Piyush Goyal recently stated that solar farms are cheaper than building new coal-fired power plants.

Read more at Modi and Obama Backstop Indian and Global Climate Action

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