Coal India, the world’s biggest coal producer, is responsible for about 82% of India’s total fossil fuel output.
But that might be about to change.
Facing mounting environmental pressures and increasing competition from renewable energy sources, this week the state-controlled coal mining company announced it will close 37 of its 430 mines before March of next year because they are no longer economically viable.
The closure would save around 8 billion rupees, or $124 million, according to the Independent.
The government also announced that it will halt construction of new coal plants after 2022, and predicts that renewable energy will generate 57% of the country’s power by 2027.
This is part of a larger trend, in which the rapidly-developing South Asian country is gradually switching from dirty to clean energy.
Last month, plans to build nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations were scrapped. The move will have “profound” ramifications for the global energy markets, according to Tim Buckley, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
“India’s solar tariffs have literally been free falling in recent months,” he added.
As a matter of fact, solar is now as much as 50% cheaper than coal power, according to solar research firm Bridge to India. At this rate, the firm concluded, India is expected to become the third-largest solar market in the world this year.
It’s all part of an ambitious plan set forward by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reduce fossil-fuel pollution in a country that is home to nearly half of the world’s 30 most-polluted cities.
In 2013, coal-based thermal power plants were responsible for more than 75% of sulfur dioxide emissions in all 23 Indian states, according to a study by Clean Air Nation and GreenPeace. In the same year, toxic air pollution caused 1,800 deaths each day in the country, up from 1,300 in 2000.
A February report by a Delhi-based research group found that if the cost of renewable energy continues to fall at the same rate, India could completely phase out coal by 2050, ushering in a solar power revolution that could save the lives of thousands of people.