Almost 400 million Indians—about a third of the subcontinent’s population—don’t have access to electricity. This power deficit, which includes about 100,000 un-electrified villages, places India’s per capita electricity consumption at just 639 kWh—among the world’s lowest rates.
The access gap is complicated by another problem: more than three-quarters of India’s electricity is produced by burning coal and natural gas. With India’s rapidly-growing population— currently 1.1 billion—along with its strong economic growth in recent years, its carbon emissions were over 1.6 billion tons in 2007, among the world’s highest.
This is unsustainable, not only from a climate change standpoint, but also because India’s coal reserves are projected to run out in four decades. India already imports about 10% of its coal for electricity generation, and this is expected to reach 16% this year.
India’s national and state governments are taking action to correct this vicious circle of power deficits and mounting carbon emissions. The national government has set a target of increasing renewable energy generation by 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2022, up from current capacity of 15 GW, itself a threefold increase since 2005. Still, renewable sources account for just 3.5% of India’s energy generation at present, so the scale of the challenge is formidable. The cost of meeting it will be high unless the tremendous innovative capacity of India and market reforms can be coordinated to make India a clean energy leader.