In this episode, host Daniel Raimi talks with Varun Sivaram, a visiting senior fellow at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. Drawing from his work at one of India’s largest renewable energy companies, Sivaram discusses the country’s remarkable progress toward making solar power affordable and widespread. However, as demand for electricity is expected to rise in the coming years, Sivaram cautions that fossil fuel consumption could increase, too, unless India makes strategic investments in clean energy. India's energy transition consequently has massive implications—not just for its growing population, but for global efforts to address climate change, as well.
Listen to the Podcast
- Without policy shifts, India could become the world’s biggest emitter: “I think India's emissions over the next 30 years could come close to the level of China's. I think India could be the number-one emitter in the world sometime in this century. And, unless we accelerate that clean energy transition, India is a ticking climate bomb.” (3:40)
- Despite progress, India remains reliant on coal: “Coal use is forecast to rise sharply to fuel industrial processes. And in the power sector, even if India meets this wildly ambitious target of 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, it's possible that coal generation will actually stay flat or increase a little bit … Even in the absolute best-case scenario, I still expect coal to produce at least a plurality share of any source of India's power by 2030. Nevertheless, this is the critical decade. This is the decade where India's energy transition is made or broken.” (20:02)
- Ensuring a just transition for fossil fuel communities: “As India has a clean energy transition, it needs to think first and foremost about an economic transition. The coal power sector and the coal sector are important employers, and whole states depend on coal for their economies. I saw the largest coal mine in Asia, and I saw how these people were literally getting killed by the emissions from the coal plants and the mines that they live next to. And yet, sentiment about the coal plants and mines was generally positive. This was the lifeblood of the economy.” (29:08)
Top of the Stack
- Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet by Varun Sivaram
- "The Next Phase of India’s Renewable Energy Transition" by Varun Sivaram
- Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States by Leah Stokes
- Columbia Energy Exchange podcast
- "Our Daily Planet" newsletter
- After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales by Tom Hansell
The Full Transcript
Daniel Raimi: Hello, and welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I'm your host, Daniel Raimi.
This week, we talk with Dr. Varun Sivaram, visiting senior fellow at the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy. Varun is an expert on all things energy, but today we'll talk to him about the two years he recently spent working on solar energy in India.
We'll talk about the evolution of India's power grid, including its rapid expansion of energy access, and its historical dependence on coal. Then we'll talk about the rise of solar, wind, and storage, along with the challenges that lie ahead. Stay with us.
Okay. Varun Sivaram, from the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy, thank you so much for joining us today on Resources Radio.
Varun Sivaram: Daniel, thank you for having me.
Daniel Raimi: We're going to talk about energy in India over the next 30 minutes or so, particularly the electricity sector. And I know you just got back from spending quite a bit of time in India. Can you tell us a little bit about what motivated you to head over there, how long you were there, and what you were up to?
Varun Sivaram: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show. I just made it back from New Delhi, India, where I spent the last couple years. I'm now back in Washington, DC, but it was a once in a lifetime experience to spend time in India, and I wish I could have spent longer.
Now that we have the coronavirus, I decided to come back to be with my wife and family here in the United States. I've been fascinated by India for the last five years or so, at least. I mean, my heritage is originally from India, but especially over the last five years, I've been watching this clean energy transition unfold.
In 2015, when I first moved to Washington, DC, and went to the Council on Foreign Relations, my first blog post ever was why I thought India's new solar energy targets were just absolutely ridiculous. Prime Minister Modi had just been elected, and he quintupled the previous administration's target for solar power to 100 gigawatts by 2022.
At the time, I think that was half of all the solar in the world. And I said, "There's no way that he's going to hit that target." And within about 12 months, I had to eat my words.
My next blog post at the Council of Foreign Relations was, “I was wrong, and something remarkable is happening in India.” I started to do a lot of research. When I was at the Paris Climate Change Conference, I hung out with the Indian negotiators, and there was this shift afoot.
