Rising from the bare expanse of the large salt desert that separates India from Pakistan is what will likely be the world’s largest renewable energy project when completed three years from now.
The solar and wind energy project will be so big that it will be visible from space, according to developers of what is called the Khavda renewable energy park, named after the village nearest to the project site.
At the site, thousands of laborers install pillars on which solar panels will be mounted. The pillars rise like perfectly aligned concrete cactuses that stretch as far as the eye can see. Other workers are building foundations for enormous wind turbines to be installed; they also are transporting construction material, building substations and laying wires for miles.
When completed, the project will be about as large as Singapore, spreading out over 726 square kilometers (280 square miles). The Indian government estimates it will cost at least $2.26 billion.
Shifting to renewable energy is a key issue at the ongoing COP28 climate summit. Some leaders have voiced support for a target of tripling renewable energy worldwide in any final agreement while curbing use of coal, oil and natural gas, which spew planet-warming gases into the atmosphere.
What makes this heavy industrial activity peculiar is that it’s taking place in the middle of the Rann of Kutch in western India’s Gujarat state. The Rann is an unforgiving salt desert and marshland at least 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from the nearest human habitation but just a short army truck ride away from one of the world’s most tense international borders separating the two South Asian nations.
GROUND ZERO OF INDIA’S CLEAN ENERGY TRANSITION
When The Associated Press visited the renewable energy park, two days of unseasonal heavy rains had left the ground muddy and water logged since the only escape for water in this rough terrain is evaporation. This made it even harder for the workers to do their job.
Notwithstanding the tough conditions, an estimated 4,000 workers and 500 engineers have been living in makeshift camps for the better part of the past year toiling to get this project up and running.
Once completed, it will supply 30 gigawatts of renewable energy annually, enough to power nearly 18 million Indian homes.
As India aims to install 500 gigawatts of clean energy by the end of the decade and to reach net zero emissions by 2070, this project site will likely contribute significantly to the world’s most populous country’s transition to producing energy from non-carbon spewing sources.
As things stand, India is still mostly powered by fossil fuels, especially coal, which generate more than 70% of India’s electricity. Renewable energy currently contributes about 10% of India’s electricity needs. The country is also currently the third-largest emitter of planet-warming gases behind China and the United States.
“There are people working here from all over India,” said KSRK Verma, Khavda project head for Adani Green Energy Limited, the renewable energy arm of the Adani Group, which the Indian government has contracted to build 20 gigawatts of the project. Verma, with over 35 years of experience building dams across turbulent South Asian rivers and enormous natural gas tanks under the Bay of Bengal, says this is one of the most difficult projects he’s undertaken.