Fulbright US-India Series: Harsh Vardhan Shringla | Foreign Secretary of India

Mr. Harsh Vardhan Shringla is India’s Foreign Secretary and Former Ambassador of India to the US. In this episode, Foreign Secretary Shringla explains how renewable energy can help India assume a stronger leadership position in the world and simultaneously help combat global warming by cutting down on carbon emissions. Foreign Secretary Shringla also articulates the potential partnerships which can be explored between the US and India in the clean energy space for the future. Hope you enjoy my conversation ​with Foreign Secretary Shringla!

Topics covered in this podcast:
  • What will be the role of India in the new geopolitical landscape created by the transition to sustainable energy?
  • How India’s demand curve for energy compares with that of other countries?
  • How could India’s partnership with the U.S help the global development of renewable energy?
  • What specific area is it best to focus on to strengthen this partnership in the clean energy space?


00:06 Karan Takhar
Hello everyone! This is Karan Takhar, and welcome to the Zenergy Podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fulbright Podcast series, I sought to investigate the enabling factors and potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy with a focus on solar. This Fulbright series is broken down into four seasons. This season, we capture the views of high-level officials of the Indian government and energy delegates from African countries looking to India as support. We'll try an understand how India's continued progress in renewable energy development can improve its leadership position in the world. 

Karan Takhar
In this episode, I'll be speaking with the Honorable Harsh Shringla, who is the current Foreign Secretary of India. Foreign Secretary Shringla and I discussed the role India will play in the new geopolitical energy landscape created from a transition to sustainable forms of energy and how India's quick, proliferating demand for electricity provides an important opportunity for sustainable development within India itself. We conclude our conversation by discussing what specific area is best to focus on to strengthen the US-India Energy partnership. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Foreign Secretary Shringla.

01:42 Karan Takhar
I was recently reading about an address you delivered to the National Defense College, and you mentioned how all crises, including global warming, ultimately alter the geopolitics, and I was wondering how renewable energy, in your view, will transform the geopolitical landscape and what role India will play in this new geopolitical landscape that results from the transition to renewable energy. 

02: 26 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
As far as India is concerned, our commitment to renewable energy has been made clear by a Prime Minister. He made a commitment, not as part of our climate change commitments, but in terms of our own national commitment to make sure that 40% of our total energy consumption by the year 2030 was from renewable energy. In other words, been ourselves away from fossil for at least 40% of energy requirements, and in that context study, we've gone about very steadily providing incentives and making policy decisions that would favor the renewable energy sector. Today I think we've made very good progress on areas like solar energy, wind energy, and many other areas of renewable energy that we are working on, and we are able to, I think, convert a good part, a fairly substantial part, or rather meet our total commitment of renewable energy through solar energy that we are working on and I believe up to 1200 megawatts of solar energy have already been attained, and we are moving forward in that direction. Now, we are also not just doing it; you see schemes like the Ujala scheme we are providing, we're converting consumption of firewood for households all across rural India into LPG that itself is great, I would say contribution towards mitigating rather trying to address the issues of global warming and carbon emissions. I can imagine that every household in rural areas which was using firewood for energy consumption today is able to switch to LPG, I think that itself is an important factor. Then we are also looking at technologies, for example, LNG to increase as a cleaner fuel to replace coal and other fuels.

We're also looking at gasifying or liquefying, and coal to make it cleaner energy, so we have a lot of reserves of coal. We can't obviously do away with it, but we can make it cleaner coal and we can see how we can use that coal for purposes that are cleaner, that's it. Internationally as well, when you talk about the renewable platforms for international diplomacy, international as well, we are, I think at the forefront of trying to provide both the technical expertise and capacity for countries all over the world to meet their renewable energy requirements; if you see developing countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, a lot of these countries which are developing or underdeveloped countries in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific island states and other parts of the world don't have the way with all to be able to convert their requirements of energy through renewable energy sources and what the International Solar Alliance which as you know, has been created sort of an initiative that be started by both the France and India.

05:06 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
Today, actually in the forefront of providing that capacity, and you would have spoken to the Director General Party in this regard. What they're doing basically is providing all of these states with both the technical expertise, the training, and the capacity and the resources. We are looking at generating a very large resource base that will enable these countries to convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy and especially solar energy because countries that are between the Tropics of Cancer Capricorn are those areas that get a lot of sunshine. there is no shortage of that resource, which is solar energy. And we are giving them the ability to tap into that resource and sort of creating sort of a transformation into renewable energy and solar energy. So I think we are doing that all over India, and our commitment to that, as I said, really stems from our overall objective of converting 40% of energy needs into renewable energy keep in mind that India, unlike China and another developed world, our energy requirements are still moving up. In other words, we will continue to require more energy consumption as we progress up the industrial chain and the economic chain.

We will certainly need more and more energy requirements, whereas China and the developed world are plateauing; you have reached energy, I would say, saturation point where you have reached the optimum level, whereas, in India, we still have another five to ten years of growth in energy consumption. So even with that growth, we are looking at ensuring that our commitment of 40% in terms of renewable energy will remain, and for that, we have to create the basis which is creating huge capacity for solar energy, wind energy, and other forms of renewable energy, and we are also looking at collaboration, technology transfers, etc. in that regard, if you look at even smaller initiatives like the Led bulb, India today the leading manufacturer of Led bulbs successfully introduced Led bulbs to grant of municipalities, replacing all the bulbs for Led bulbs and only taking save energy. In other words, in the next five years, after Led bulbs are introduced, they save 40% a year. That reduced cost of Energy consumption is paid to meet the cost of changing to Led bulbs. So we are making innovative steps all over the country in terms of energy efficiency. They are at the forefront of these initiatives. 