There was this new generation of forward-thinking Indian bureaucrats, diplomats, officials, thinking about how India could actually invest in renewable energy and reduce its emissions, which is a real marked shift from India's stance historically. And then, in 2016, 2017, as I was writing my book, Taming the Sun, I focused heavily on India, because the price declines there were more pronounced than anywhere else in the world.
When Taming the Sun came out, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to actually move—lock, stock, and barrel—to India, halfway around the world, and work for India's largest renewable energy company, ReNew Power. ReNew was founded by Sumant Sinha, and he is just this totally visionary entrepreneur, who has never taken no for an answer and wants to build more gigawatts of renewable energy than anyone ever thought was possible.
He wanted a chief technology officer, and I wanted the chance to go work on technology, and what I thought was probably the most exciting, challenging, and important energy transition in the world. Just a quick note on that, I think India's emissions over the next 30 years could come close to the level of China's.
I think India could be the number one emitter in the world some time in this century. And unless we accelerate that clean energy transition, India is a ticking climate bomb. So, it was a wonderful experience to move over there, and I would love to talk about some of the experiences I had.
Daniel Raimi: Yeah. Let's get started with that. We're going to talk about the contemporary issues, and then some forward-looking issues. But before we do that, I think it might be useful to lay a little bit of groundwork, and a little bit of history, to help us understand how we got to wherever it is we are right now.
And so, I know this is an enormous question, and we could spend hours talking about it, but I'm hoping you can give me a quick primer on a little history of India's electricity grid, thinking about how it's expanded in recent years, and what the major energy sources are—both historically, and then up to today.
Varun Sivaram: This is a big topic. Let me try and be brief. I may fail. So let's focus on the last decade. It's been a really interesting decade for India's electricity sector.
In the last decade, India brought together all five of its regions onto one synchronous grid, and it became one of the world's largest grids in doing so. Over this last decade, power demand in India has just exploded as India's economy has grown. It has increased by about 50 percent.
By 2020, India is the world's third largest power consumer, behind the United States and China, and consumes about 1,500 terawatt hours of electricity every year. In tandem, to meet growing demand, electricity generation actually expanded even faster. So it went up by more than double, from less than 200 gigawatts a decade ago to 400 gigawatts of installed capacity today. And even more impressively, wind and solar power quadrupled to 82 gigawatts by 2019.
By today, we're sitting at close to 40 percent clean energy generation capacity, and of course, capacity is different from actual generation. And so, India's generation mix today has about a quarter clean energy—hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar—and the remaining three-quarters at 72 percent comes from coal.
India's still a very coal-dominated power sector, but 2019 was the first year when coal generation actually fell. And thanks to the pandemic, it's actually falling again in 2020.
So there's a chance. There's a chance that coal power generation has peaked. And then, just very quickly, on the regulatory and policy side, the last two decades have been interesting for India. In 2003, India passed this landmark electricity act. It opened generation to competition. And so today, about half the generation is privately owned. The other half is owned by central and state governments.
There's a separate transmission system, operated by a grid operator, and owned by the Power Grid Corporation. And then, at the distribution and retail levels, distribution companies have monopolies. They're called “discoms.” And these discoms are run or owned by the state governments.
These discoms, by the way, are the biggest weak link in India's electricity sector, and we should talk a lot more about them. More than 90 percent of the discoms are unprofitable for various reasons. And that's one of the biggest barriers to renewable energy growing.
Another way that the power sector needs to get reformed is that over 90 percent of the power today is still priced through regulated long-term contracts. Only 4 percent is traded through the power exchange. This is in stark contrast to what we're familiar with here in the United States, with wholesale power markets.
So India is now trying a regulatory push, with some limited success, to reform electricity markets, to create them—a day-ahead market, a real time market, and ancillary services market. But that's where India's electricity sector is today: still coal-dominated, but with green shoots of hope. But I think the next decade's going to be critical.
Daniel Raimi: Again, as you say, there's so many fascinating issues to dig into there, and I wish I could follow up on any of them. But we're going to plow ahead, so that we can talk about some specific topics.
