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Highly conducive tax, policy environment is solarizing India’s digital economy

India is fostering a digital future via Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ initiative – a national blockchain strategy that includes quantum computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, as digital technologies become the primary platform for economic activity and growth.

Image: Rana Balkis

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have forecast that the GDP of India will grow at the rate of 7-8% for the next few years, driving a rapid rise in its hydrocarbon fueled energy demand tied to growing urbanization, rising incomes and a steadily increasing population. Studies suggest that India’s share of total global primary energy demand is set to roughly double to around 11% by 2040[1], which has emerged among India’s most formidable challenges to sustained GDP growth.

As India is the world’s second most populous country and the third largest energy consumer as well as CO2 emitter[2], with the highest death rates attributable to air pollution[3] and related calamities.[4]  While the country contributes 7% of the global CO2, half that of the USA, India’s CO2 emissions are increasing faster than that of China and the USA, with a 4.8% increase in 2018. It is the fourth largest consumer and importer of oil and natural gas, with the fifth largest coal reserves that fuels three quarters of India’s power.[5] India is also among the top-five clean-energy producers globally, firing 10% of its electricity power with renewable energy, with a target of 40% by 2030 (G20 average is 25%).

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerged as a global leader in the fight against climate change when he launched the International Solar Alliance with 121 member countries in 2015, ahead of the Paris Agreement, with the primary objective to work for the efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.[6] India intends to solarize its digital future with support from the government and foreign investors, and has seen an exponential growth in its renewable energy sector in the past five years.

India’s blockchain based mobile payment systems 

India is similar to China, in the way it put the brakes on the promotion of fintech services tied to cryptocurrencies, by imposing a ring-fencing on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, announcing that financial firms could not provide cryptocurrency services after the cryptocurrency bubble bust.  But the Supreme Court is currently listening to further hearings on this.[7]

The Reserve Bank of India confirmed that cryptocurrency is not banned in India in response to concerns raised by the country’s Internet and Mobile Association[8] as the country is the second-largest telecommunications market with 1.2 billion mobile phone customers with only 582 million bank accounts – a void often filled by cryptocurrencies. Accordingly, the Digital India initiative includes plans for a:

  • Central Bank issued Digital Rupee (CBDR) run on a permissioned blockchain;[9]

  • Multijurisdictional digital stablecoin backed by commodities and a cloud platform that will bypass Swift to connect BRICS national payment systems through a mobile payment app[10]; and

  • Permissioned blockchain payments solution called Vajra.[11]

Smart/solar cities

India is fostering a solarized digital economy with the  Ministry of New Renewable Energy (MNRE)’s various programs focused on harnessing, democratizing and decentralizing solar energy. [12] India is endowed with vast solar energy potential, allowing it to shift away from new coal-fired power faster than anticipated.  At the end of last year, the country topped the Asia Pacific region for solar photovoltaic (PV) tenders according to analytics company GlobalData.[13]

Grid connected: This program aims to generate competitively priced solar thermal and PV power. India has two of the largest solar plants in the world, which produces the cheapest solar power at 3 to 4 cents a watt, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) research.

Solar cities: This program aims to support/encourage Urban Local Bodies to prepare a Road Map to guide their cities in becoming ‘renewable energy cities’ or ‘solar cities’  by promoting solar water heating systems in homes, hotels, hostels, hospitals and industry; deployment of SPV systems/devices; and design of solar buildings. A total of 60 cities/towns are proposed to be supported for development as Solar Cities during the 11th Plan period.

Grid connected rooftop:  This program aims to install 40 GW of electricity capacity from rooftop based solar plants by 2022[14] in states, cities, railways, airports (Kochi), and manufacturing facilities.

A key component of promoting the adoption of solar energy to meet the Paris Climate Agreement is enabling consumers to trade excess solar energy, which can be now produced even at night with University of California Davis Professor Jeremy Munday’s reverse solar panels.[15] Accordingly, India’s Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) developed a mobile blockchain prototype for solar power trading that allows consumers to sell excess power generated peer-to-peer (P2P) to their neighbors and to their power distribution companies.[16] So far, a blockchain P2P solar power trading solution is being tested in a New Delhi suburb.[17]

Electric vehicles

The Transport Ministry of India, under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, intends 30% of vehicles in India to be all-electric vehicles (EV) by 2030[18] complete with charging infrastructures[19] as well as domestic battery raw materials and processing facilities.[20] India’s EV revolution is aided by advances in qualified Lithium-ion (Li-ion) cell technology – one of the most promising electrochemical energy storage technologies[21] with wide applications in electronic gadgets, tele-communication, industrial applications, aerospace, electric and hybrid electric vehicles including, drones.

Drones, Solar Power Satellite (SPS) Systems & Solar Missions

The MARAAL is a series of multipurpose solar powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are developed in India by aerospace department of IIT Kanpur.[22]  Such solar powered UAVs could be re-energized by laser-power beams according to Dr. Paul Jaffe who has been conducting space-based solar energy research at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory focusing in part on transmitting solar energy from space to Earth for more than a decade.

