China, the US, and India are the world’s top carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters.
However, a unit of solar or wind power installed in India will reduce CO2 emissions to a bigger extent than in China or the US; a gigawatt of renewable power installed in India can save ten times more lives than in North America and Europe, due to greater reduction in air pollution levels. These are the findings of a study led by researchers at Harvard University.
The results of the study, which compared solar and wind energy projects in various countries, were published in the peer-reviewed Palgrave Communications journal last week. Due to unavailability of data, it assumed equal generation of electricity per unit of installation, though it generally varies across projects.
The higher effectiveness of renewable energy projects in India in reducing CO2 emissions and air pollution is because the country’s power sector is heavily dependent on coal. Over 70% of India’s electricity in the year ended March 2019 was generated from the most polluting fossil fuel. In comparison, in China, it was 59% last year. In the US, it was much lower at 27.5%.
India’s coal plants are in fact the world’s most harmful, lacking flue gas treatment equipment. Coal power producers have also missed government deadlines for retrofitting it in their chimney stacks.
What makes the plants especially dangerous is their close proximity to populated areas. The pollutants they emit reach more people than those in the US or China, said Jonathan Buonocore, a co-author of the study.
The greater role that renewable energy projects in India can play in reducing CO2 emissions, makes the country a significant player in containing natural disasters caused by climate change, which are also likely to impact Indians more than people elsewhere.