But one quick policy background question, before we do that. One of the priorities for Prime Minister Modi, who you mentioned a few moments ago, since he took office, has been expanding access to electricity across India, where historically there have been hundreds of millions of people who lacked regular access to energy services.
Can you talk a little bit about how that growth has been proceeding? And whether it's been enabled largely by the big nationalized grid that you mentioned, or whether it's been met more with smaller systems, like microgrids or rooftop solar.
Varun Sivaram: Yeah. Prime Minister Modi takes credit for a lot of things by the way. I love that I'm allowed to speak freely now that I'm not in the private sector anymore.
If you are in an Indian private company, the only things you say about Modi are, "He is awesome, he is awesome, he is awesome." Anyway, he takes credit for a lot of things. This is one that he actually deserves to take credit for. Energy access in India has expanded dramatically.
At the beginning of the decade, in 2010, in India, 400 million people were without access to power. That's fallen by three quarters. It's now down to just under 100 million people. And to your question, it has largely been thanks to grid expansion, expansion at the distribution level.
Now some of this expansion is in name only. That is to say, a distribution line will be extended to a particular village, and that line may or may not get used, but that village nominally has power.
But by and large, the access to electricity has been real. The expansion of the access has been real. Thanks to Prime Minister Modi's reforms, hundreds of millions of people now have access to electricity.
I think, going forward, microgrids—as you brought up—may play a larger role, especially as the economics of distributed generation improve. I don't think that something like a solar home system or highly decentralized solar system is going to make much difference, now or in the future.
But I do think that an intermediate scale of distribution, where you have a hundreds of kilowatts or tens of kilowatts array of solar powering a mini-grid or a microgrid, I think that could make a meaningful difference to energy access going forward, where the distribution grid struggles to reach or is very unreliable.
One exciting project is the Tata Power and Rockefeller Foundation project to put 10,000 microgrids across India. Going forward, I think both grid expansion and microgrids will play an important role.
Daniel Raimi: That's really interesting. Definitely something to watch.
One of the exciting things that I've learned recently from reading your work, particularly an article that you wrote recently for the Aspen Institute, that we'll have a link to and I'll encourage people to go check out, is the new power generation and capacity that's coming online recently in India. There's just a whole lot of solar coming online, and particularly solar with battery storage.
Can you talk a little bit about some of these new solar storage projects and how they're competing with the existing fossil generation mix, and coal in particular?
Varun Sivaram: Yeah. If it's okay with you, let me back up and give some context about where we are headed in India, and why this is such a critical decade between 2020 and 2030. I think there is this chance for the power sector to just utterly transform.
As we mentioned, we've got about 75 percent coal generation today. By 2030, that could go down to 50 percent. By 2030, we could see 50 percent clean electricity, largely on the backs of an expansion in wind and solar power, an unprecedented global expansion. The Modi administration has set a target of 450 gigawatts of renewable energy, mostly wind and solar, by 2030.
Again, if I was back at the Council on Foreign Relations and I heard that number, I would immediately write that blog post saying, "There's no way you're going to meet this." But India, actually, I think very well could meet it, given the experience of the last few years where they've dramatically quadrupled wind and solar capacity.
And the annual rate of growth—about 14 percent, between now and 2030—to hit that 450 gigawatt target is lower than the annual rate of growth that India has had over the last five years. Now, the last year hasn't been great for renewable energy deployment, and the pandemic certainly isn't helping the construction of new projects.
But this is really the critical decade for India to invest in renewables, and in a grid infrastructure, to enable the integration of renewables. Now, to your question, solar and storage are increasingly coming online. And that's extremely important, because flexibility will be critical to incorporating all of these intermittent renewables onto the grid.
Recently, in this year itself, in January and May 2020, the government had two very important auctions for renewable energy with storage, or with certain characteristics. The first auction was for renewable energy with storage that could meet peak power demands for six out of nine defined peak hours in the morning and evening.
