The World’s Biggest Coal Company Is Turning To Solar Energy To Lower Its Utility Bill

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"The World’s Biggest Coal Company Is Turning To Solar Energy To Lower Its Utility Bill"

The largest coal company in the world, Coal India, is aiming to cut its own utility bills by installing solar photovoltaic panels at its facilities across the country. The coal giant is seeking proposals from solar energy companies to build a modular 2 megawatt solar plant on 9 acres of its own land. This plant could be scaled to export power to the grid.

Not only is Coal India pursuing commercial solar power plants, it’s also “mulling” the installation of rooftop solar panels at the Ranchi Central Mine Planning and Design Institute, where it does mining research. The panels would go on “staff colonies” and in mining areas, with the goal of reducing the company’s energy bills.

Coal India explained the reason for these moves in its bid document:

India has an abundance of sunshine and the trend of depletion of fossil fuels is compelling energy planners to examine the feasibility of using renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and so on.”

This is a remarkable statement from the largest coal company in the world. Coal India produces 90 percent of India’s coal, and not only is it turning to solar as an efficient business practice, it understands India cannot power itself by coal. In fact, a coal-based electricity system is not reliable: solar energy is. And solar may be the only hope for much of rural India to become electrified after decades of failed grid expansion plans. With so much potential solar capacity across the country (see below for how much potential solar energy hits India every year), there is little wonder that even fossil fuel companies are looking to get in on the game.

A Pike Research report last year predicted that the global mining industry would invest $20 billion in renewable energy by 2020. Coal India may be among the first coal companies to commit to solar in the way it seems to be, though in 2012 a British coal mining museum in south Wales recently outfitted two rooftops with 400 solar panels. Neyvili Corp produces coal in India and is building a 10 megawatt solar power plant that could be upgraded to 25 megawatts, along with a 50 megawatt wind farm. Oil India has also started investments in wind and solar.

These companies see something that oil giant BP did not: After decades of investment in solar energy, CEO Bob Dudley said “We have thrown in the towel on solar.” Most coal and other fossil fuel companies around the world have not embraced renewable energy in the way that these Indian companies have. Why?

57 percent of India’s electric power capacity comes from coal. Though it has substantial reserves (fifth-largest reserves in the world), India is burning a great deal of coal from foreign countries. Coal imports hit a record high — 135 million tonnes in the last fiscal year — a five-fold increase over the last ten years. The majority of coal imports come from Indonesia, with Australia and South Africa comprising much of the rest.

This is bad for Indians. Coal pollution causes the deaths of more than a hundred thousand Indians every year through respiratory problems. Coal emissions also help cause climate change, the consequences of which — such heat waves — kill hundreds and lead to electric grid chaos as demand spikes.

India has had a coal tax in place for several years, and the resulting funds are, in part, going to aid solar development. But while the country does have clean energy targets, it does not enforce them on state electricity distributors and large power companies, and therefore bids for solar power credits plummeted by nearly half last month.

Even so, solar energy is cheap and thriving in India. According to the government, solar power could be cheaper than coal by next year. All of this potential is bringing foreign investment to India. U.S. solar manufacturer First Solar is looking to increase its exports in the next three years enough to raise its market share from 20 percent to 25 percent. Chinese and European solar firms are the main competition with U.S. and domestic Indian solar companies. The U.S. is fighting to keep that market share open in the face of possible rules that require solar energy firms to buy inputs from domestic manufacturers.

The cost of coal in public health and climate impact terms has been obvious for some time, but many put up with this because there were few cheaper options, especially in countries with small natural gas industries. However, the cost of solar power has been dropping like a stone. In New Mexico, First Solar is building what will be the largest solar power plant in the state which will sell electricity cheaper than the cost of electricity from a new coal plant.

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10 Responses to The World’s Biggest Coal Company Is Turning To Solar Energy To Lower Its Utility Bill

  1. Henry says:

    It’s called “Green washing” folks, many US firms do the same to appeal to casual environmentalists, etc.
    India (and China) continue to build new coal burning plants at an unprecedented rate. Let’s work on turning that around, ok?

    • Brava says:

      No, let’s work on making the developed world more energy efficient. The USA uses a quarter of all energy for its 300 million or so inhabitants, that is lopsided. India and China have every right to develop themselves, but let’s try to keep that as sustainable as possible. This initiative may be small but it is a step in the right direction, hopefully others will follow.

      Improve the world but start at home

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Related

    German Village Produces 321% More Energy Than It Uses

    Wildpoldsried (pop. <2,600) now produces 321 percent more energy than it needs and is generating 4.0 million Euro (US $5.7 million) in annual revenue. This is a remarkable accomplishment for a modest farming community that turned a village with no industry into an industry of renewable energy with the help of local entrepreneurs and pioneers.

    http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/german-village-produces-321-more-energy-than-it-uses.html

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The Germans are remarkable people. The growing synergy of interests between them and the Chinese could be an East-West Axis of Sanity on which to hinge human salvation, and the Indians, Russians, Brazilians et al will hopefully join in. The West, the Anglosphere in particular, will attempt sabotage at every opportunity- it’s in their ‘nature’.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    According to a finance expert, prudent businesses keep one foot in the depreciating assets that pay high income while they put the other foot into a new market, where the cost of access may be high, but where they want to have a forefront position relative to competition. Cash-rich companies, such as fossil-fuel providers, often do some version of this. The PR around taking a progressive step may be greenwashing, but deep down it’s just business to get a toe-hold in a next-generation market. The coal, oil and gas companies have the capital to move into solar and wind more aggressively, but they are on a teeter-totter between income and long-term investment.
    Give energy companies more and bigger incentives (carrots or sticks) to shift their assets and we’d be over one of humps on the way to success.

    If Coal India changes its name to Energy India, we’ll know the weight is shifting from one foot to the other.

  4. Jackie says:

    At lease they can continue to sell coal to the US and others while saving their country.

  5. James Wimberley says:

    India has been unable to raise coal production in recent years:
    “In 2011-2012, installed coal-based capacity increased by about 19 per cent while domestic coal production went up by just over 1 per cent, leading to a rapid increase of imports.”
    Unreformed socialist bureaucracy and electoral populism are part of it. There’s also rising wages: coalmining is horrible work, and as the alternatives improve you have to pay miners ever more to stay.

    The politics are quite different in China and India. Chinese technocratic oligarchs are in control, but are afraid of a popular backlash from pollution at some undetermined date in the future. Indian politicians are worried about losing the next election, redlined in their diaries. There’s no way they can fix the coal mess in time, so a fast rollout of solar and wind is their only hope of satisfying Sanjit Average.

  6. Scott says:

    How is this any different from the U.S. “green” ethanol plants that produce such a low energy gain in fuel that they all run on subsidized fossil fuels?

  7. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    It is a healthy sign from conventional to Non-conventional(Renewable). It reminds of the solar projects in oil rich Gulf countries.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India.