The India Energy Hour


Energy security remains a top priority for India as it seeks to balance growth with sustainability. A critical question emerges: Can India ensure energy security while also phasing down inefficient and uneconomical coal power plants? This issue involves not only understanding the current landscape of power production but also strategizing the retirement of outdated plants.

In this insightful episode, we engage with Dr. Joshua Busby and Deepshikha Arora from the University of Texas at Austin, who explore these complex dynamics in their upcoming paper. They delve into the political economy challenges of retiring coal plants in India, discussing both the local policy frameworks and the international support mechanisms that can aid India’s decision-making process.

Listen to the episode with full transcript here in English

[Podcast intro]

Welcome to the season four of the India Energy Hour podcast. This podcast explores the most pressing hurdles and promising opportunities of India’s energy transition through an in depth discussion on policies, financial markets, social movements and science. Your host for this episode is Doctor Sandeep Hai, Washington based energy transition researcher, and author. The show is produced by 101 reporters, a pan India network of grassroots reporters that produces original stories from rural India. Energy security remains a top priority for India as it seeks to balance growth with sustainability. A critical question emerges: Can India ensure energy security while also phasing down inefficient and uneconomical coal power plants? This issue involves not only understanding the current landscape of power production but also strategizing the retirement of outdated plants. In this insightful episode, we engage with Dr. Joshua Busby and Deepshikha Arora from the University of Texas at Austin, who explore these complex dynamics in their upcoming paper. They delve into the political economy challenges of retiring coal plants in India, discussing both the local policy frameworks and the international support mechanisms that can aid India’s decision-making process.                                                                                                                                              [end]

[Podcast interview]

Sandeep Pai: welcome, Professor Joshua Busby & Deepshika to this really, important episode of the India Energy Hour podcast. I’m so excited to have you both, and, I’ve been wanting to, have both of you for a while, and especially, in reference to your upcoming paper, which I think is critically important, it nicely synthesizes. And of course, we’re going to talk about that in detail. but I just wanted to welcome you both to begin with.

Joshua Busby: Thanks so much for having us on.

Deepshikha Arora: Thank you, Sandeep. I’m so happy to be here.

Sandeep Pai: Okay, great. So, you know, as our tradition in this podcast, let’s, start with your personal story, like how you got into the climate space. Where are you from? What did you do? Like, go as much into the detail as you like or as thin on details as you like. So let’s start with Josh. do you want to get us started with your story, how you got into this space?

Joshua Busby: Sure. well, I guess I’ll start in my college years. I’m originally from Texas, and I majored, in political science and biology in college at the University of North Carolina and was active in student environmental politics in the early 1990s. I then did a second bachelor’s, degree in development studies in the UK. Through that, my scholarly pursuits took me to Nicaragua and Uganda. And, there in my second bachelor’s, I was also active in student politics, both environmental advocacy and development. And so after I completed that degree. I ultimately ended up serving for two years in Ecuador in the Peace Corps. And Peace Corps is a us government effort that places mostly young Americans in communities in the developing world to support local development. and after working on sustainable agriculture for two years, I went back to graduate school to earn my doctorate at Georgetown University, in government, that’s what that department calls is the equivalent of their political science program. And so my dissertation sort of hearkened back to my student advocacy. Why do some campaigns succeed in some places and fail in others? And so I examined advocacy campaigns for developing country debt relief and climate change. And in the later book version, I added chapters on HIV AIDS and the International Criminal Court. But in my work on climate change advocacy, I started to branch out a bit and looked at, global climate negotiations. and I started examining the challenges of making progress in international negotiations. And as part of that work, I wrote a paper for the Council on foreign Relations, which is a prominent us think tank, on why the Kyoto protocol, which was this kind of standard, bearer for international negotiations at the time, needed to give way to a different kind of international agreement. And as part of that work, I ultimately concluded that successful action on climate change is really bound up with energy policy and the actions of the major economies.

