Coal billionaire builds world’s largest clean energy plant, five times bigger than Paris

New Delhi (CNN) — Five times bigger than Paris. Visible from space. The world’s largest power plant. Enough electricity to supply Switzerland.

The scale of the project, which will transform strips of dry salt desert in western India into one of the most significant sources of clean energy on the planet, is so overwhelming that its manager cannot cope.

“I don’t even do math anymore,” Sagar Adani told CNN in an interview last week.

Adani is the CEO of Adani Green Energy Limited (AGEL). He is also the nephew of Gautam Adani, Asia’s second-richest man, whose $100 billion wealth comes from Adani Group, India’s biggest coal importer and major producer of the dirty fuel. Established in 1988, the group has businesses in sectors ranging from ports and thermal power plants to media and cement.

Its clean energy unit, AGEN, is building a solar and wind plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat at a cost of about $20 billion. When completed in about five years, it will be the world’s largest renewable park, and will generate enough clean electricity to power the country’s 16 million homes.

Meeting the growing energy needs of the world’s most populous country and fastest growing economy, the success of the Khawra Renewable Energy Park is critical to India’s efforts to reduce pollution and achieve its climate goals. Coal still accounts for 70% of the electricity produced in India.

clean energy india

A worker works on the propeller of a wind turbine produced at an Adani Group factory in the city of Mundra, India. Credit: Punit Paranjape/AFP/Getty Images

Located just 19 kilometers from one of the world’s most dangerous borders, the one that separates India from Pakistan, the park will cover an area of ​​more than 500 square kilometers and will be the largest power plant on the planet, regardless of energy source. There will be a plant. To AGEN.

“Such a large area, such an undisturbed area, there’s no wildlife there, there’s no vegetation there, there’s no habitat there. There’s no better option for that land,” Adani said.

The group’s big green plans have not been weakened by the turbulent year it has experienced since January 2023, when Hindenburg Research, a US short seller, accused it of engaging in fraud over decades.

The Indian mining-media group described Hindenburg’s report as “baseless” and “malicious”. But it failed to prevent a stunning stock market collapse that, at one point, wiped more than $100 billion off the value of its listed companies. After the release of the report, Gautam Adani’s personal wealth also declined by more than $80 billion.

But the tycoon recovered and the conglomerate is investing billions in the clean energy sector.
It plans to invest US$100 billion in the energy transition over the next decade, of which 70% will be allocated to clean energy.

A necessity for 1.4 billion people

Adani Group’s focus on clean energy comes at a time when India has set ambitious climate targets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised that renewable sources like solar and wind power will meet 50% of India’s energy needs by the end of this decade.

In 2021, Modi promised that India would reach net-zero emissions by 2070, which is a few decades later than developed economies.

The government has set a target of generating 500 gigawatt (GW) of electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. AGEN, the country’s largest renewable energy company, aims to contribute at least 9% to that figure, generating about 30 GW of electricity. Its in Khavra Park, Gujarat.

Adani says transition to renewable energy is not an option.

“India has no option but to start work at a size and scale that was never imagined before,” the 30-year-old said.

clean energy india

An employee inspecting solar panels at Adani Group’s factory in Mundra. Credit: Punit Paranjape/AFP/Getty Images

And energy demand is going to skyrocket in the coming years.

According to data from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), India is the world’s third-largest energy consumer, although its per capita energy consumption and emissions are less than half the world average.

This could change quickly. Due to rising incomes, energy demand has doubled since 2000, and 80% of it is still met by coal, oil and solid biomass. According to the IEA, over the next three decades, this fast-growing economy will see the fastest growth in energy demand of any country in the world.

Adani, referring to the historical use of fossil fuels, said, “If India does what China did, if it does what Europe did, if it does what the United States did, then we are very “Dismal climates lie ahead.” development of those countries.

His dire predictions are not exaggerated. According to analysts, India is poised to grow at an annual rate of at least 6% in the coming years, and could become the world’s third largest economy before the end of this decade.

As it develops and modernizes, its urban population will skyrocket, leading to a massive increase in the construction of homes, offices, shops, and other buildings. According to analysts, India will grow its urban population at the rate of London every year for the next 30 years.

Demand for electricity is expected to skyrocket in the coming years due to factors ranging from rising living standards to climate change. The latter has caused deadly heat waves across India, so the number of air conditioner owners is expected to increase rapidly in the coming years.

According to the IEA, by 2050 India’s total electricity demand from residential air conditioners will exceed the total energy consumption of all of Africa today.

India cannot continue to depend on fossil fuels to meet its growing needs without disastrous consequences for efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“If we imagine that 800 GW of coal thermal capacity is added… it will single-handedly overwhelm all other sustainable energy initiatives being taken across the world in terms of carbon emissions,” Adani said.

Indian Solar Farm

A worker passing between rows of solar panels at Khavra Renewable Energy Park. Credit: Punit Paranjape/AFP/Getty Images

both sides

The group’s green plans are impressive, but climate experts criticize it for continuing to invest massively in fossil fuels.

“Gautam) Adani is still on both sides of the spectrum,” says Tim Buckley, director of Climate Energy Finance, a Sydney-based think tank.

Adani Group is not only one of the largest developers and operators of coal mines in India, but also operates the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Australia, which has faced intense opposition from climate change advocates over what they claim That it is the “death penalty”. To the Great Barrier Reef.

“Instead of investing billions in new fossil fuel projects, India would be better served if Adani devoted 100% of its efforts and resources to developing low-cost, zero-emission technologies,” Buckley said.

According to Adani, this is not an option at present.

solar farm

Another view of Khawra Renewable Energy Park. Credit: Punit Paranjape/AFP/Getty Images

“More than 600 million people in India will move to middle and higher incomes in the next decade, decade and a half,” he said. “You cannot deprive them of basic energy needs.”

He added that everyone would be happy if we could get “100% of that supply from sustainable energy sources… (but)… in practice, that’s not an option”.

He also said that workers in developed countries, which historically emit more greenhouse gases, are often unable to understand the challenge India faces in growing its economy and clean energy industry at the same time. Is.

“I think it’s also very important to respect the fact that every country has its own right to ensure that its population is well served from an energy perspective,” Adani said.

He said, “So India is making some coal? Yes, absolutely. But is it using renewable energy extensively? Yes, no doubt.”

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