CNBC’s Inside India newsletter: A $270 billion gamble on green?

In Asia

Solar panels stand at the Welspun Energy solar power plant in Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Vivek Prakash | Bloomberg | Getty Images

This report is from this week’s CNBC’s “Inside India” newsletter which brings you timely, insightful news and market commentary on the emerging powerhouse and the big businesses behind its meteoric rise. Like what you see? You can subscribe here.

The big story

With Elon Musk deciding to stay home to deal with a high-pressure earnings report, India PM Narendra Modi is still waiting for his meeting with the Tesla boss.

But even if the two had crossed paths this month, any benefit to Tesla or to the Indian economy would have taken years to materialize — if not decades.

In the short term, there appears to be a ton of opportunities for investors, as India transitions toward renewables.

One sector in particular — electrical power transmission — will see $270 billion in financial benefits, according to Goldman Sachs. It’s expected to spur investments on a scale that rivals that of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act’s $369 billion subsidy program. 

While utilities like the Power Grid Corporation of India may be perceived as unsexy, compared to growth stocks like Tesla, India plans to promote renewable energy without the taxpayer spending a single rupee. 

This is made possible by allowing consumers of renewable energy to access the inter-state transmission grid at no cost. Industrial companies established in one state, for example, would pay solar and wind farms for energy production in another state — without the added transmission cost.

Instead, the cost of transporting this green energy will be shifted to consumers of non-renewable energy, making the delivery cost-neutral for taxpayers. 

The impact of such a framework is expected to be felt across the economy. 

Clean energy consumers are less likely to be held hostage by a mere cloud hovering over a local solar power plant, since the grid is expected to redirect electricity from a solar farm running at full tilt somewhere else in the country. 

Ensuring uninterrupted renewable energy without using high-cost batteries also means that previously unviable industries could be given fresh opportunities.

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For instance, the cost of producing green hydrogen is reduced by 30% as electrolyzers can be run round-the-clock, according to Goldman.

Companies such as Reliance Industries and Adani Enterprises have already set targets of lowering the cost of hydrogen production to $1 per kilogram by 2030, which would seriously undercut fossil fuel-derived forms of hydrogen. 

Cheaper hydrogen will make India home to manufacturers of green ammonia, a key fertilizer ingredient, and potentially enable farming self-sufficiency for the world’s most populous country.

It doesn’t end there. From an energy producer’s perspective, it will allow solar power plants and wind farms to be built where the sun shines longer and the wind blows stronger.

This will likely create jobs and opportunities, which are becoming a focal point in the ongoing general election — and generate them much more evenly across the country, rather than force concentration in any one state.

It’s been relatively easy to add renewables to the energy mix in the past, as India has had excess capacity in its transmission grid.

The country has added about 70 gigawatts of solar power capacity over the past decade without piling on further costs by simply maximizing the grid’s usage. However, there is a risk that growth in renewable energy production might be held back, unless large-scale investments are made to expand the grid’s capacity.

Ironically, any development that makes grid-scale batteries — which can store energy for the grid reliably and safely — more affordable is also likely to change the course of India’s energy transition. Batteries are often deployed where they are needed, which means energy production and consumption are localized and concentrated in a handful of areas.

Currently, state governments in India levy surcharges and taxes on every unit of carbon-intensive energy transmitted through the grid. As the share of total electricity generated from renewables rises, the fee-free access for clean energy would mean a steady decline in future tax receipts. Sensing this, a number of local governments could revolt against the policy.

Above all, if dirty energy consumers are unwilling to tolerate an increase in energy prices to offset clean energy, going green could become a distant dream.

The latest on the elections

News Editor Vinay Dwivedi is our roving reporter in India, as the elections kick off. His first dispatch late last week looked at Tamil Nadu — India’s sixth-largest state by parliamentary seats, which is usually dominated by regional parties, namely the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But winds of change appear to be blowing, with pundits and politicians telling CNBC that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is set to post remarkable growth in the region.

This week in New Delhi, Vinay looked at the major issue of unemployment. Joblessness is particularly high among India’s youth — with those aged 15 to 29 making up a sizeable 83% of all the unemployed people in the country.‎ These statistics are used against Modi, with the country’s main opposition calling the situation a “ticking bomb.”

Need to know

Vodafone Idea gets much needed boost with FPO. An FPO, or follow-on offering, is another public offering that happens after the company’s IPO. In the case of mobile network operator Vodafone Idea, it was a chance to raise funds, improve competitiveness and combat years of subscriber losses. Shares surged by over 14% as the new listing began on Tuesday.

The Maldives is expected to shift away from India politically. Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s ruling pro-China party cemented its grip on power over the weekend in a landslide election victory. The result is expected to accelerate the Indian Ocean archipelago’s shift toward Beijing and away from its traditional ally of India.

India’s favorite sport prepares for huge U.S. showcase. We also looked at the upcoming T20 World Cup which is being co-hosted by the U.S. and the West Indies. India, where cricket is the most popular sport, is set for mouth-watering matchups with Pakistan and the U.S.

Jamie Dimon says the U.S. needs someone like Modi. India’s PM appears to have another high-profile backer. Speaking at an organized by the Economic Club of New York, the JPMorgan boss reportedly praised Modi’s “tough” approach to India’s bureaucratic system and said that “a little bit more of that” is needed in the U.S.

8 stocks to buy as India’s huge election gets underway. [Subscriber content] On CNBC Pro, we had various strategists give their take on the India market — with a few agreeing that large caps offer a good risk-reward that investors can capitalize on.

What happened in the markets?

The Indian stock market indexes, Sensex and Nifty 50, are heading for a positive week so far, after shedding about 1.5% last week. The benchmarks are up by 2.23% and 3.86% so far this year, respectively.

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The 10-year Indian government bond yield has fallen back to 7.18%, after briefly surging by 5 basis points on Friday. The Indian rupee has gained against the U.S. dollar, as global oil prices edged lower from their $90 peak last week.

For equity investors, the iShares MSCI India ETF is up 1.3% so far this week, underperforming the iShares All Country World Index ETF, which is up 2.1%. The India ETF is up by 6.5% this year.

On CNBC TV this week, we featured Mumuksh Mandlesha, a research analyst at Anand Rathi Institutional Equities, who discussed government policy and the outlook for India’s automotive sector.

Staying on the topic of cars, we also spoke with Rajeev Chaba, CEO Emeritus of MG Motor India, who responded to a question on Tesla saying that competition in the space “is limited at this point of time … I wish more and more players come, with more and more choices.”

Rob Brewis, a portfolio manger at Aubrey Capital Management, meanwhile argued that a better short-term investment opportunity was actually India’s electric two wheelers.

What’s happening next week?

Aside from the elections, we’ll have one of the leading heating equipment companies in India completing its IPO over the new week. The listing date for JNK India will be next Tuesday.

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CNBC’s Inside India newsletter: A $270 billion gamble on green?

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