Joshua Busby: And so when you look at the climate problem, through the lens of 194 countries in the world, the problem seems intractable. But if you look at which countries are responsible for the lion’s share of emissions of greenhouse gases, a few countries stand out, and that includes the United States and China. And going forward, that also includes India. And so about ten years ago, I ran a year long graduate course on the major economies and climate change, and I started writing about the domestic implementation challenges, for those countries, and both moving away from fossil fuels, but also embracing renewable energy sources. I started writing several papers on India with collaborators on China and the United States, on this kind of broad topic of the political economy of emissions mitigation, of reducing emissions at the sector level. And then I wrote, papers, on India’s solar scene, the 2014 turn to solar scale up, and the role of the International Solar alliance, which is, indian, hosted international organization, that promotes solar. And I was ultimately convinced that as we get into the national implementation of climate commitments under the new Paris Agreement, now not so new, that came out in 2015, that climate policy is energy policy, and you’ll only have successful climate policy if you can make it compatible with the energy needs of populations in key countries. India being among them. And so, that’s sort of been my journey over the last two decades of wanting to write in this space, and work on problems, of great importance.

Sandeep Pai: That’s great. I just want to double click on one topic which you mentioned before we move to deepshika. How, do we define political economy? I think you have looked at this topic from different lenses, I think, not just in the climate space, but if I’m not wrong, you’ve looked at this in other fields. What for you would be a political economy? And what in the political economy stream or the framework, does interest you the most to study?

Joshua Busby: Yeah, I guess I think of it in terms of the, institutions and interests that might, affect, economic outcomes that originate from the political sphere. that there might be, technical or economically efficient outcomes that economists might say are desirable, but there are equity impacts. There are, other considerations that people bring to bear that might mean ultimately, policies that are deemed as economically efficient aren’t the  paths taken. So a political economy lens tries to surface. The role of interest groups, the role of government institutions, and the intersection of societal interest groups and government institutions is really what interests me the most.

Sandeep Pai: Thank you. Okay, let’s move to Deepshika. Deepshika, you have been, civil servant for a while. If I can say, you’re working on a very different field on a very different topic. Although everything under the sun, you can link it back to climate and you can view that, but you have some really important skill sets, I think, which might be very useful, in working in the field of climate. So tell us about your journey. Where are you from and, why did you choose civil service? And then now, what piqued your interest in this field of climate? And

Deepshikha Arora: Yeah, absolutely. but let me first say at the beginning of our conversation that what I’m going to talk about, these are my personal views. And so coming to my trajectory and how I got interested in climate and energy issues, well, that needs a bit of a background about how I got interested in public affairs. And it goes way back to my undergraduate education in the health field. I studied physical therapy at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh in India, a, city that I was also born in, but I did not grow up there. So in 1999 and early two thousands, if you remember, Sandeep, the pulse polio program of the government of India was

