To phase out coal jobs, India needs nearly 30 times more solar power

New Delhi (NVI): India would need to scale up its current solar capacity to nearly 30 times, or about 1,000 gigawatts, to transition about half a million people directly working in coal mines, says a recent study.

The study– “Solar has greater techno-economic resource suitability than wind for replacing coal mining jobs”– has been published in the journal ‘Environmental Research Letters’.

The research has focused on India, China, the US, and Australia—countries that represent 70% of global coal production.

Funded by the Norwegian Research Council, the report is a collaborative work between researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada, and the Chalmers University, Sweden.

Under the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, India has vouched for clean energy and cutting on coal-based power. Coal mining directly employs over 7 million workers and benefits millions more through indirect jobs globally.

A number of environmental and climate change studies have advocated for cutting down on coal production to tackle climate change.

However, the challenge remains whether those employed in coal sector will be employed in clean energy based industry like solar and wind.

At the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world agreed to make efforts to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to try its best to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius climate target, coal’s share in global energy supply should decline between 73-97% by 2050. But that would mean a near elimination of coal mining jobs.

Except for the US, each coal mining area would require several gigawatts (GW) of solar or wind power capacity locally to enable all coal miners in these areas to transition to solar or wind jobs, as per the study.

“It is clear that while solar has greater techno-economic resource suitability than wind for replacing local coal mining jobs, this suitability doesn’t exist in all coal mining areas,” the study said.

In India, states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh, which account for over 85% of the country’s coal production. The study found that around each coal mine, nearly two gigawatts of solar power would need to be installed to absorb all coal miners working in the mines.

About 485,000 coal miners are involved in India in the production of over 700 million tonnes of coal annually, at present. There are also a large number of indirect jobs connected with the broader coal mining industry. For example, there are millions of people in coal mining towns across India, who run local tea stalls shops, restaurants, and grocery stores and thus if the coal industry declines, the survival of all these jobs will be difficult.