WISE organized a one-day conference titled 'A New Role for Coal in India’s Electricity Sector', on 30 January 2014 in New Delhi. The conference was based on a research report brought out by WISE titled 'Future of Coal Electricity in India and Sustainable Alternatives'. This report is the first-of-its-kind in the country and seeks to understand the long-term and multifarious implications of the conventional strategy being used for power generation in India from a resource-availability, climate, ecological, and macro-economic perspective. The report thus recommends a planned transition to a sustainable energy economy. The main objective of the conference was to discuss and debate the report on a larger platform, amongst an expert group of people who play a fundamental role in policy making and electricity generation in the country. WWF-India was the conference partner and the conference was exclusively supported by Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, New Delhi.

The inaugural session was graced by some prominent dignitaries such as B K Chaturvedi, Member (Energy), Planning Commission, Government of India, who was the Chief Guest; Jamshyd Godrej, Chairman, Board of Godrej and Boyce and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, and Trustee and President Emeritus, WWF-India, who chaired the inaugural session; Krishan Dhawan, CEO, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, who was the Guest of Honour; and G M Pillai, Founder Director General, WISE.

In his welcome address, Mr Pillai said that coal plays a very critical role in India’s energy security as it is the mainstay of India’s electricity sector. He added that in the future, coal would take on a more prominent role as a ‘transition’ fuel, when there would be a shift towards a renewable energy economy. He added that the findings of the WISE study (on which the conference was based) were fairly balanced, especially in the face of some extreme views present about coal reserves in the country. He concluded by saying that WISE’s study shows that by 2050, 75% of electricity from RE could be fed into the grid with utilization of only 1% of the country’s land mass and about 17 lakh MW of RE in place. Krishan Dhawan, in his address, said that the importance and timing of the conference was indeed apt, as both India’s present and future are closely linked to coal. With the country’s energy needs growing and about 400 million people not getting adequate electricity, Mr Dhawan said that the amount of energy we need, including coal imports, is slated to increase even further, impacting our import bills and balance of trade (current account deficit). He opined that this would further have an impact on the country’s economic development and national security. “It is time to break free and think beyond the coal paradigm, by harnessing the power of the wind, sun, and biomass,” he concluded.

B K Chaturvedi, who was the Chief Guest, spoke about the various projections being made about coal reserves, whose figures range from 200 million tons (MT) to a low of 17 MT, which according to sources, could actually be termed as “recoverable” reserves. But as per the 12th Plan, Mr Chaturvedi said that the estimated requirement of coal for India is 950 MT, which means that going by the figures stated, there may be no coal left in the next 15–20 years. He added that even for the sake of argument, if it is assumed that coal reserves are 50 MT–100 MT and our requirement would be 1.5–2 billion tonnes, this coal would be exhausted within the next 40–60 years. So India must have a sustained level of energy generation which could be obtained from renewable energy. Mr Chaturvedi congratulated WISE on undertaking such a study that would help in aiding policy intervention and planning for a sustainable energy economy. In the Chairperson’s address, Jamshyd Godrej, endorsing Mr Chaturvedi’s views, opined that studies such as the coal report do lead to greater debate and better understanding of the issue at hand, besides evolving new ideas on how to tackle the situation. As a strong believer in technology and science, Mr Godrej expressed his firm belief in the ingenuity of humankind to overcome various problems, which he believed to be true even for the transition to renewables.
Participants to the conference included top-level officials from the government (policy makers and senior government representatives), coal and RE industries, regulators, civil society organizations, international donor agencies, financial institutions, academicians, etc. The conference was extremely interactive, with participants taking active part in the discussions. They said that the contents and speakers of the conference were indeed praiseworthy, and such deliberations were indeed the ‘need of the hour’.