Deepshikha Arora: going on with great zeal. And, as a health trainee, I got an opportunity to volunteer in this vast government campaign, which had, like, lofty goals of 100% coverage of all children. And as a trainee health provider, I was a part of the team that administered the oral polio vaccine drops in rural areas of Punjab in north India. So I witnessed, as a 19 year old student, a part of the system of India that I was never exposed to before, having grown up in a comfortable middle class city life. And I cannot forget the happy faces of parents with infants lining up near the government van to get the vaccine drops. There was so much enthusiasm, and the people thanked us profusely for the free vaccines, the quick administration. And I was like, what’s going on? Like, they were just so thankful. And I think that catalyzed in me a desire to be a part of the government machinery and have a maximum impact through policies and programs. And this motivated me to apply for the civil services exam. And I shouldn’t be boastful, but I cleared it in first attempt. And, Sandeep, you would know how competitive it is. And I was selected for the revenue service and under which I’ve looked after roles involving administration and assessment of indirect taxes and trade facilitation efforts at ports and tax offices in New Delhi. I’ve also led an it project of the department, focusing on data analysis to identify fraud and to support decisions, provide inputs for budget policymaking. I’ve looked after information management roles, performance assessment roles, and after more than a decade of service in the customs and taxes department, through which I would like to believe I’ve had some role in promoting and supporting entrepreneurship and prosperity in my nation, I wanted to update my knowledge and skills as a public servant. And last year, I earned a master’s in global policy studies, which is like an international relations program from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public affairs in Austin on a fellowship. And I specialized in international trade and also in energy and environment. So how I came to be interested in climate is very interesting. While at the Lyndon B. Johnson School, or LBJ, as we call it, I had taken an environmental economics course to understand carbon taxes and credits and how that can be an opportunity for India. And it was with this course that I got an understanding of climate and, energy transition issues. And I realized that many courses offered a synergy between trade and environment. I learned about the role of entrepreneurialism in climate change in a law school class, and I learned about decarbonization, markets and startups that exist in this space. And I, of course, learned issues of environmental security from Professor Josh Paspi. And I read his work on India and the International Solar alliance. And that is exactly how I got interested in understanding the opportunities for India in the clean energy transition, both nationally and globally. So that’s my story. Leading to climate.

Sandeep Pai: That’s great. just a quick follow up. I mean, we did talk about. You did talk about your past and how you got into the field. But if you would be able to work in the climate field going forward, what might be some of the topics? You might be broadly interested, especially in.

Deepshikha Arora: The indian context, I think technology and innovation, how to scale up things, water, the bottlenecks, and, India is a young country, there’s so much energy, and I think we are big on technology. I would like to find out how to harness that potential and make it implementable.

Sandeep Pai: Okay, great. I think. Let’s just get started on the topic, and I might come back to some of your history. We can do a little back and forth on that.

Professor Josh: How do you see policymakers in the west view India

So, let’s start with Professor Josh. How does the world, and sitting in the US, working in India or in other developing countries, how do you see the policymakers in the west view a country like India? does it feel threatened by the surge in energy demand that India will have in the future, and what would fulfill that demand? Or how does generally,

Joshua Busby: Right. Well, I don’t think the west has a fully formed view of India’s role. And I don’t know if folks in the west, even elites who follow energy policy, are properly aware of India’s efforts, for example, to scale up solar, electricity since 2014. I think they have some sense that India is a country with a lot of people, many of them with limited access to electricity and with aspirations for a higher standard of living. And they might guess that India is heavily relying upon coal right now. And if they know anything, they think that if India’s energy, future trajectory is ultimately like China’s, that’s not good in terms of climate change. So I’m not sure if folks would see India as a leader or laggard, per se. It’s probably mostly, projection of ill formed views about India. I, think they may have some awareness that India’s had a, you know, historically a slightly slower or growth trajectory than China, but nonetheless has had periods of more robust economic growth and dynamism that has buoyed the aspirations of the middle class, but also accentuated inequality. But I do think to your question, there is, at least some fear that, China’s past might be India’s future in terms of energy demand. And if that’s the case, that’s something that people worry about.

Sandeep Pai: Right. just on one more background question for deep Shikhar. I think that climate is slowly becoming a mainstream topic in India, but it’s not that topic that everybody knows or cares about how you see in the west in general. what are the ways to move indian institutions, indian bureaucracy, other key stakeholders in India to think more about climate? and then through that climate lens, think more about energy issues.

