Associate Professor Inês Azevedo was the senior lead author for a paper published in Science
A new study finds quantifies the subnational carbon emissions from electricity in each of India’s states, the limited effect of a carbon tax in India’s current power sector to reduce emissions, and underscores the importance technologies to reduce premature mortality from air pollution.
Despite still having low per capita emissions, India is now the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter, owing to in part to its electricity sector emissions. One would think that policy could perhaps move the electricity system towards sustainability and de-carbonization, for example by implementing a carbon tax. However, as Prof. Azevedo from the Doerr School of Sustainability explains, “with the current fleet of power plants, which are dominated by coal electricity generating units, there is little room for emissions reductions, and so even a high carbon tax would result in fairly small emissions reductions – India would need to build a lot of low carbon dispatchable electricity generation for a policy like a carbon tax to be more effective.”
“In any case, we need to look at policy and sustainability more broadly, as there may be low hanging fruits across one dimension of the problem, but not another” says Azevedo. “For example, we also assessed the implication of another policy which is adding air pollution control technologies that remove SO2 from the stack of power plants. This could prevent about 10,000 premature deaths per year from air pollution, and at a short-term low cost”.
Shayak Sengupta (PhD, 2021, Carnegie Mellon University), co-author on this piece, who is now fellow at Observer Research Foundation America (ORF America), a Washington, DC-based think tank, explained “India is a federal democracy like the United States, and state capitals have just as much influence as the central government in New Delhi on the electricity sector. We knew there was variation in the emissions and fuel mixes of electricity in each Indian state due to geography, population, and economic development. However, our study was the first to quantify these differences and how states interact by trading electricity and associated emissions under various policies. The differences we found were akin to differences between entire countries at various stages of development. Globally, treating India as an emissions and energy monolith misses these important differences that must inform the scale of the energy transition in the country.”