What’s in a number? India, Energy, and Climate Change

A key issue in the assessment of national climate policy is the accuracy of data and figures. Much of the analysis provided by the policy community is based upon the information available on what is happening on the ground in each country.

However, as with all national comparisons, there is a problem: working out what the numbers represent is extremely difficult. Different countries report different trends in different ways.

This week in Bangalore, the Govt. of India reported that national use of renewable energy was continuing to experience healthy growth. Official reports suggest that around 32% of Indian electricity is now created from renewable energy. According to the government, the current economic slowdown in the financial sector offers an opportunity to develop new jobs in the green sector and grow a lower-carbon industrial sector–a view that has been echoed by commentators in the UK also.

However, take a closer look and it becomes clear that these figures are more complex. 32% incorporates hydroelectric power–by far the largest carbon-free source of electricity in India and a source excluded from renewable counts by other countries. Incorporating HEP significantly increases the % contribution of renewables. Further, the figure of 32% is itself disputed; the IEA suggests that combined renewables and hydro accounted for only 15% of electricity generation, although this figure is for 2005 (See graph).

Break-down of sources for Electricity in India  (Source: IEA)

Break-down of sources for Electricity in India (Source: IEA)

But, as well as being a bugbear for the policy analysts, this kind of ambiguous data reporting can also have a highly political dimension. In the context of major investment in ‘greener’ technology coupled with international political pressure on the G20 surrounding the UNFCCC process, reporting successful renewable projects is important.

In India, green energy is the flagship programme for climate policy. Bangalore, for example, is hosting the Green Energy Summit in early March 2009 to boost investment in much-needed energy projects in India. Indian media recently reported that the summit chairperson Arcot Ramachandran (former UN Under-Secretary General) proudly announced India’s rank as the 4th ‘Wind Super Power’. In this case, the origin of the statistic is once again not at all clear but does serve to boost the Indian renewable prowess.

Numbers are rarely wrong; but it is often unclear what they represent. Further, they carry political and social contexts with them meaning that they are often used to fulfill agendas and goals. In principle there is nothing wrong with this. But when reading these numbers a careful eye is needed to overcome yet another of the many veils surrounding national climate policy.

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  1. Ian Ross

    “as well as being a bugbear for the policy analysts, this kind of ambiguous data reporting can also have a highly political dimension.”
    – This kind of issues exists in all sectors where progress (or lack thereof) is intensely political. The only solution is to accept the figures of the relevant international body that uses objective criteria to assess the situation.
    – For example, many developing countries claim to have high coverage levels of safe drinking water, e.g. 80-90%. In many of these countries, demographic health surveys (collated by UNICEF/WHO) and used to create a trend line, tell a very different story.
    – What we need to do is boost global monitoring processes and make sure discussions are had over the criteria they use. For example, is it worth looking into WHY the IEA figures are different in more detail?

  2. Smithc915

    Very nice! gagedbebdd

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