By Steve Fiscor Publisher & Editor-in-Chief

In late March, CNN ran a story about the nephew of an Indian power baron opening the world’s largest green energy plant. It was greenwashing at its finest or most extreme, depending on how one views the world, energy, and politics. CNN and the other mainstream news sources fell for it hook, line and sinker. The report also highlights the fact that people fail to understand simple arithmetic when it comes to renewable energy.

The article tells the story of how Sagar Adani, the nephew of Asia’s second-richest man, Gautam Adani, is trying to offset India’s growing energy demand with the world’s largest solar array. The Adani name should ring a bell with Coal Age readers. The Adani Group commissioned the Carmichael mine in Australia two years ago. The company owns power plants in India and imports 70 million metric tons per year (mt/y) of coal. His uncle’s wealth is estimated at $100 billion.

Adani Green Energy Ltd. (AGEL) is building a solar array, the Khavda Renewable Energy Park, that will span more than 200 square miles. To put this in perspective, CNN said it was five times the size of Paris and would provide non-polluting power for 16 million homes when it’s completed five years from now. The report quoted Sagar as saying, “I don’t even do the math anymore.” So, let’s do the math for him.

Let’s assume each household has four people, which might be conservative for India. A solar array five times the size of Paris will provide 64 million people with power. Dehli has a population of 33.8 million people. So, AGEL’s new plant will provide twice as much power as Dehli would require when the sun is shining. India, however, has a population of 1.4 billion people. If the energy density of this project is 0.000003125 square miles of solar power per person (200 square miles divided by 64 million people), India would need 4,375 square miles of solar power to provide everyone with the same green energy.

Residential power consumption in India represents 26% of demand. And, renewable sources, mostly hydroelectric, already supply 22% of the country’s power demand. The existing renewable sources plus some nuclear generation (3%) would be a wash with residential consumption. India would only need 11,780 square miles of solar panels to account for the other 70% of electrical demand supplied mostly by coal.

This discussion only covers the use of land and not the externalities and impacts associated with costs. Unsubsidized solar energy is more expensive than coal-fired power, so the people of India would need to pay more money for their power. It also doesn’t account for the carbon that would be consumed to mine and process the raw materials needed to produce the arrays.

The reason that Sagar doesn’t do the math is that it would be an exercise in futility. The AGEL project, like many other renewable projects, is a demonstration of what’s possible, but not economically feasible or practical.