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A growing India sets goal to harness renewable energy

A growing India sets goal to harness renewable energy(By Rama Lakshmi via Washington Post Foreign Service)NEW DELHI, - In the new India, villagers in far-flung areas might have

cellphones but live in darkness because they have no access to electricity.

The cellphone network towers in the villages run on diesel-powered,

smoke-spewing, portable generators.Indians say this is a clear example of how the country's woefully

inadequate power supply lags behind an expanding consumer market.About 56 percent of India's 1.1 billion people do not have access to

electricity. And as coal deposits dip and climate change concerns rise, it

is becoming increasingly untenable for India to continue relying on

coal-produced power, which accounts for 40 percent of its total greenhouse

gas emissions.The themes of climate change and green technology are expected to come up

during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's discussions with

officials and business leaders during her three-day visit to India."We believe India is innovative and entrepreneurial enough to figure out

how to deal with climate change while continuing to lift people out of

poverty and develop at a rapid rate," she said Saturday in Mumbai."We need to get our act together," said Gauri Singh, joint secretary in

India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, which was set up 26 years

ago, "because India is growing faster than anyone can imagine. Renewable

energy will have to supplement conventional power supply."Our priority is to achieve energy security and self-reliance. Climate

change is not the main driver for renewable energy in India, it is a

co-benefit," she added, echoing a debate in the United States, where

renewable energy is being sold less as a way to save the planet than as a

way to create new "green collar" jobs.Despite the deepening energy crisis, renewable energy, predominantly wind

and biomass, make up 3 percent of India's total electricity production.

Solar energy is not even a fraction of that, though India receives abundant

sunshine throughout the year.But India hopes to move from near-zero to 20,000 megawatts of solar

electricity by 2020, as part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

Announced in June 2008, the plan is a structured response to combat global

warming and part of a proposal India intends to pitch at a climate change

summit in Copenhagen this December.The centerpiece of the plan is the National Solar Mission, which is aimed

at harnessing India's neglected energy source. Today, India's solar

companies say they generate so little electricity because of inadequate

state support."Unless the government guarantees that it will purchase solar power at a

lucrative cost with feed-in tariffs, the industry will not take off. We end

up exporting three-fourths of solar cells and photovoltaic modules to

Europe," said an executive of a solar power company, speaking on the

condition of anonymity. "The government has to cough up money and go beyond

making the right noises about renewable energy."The government traditionally has given incentives for setting up green

energy plants, but not for producing power. "Entrepreneurs made quick money

by setting up plants, availing of tax benefits and then disappearing.

Nobody was interested in ensuring that they actually produced electricity,"

said Vinuta Gopal, a climate change campaigner for Greenpeace India.Officials say they are determined to fix that in the coming months.India has developed rules mandating that commercial buildings use solar

energy to source 25 percent of their hot water supplies, but municipal

bodies have been slow to comply. State power distribution companies are now

required to buy a portion from renewable sources, and the government has

announced plans to create a system of "renewable energy certificates" that

states can trade.But until policies enable them to contribute to the national power grid,

solar companies are lighting up Indian homes