Our firm, ReNew Power, actually won that auction. We were one of the co-winners. And the price that we successfully bid at is lower than the price of a new coal power plant, which is about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. So already, you can see the price of power from solar wind and storage, beating that of a new coal power plant.
Then later on in May, an even more audacious auction was for the government to source 80 percent capacity factor renewable energy. Our firm, ReNew Power, again, won that auction, 400 megawatts at 80 percent annual capacity factor. And it's remarkable that both of those auctions were won at prices lower than the price of coal power.
So, it’s very exciting to see, going forward, that renewable energy—coupled with various flexibility mechanisms, storage, and other mechanisms—can enable you to generate energy that looks and feels a little bit like it's dispatchable, although it's not quite dispatchable, as I'm sure we'll talk about.
Daniel Raimi: And for our listeners who aren't deep on electricity, I know many of you are, but for those of you who aren't familiar with some of these terms that we're using here, one of the critical issues with having a reliable grid is, of course, having dispatchable power or electricity that you could basically call up on demand.
That's a challenge, or has been a challenge for solar because it only generates when the sun is shining. So, adding batteries really can enable it to play that more dispatchable role. And the term that Varun used, “capacity factor,” refers to the output that the power plant generates relative to its theoretical potential output.
If you build a solar plant that has a hundred megawatt capacity, and it's generating that amount of electricity 80 percent of the time, then it has an 80 percent capacity factor. I probably messed that up a little bit, but was I close?
Varun Sivaram: Yeah, you were. And actually, the way you put it highlights why the capacity factor definition in this auction is actually a little tricky. It's different from what you said, which is the conventional way we understand capacity factor.
The conventional way we understand it is, if a plant has 100 percent capacity factor, it's putting out the exact same output, 8,760 hours of the year, right? But if, in this case of the auction that ReNew Power won, 80 percent capacity factor just means that of the 400 megawatts that we are contracted to deliver to a distribution company, we have to deliver 320 megawatts, on average, or 80 percent of 400 megawatts.
But that doesn't mean we can't build a much bigger plant. I'm going to make up numbers here, but we could build a 600 megawatt plant, an 800 megawatt plant. We can build four plants of 200 megawatts each.
We can totally overbuild the plant, so that we're confident that we can send 320 megawatts consistently to the contracted offtaker. So that's one strategy here, to overbuild renewables. That enables you to count on a firm level of output, up to a certain threshold, well below the generation capacity of that plant. Now, to be sure, that renewable plant or agglomeration of plants—you can build the plants in different states, and just connect them to the interstate transmission grid—is not really equivalent to a single fossil fuel coal power plant. That thermal plant can actually ramp up and down on command. In the case of overbuilding renewables, you still have the problem of what to do with the excess renewable energy. You could throw it away, but that's not very economical.
As I mentioned earlier on, India's starting to reform its power exchange, trying to build wholesale energy markets. And so, as those markets mature, it's hopefully going to become profitable to sell the excess electricity onto the market.
That's a creative way that the Indian government has found to enable a contracted offtaker, a distribution company, to get firm power from a renewable energy company, and for the renewable energy company to go and sell the rest of its power on an exchange, and efficiently sell it to whoever's willing to buy it. I think this is, honestly, a big win for the sector.
But it reveals that there's more work to be done, because we still don't have a one-to-one replacement for fossil fuels with renewable energy, and possibly storage. And that's okay.
Renewable energy and storage have different characteristics, but going forward, the cost of renewables and storage will have to continue to fall, for those two resources to provide a lot of the flexibility that the grid will need. And we shouldn't depend only on storage.
We should be depending on transmission. We should be depending on flexible demand. We should be depending even on the flexibility of coal power plants, ramping them up and down to compensate for intermittent wind and solar. And I really think market reform is going to enable us to price those things effectively.
Daniel Raimi: That's super interesting, and it plays right into the next question that I wanted to ask you, which is related to whether renewables are ready to really start taking market share from the existing coal-based mix in India. So, sometimes you see headlines, in trade press or in newspaper articles, that talk about the very low costs of solar power, even solar with storage, that you're mentioning.