07:36 Karan Takhar
Thank you. 

07:37 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
There are a lot of such efforts, and essentially I think you are right in saying that we really look to ourselves not only domestically but also a commitment globally in terms of climate change to try and address it, and if you consider our population of 1.3 billion people, I think such a large number of people really shifting from consumption of fossil fuels into renewable energy is a commitment globally also it makes a difference on a global scale which is unprecedented. 

08:04 Karan Takhar
Now we will briefly zoom out and listen to a clip from August 2019 linked in the show notes when Mr. Shringla talks about how the US-India relationship has evolved over time, where it stands today, and the lens through which he sees this relationship moving forward. 

08:25 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
I think today, India-US relations are, in many senses, representing an enviable situation to be seen between states. We have a comprehensive partnership that is political and strategic. It involves strong economic dimensions; it involves people-to-people contacts, and it is one that has, I think, developed very quickly over the last 10 to 15 years and reached a situation where I think there is strong traction for a good relationship among the people of both our countries. So as democracies, I think that is important factor support from people of both our countries or a good relationship is what drives us, and we, of course, understand that this relationship should not be seen from a short-term perspective. We see it in a long-term perspective, not just four or five years hence 50 years down the line. What is our strategic partnership? Where would we end up? How do we cooperate? Obviously, you know the basic ingredients, the inherent factors that contribute to the relationship are there, which is essential that we both strong democracies, we believe in the rule of law, share the same values, ideas, and principles, and this is what ensures that our relationship will move forward irrespective of some of the minor speed bumps that come along the way. So we certainly see the relationship as one that should be seen in a long-term perspective and that many of these issues that may arise as you go along can be addressed and can be addressed effectively, but the important thing is that it is a strategic partnership with the momentum of that partnership has to be sustained, it has to be seen in a long-term perspective, and one that I think has an inherent basis on which we can take this position. 

10:10 Karan Takhar
Now that we have the background and context through which Foreign Secretary Shringla uses the dynamics of the US-India partnership, we'll go back to our conversation where we focus in on the opportunities for collaboration between the two countries in the energy space specifically. 

10:31 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
Well, energy cooperation has been a game changer in the India-US economic partnership from being, you would say that a country that required to import 80% of energy requirements out of which we had no imports in the US. Today, I think the US has become one of our largest partners in terms of energy supply. The US has become the largest producer of energy in the world, and India has become the largest country in terms of net-intensive energy consumption in the world. So in a certain sense, there is no energy there but what is important is that we are not importing this fossil. We're not importing just crude oil. We are also importing LNG. LNG, for us, is a cleaner fuel, the cleanest way of the energy source of energy; we are not only importing from the United States, but we are also investing significantly in creating capacity in the United States for LNG, for example, the contract between Petronas and Delirium Company, which is Delirium of the United States involves an investment of at least $3 billion initially capacities in terms of providing an export outlet for energy which is produced in the state of Louisiana in the United States and this energy for us is clean energy. It comes in it is used in industrial production, used in households, used in the country, the substitute for coal and for other more you know so the US has really come up as an energy partner, but that's not all. The US is the greatest source of technology for cleaner energy, for technologies that reduce consumption of energy and that enable us to get more output from what we consume. So, essentially, in every way, the US is a partner in a premier partner in trying to ensure that we not only meet our requirements of energy security, but we do it in a manner that is less polluting, that contributes less to carbon emissions and to global greenhouse gas and emissions, and at the same time, cleaner energy profile within the country. 

12:32 Karan Takhar
Understood. And this is my last question. Thank you so much for your time. Mr. Shringla.  

12:37 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
Not at all

12:38 Karan Takhar
Yeah. So I'm very interested in this US-India partnership, and using clean energy is kind of like renewable energy, even LNG, but mostly renewable energy as a platform to continue building on that partnership, so are there any specific areas you recommend one would maybe financing or technology transfer or any specific area that you would recommend someone like me to focus on in terms of helping build that partnership further in the clean energy space? 

13:11 Harsh Vardhan Shringla
No, that's very important. I mean, I think the level of government support in financing that partnership, particularly, as you said, in technology transfers, I think is critical. We have an India-US energy dialogue which is headed to the level of ministers and the Energy Secretary from the US. I think they're likely to meet shortly on a virtual basis soon, and I think this is something that may not have come up, but essentially on the back of it, the success of a lot of these ventures depends on access to easy financing conditions and also that would facilitate not just financing I'm not talking about financing just for the supply of energy, but in terms of technology accessing technology, ensuring that technology is transferred in ways that can help us meet our goals and objectives in terms of lowering our fossil fuel consumption, increasing our renewable energy consumption and as I said, in ensuring that you know the energy that we consume is cleaner energy, it is energy that is less polluting. This is very important for us because we have a country of 1.3 billion people. Pollution, particularly in urban areas, is very high. We need to be able to clean our air, and ensure a less polluted environment for our younger generations to grow up, and in that context, the financing of our energy partnership, particularly in terms of technology and technology transfers, is absolutely critical; I think you had the right question and the right focus in this regard. 

14:40 Karan Takhar
I see. Thank you, Mr. Shinwa. I hope you enjoyed that episode. And do check out the show notes for more information on my guest. See you next time. 

Also Listen to Our Other Podcast

Related Podcasts

Rick Rossow | Senior Advisor at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Read More

Sameer Shukla | World Bank Energy Head for Europe and Central Asia

Read More

Meagan Fallone | CEO of Barefoot College International

Read More

Vaishali Sinha | CoFounder of ReNew Power (NASDAQ: RNW)

Read More