A Shared Problem
Global development - and specifically sustainable development is now the ideal for individuals, institutions, corporations, and nations. Many of us might take it for granted that this can be achieved, believing that science, technology, and cooperation will overcome the challenges ahead and save the day. However, facing the facts of the challenges ahead exposes the scale of the problem. With the World’s population approaching 8 billion, it is a shattering fact that 1 billion people still live without electricity. This is among points cataloged by the World Bank and its commitment to: "helping countries work towards universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy as a key part of delivering on its twin goals of eradicating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity."
Rhetoric & Realities
The Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations is committed to sustainable development, with specific objectives to be achieved by the start of the next decade, known as Agenda 2030. This demonstrates that there is a global consensus to achieve this. Certainly, there are task-driven frameworks in place that are comprehensive in their ambition. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the outcome of deliberations by the UN General Assembly and listed here https://sdgs.un.org/goals
The first of the SDGs, to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere (by 2030)”, we’d hope there’d be few arguments against it. However, from people on the street to senior Economists, there are serious doubts as to whether this will ever be possible. As stated, the world was off track on this before the global pandemic of COVID-19. As a consequence, a further 71 million people around the world were pushed into extreme poverty during 2020. This confirms many people’s view that economic realities, lack of political will, and unforeseen events may make this permanently unachievable. Discrepancies between realities and rhetoric are something we are all too familiar with and know are at the heart of summoning any political will to do anything. Equally, we can’t give up and walk away. But as with every facet of life in the past 15 months, COVID-19 has altered the 17 SDGs to an almost unrecognisable degree and calls into question how many of them can be achieved at all, or even in part.
Sustainable Energy for All
The seventh of the SDGs to, “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, “is best considered by looking at specific countries and examples. As of May 15th, the number of COVID-19 deaths across India had exceeded 300,000, with estimates that the true number is far beyond this due to difficulties in obtaining accurate numbers, particularly in rural and semi-rural regions. Yet despite the emerging scale of the appalling situation becoming apparent early in the year, a report published in March by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stated India’s economy was estimated to grow by 5%. Therefore, even amid the daily tragedies of the pandemic, India’s economy is still projected to grow significantly. To enable and sustain this in line with the 7th SDG, what sustainable energy sources are currently available across the sub-continent? And are they reliable?
India’s Sustainable Energy
According to the Indian government's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, solar and wind power are the primary and rapidly expanding energy sectors and are being supported with heavy state investment. For the wind sector, this comes in the form of “Technical support including wind resource assessment and identification of potential sites through the National Institute of Wind Energy Chennai. Secondly, “the Interstate transmission charges and losses have been waived off for wind and solar projects to be commissioned by March 2022.” More than 800 wind monitoring stations have been set up across the country. Data from this, suggests “a gross wind power potential of 302 GW in the country at 100 m above ground level.” To put this potential in perspective, as of 31 March 2021, “India has an installed capacity of 382.15 GW." This suggests that wind power alone could meet much of India’s current electricity demands. A transformational potential to consider.
Also transformational, is the expansion of the solar energy sector, particularly in its ability to provide energy in rural areas where millions of India’s population live. As well as being a source of energy, solar power also means improved day-to-day life, especially for “ Women and girls engaged in the collection of fuelwood from long distances and cooking in smoky kitchens.” No longer having to scour for firewood, these women gain in a variety of ways, not least among them, improved health and the gaining of time in their days, which can perhaps be directed towards gaining an education that could open doors for them to better life opportunities. From March 2014 to July 2019, India’s solar power capacity “increased by more than 11 times, from 2.6 GW to 30 GW.” This is undoubtedly great progress and a positive example of rhetoric shaping reality. However, there is still a very long way to go in terms of utilising the full potential for solar energy in India. According to India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the target for solar energy stands at 100 GW, however, installed capacity as of June 2021 is 34.6 GW.
Time & Distance
Nonetheless, significant and committed progress is being made and it is only reasonable to consider these statistics in comparison to progress made in a developed nation. According to statistics published in March 2021 by the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, Renewable energy for the last quarter of 2020 amounted to 42.9% of overall energy generation. In a statement issued by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2020, the subcontinent's renewable energy production stood at “about 36% of our total capacity." Although the size, conditions, and resources are vastly different in these nations, the numbers map the distance that both, along with every other in the world, have to travel before meeting desirable targets by 2030. In that year, the data available for global renewable energy production will again measure whether the distance between rhetoric and realities has been reduced.