At the United Nations climate talks, a group of mostly developed nations promised to cut down on coal-fired power, which is a key source of air pollution and global warming. However, major coal users, including India, China, the US, Russia and Germany, did not take the plunge yet. There is no denying the fact that the energy requirements for a developing economy like India far outruns that of developed nations such as the US, the UK and Canada.
Today, India is home to 18% of the world's population, but uses only 6% of primary energy. While coal-based power makes for the most potent energy sources at 59%, alternate sources such as nuclear, gas, hydro, solar and wind power make for the rest.
India is diversifying its means to generate power, but excluding coal from the energy mix may not be a realistic option given the high, and increasing demands from households as well as the industry. The Indian government has clearly said that all sources of energy, including coal, will be required to power up the economy, and has put up its ambitious renewable expansion plans alongside, and not in place of its growth targets. Coal per kilowatt is still a far cheaper option than renewables and, clearly, India cannot do without it given its development goals.
Given that India is in the midst of a major transformation, with the economy expected to grow over five-times its current size by 2040, its energy needs will be pivotal. In fact, 23 years hence, urbanisation and infrastructure will be key drivers of the country's energy trends. With an additional 315 million people to its already burgeoning population, India's infrastructure needs, primarily driven by the government's priority to project it as a manufacturing base, will push up demand for energy-intensive material such as steel and cement. Emissions due to coal burning are surely set to rise, even if we use the best quality.