Billion dollar investment in wind and solar energy

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By Sibi Arasu

Associated Press

KHAWDA, India — Rising from the bare expanse of the great salt desert that separates India from Pakistan, it will likely be the world’s largest renewable energy development when it is completed in three years.

The solar and wind power complex will be so large that it will be visible from space, according to the developers of the so-called Khavda Renewable Energy Park – named after the village closest to the project site.

At the site, thousands of workers are installing poles on which solar panels will be installed. The pillars rise like perfectly aligned concrete cacti that stretch as far as the eye can see. Other workers build foundations to install huge wind turbines; they also transport construction materials, build substations and lay miles of cable.

When completed, the project will be roughly the size of Singapore, spanning 280 square miles. The Indian government estimates it will cost at least $2.26 billion.

The transition to renewable energy is a key issue at the ongoing COP28 climate summit. Some leaders have expressed support for a goal of tripling global renewable energy in any final agreement while curbing the use of coal, oil and natural gas.

What makes this heavy industrial activity special is that it takes place in the middle of the Rann of Kutch in the state of Gujarat in western India. The Rann is an unforgiving salt desert and marshland at least 43.5 miles from the nearest human habitation, but only a short truck ride from one of the world’s most tense international borders.

Elevation zero of transition

When The Associated Press visited the renewable energy park, two days of unseasonably heavy rains had left the ground muddy and soggy, as the only outlet for water in this rugged terrain is evaporation. This made it even more difficult for the workers to do their jobs.

Despite the harsh conditions, approximately 4,000 workers and 500 engineers have lived in makeshift camps for most of the past year, toiling to get this development off the ground.

Once completed, the park will supply 30 gigawatts of renewable energy annually, enough to power nearly 18 million Indian homes.

As India aims to install 500 gigawatts of clean energy by the end of the decade and reach net zero emissions by 2070, this project site is likely to contribute significantly to the world’s most populous country’s transition away from emitting sources. carbon.

As it stands, India is still powered primarily by fossil fuels, particularly coal, which generates more than 70 percent of India’s electricity. Currently, renewable energy supplies about 10 percent of India’s electricity needs. The country is also currently the third largest carbon emitter after China and the United States.

“People from all over India work here,” said KSRK Verma, Khavda project manager for Adani Green Energy Limited, the renewable energy arm of the Adani Group, with which the Indian government has contracted to build 20 gigawatts of the project. Verma, with over 35 years of experience building dams across raging South Asian rivers and vast natural gas reservoirs under the Bay of Bengal, said it was one of the most difficult projects he had undertaken.

“Not (an) easy site to work at all; there is no habitation, the land is swampy, there are very strong winds, rains and it is a highly earthquake-prone area,” said Vneet Jaain, managing director of Adani Green at its headquarters in Ahmedabad city.

Jaain, who has led multiple ambitious projects for the Adani Group, said the first six months were spent building basic infrastructure.

“From April this year, we started working on the actual project,” he added.

In September, workers traveled to the site in India, where Adani Green Energy Limited is building a complex expected to produce 30 gigawatts of renewable energy annually. (Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press)

The Adani Group has been in the spotlight this year since US-based short selling firm Hindenburg Research accused the conglomerate and its chief Gautam Adani of “brazen stock manipulation” and “accounting fraud”. Adani Group called the allegations baseless.

Adani Green’s Jaain said the allegations have had little impact on ongoing projects, including the Khavda Park.

A role model

“Twenty years ago, India was right where the vast expanse of the developing world was,” Ajay Mathur, director general of the International Solar Alliance, said of the country’s renewable energy production. The 120-member alliance promotes renewable energy – mostly solar – around the world.

About 124 miles away in the industrial city of Mundra, also on the coast of Gujarat state, the Adani Group manufactures the solar and wind power parts needed for the project. It is one of the few places in India where most solar power components are made from scratch. Some of the factories are run like laboratories, with protective equipment, face masks and head coverings to avoid dust particles that could compromise solar cells.

The nearby wind farm aims to produce 300 turbines a year, with each blade stretching almost 86 yards and weighing 24 tonnes. Each wind turbine generator can produce 5.2 megawatts of clean energy. They will be the largest in India.

“India has come a long way,” Mathur said, adding that the country’s large-scale renewable energy projects, including the Khavda Park, are likely to inspire other developing countries.

“Here’s a country that was right where they are today and was able to make the change,” he said.

Impact on the environment

While acknowledging the importance of the transition to renewable energy, environmental experts and social activists say India’s decision to allow clean energy projects without any environmental impact assessments is bound to have adverse consequences.

“The Salt Desert is a unique landscape” that is “rich in flora and fauna,” including flamingos, desert foxes and migratory bird species that fly from Europe and Africa to winter in the region, according to Abby T Vanack, a conservationist with the in Bengaluru Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment. Vanak has led numerous environment-related research projects in the Kutch region.

Kutch and similar regions have been classified as “wastelands” by the Indian government – and Vanak said that was extremely unfortunate.

“They are not recognized as valid ecosystems,” he said.

Since renewable energy projects are exempt from environmental impact assessments, “there is no system in place” to determine the best locations for them, according to Sandeep Virmani, an ecologist from Kutch.

At just over 17,374.5 square miles (the size of Denmark), Kutch district is the largest in India. Considering this, Virmani said there is enough land in Kutch for various renewable energy projects. But he fears dairies and other local businesses in the region could be affected by large-scale projects.

“It has to be in the context of not compromising with another economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, longtime residents are still waiting to see how this massive project near their village will affect them.

Hirelal Rajde, 75, who has spent most of his life in Havda, is referring to the massive project as well as the increase in tourism in recent years in this otherwise desolate region.

“I think these developments are both good and bad,” he said. “I think overall it will be more of a benefit than a problem. I tell everyone who lives here to hold their ground; don’t sell it. In a few years I tell them that they will have so much work that they will not be able to rest even at night.

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