Deepshikha Arora: Okay. To that, Sandeep? I would say that actually, climate is definitely an already a mainstream issue in India. And despite the fact that per capita emissions in India are comparatively low, seven percent of the global emissions, and despite other mounting challenges like economic growth needs and energy equity requirements, the government of India has a national action plan on climate change, which was launched in 2008. And it has identified climate change as one of the most critical of the current global challenges. And it outlines eight national missions, including missions on enhanced energy efficiency, solar energy, a mission on sustainable, habitat, a national mission on sustainable agriculture. There’s a national mission for a green India, and one on strategic knowledge for climate change that comes under the Department of Science and Technology. India also has ambitious renewable energy and transmission targets. For example, increasing power generation from non fossil fuel sources to 50% of all capacity, and development of 500 gigawatts of non fossil fuel capacity by 2030. So, I mean, this ambition shows that climate is a mainstream issue in India. India ranks fourth globally for total renewable power capacity addition. And India also has a carbon market authorized by legislation, the Energy Conservation Amendment act of 2020. And it allows the government to provide for a carbon trading scheme, just like in the US, the IRA or the Inflation Reduction act. There are m manufacturing incentives for manufacturing of, solar photovoltaic modules and modern batteries. There’s a national green hydrogen mission. so, just to, like, give you an idea of how climate is a mainstream issue in India, in fact, at the latest conference of parties, or cop 28, at the UN Climate Change conference in 2023, India informed that they have reduced the emissions intensity of the. Of their GDP by 33% between the years of 2005 and 2019, thus achieving the initial target set for 20, 3011 years ahead of the scheduled time. they’ve also achieved 40% of, electric installed capacity through non fossil fuel sources, which is also nine years ahead of the target for 2030. And, between 2017 and 2023,

Deepshikha Arora: India has added around 100 gigawatts of installed electric capacity of which around 80% is attributed to non fossil fuel based resources. So, yes, there is ambition, and we must, keep working to implement these plans.

Sandeep Pai: Right. And I think some of these targets are only going to become more ambitious as we go forward, because I don’t know of many countries which have rolled back targets in the long term. There may be a blip here and there, but overall, the trajectory is clear. okay. I am so excited to dive into your new working paper, which both of you are co authoring, and hopefully it will be out there soon enough for the world, but hopefully this will give our listeners a flavor of what that paper would be. I think it’s a very important paper. It nicely summarizes the debate. It takes the debate about, what to do about India’s coal fleet to one step further. And so I think it’s an important kind of paper.

Josh Shidore: Political economy barriers to coal plant retirement are discussed

So let me start, with Josh. Can you summarize? Can you start by explaining the motivation of the paper? What did you set out to do, what methodology used, and what are, some of your key findings?

Joshua Busby: Sure. Thanks for that question. so before the pandemic, India’s electricity demand had been maybe lower than expected. and there were plants that were operating below their capacity. and there was thinking that India could safely retire some capacity of older, more polluting coal plants and still meet the country’s electricity demand. And so there were several studies that were written to identify which plants might be suitable for retirement using factors such as age, profitability, environmental performance. And we thought that those sort of technical studies were missing something, namely, the political economy barriers to coal plant retirement that we anticipated. if someone. If the indian government tried to act on, those lists and actually close some of them, that some of them might be easier to close, and some of them might be more difficult to close because of these political economy barriers. so we wanted to overlay some of those likely political economy factors, to see what, might actually, impede or affect, actual retirements. Now, we recognize that since the pandemic, that electricity demand has rebounded. So the current conversation has largely tabled the prospect of closing many or even any power plants, as the country’s periodically struggled in recent years to meet all of the electricity demand. Nonetheless, we think the exercise is a useful one, because the conversation will likely turn back to retirement or temporary mothballing of some coal plants eventually. So what we did in our paper is we compared the lists from four technical studies that identify coal plants in India. That were suitable for retirement or mothballing. And that included studies by the central electricity authority. Another one from scholars from the council on Energy, Environment and Water, and a third study from the National Institute of Advanced Studies, NIAs. And then a fourth academic paper, by a number of scholars. Mamun was the lead author in that one. And so we identified all the plants that featured on three or four of those lists. And in total, this list included units at about 48 of a larger list of 142 different coal fired power plants. Then we found a couple of other units that weren’t in that initial list of 142, but were on the list of the CEA, the CEW, and nyas for either closure or mothballing. And mothballing is like you don’t actually retire it and take it apart. You just close, it temporarily, and then you might use it in emergency circumstances if. If you need it. So that gave us units, suitable, for retirement at 50 different coal burning power plants, that were on either three or four of these lists. And most of these are older, inefficient, coal burning power plants, many, of them operated by state governments. So the average age of these plants was about 35 years. All, were the older, model, what are called subcritical, coal burning power plants. And 32 of those were run by state governments.

