Updated: May 6
Climate change is one of the grand challenges facing the world today. The key reason behind climate change is the high level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to industrial activities, and scientists around the world agree that the global economy needs to transition from the use of fossil fuels (a major source of CO2 – a GHG) as energy sources to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass to mitigate the risk of climate change. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserted that limiting global warming would require major transitions in the energy sector involving a substantial reduction in fossil fuel (coal, oil, and natural gas) use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels. IPCC further alarmed that for the global temperature to stabilize at 1.5°C higher than the preindustrial level, a net zero CO2 emissions economy needs to be achieved by 2050. Policies to achieve that need to be devised much early!
Energy transition scenario in West Bengal
In the global effort towards energy transition, at the 26th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2021, India has committed to five energy targets – (1) Reach 500GW non-fossil energy capacity by 2030, (2) 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030, (3) Reduction of total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now to 2030, (4) Reduction of the carbon intensity of the economy by 45 per cent by 2030, over 2005 levels, and (5) Achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2070. It also means that Indian states need to align their energy policies accordingly. In this context, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water conducted a study on an in-depth assessment of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the manufacturing sector (including construction) in India from 2005 to 2013 and found that at the state level, 80 per cent of manufacturing emissions came from only ten states – Gujarat (14%), Odisha (13%), Chhattisgarh (10%), Jharkhand (9%), Karnataka (8%), Maharashtra (8%), Andhra Pradesh (7%), Rajasthan (5%), West-Bengal (5%), and Tamil Nadu (4%).
Being in the coal belt of the country, West Bengal has traditionally used coal as a significant source of primary energy as well as fuelling the thermal power plants in the state. At the same time, it is one of the most vulnerable states in the scenario of sea level rise due to climate change. Thus, energy transition needs to be at the core of responsible policy-making by the state. However, if we look at the renewable electricity generation trends by the different states, West Bengal clearly lags in putting up the act together (see Figure 1).
Major challenges for the energy transition in West Bengal
There could be multiple reasons for not being able to transition to renewable energy easily – one of them of course is the natural constraint such as low luminosity hindering solar power generation or low wind speed hindering wind power generation (see Figure 2 for the difference in potential).
At the same time, policies can look for not only making full use of the existing potential but also scope for innovations such as energy trading with high-potential states. Another challenge for West Bengal could be its dependence on coal as a barrier to the adoption of alternate sources. Apart from these, adopting renewable energy also needs high upfront investments and reskilling of the workforce, which might be difficult for a debt-ridden state like West Bengal. Awareness of the masses has always been a major driver for any transition at scale – we do not observe such social campaigns either.
Given the natural constraint of the availability of renewable sources, it seems challenging to transition to renewable energy in West Bengal. At the same time, there can be opportunities in terms of brighter sunlight or faster wind in certain parts of the state, availability of biomass as a renewable energy source, and demand for energy storage technologies to efficiently use what is available. Right incentives and awareness campaigns can also promote the mass adoption of renewable energy. In any case, a transition framework should also acknowledge the short-term costs such that its economic feasibility is not overlooked.
Bengal Policy Hackathon: Round I Problem Statements
Participating team can attempt any of the two problem statements
Amidst the complexity of barriers at multiple levels and resource constraints, policymakers generally look for relatively more impactful interventions in the right direction. Rigorous research through quantitative as well as qualitative data description and analysis can help in unfolding the key success factors for any policy intervention. With this in mind, we call for research articles using any suitable methodology (quantitative/qualitative/both) on the following two topics:
Topic 1 - State-wise comparison of the energy transition policies
Compare the energy policy of West Bengal with that of other leading states in energy transition and find opportunities to improve West Bengal’s policy framework
Topic 2 - Best practices in energy transition under natural constraints
Find out one or more best practices from anywhere in the world for a region that has natural constraints (low luminosity, low wind speed etc.) like West Bengal, and provide recommendations on how West Bengal can adopt the same
Top Submissions (from Bengal Policy Hackathon):
The above policy brief is also published as an article: https://www.the-bdc.org/post/best-practices-in-energy-transition-under-natural-constraints-in-west-bengal