Will India's hopes for green energy be dashed by tycoon Gautam Adani's $100 billion loss

In this illustration from December 9, 2022, miniature electric power transmission pylons and the Adani Green Energ...

Two years ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his audacious plans to transform his country into a global leader in green energy.

By 2070, he promised to reduce emissions to zero or achieve carbon neutrality, which means that greenhouse gas concentrations would not increase. India is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, despite having a lower power demand and emissions than Western nations. In addition, Mr. Modi pledged that India would obtain half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and would reduce projected carbon emissions by a billion tonnes by the same year.

One entrepreneur who is essential to Mr. Modi's plans for green energy is Gautam Adani, one of Asia's richest men and the head of a vast port-to-energy conglomerate with seven publicly traded companies, including a renewable energy company called Adani Green Energy. Mr. Adani, who is already among the biggest solar players in the world, intends to invest $70 billion (£58 billion) in green energy by 2030 in order to dominate the world's renewable energy market. This money is anticipated to be used for increasing solar energy production, creating batteries, and utilizing green hydrogen and wind energy.

However, Mr. Adani's recent problems have caused some to wonder if this will mean a setback for India's lofty energy ambitions. After the US-based investment firm Hindenburg Research published a report accusing it of decades of "brazen" stock manipulation and accounting fraud, seven listed companies in his group saw about $120 billion erased from their market value. Defending the accusations as malicious and untrue, the group referred to them as an "attack on India.".

Art school teacher Sagar Kambli gives final touches to a painting of Indian businessman Gautam Adani (L) highlighting the ongoing crisis of the Adani group in Mumbai on February 3, 2023.
Financial fraud accusations have been refuted by The Adani Group.

The French oil and gas company TotalEnergies postponed a $4 billion investment in a green hydrogen project with the Adani Group until there was more "clarity" on the situation, which was the first indication that investors were becoming uneasy. (Total has already contributed more than $3 billion to projects involving energy with the group.). The group has assured investors that none of its companies faced "material refinancing risk or near-term liquidity issues.". We do not anticipate changes to the Adani portfolio's plans for the energy transition, a spokesperson for the Adani Group told the BBC.

No response was given to emails sent to the group asking if any of its plans for green energy might be affected.

The impact of recent developments on India's climate plans cannot yet be determined, according to experts. A significant player in the green energy sector is the Adani group. Some of the new investments might be postponed. According to Vibhuti Garg of the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, if they are unable to secure additional funding, it will have some effect on the investments in green energy that were initially planned. "However, the growth of renewable energy will continue. ".

The largest energy transition in the world will take place in India over the next few decades. With 1.4 billion inhabitants, the nation still needs to connect large swaths of the population and the final holdouts with power. Every year, India's urban population grows by a city the size of London. The pace of industry is picking up. Heatwaves are one of the more extreme weather phenomena. The demand for power will increase as electrical vehicles become more popular.

It comes as no surprise that the electricity regulator predicts a doubling of demand over the next five years. India is both the second-largest producer and consumer of coal in the world. India is still constructing thermal plants, and coal still accounts for three-quarters of the electricity generated. The majority of the extra capacity will, however, reportedly come from renewable sources. India will also require $160 billion annually between now and 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2070. That is three times the level of investment made today.

In India, coal is used to produce 75% of the electricity.

The Ambanis are the other major player in green energy, aside from the Adani Group. The largest company in India, Reliance Group, owned by Mukesh Ambani, intends to invest $80 billion in renewable energy projects in Gujarat. The massive Tata Group, an energy company, is stepping up its clean energy endeavor. However, experts contend that India needs a lot more participants to meet its insatiable energy needs.

Ashwini K Swain of the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank with offices in Delhi, asserts that "if we need to meet so much of the energy demand, we need many more private players, a few big and many small.". According to him, there needs to be an increase in domestic green energy players. "We cannot work with half a dozen players and a couple of disproportionately large players," he asserts.

According to Tim Buckley of Australia-based Climate Energy Finance, the Adani Group's problems may actually present a chance for other players in the renewable energy sector. He claims to see "huge potential" for other national players to "step up, leveraging their domestic skills and capacity, combined with expanding global capital access and interest in investing in Indian renewables and grid infrastructure.".

India currently has a 400 GW combined clean and dirty energy generation capacity, and by 2030, it plans to add 500 GW of additional clean energy generation. It is a bold objective. It won't be simple to make a transition of this magnitude in a nation that has previously relied on coal and oil to meet its energy needs.

According to Mr. Swain, India should stop increasing its coal production and instead shift to supplying some of its growing demand from cleaner sources. For instance, irrigation for India's sizable farms accounts for 5% of the country's electricity needs; everyone would benefit if the farms were powered by solar energy during the day. The development of renewable energy in India has been astounding. Although there might be some delays and slowdowns, Ms. Garg says that they shouldn't prevent the growth of renewable energy.

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