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How hard will it be for India to switch to renewable energy?

Early morning workers head to an Indian coal mine Source: Getty

India is the world’s third-largest emitter of fossil fuels and still relies heavily on coal; millions of jobs depend on it and more coal mines are being constructed. The country is starting to move towards alternative sources like solar and has set ambitious targets for renewable energy. But with India predicted to have the largest increase in energy demand of any other nation in the next two decades, how quickly can it wean itself off coal?

It's early morning in Orissa in Eastern India, part of the country's coal belt. Already, there's a lot of activity - trucks going in and out, collecting coal to transport it around the region.

Women in dazzling pink saris collect lumps of coal with their bare hands, before carrying it in baskets on their heads with expert precision.

And men on bicycles balance huge bags of the black stuff on their handlebars, as they trundle their way down the dusty roads. Supplies from here and the wider region help power this vast nation.

More than two-thirds of the country's energy production depends on it.

Such is the demand, that India is planning on opening or expanding dozens of coal mines in the coming years and continues to import it all.

Union leader Sudarsha Mohandi says coal is India's primary source of energy.

"[India cannot live without coal. If we stop the coal production, then how can we maintain our livelihood?"

The average Indian still consumes far less energy than the average Australian.

But with a population of more than 1.3 billion, it's no surprise that the country's energy needs are predicted to grow more than any other nation in the next two decades.

Dr Arunabha Ghosh is a climate expert and CEO of India's Council on Energy, Environment and  Water.

He says India is already shifting to cleaner sources like solar.

But he says the country needs more investment to make that switch to renewables.

"We are on the roof of a housing society. And what you can see are these solar panels that have been installed across all the buildings here. India has already set out some of the most aggressive renewable energy targets in the world. The more rapidly we can get more investment, the quicker we can keep shifting away from the older energy infrastructure."

Click on the player above to listen to this feature in Punjabi.

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