The take home message that some people take from those low prices is, "Hooray, we've made it. Renewables won. It's all smooth sailing from here.” But it's more complex than that. Can you talk a little bit about some of those complexities when it comes to the rise of renewables?
Varun Sivaram: Yeah. Even though we've passed this landmark moment that renewable energy is now cheaper on some metrics than coal energy, it's still the case that coal will play an important role in India's energy landscape going forward.
We haven't even talked about the industrial sector, because today's discussion is about the power sector, but coal use is forecast to rise sharply to fuel industrial processes. And in the power sector, even if India meets this wildly ambitious target of 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, it's possible that coal generation will actually stay flat or increase a little bit.
India's incremental demand growth for energy is so sharp that just building renewables as fast as humanly possible may just meet that incremental demand.
Now, the last couple years, 2019 and 2020, are demonstrating to us that India's economy actually may not grow as quickly as previously anticipated. Maybe this is a blip, and India will return to a quick economic growth. And if so, demand growth will follow quickly. But if not, if demand doesn't grow as fast as we previously anticipated, and if we are more effective at efficiency measures, whether in air conditioning buildings and other efficiency measures, then there's a chance that between now and 2030, renewables could start to eat into coal's share.
But let me be clear. Even in the absolute best case scenario, I still expect coal to produce a majority—or at least a plurality—share of any source of India's power by 2030. Nevertheless, this is the critical decade. This is the decade where India's energy transition is made or broken.
Daniel Raimi: Building on the previous question about some of the potential barriers to deploying these technologies. I don't want to pooh-pooh the amazing progress that's been made, but one of the really fascinating things that I learned from reading your book, Taming the Sun, is that there's a risk that as more solar power comes on the grid, it could become less profitable for solar generators to actually produce that energy, and thus disincentivize those solar generators from coming onto the grid. Can you give us a basic understanding of how that dynamic works, and whether you're concerned about it playing a role in India?
Varun Sivaram: I am concerned about it playing a role in India. The wrinkle is that I'm concerned it'll play a role, not today, but five or 10 years down the line. And that lag in the risk is what might suppress immediate action to solve it.
So quickly, to give an overview of the effect, the more solar you put on a grid, the less valuable that solar becomes. Because that solar basically eats its own lunch. It's generating all at the same time of the day, and you have a surplus of electricity, and therefore, the marginal solar panel you put on the grid becomes less valuable, because you already have so much generating at exactly that time.
By the way, it also turns out, in India, that wind can be highly correlated as well, but wind is more seasonally correlated than correlated on a daily level. So the summer months, for example—in the monsoon months—wind tends to generate at a very high capacity factor. And then, on the off season months, wind is at a very low—25 percent or so—capacity factor.
Why am I worried about this? Well, I'm not worried right now. Right now, India has more than enough grid capacity, especially on its interstate transmission system, to integrate a whole lot more solar and wind power, even though that solar and wind is intermittent. And that's why the government is smart to have these auctions, where they allow a tremendous overbuild of solar and wind.
You're basically treating the grid as a big battery. So, if you win this tender for round-the-clock power, and instead of 400 megawatts, you build 1,000 megawatts or more, well, you can dump the extra power into the grid, and there's no problem. And you're not going to see a really major value deflation problem right now. Solar is, as I mentioned, just 3 percent of generation in India.
But in the future, as you get to higher levels, if we try and hit that 450-gigawatt target, solar and wind are going to account for a much larger percentage of power. And at that point, they are going to start eating their own lunch.
Now, the market structure may not reflect it immediately. But it will play havoc, because you're going to have a glut of power, sometimes at the wrong times. One factor, by the way, that will mitigate this effect is that air conditioning demand is growing so strongly in India. And because of air conditioning demand, the peak in power will actually be right at the time when the peak of solar generation happens, in the middle of the day.