Joshua Busby: So what we then did is compared this list of two political economy factors that we thought would complicate retirements. First, we examined whether the state in which the plant is located is enthusiastic about solar, since for every megawatt of electricity is retired, you need something to replace it. And so we surmise that states less enthusiastic about solar scale up are less likely to want to retire existing coal plants. And for the categorization of state enthusiasm for solar, we used an article I wrote with my frequent, co author, Sadong Shidore. The second factor that we examine is whether coal plants are located in districts with high employment in coal. And for that, we use your study of district level, direct and indirect coal employment. And we then scaled that to the proportion of the population to take into account variation in the population in different districts. And so we surmise that districts with heavy employment in coal will have more trouble retiring coal plants, since coal is such an important source of employment. And so here we imagine that labor groups or local government officials in those districts, if a, particular plant was scheduled for closure, they might make their voices known, through different channels, to say, please don’t close this plant. So we then categorize the plants in terms of ease of retirement. So, plants located in states with both low enthusiasm for solar and high coal employment were identified as what we thought of as hard plants, foreclosure or retirement. And then plants located, in states with high enthusiasm for solar, and in districts with low coal employment. We thought those are likely to be easier plants. And then there are a variety of cases that are mixed where they’re favorable on one dimension but not the other. So what we found is, you know, eleven plants of that. Of those, 50 were easier cases, and those tend to be located in western states like Gujarat or southern states like Tamil Nadu. And then twelve of the 50 plants are located on three or four lists were hard cases by our count. And these tended to be located closer to the coal belt, in states like Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, as well as states like Maharashtra. And then we had 21 plants that were located in states with low enthusiasm for solar but also low coal employment. These are mixed cases, and a number of those were located in West Bengal. And then just six plants were located in areas with high solar enthusiasm, but also high coal employment, and about half of those were in Tamil Nadu.

State level power deficits make coal plant retirements more difficult, study finds

So, reflecting the current concerns about energy security, we added in a third political economy screen on top of these other two, which is persistent state level power deficits. And here we expected states facing persistent power deficits would be less likely to want to retire any capacity, and we wanted to see if adding that factor would make any of the plant retirements more challenging. So, states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha state have had persistent power deficits in recent years in terms of both overall electricity demand and also peak demand when demand is at its highest. And so three of the mixed cases in Bihar, we thought were likely to be harder to retire because of the addition of this factor. We carry out some additional analysis in the paper comparing m, this list of 50 with a more recent list, from 2022 from the ministry of power. And we also carry out a qualitative review of the experience of plant closures that have happened in recent years. And that’s something Deepshika can talk more about.

Sandeep Pai: Yeah. Deepshika, do you want to talk about those experiences?

