India is poised to counter its environmental challenges with its ‘Green City in Every State’ initiative. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) tabled a concept note in December 2020, outlining the objectives and action items on their agenda. The intention is to develop greener, smarter cities across all states powered by renewable energy sources. State capitals and renowned tourist centres are the cities under evaluation for this green transformation. The government aims to mainstream environment-friendly power usage, harnessing solar technology, electric mobility systems and waste-to-energy (WTE) plants. This initiative is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to have Indian cities capable of meeting all energy requirements from renewable sources of energy.
According to experts at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), development of 100% solar-powered cities in each state would help strengthen the market system of states promoting economic growth. “Success in one city is going to open up other cities and therefore, this policy has seeds to develop into a solar movement. We can look at the metro example, which has seen such a growth path spreading to many cities, taking Delhi’s example. There can be issues, but experience across several major cities of the world, including Surat and others in India, does provide the confidence that this can be done,” said Ashwini Kumar, a Senior Director at TERI. The Government of India is also hoping to capitalise on this initiative to promote its solar rooftop programme, which has not yet taken off as per expectations.
The concept note for the initiative envisages creation of a green city in every state where all power requirements are met by renewable energy. It also looks towards combining all existing renewable energy programmes functioning in the state, specifically those dealing with solar streetlights, rooftop solar systems, electric vehicles and WTE plants.
This proposal outlines a few objectives that are likely to be implemented by the government:
- Installation of rooftop solar systems on most and, if feasible, all rooftops in the green city.
- Integration of technical education programmes for establishing an enabling ecosystem for accelerated deployment of grid-connected solar rooftop systems offered by the World Bank and State Bank of India under their initiative ‘Suprabha’.
- Inclusion of electric mobility vehicles (such as buses) in the public transportation systems of green cities. Provisions and financial assistance listed under the FAME II scheme to be extended to cities moving towards the green mobility initiative.
- Construction of public parks; tree plantation on a large scale in green cities.
- Development of WTE plants to efficiently utilise municipal solid waste for generating electricity.
- Development of solar parks and solar power plants on the outskirts of green cities to meet the additional energy requirements. State governments will be responsible for earmarking the land—3.5 acres per 1 MW of solar energy. The central government will disburse assistance under the Solar Park Scheme to ensure access to all essential requirements for setting up solar plants.
- Conversion of all streetlights to be powered entirely through solar energy in the green city.
- Combination of all existing programs of the MNRE that promote adoption of renewable energy scheme in line with the government’s goal to attain its target of 100 GW of solar power by 2022. Of this, 40 GW is targeted to be achieved through solar rooftop systems. Currently, India stands at 6 GW installed capacity in solar rooftop systems.
- Combination of all existing programmes of the Clean India Mission that promote adoption of their waste to energy scheme.
There are tremendous benefits in transforming existing cities in the country, particularly in the context of combining ‘green’ and ‘smart’ solutions. They are mutually inclusive concepts and their advantages compound when implemented together.
The most tangible benefits from the green city would be an estimated 10–12% reduction in power costs (with an increase in the share of solar thermal solar photovoltaic and wind energy), 8–10% increase in the use of treated wastewater for city applications, 8–12% rise in the use of public transportation that would reduce carbon emissions from private vehicles and promote connectivity and mobility in the city, 15–20% reduction in water consumption due to improved monitoring and metering by digital solutions and 25–30% savings in lighting consumption in the city from mainstream power sources.
These advantages are followed by several intangible gains in the form of better use of land, increased segregation of municipal waste, improvements in waste handling, rise in ground water volume and provision of more public conveniences. The MNRE’s proposal also noted that apart from reduction in power costs of a city, the city’s net emissions will reduce to zero and overall carbon footprint of the city will decline to healthy levels.
There are a few structural issues that may hinder this initiative. Purely from an implementation point of view, lack of uniformity in policies and regulations pertaining to renewable energy across states are likely to be a major impediment.
The solar sector has witnessed slow growth owing to constraints in gaining timely approvals for interconnection and a steady supply of net meters. Despite attempts to hasten and digitise the approval and procurement process, the ecosystem for establishing solar power at scale needs to be strengthened. Another challenge in the adoption of solar energy and rooftop solar implementation is the reliance on power distribution companies (DISCOMs). Some DISCOMs are hesitant to promote rooftop solar since it is a conflict of interest and results in loss of revenue.
Apart from that, WTE plants are known for releasing poisonous gases and toxic waste ash. WTE plants may prove to be expensive and counterproductive, given that the current technology is unsuitable for India’s climate and composition of waste in the country. The proposal is yet to identify and outline policies regarding emissions control and management. Experts suggest that the proposal needs to limit waste management (waste that cannot be composted, upcycled or recycled) by WTE plants to ~13% to prevent air pollution caused by WTE emissions.
The Road Ahead…
Overall, India is well positioned to implement this campaign, especially in states—such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Bihar and Chandigarh—that have shown progress and success in implementing green initiatives. Gujarat and Karnataka have led in terms of installation of solar rooftop systems and citizens are reaping the rewards of declining solar tariffs and further fuelling the demand and adoption. Across the country, many buildings and enterprises are declaring targets and moving towards net zero emissions, which offer a strong foundation for launching the ‘green city’ initiative. This initiative is in line with international trends in green energy and is one of the ways in which India can achieve its targets and keep commitments to the international community.