Dr. Jaffe recently conducted a first of its kind ‘historic’ laser power-beaming demonstration that could be used to send power to locations that are remote, hard to reach or lack infrastructure, or to power electric UAVs whose flight time is currently severely limited by their on-board battery life.[23] “If you have an electric drone that can fly more than an hour, you’re doing pretty well,” Dr. Jaffe said. “If we had a way to keep those drones and UAVs flying indefinitely, that would have really far-reaching implications. With power beaming, we have a path toward being able to do that.”[24]

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has partnered with US’s National Space Society and China to harness solar energy via SPS.[25]  And later this year will launch satellite Aditya (Sanskrit for “sun”) – L1,  to study the solar corona[26] after shooting down a satellite with a missile from  Earth to space in Mission Shakti (Sanskrit for “power”) last year.[27]

 Related: Is US Environmental Tax Policy Hindering Solar Power to Fuel Digital Technologies?

Tax policy in India

The government is moving India away from a reliance on imported coal through targeted measures to encourage industry investment in now-least-cost renewable energy while progressively taxing the externalities of coal use. On July 1, 2010, India introduced a nationwide carbon tax of 50 rupees per ton (US$1.07/t) of coal both produced and imported into India. Currently the carbon tax stands at 400rs per ton ($5.73/t).

In India, Hydrocarbon subsidies have been cut by around 75% since 2014, freeing up funds to support the development of world-leading wind and solar industries.  Nevertheless, according to the IMF report, India ranks number five in subsidies to the hydrocarbon industry at $209 billion and has an expanding energy deficit.

According to a report by the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD), India’s subsidies for renewable energy was $2.2 billion for 2017.[28]  The new government, in its 2020 budget, announced tax breaks for setting up mega-manufacturing plants for solar cells, lithium storage batteries, EV and charging infrastructure.

Conclusion

Switching just 10% to 30% of subsidies supporting fossil fuels to renewables would unleash a runaway clean energy revolution, according to the IISD report, significantly cutting the carbon emissions that are driving the climate crisis, because subsidies[29] and finance to the coal and fossil fuel industries are at least three times greater than renewable energy[30] based on the industry’s rigorous lobbying efforts, putting climate goals at risk.[31]

References

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/india-new-hotspot-renewable-energ...

[2] http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions

[3] https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/india-accounts-fo...

[4] https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/indias-doomy-future-climate-change-d...

[5] https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/coal_reserves/

[6] http://isolaralliance.org; https://www.orfonline.org/research/india-and-its-brics-dilemmas-57891/

[7] https://cointelegraph.com/news/india-central-bank-says-it-hasnt-banned-crypto; https://www.finder.com.au/reserve-bank-of-india-vs-cryptocurrency-rbi-ci...

[8] https://news.bitcoin.com/rbi-confirms-crypto-not-banned-in-india/

[9] https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/35187/indian-central-bank-digital-c...

[10] https://cointelegraph.com/news/brics-nations-discuss-shared-crypto-to-br...

[11] https://cointelegraph.com/news/indias-payments-platform-varja-gets-the-b...

[12] https://mnre.gov.in/solar

[13] https://www.rt.com/business/479270-india-solar-energy-boom/

[14] https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/mnres-40-gw-r...

[15] https://www.euronews.com/living/2020/02/05/reverse-solar-panel-technolog...

[16] https://www.pv-magazine-india.com/2020/01/03/teri-develops-blockchain-en...

[17] https://www.bsesdelhi.com/documents/55701/1190197189/Blockchain_November...

[18] https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=191337

[19] https://entrackr.com/2020/01/govt-to-establish-2636-evs-in-india/

[20] https://www.livemint.com/industry/energy/india-s-electric-vehicle-ambiti...

[21] https://www.isro.gov.in/update/06-aug-2018/transfer-of-vssc-developed-li...

[22]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328240765_MARAAL_A_Low_Altitude...

[23] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xb9THqrXd4I

[24] https://www.nrl.navy.mil/news/releases/researchers-transmit-energy-laser-power-beaming-demonstration; Quote confirmed via e-mail with NRL and Dr. Jaffe

[25] https://news.bloombergtax.com/daily-tax-report/insight-is-solar-power-ad...

[26] http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-12/29/c_138665020.htm

[27] https://carnegieindia.org/2019/09/06/india-s-space-power-revisiting-anti...

[28] https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/india-energy-trans...

[29] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509; https://www.forbes.com/sites/walvanlierop/2019/12/06/yes-fossil-fuel-sub...

[30] http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2019/03/Banking-on-Climate-Change-2019-final.pdf; https://urgewald.org/medien/revealed-world-bank-pumps-billions-fossils

[31] https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc

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Thank Selva for the Post!

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