Deepshikha Arora: yeah, sure. So, Professor Busby has nicely summarized, the analysis that was done in the paper. And I would like to add that, this paper, or looking at, consensus amongst lists to identify plants that can be closed, is just one piece of the complex puzzle. It’s like taking a small part of the problem and then trying to find out solutions for it. But I think as I said it’s a complex problem and not just coal phase out. Many other actions and programs need to be taken across the industry and the indian economy. But coming back to the local level experiences or the media reports that we studied to kind of find out what was the reaction of various sectors of affected, various sectors of society that were affected after a plant is closed. So the decision to close or phase out a coal plant exists in a complex environment. and closing a plant as I said is not without repercussions. But because it’s important to keep an eye out for the impact of decisions and how the people are actually getting affected. We went through many media reports to see what the post closure experience was like. many reports actually describe the pollution hazards to local air and water from coal plants. For example, the two cases that we studied deeply were of Bokaro and Durgapur. and surprisingly we found that locals have not called for closure of plants owing to the pollution hazards. And it’s possibly because of the employment provided by the coal industry. people asked for pollution control measures instead. And both in the cases of Bokaro thermal plant and Durga plants there were reports of pollution hazards that led to or possibly precipitated the decisions to close. Media reports describe that there were protests or were jobs getting affected post such closures. So what was revealed was the pain points and provided insights on what are the policies and programs that are needed to take care of the concerns of the affected sectors or affected people. people who are affected may need alternate sources of employment. There may be a need to reskill or upskill them. this may even be an opportunity to absorb people in cleaner energy production. And I think the concerns of the people also provide a map for the coal industry and investments in coal to venture into cleaner avenues like solar generation.

Sandeep Pai: And

Deepshikha Arora: In fact NTPC is doing the same. And in areas like biofuels development and explore the possibilities for redirecting the employees and workers in the process. the study of media reports also shows that measures that are difficult are still doable. They need to be done for the future betterment. And here I also draw from my experiences from the health field. It is like a vaccine shot. You need to take it but you also need to take an ice pack and a tylenol to deal with the side effects.

Sandeep Pai: Great. So thank you both for explaining the paper, the methodology and some findings. Let me link it back to some of your initial, history of work and how you got into this space. So, let me start with Josh. So you do this analysis. Obviously, it will be read by many in India, but this will also be read by many in the west. How do you think this kind of analysis would be useful for folks in the west? maybe this speaks to the question of, like, you know, how much they know about India or care about India’s climate policy and so on and so forth. So I would be curious how this kind of work relates back to folks thinking about India, but sitting in the west.

Joshua Busby: Sure, that’s a great question. I think there are a couple of observations. First, India is highly sensitive to the importance of energy security. And so, even as climate considerations have increased salience in the indian polity, I think the indian government, like other governments, wants to make sure that the populace has adequate supplies of electricity. And that’s particularly important as a number of communities have only recently been connected to the grid. And as I’m sure your listeners will appreciate, indian policymakers look askance at the rest of the world telling India what to do. So I think while India is going to listen to international opinion, the indian government is going to make decisions that make sense for India. And so I think, hopefully, this work gives, outside, folks in the international community a sense of what the balance of considerations of the Indiana government at the national and local level is going through as it tries to make this transition. and second, the clean energy transition is something that countries and communities growing through at the moment the world over. And we know from the experience of coal and other fossil fuel dependent communities in the west, whether it be in the United States or Germany, that the transition can have concentrated dislocative effects on employment and tax revenues. What, you and other scholars of the just transition have written about. And so, supporting those communities with alternative employment options and other sources of financial support can be an important part of easing the transition to clean energy. and that’s not just a technical problem. and it’s not just an ethical problem, but it’s a political problem in the sense that, if you don’t attend to those considerations, the transition will be slower than it otherwise might be. But that process is expensive and requires a source of finance. several years ago, indian researchers at CW noted that developing countries in general face high cost of capital, that borrowing for projects is comparatively more expensive than in advanced industrialized countries. And the World bank has been struggling for several years to figure out collective mechanisms to allow developing countries to pool risk and borrow from the bank at scale and at lower interest rates. And so we’ve seen efforts in recent years by the international community in South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam and a few other countries to sign just energy transition partnership agreements of, Jetp. This program is known, and it doesn’t look like the funding has emerged on the scale that is required for those to be successful. So if the international community truly prioritizes a clean energy transition in the global south, including, but not limited to India, it is going to need to mobilize much higher levels of low cost finance than what we’ve seen today. And I think this study, helps, inform those sensibilities.

Sandeep Pai: Right. let’s take this back to Deepshikha and let’s ask a similar question. Like, how does this kind of work inform stakeholders in India, whether it’s the government, whether it’s other stakeholders? You know, like, how does one, how does indian stakeholders react to such a study? And, like, what can they take out of it?