Nevertheless, we still will see a large surge of demand in the evening, just as we do in the United States, when people go home from work. And in those evening shoulder hours, it's going to be very important to have some flexibility mechanism to make up for solar generation that's dropping off a cliff.
That's why you're already seeing these distribution companies in India, who are the utilities that buy the power from the generators and sell it on to the customers. These distribution companies are already demanding contracts, where they don't just get plain vanilla solar and wind power. They also get peak power guarantees.
That was the auction I mentioned to you in January, that ReNew Power won, where the distribution company wants that guarantee, that from 6:00 to 9:00 in the morning, or in the evening, they can get a guarantee that storage or some other flexibility mechanism is going to deliver to them guaranteed power.
This is only going to get worse, going forward. And I fear that if we don't invest in flexibility right now, in India or around the world, this “eating-its-own-lunch” phenomenon, or value deflation, is going to create a ceiling for how much solar and wind we can put on a grid. And that's really worrying.
Because if we get down the line, 2025, 2027, and we hit this wall, then it's too late to start investing. You're going to lose five years before you can get the clean energy transition back on track.
That's why we invest right now in transmission infrastructure, in storage, in making coal plants flexible through market mechanisms. And I worry that, especially in transmission, I'm seeing investment fall off a cliff, and that's really worrying to me.
Daniel Raimi: Yeah, that's really interesting to hear. And my one pedantic comment for the day is that I'm a person who loves a good vanilla ice cream. Whenever people say "plain vanilla," I recoil a little bit, because I don't like plain ice cream. But I really do like vanilla ice cream.
But I absolutely agree with everything else you said, Varun, and it's really fascinating. As we wrap up our conversation, we've talked about some of the really big opportunities. We've talked about a couple of challenges already.
When you step back and think broadly about the power sector, where it is today and where you're hoping it's going to go in the next few decades, what are some of the big challenges that we haven't talked about that you think the sector is facing? And what are some policy or market approaches that might help India to overcome those challenges?
Varun Sivaram: Let me first tell you, I'm going to send a note to the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, and ask them to start renaming their tenders “cookie dough”or “chocolate chip.”
Daniel Raimi: Yeah.
Varun Sivaram: So, sorry, I won't say plain vanilla anymore. The biggest challenges I see going forward are probably threefold.
The first challenge that I see is flexibility. We've talked a little bit about this. I really want to see India invest more in transmission, both interstate and intrastate. And I want to see coal power plants start to operate more flexibly, because they can actually compensate for intermittent renewable energy at a lower cost than storage, or many other flexibility mechanisms.
Doing all this is going to require money. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that it's going to cost something like $600 billion over the next decade to invest in the renewables, and in the grid infrastructure and flexibility infrastructure, to reach that 450 gigawatt target.
That brings me to the second difficulty, which is finance. It's critical that India raises a lot of finance, and most of it's not going to come domestically. International finance is very important. Our company, ReNew Power, was funded on the equity side, largely by international investors like Goldman Sachs.
In order to continue to attract international finance at even higher rates, five times what the rate is right now of capital flowing into the country, India is going to have to reform that distribution sector. Those distribution companies, discoms, often don't pay on time.
One of the most salient memories from my time in India was the second half of 2019, when a whole state, the state of Andhra Pradesh, decided to renege on its contracts. And the distribution companies weren't going to pay for the power that they were contracted to purchase from a whole range of renewable energy producers, ours included among them.
That sort of risk, where the distribution companies, which are often insolvent, just refuse to pay—that sort of risk scares off international investors. So India's going to have to fix that. And in return, I think international investors have a lot of appetite to bring both debt and equity capital into India.
And then, finally, the third challenge that I think will face India is, as India has a clean energy transition, it needs to think first and foremost about an economic transition. The coal power sector and the coal sector are important employers, and whole states depend on coal for their economies.
I visited the state of Chhattisgarh, which is a large coal producing state. I saw the largest coal mine in Asia, and I saw how these people were literally getting killed by the emissions from the coal plants and the mines that they live next to.
