The new renewable energy bridge

This time, the stars could not have been better aligned. China had accumulated excess stock of renewable energy hardware. Too many factories were churning out solar panels and wind turbines to fulfill Beijing’s clean energy dreams.

The Chinese government had earlier declared that it intended to spend a whopping $360 billion on renewable energy wherewithal, such as solar panel and wind turbines, by 2020. On the demand end, energy-hungry India was positioning itself to absorb a significant portion of this surplus.

Renewable energy has continued to remain one of the top items on New Delhi’s power and environmental agenda. “The driving force is the Paris climate agreement,” said Sanjay Sharma of Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI), referring to the deal which set limits to greenhouse gas emissions, with 2020 as the starting point. Speaking at a Beijing seminar on renewable energy, he stressed that India was looking at 2030, when renewables would cover 40% of the country’s total installed capacity. Consequently, clean energy targets were being revised. By 2022, India has plans to develop 100 GW of renewable energy.

China’s own plans to funnel copious doses of renewable energy into its energy mix have been rattled over the last few years. An economic slowdown has reduced overall energy demand, resulting in growing accumulation of excess capacity. Besides, the resistance from the coal lobby has also proved unusually hardy. The trade war with the U.S., which many anticipate will dry up exports of renewables to America, is adding further pressure on the Chinese energy producers, forcing them to seek new markets. “Under these difficult circumstances, India offers a natural lifeline to Chinese manufacturers of renewable energy products,” said an Indian official, who did not want to be named.

India’s fault lines

During the brainstorming in Beijing, India’s own fault lines in the renewable energy domain were also exposed. For instance, the chronic problem of land acquisition at home was forcing Indian planners to consider wider use of water as a platform for floating solar panels. “We can use reservoirs or even backwaters as in Kerala or in Lakshadweep for floating solar PV projects,” said Y.B.K. Reddy, deputy general manager at SECI. He pointed out that three months ago, a team of Indian experts had been sent to tap Chinese expertise in this field. “The team visited the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydro project, on the Yangtze river. It has a massive reservoir ideally suited for floating renewable energy projects,” remarked Mr. Reddy.

The delegation also went to a plant in China’s Anhui province, where solar floats were being built on an industrial scale. Mr. Reddy also spotlighted that India was seeking Chinese expertise for developing “hybrid projects”, where solar and wind energy would be combined. “We need to co-locate and combine wind and solar capacities on land as well as water. Complementary battery storage may be necessary to ensure uninterrupted supply of power to the grid.”

As the candid back and forth between Indian and Chinese technocrats and business people accelerated, it became evident that the mood has changed markedly over the last one year. There is now buzz that in the backdrop of the Wuhan summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, the moment has finally arrived to ignite the engine of China-India trade, commerce and investments.

The trade war with the U.S., which many anticipate will dry up exports of renewables to America, is adding further pressure on the Chinese energy producers, forcing them to seek new markets

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