China and India’s deepening energy crunch

China and India are facing a deepening energy crunch, with power shortages in the two countries driving up electricity prices in Asia in recent weeks. Analysts say that both countries will need to ramp up their investment in renewables if they want to meet their goals of reducing carbon emissions.

Analysts say that China and India are both in a period of energy transition. In 2011, for the first time in history, developing countries represented more than half of global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. [1] And this year China took over from America as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter. [2] As a result, the urgency to reduce carbon emissions in the context of climate change has never been greater.

At the same time, both China and India are facing increasing risk of blackouts. The two countries’ power grids have seen surging demand for electricity in recent years, while their supplies have stagnated or declined because old coal-fired plants can’t meet the demand. The result has been increasing pressure on the power grids, which have either blacked out or seen enormous price hikes as a result.

In China, where electricity demand has been growing at double-digit rates every year since 2007, Beijing issued its first ever red alert for energy conservation last week. The country was beset by a series of blackouts in late November, including a power outage that affected Shanghai Airport. The city of Qingdao was also left without electricity for hours on end after a substation failure crippled its supply. China is now scrambling to avoid more such crises as it continues to grow at breakneck speed.

The December 18th red alert is the first of its kind for China, but I doubt it will be the last. It’s a sign that we could see more of these emergency energy conservation measures as Beijing tries to shift away from coal and meet its climate commitments, Lauri Myllyvirta said in an interview with chinadialogue.

Beijing has also been reducing the amount of coal-generated power it supplies to China’s coastal regions. According to a new plan, Beijing will reduce its summer output of coal-fired energy by 30 percent by 2020 compared with 2012 levels. The country is now betting big on renewables as part of its strategy to meet those goals.

China already has more renewable power generation capacity than any other country in the world after adding 35 gigawatts of solar, wind and hydropower last year. And it is on track to install an additional 110 GW by 2020 as part of its official goal to reach 200 GW of non-fossil fuel power production capacity by the same year.

India’s energy landscape is also changing. The country’s power supply has been unable to keep up with soaring demand in recent years, leading to rolling blackouts and an unstable national grid. In March 2013, the northern half of the country lost power when three regional grids collapsed within hours of each other, cutting electricity to states where more than 600 million people live. [3] The country’s energy minister said that if the country were to continue growing at current rates, power infrastructure would collapse.

If we need 9-10 percent GDP growth then we will have to generate twice as much electricity as is being produced today, Minister of State for Power Jyotiraditya Scindia told Reuters in September. Within the next 25 years, if we need to provide round-the clock quality power to our country then there is no other alternative than to go in for nuclear energy.