And yet, sentiment about the coal plants and mines was generally positive. This was the lifeblood of the economy. India's going to have to think about how a clean energy economy will similarly provide employment and economic opportunity.
Now, the wind sector is actually producing domestic employment, because manufacturing happens inside India. In fact, India manufacturers blades for wind turbines, for example, and other components, at a rate that's about four times the domestic demand for wind. And so it's actually a net exporter on some components.
That's not true for solar. India is a net importer. Now, India's strategy for trying to support its domestic industry has been pretty damaging tariffs, and those tariffs probably aren't the best way to support domestic producers. But India will have to find other ways, whether it's in battery manufacturing, or the manufacturing of new energy components like electrolyzers for hydrogen or carbon capture equipment.
India will have to find a way for the clean energy transition to pay economic dividends. So those are the three biggest challenges I see going forward.
Daniel Raimi: Yeah, great. A lot of those factors you talked about, especially on the financing side, was really from the private financing side. Are there government-to-government partnerships, or policy interactions at the international level, that you think also might be helpful?
Varun Sivaram: Absolutely. And I'm glad you asked, Daniel. I think that the United States and India have great scope for cooperation on finance. US investors are eager to invest in India. And India, if it just makes certain reforms, or provides certain guarantees, will make itself a very attractive investment destination.
I think this finance component could underpin a very important deal between the United States and India. It could be a deal as important, in my opinion, as the US-China climate deal in 2014 that led directly to the Paris 2015 climate summit.
I'm an advisor to the COP26 Summit, which is happening next year in Glasgow. And I think ahead of that summit, a US-India joint climate announcement would be a tremendous accomplishment, and clean energy finance should be right at the center of it.
Daniel Raimi: Yeah, that'll be fascinating to watch.
Well, Varun, as we've said already, there are a million more things we could talk about for hours. And hopefully we'll get a chance to do that in the months ahead.
But now, let's close it out with our final question that we ask all of our listeners, which is what you've been reading or watching or listening to, that you think is really interesting, and that you think our listeners would enjoy.
I'll just briefly start with a book that really speaks to some of the challenges for coal communities that you mentioned in India. It's a book of case studies called After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales by an author named Tom Hansell.
I'm from North Carolina, and my mom was Welsh, so a lot of these stories are really interesting to me, just on a personal level. And they're about how different communities manage big economic changes with the decline of coal.
So just for reference, in the United States, coal employment has now dipped below 50,000. It was 125,000 in the early 1980s. This is the lowest level, probably, since the 1800s.
We're seeing similar declines in other parts of the world. And so, learning the lessons of the past, I think, will be really important for helping coal communities transition towards the future. So that's what I'm reading. How about you, Varun?
Varun Sivaram: Depending on how you consume your media, let me give you three different things that I've been looking at.
First is a book. Leah Stokes's book, Short Circuiting Policy, is fantastic. She's a professor at UC Santa Barbara, and writes about the political coalitions it will take to achieve a clean energy transition.
I love this podcast, Daniel, but let me also highly recommend the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast that Jason Bordoff and Bill Loveless co-lead.
And then, finally, if you're in the newsletters, let me recommend Our Daily Planet. Now, I am normally an energy and climate guy, so I know very little about the rest of the environmental issues, but I think those issues are covered extremely comprehensively by Our Daily Planet, and by the newsletter's authors, Monica Medina and Miro Korenha. So, highly recommend all three of these resources.
Daniel Raimi: Yeah, I'll second all three of them as well. Really great resources.
Well, Varun Sivaram, once again, thank you so much for joining us today on Resources Radio. I've learned a ton, and I'm sure our listeners have, too.
Varun Sivaram: Thanks so much, Daniel. It's a pleasure to join you.
Daniel Raimi: You've been listening to Resources Radio. If you have a minute, we'd really appreciate you leaving us a rating or a comment on your podcast platform of choice. Also, feel free to send us your suggestions for future episodes.
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