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India Announces Solar Incentives in Lead up to Copenhagen

Last week, the Indian government approved a plan to spend $19 billion to increase its solar power capacity 200 times before 2013. The aggressive move appears to be an attempt to provide India with some political leverage in the long-awaited United Nations COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. Should India follow through with this pledge, it would have a tremendous effect on its solar industry.

The short-term goal is to use an initial investment of $922 million to reach 1,100 megawatts of installed solar capacity by 2013. That’s up from just 5 megawatts today. In the long term, India’s plan would see 20,000 MW installed by 2022 at the aforementioned $19 billion price tag. Most of the money will go to developing solar incentives to spur on the installation of solar photovoltaic power. A lesser portion of the cash will go to research and development, as well as concentrated solar power (CSP) installations.

The Politics of Copenhagen

With Copenhagen looming large, it is difficult to judge India’s move as anything less or more than political in nature. Along with China’s recent announcement of solar incentives, the world’s two leading developing nations are forming a base from which to defend their countries’ growing greenhouse gas emissions. Developing nations have been resistant to pressure, most notably from President Obama, to adopt strict GHG reduction goals. They point primarily to a double standard exemplified by the United States, which has no binding GHG reduction goals or renewable energy standard in place.

Indeed, President Obama has in recent weeks been meeting with international leaders at home and abroad to pressure the developing world to adopt climate change mitigation goals. But a failure in Congress to pass significant climate change legislation prior to Copenhagen has cost him valuable leverage. China recently surpassed the United States as the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, but China also has four times the population as the United States. So on a per capita scale, the United States still emits at a much faster pace.

India Takes on Leadership Role

The US does, however, have solar and renewable energy incentives, which is one reason the United States is seen as a leader in the approach to the UN conference - not to mention its historic industrial and military might. By adopting these aggressive solar aspirations, India solidifies its place at the Copenhagen leadership, especially amongst the G77 group of developing nations.

It seems that Copenhagen will be a test of wills between the developed and developing world. The former wants the latter to agree to strict GHG reduction targets, while the latter, in fear of stunting rapid growth, is staunchly opposed and wants rich countries themselves to sign on to stricter reduction targets than those previously signed onto with the Kyoto Protocol in 1994, a deal that the United States has never signed.

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