Air pollution in India is particularly challenging. It is triggered by rapid economic development, urbanisation and the widespread burning of coal for power and heat. In 2018, India was home to half of the world’s 50 most polluted cities. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.
Cities in India also are concerned about pollution related to the extraction, refining and distribution of fossil fuels. Petroleum refineries, frequently situated in urban areas, contaminate soil and waterways and negatively impact the air quality in neighbouring communities.
Health co-benefits of renewable energy
Renewable energy generation has health co-benefits. Biogas systems can improve sanitation in homes by collecting animal and human waste in one location and reducing exposure to harmful pathogens.
Switching to renewable cooking solutions, such as electric cook stoves powered by solar PV, avoids the indoor air pollution associated with the use of solid fuels while helping to reduce more widespread pollution in the surrounding area. This helps to free users, particularly women, from the laborious job of collecting fuelwood, providing further co-benefits.
Best practices in reducing air pollution
Driven by the need to reduce air pollution, many municipal governments in other parts of the world have scaled up energy efficiency measures and the use of renewable energy. Here are some best practices from other cities that the govt. could integrate to tackle the menace of air pollution in India:
In northern China, where air pollution is a rising concern, Beijing has taken steps to reduce or shut down coal-fired plants for electricity and heat generation. In 2018, the city announced a target to achieve an 8% renewables share in its total final energy consumption by 2020. Overall, in surveyed Chinese cities, the deployment of renewable energy, along with energy efficiency measures, contributed to an estimated 12% reduction in average PM2.5 concentrations between 2017 and 2018.
In Europe, Kościerzyna (Poland) took steps to improve the city’s air quality by installing 125 solar water heaters in residential buildings.
Cities also are advancing renewables in the transport sector, in addition to adopting technologies – such as electric vehicles (EVs) – that integrate the use of renewable energy. Such measures often complement measures to encourage public transport, bans on polluting vehicles, and efforts to promote active modes of transport such as walking and cycling. Many cities in China, Latin America and Europe have procured electric buses, and in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, all buses have been electrified since 2017.
Some cities are actively coupling the electrification of their metros, trams and public fleets with the procurement of renewable electricity and/or the scale-up of renewable power capacity.
Wellington in New Zealand, capitalising on the fact that around 82% of the city’s electricity comes from renewable sources, has promoted EVs as a way to increase the use of renewables in the transport sector. Wellington City Council has committed
to switching its entire fleet to EVs as vehicles become due for replacement and is also investing in charging infrastructure, including in new homes and multi-unit buildings. Dunedin, again in New Zealand, has developed an integrated transport strategy that includes a significant expansion of EV charging infrastructure.
Mayors from 26 cities on 6 continents have committed to procuring only zero-emission buses starting in 2025. In the US state of Hawaii, four mayors jointly committed to 100% renewable energy in public transport by 2045.
By the end of 2018, electricity generated from new wind and solar PV plants had become more economical than electricity from fossil fuel-fired plants in many places, and in some locations it was more cost-effective to build new wind and solar PV power plants than to continue to run existing fossil fuel power plants.
Electric vehicles in India
To promote the usage of EVs in India, the government has approved a plan to establish 2,636 charging stations for EVs throughout the country. These charging stations will be spread across 62 cities in 24 states and Union Territories.
This development, which has come as part of FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles) India programme, is yet another attempt by the government to maximize the use of EVs and achieve high adoption by 2030 in India. This is part of the strategy to tackle the menace of air pollution in India. In March 2019, the government had also put localisation content limit for EV makers to avail incentive benefit and had also cut down customs duty on electric vehicle parts to 10-15% from 15-30% in January last year.