The US administration sees a big appointment of an energy official in its embassy in New Delhi, highlighting the importance and opportunities in the sector in India, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary in the US Department of Energy, said. In an interview with ET’s Kaavya Chandrasekaran, she also said the US supports India’s renewable energy drive, it also wanted to help India manage the use of coal so that it can meet its climate commitments. Edited excerpts:
What role is the US playing in the development of clean energy in India?
The broad contours of our cooperation in clean energy involve work on solar deployment, work on bio-fuels and work on building efficiency. Now, because of the agreement between Prime Minister Modi and President Obama last year, a new element of work has begun – on storage batteries and grid integration of renewables, which are crucial to the successful deployment of renewables on the scale that Prime Minister Modi and President Obama last year, a new element of work has begun – on storage batteries and grid integration of renewables, which are crucial to the successful deployment of renewables on the scale that Prime Minister Modi envisions for India.
We are placing a department of energy officer in the US embassy in New Delhi to advance this cooperation. This is very special because we only have a few Department of Energy representatives around the world. The Department of Energy does not have a big diplomatic core, unlike the State Department. But we select countries where we really believe that having a presence on the ground can make a difference and we believe that in these times we have that opportunity in India. When there is such close cooperation and understanding between the US and India on the issue of increasing deployment of clean energy, why has the US complained to the WTO against the domestic content requirement in India’s National Solar Mission?
There is a long story here and I won’t go into the details. We are very committed to close cooperation on clean energy deployment. We also have a strong commitment to flourishing trade relations with India. We do have significant concerns about the local content requirement and to be honest, it is our judgement that the local content requirement will raise the cost of deploying the clean energy solutions which Indians need. I will not get into all the negotiating details. We are trying to find a way to go forward with our Indian partners because it is important to us that India succeeds in achieving its goals on the broad deployment of solar energy.
How big a setback is the bankruptcy of the US renewable energy giant SunEdison? It has substantial assets in India, both commissioned and under construction, which are all being sold now. Concerns are being raised about the viability of renewable energy projects, if such a big company could go under. Businesses rise and fall, but fundamentally we see tremendous growth in clean energy and particularly in the solar sector in the US. The solar sector is growing at about 20 times the rate of the rest of our economy. It’s very dynamic, growing a huge number of jobs and opportunities for the American people. It has that potential around the world as well.
Overall I am optimistic about the solar sector. I can’t pick and choose among companies but we do believe there is enormous potential for solar and certainly we see this in the interest of a number of our companies in growing their presence in the Indian market. If renewable energy use is growing in India, so is that of thermal energy from coal, the most unclean form of energy…
I want to underscore that we would like to assist India in managing the use of coal in a way that enables India to meet its climate commitments. We are doing a tremendous amount of research in Department of Energy labs on carbon capture utilisation and storage and on coal technologies that are more efficient. Indeed our leading expert on that topic has accompanied me here because we want to expand our collaboration on coal and on how it can be used in a way that is not damaging from a climate perspective. We have just signed an MoU with our leading laboratory on fossil fuel use – the National Energy Technology Lab – and an Indian counterpart and that MoU will enable us to advance our work together on that front.
So you are not pushing India to reduce coal usage?
I would say that we are urging India to work with us on the development and deployment of solutions that will enable you to use coal in a way that you can meet your climate goals. That means both more efficient coal fired power plants and also the capture of the C02 emissions.
Over time, to meet your climate goals, it will become necessary for you to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels and to increase your use of renewables, and that’s very much part of PM Modi’s programme for the future. I’d also note that a big part of the commitment that you have made is reflected in the major agreement that was signed in June when PM Modi was in Washington, which is the commitment to deploy greater nuclear power capabilities and there too the US is actively involved in supporting your commitment.