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The `how-to' of renewable energy

Daniel Kammen's picture

Last month, I blogged about the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which I was a coordinating lead author. In that report we found that by 2050, roughly 80 percent of global energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources. The IPCC’s best-case prediction is contingent on a big caveat, however. It is that government policies must “play a crucial role in accelerating the deployment of Renewable Energy (RE) technologies.”

Fair enough, but which policies work best? Which can be replicated widely? Which sectors need more radical new approaches? Given the complexity of energy technologies, and markets, modes of power generation, transmission, distribution, consumption, metering and billing, and the multiplicity of policies—feed-in tariffs, subsidies, ‘feebates’, renewable portfolio standards, and so on— policy makers are often scrambling for guidance.

As author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the IPCC report, as well as a member of the Summary for Policymakers’ team, I am pleased to suggest a useful source: a recent Discussion Paper No. 22 produced by my World Bank colleague Gabriela Elizondo Azuela, along with Luiz Augusto Barroso, Design and Performance of Policy Instruments to Promote the Development of Renewable Energy: Emerging Experience in Selected Developing Countries.

Elizondo and Barroso studied grid-connected RE policy options used in six countries—Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Sir Lanka and Turkey. They find that sound governance is an essential condition for the success of policy incentives that aim to accelerate the integration of renewable energy. “For example,” Elizondo says, “legal and regulatory frameworks for grid connection and integration have to be in place before RE policy is introduced.” In the IPCC report we called this the ‘enabling environment’.

Is the renewable energy target for India within reach?

Daniel Kammen's picture

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.