Canada's Solar Success Overshadowed During Indian PM Visit

You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage, but the biggest energy story coming out of last week’s visit to Canada by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had nothing to do with oil and gas prospects, or uranium.

Those of us tracking clean energy trends haven’t paid India much attention in recent years. Let’s face it, China dominates the headlines, including ours.

But last year we witnessed the start of a turnaround on the subcontinent. India attracted $7.4 billion of clean energy investment, up 14 percent over 2013. In part we can credit greater political certainty; in May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi secured the first single-party majority government in three decades.

Investors also likely took note of the Prime Minister’s clean energy political track record. Back in 2009, as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he successfully pioneered India’s first solar incentives.

Building on that experience, late last year Modi set a target of installing 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022. Solar will provide the bulk of the capacity—an impressive 100 gigawatts. That’s a 33-fold increase in solar power relative to today. Achieving the target would increase solar power’s share to more than 10 percent of India’s energy mix. It’s huge.

Delivering on this scale of renewable energy ambition will require on the order of $160 billion of investment, so the numbers we’re likely to be seeing out of India in the coming years should be impressive.

Analysts are taking note. In its most recent  Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, Ernst & Young boosted India into a top-five ranking and countries and companies around the world are lining up to take advantage of the opportunity. The potential for solar companies up and down the supply chain is massive, and Canadian companies see India as a tremendous opportunity. For example, Canadian Solar has already inked a number of deals and is a big player in the Indian market.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that this renewable energy ambition likely underpins the Indian government’s promising shift in its approach to climate change. In past negotiations, India has been identified as playing a less-than-constructive role.)

Which brings us back to Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Canada last week, which presented an opportunity for Canada’s government to profile its renewable energy sector and the role it can play in helping India achieve its ambitious targets. Looking back at the visit, it stands in stark contrast to Modi’s recent meetings with leaders of the United States, Germany and France, where we saw both political focus and media attention on climate change and clean energy.

Energy discussions certainly factored into coverage of his visit to Canada, but they largely hinged around India as a prospective market for our oil and gas, and a new agreement that will see India purchase $350 million of uranium from Cameco, a Saskatchewan-based mining firm.

Missing from both the political and media discussion was the huge renewable energy opportunity in India, and how Canadian companies can play a role. Last Thursday a release from the Prime Minister’s Office trumpeted $1.6 billion of agreements and announcements from Canadian and Indian companies. The one that made headlines was Cameco’s $350 million uranium deal.

But when you actually look through the list of agreements you find something pretty striking. Solar power deals—one with AMP Solar Group and the other with Canadian Solar—comprised more than $1 billion, or 63 percent of the value of the agreements.

There are three big takeaways from this:

  1. This can’t help but reinforce how low a priority our federal government puts on climate change as an issue, and clean energy as an economic opportunity. For good or ill—and I’d argue the latter—the federal government remains locked in a model that predominantly sees opportunity tied to our non-renewable natural resources.
  2. Canada’s mainstream media establishment, which, to be fair, is severely under-resourced to the point of being almost crippled, seems similarly ambivalent about this opportunity.
  3. Canadian companies are still succeeding despite this lack of attention or support.

You have to wonder just how much more Canada’s clean energy sector could achieve if it received the same attention and support that the global opportunities warrant.

Just as we’re often presented with a false choice between a strong economy and a healthy environment, it often feels as though our political leaders think we have to choose between a focus on our non-renewable energy commodities or clean energy technologies. But it doesn’t have to be either/or, and we don’t have to look any further than our neighbours to the south to see that it’s possible to do well at both.

Print this article