Deepshikha Arora: Sure. Yeah, great question. I think here the civil service has a large role to play, and there is already a lot of enthusiasm to bring about real policy action that is based on evidence and scientific research. In, fact, evidence based policy is already a thing in India. There is a structure and a system for that through the planning framework and specifically for climate and green transition, India has already announced many, ambitious plans and targets that have been derived from scientific research and scientific documents or analysis that have been conducted. So, for real policy action, the path ahead requires enthusiastic implementation of these plans. And I would say the bureaucracy or the civil service is, very motivated about the goals. there is also an important role to be played by the private sector and the entrepreneurial spirit in India that is guided and nudged by policy, by programs, by incentives to bring about these ambitious and innovative changes. And I can give some examples. for example, the Bureau of Energy efficiency has the perform, achieve and trade scheme, which is a regulatory instrument for energy intensive industries like steel, cement, chemicals, to reduce their energy consumption and earn energy savings certificates that can be traded. And the next step would be to create awareness and the demand for consumption or trade of these, certificates. There’s also voluntary carbon market. And talking about the private sector or entrepreneurial spirit, there is a participation of more than 1400 projects in the voluntary carbon market, that generate carbon credits for offsetting, emissions. So I think the next steps, or the best way to engage stakeholders is to create awareness about these plans, these targets, and promote participation and of course ensure fair compliance and create mechanisms to identify any misuse or fraud.

Sandeep Pai: Right. Professor Josh Bhasby says other factors could have been considered in coal analysis, I want to ask one question to Professor Josh Bhasby. If you had all the time in the world and if you were to take this analysis forward and add more elements of political economy, what would be some other indicators that you might have considered? But due to paucity of data or for other reasons, you decided not, not to consider for this analysis? Like what are some other key elements that could be added to such an analysis?

Joshua Busby: In the beginning of the analysis of this project, I was assisted by another former, graduate student, and some of the insights that he brought to bear in terms of thinking about factors, the high costs of electricity or fuel cost for coal. So one of the factors that we could have considered, is whether or not individual, coal plants faced high fuel costs, because, that might be an important independent factor. That might mean that some plants are more suitable for closure because they’re located distantly, from pit heads and so they’re paying high cost of electricity and they might be better served by alternative fuel sources. we ultimately didn’t go quite in that direction in this particular paper. A significant quantum of new coal generation will come from new plants

But that could have been another factor that could have brought to bear, I think another consideration that came up in conversations as we workshopped this paper is what is whether or nothing, old, coal plants should be closed at all, or if emphasis should be on not building new coal plants. And if you look at the indian government’s plans for electricity, generation additions, most of the plans are for renewables, but still a significant quantum will come from the construction of new, more efficient, coal burning power plants. But one of the questions is if those new plants are built, are they going to operate till the end of their natural lives, which is 25 years or more? And that could embed more coal generation in the country, at a time when that’ll have an impact on the future trajectory of the country, perhaps more than, you know, extending the lives of some aging plants for just a few years. And I think that’s a really interesting question to open up in that, you know, if you continue to run some of the existing coal fleet, that doesn’t foreclose your future trajectory because you can always close them if some of the issues associated with intermittency of solar and wind are dealt with through better battery, storage and grid integration. But if you build a significant quantum of even relatively efficient supercritical coal burning power plants, you’re going to want to use them because you’ve just invested all this money in building, a new electricity generation facility. I think a wider study in this space might be worth considering, from an environmental perspective. continuing, to run some of the, older, less efficient plants for a little bit longer, and avoiding the sort of path dependency of new coal burning power plants. Is that trade off worth it? We didn’t really explore that in this paper, but that’d be something I’d like to look at and follow on work.

