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Shravya Reddy’s Blog

Forging Ahead: Obama's Visit to India Moves Clean Energy Partnership Forward

Shravya Reddy

Posted November 9, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Yesterday, at the culmination of President Barack Obama’s visit to India – during which significant advancement took place on a variety of bilateral issues such as trade, U.N. Security Council membership, counterterrorism and space-based technology, amongst others - he and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized the importance of tackling climate change together, and announced a number of measures aimed at a clean energy-based, low carbon future for both countries. Almost a year after they signed the Green Partnership, both the United States and India called the relationship between our two great democracies “indispensable”. The visit revitalized collaboration in areas like building energy efficiency, biofuels and solar energy, and both countries’ leaders provided a boost to this defining partnership by launching a Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center

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The Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center will mobilize $100 million in public and private funding over five years ($25 million each from the U.S. and India) to promote research and development on potential breakthrough technologies. In the initial phase, the Center will focus on three broad areas – solar energy, advanced second generation biofuels, and energy efficiency in buildings. For each of the three areas, grants will be awarded to a joint U.S.-India consortium of partners such as government laboratories, universities, corporations and non-governmental organizations. The U.S. Department of Energy will coordinate with India’s Planning Commission on a peer-review process to select projects that are cutting-edge and transformational, and which meet both India’s and the United States’ needs in terms of clean energy and energy security.

During their meetings over the past few days, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh also recognized the crucial role that can be played by the entrepreneurial and thriving private sector in both countries in promoting clean energy. The result is the launch of a U.S.-India Energy Cooperation Program, an innovative public-private effort that will leverage business resources in both the U.S. and India for commercial clean energy projects. This initiative will be spearheaded by the U.S. Trade Development Agency, which has managed a similar program launched between the U.S. and China last year. The U.S.-India Energy Cooperation Program is expected to catalyze funds for rapid scale up of pilot projects and accelerate entrepreneurship in areas like smart grids, energy efficiency, solar and wind energy and shale gas.

President Obama’s visit to India provided occasion for some key U.S. agencies to announce bilateral clean energy initiatives with India. These announcements were made by staff who traveled to India with the President’s delegation. Agencies like the Export-Import Bank of the United States (ExIm) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) announced that they will channel increased funds towards clean energy projects in India. ExIm will provide financial support to the purchase of U.S. goods and services for the development of renewable energy in India, and OPIC is contributing $100 million to the Global Environment Fund’s $300 million South Asia Clean Energy Fund, most of which is expected to be directed to India-based projects. In addition, OPIC will work with the Indian Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) to create an India-specific sub-fund.

Both countries used the visit to increase cooperation in the priority area of commercial building energy efficiency, and build on the momentum from the Clean Energy Ministerial earlier this year. The two countries welcomed Global Superior Energy Performance Partnerships between U.S. companies like Marriott, Target and Walmart and Indian companies like Infosys and Wipro to pilot energy efficiency improvements in their facilities. A strategic dialogue is also going to be launched between the two governments, utility regulators and private sector players to promote efficient appliances and equipment, building on the existing framework of the Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) Initiative. Technical cooperation on cool roofs will also be increased.

President Obama also reiterated U.S. support for India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, in its efforts to increase the role of solar energy in India’s growing economy. The United States will promote trade involving equipment and services of U.S. firms so that the Indian market can benefit from advanced technologies from the U.S., and both countries will pursue discussions to refine domestic-manufacture requirements for such technology in India.

Various trade deals were concluded in concurrence with President Obama’s visit, and a few of these also promoted partnerships in clean energy. ExIm bank will fund 900 Megawatts of solar and wind facilities by Reliance Power. A small U.S. business, Advanced Materials Corporation (AMC), will sell precision instruments to India’s Banaras Hindu University (BHU) for use in fuel cell research. Noveda Technologies, a small U.S. startup, will sell Chennai-based Wysine Technologies monitoring equipment needed to jointly develop and market a new solution for web-based, real-time energy monitoring for “greening” buildings. In his address to the U.S.-India Business Council and Entrepreneurship Summit, President Obama noted that hundreds of U.S. businesses, including small businesses, are increasing investment in clean energy in India and that these partnerships are marked by immense innovation, making the U.S.-Indian economic relationship one of untapped potential.

In President Obama’s remarks to a joint session of the Indian Parliament, as well as in a joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the President underscored the significance of standing by commitments made at Copenhagen, and lauded the important role in ensuring that all major economies undertook commitments to action at Copenhagen.

NRDC believes that the trip provided impetus to bilateral engagement on clean energy, but also notes that there are areas where more progress is needed. Both NRDC and TERI emphasized before the trip that greater transparency and accountability will improve results. Concrete mechanisms need to be devised to ensure this. Also, while both sides reiterated their commitment to cooperate on climate change adaptation, and announced a significant climate and crop forecasting initiative aimed at food security in India – The “Evergreen Revolution” – an area that received less attention was health-related climate adaptation. While the Global Disease Detection Center announced in a Memorandum of Understanding yesterday will focus more on infectious diseases, many other health impacts of climate change will take a toll on India, as well as parts of the United States. As the U.S.-India partnership on climate change, clean energy and energy security moves ahead, NRDC looks forward to strengthening collaboration on this issue as well.

On the whole, both President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used the visit to give due acknowledgement to the seriousness of climate change, and to stress both countries’ commitment to tackle the challenge. Both leaders’ remarks during the visit make it clear that India and the U.S. have their sights set on a low carbon future, and recognize that clean energy solutions will drive investment, job creation and economic growth both in India and the U.S. With the announcement of these initiatives yesterday and reaffirmation of ongoing programs, it is now time to realize our countries’ joint vision of a “Global Strategic Partnership for the Twenty-first Century” and redouble efforts to turn commitments into action and real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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