Deepshikha Arora: And I think I would like to add something to that. I think one, I don’t know if it is theoretically political economy, because Professor Busby is the expert on that, but I would say the leadership role of people in the chain involved, be it a, civil servant or a leader of a, generation, company. So the role of leadership in phasing out coal, production, I think I read some cases, what we call as enthusiasm for solar of a particular state. So the state is made of people. And, what stood out to me was that where there are leaders who are enthusiastic about something, who understand that these problems are complex and there will be barriers along the way, but they need to be prepared, they need to be inclusive, they need to hold discussions, they need to make sure that, the anticipated and not so anticipated problems are taken care of. I think the possibility of success in implementing a phase out increases. So, yeah, leadership is one factor that I think should be studied.

Sandeep Pai: Wonderful. I was going to actually ask this question, but I’m glad you both answered before me asking, which is great.

What can listeners anticipate from Deepshikha about what’s next

I’ve taken a lot of your time, but I want to end with one question each. So what’s next? Let me start with Deepshikha for you. Let me start this question for you. and then I’ll go back to Josh. So what’s next for you? What is an immediate topic that you might work on? whether it could be linked to this analysis or it could be something else that

you’re keenly interested in pursuing. or maybe you haven’t thought about it. So, but that’s okay. So. But I just thought, like, what, what can our listeners anticipate in the future?

Deepshikha Arora: Okay, as far as thinking goes, I think I’m an overthinker thinker, and I would have thought a lot about it. But as far as what can the listeners anticipate, I don’t think I can predict that at all. My next steps are, you know, as a civil servant, my services are, open for the government to decide where to place me. And whatever they give me, I have to do it with all my commitment and sincerity, but in terms of my personal interest in climate and the intellectual pursuit, to keep learning about it. And I think I would like to keep reading and writing and collaborating with other experts in this area, especially towards the goal that how India can benefit, what can we do that can make, our country navigate this complex path? How to reach that goal of providing energy security, prosperity, energy equity. And one aspect that is probably not part of the discussion today is, but is also very important and dear to my heart is the sustainable, practices that we follow in India. I think it’s part of our culture. So I probably would like to write about that and probably make a compilation of that. So that’s about me.

Sandeep Pai: Thank you, Josh?

Joshua Busby: Sure. My next project is on, China and the political economy of coal plant retirements there. China has the largest coal fleet in the world and orders of magnitude larger than India’s coal fleet. But, I’ve been trying for several years to try to figure out a way to get at the political economy questions, in the chinese context, where data is not easily available. So I have a number of collaborators that we’re going to try and tackle that problem. That’s sort of the next, business. I have other projects that are a little further afield than focused, on India, but relevant to India on critical minerals in the clean energy transition. And I know this is something that India, is thinking a lot about in terms of the supply chain for the clean energy, transition. And can products and services be, sourced and manufactured locally? And that’s something that the US, is going through at the moment, through the inflation Reduction act. And I’d like to think about is there some applicability to the indian context? And also are there opportunities for cooperation, between the US and India? So that might be a topic that I return to in time.

Sandeep Pai: Wonderful. Thank you for listening to the India Energy Hour

Thank you so much both, this was such a pleasure, talking to you and understanding your new paper, which I hope will see the light of the day very soon so the world can also read it. I, really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Deepshikha Arora: Thank you, Sandeep.

Joshua Busby: thanks for having us on.


[Podcast outro]

Thank you for listening to The India Energy Hour! Subscribe to this channel to never miss an update. To drop us a feedback, visit our website or write to us at [email protected]

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Listen to the episode with full transcript here in Hindi



Deepshika Arora


University of Texas at Austin


Dr. Joshua Busby


University of Texas at Austin



Sandeep Pai


Sandeep Pai is an award-winning journalist and researcher and author of a book 'Total Transition: The Human Side of the Renewable Energy Revolution'.


Shreya Jai


Shreya Jai is India’s leading business journalist currently working as Deputy Energy-Infra Editor for the Business Standard newspaper

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