From Poverty to Moon Landing: How Coal Propelled Indian Economy

From the CO2 Coalition

By Vijay Jayaraj

On August 23, India landed a craft near the Moon’s South Pole – an historic feat matched only by three other countries and made possible by the subcontinent’s largely uninhibited use of fossil fuels.

The acceleration of coal usage between 2000 and 2020 played a pivotal role in bringing electricity to billions and ushering in a new era of economic growth and improved living standards. So much so, that a nation that once did not even have enough food for its population now has funds for space missions.

Fossil Fuels and the Rise of Electricity Access in India

India is a country with a long history of energy poverty — a term that encapsulates the struggle of millions to access basic electricity services. In 1995, only about 50% of the people had access to electricity. Vast segments of the population suffered stunted economic development and substandard education, healthcare and overall quality of life. Rural homes were shrouded in darkness after sunset, hindering productivity and limiting opportunities.

The situation began to change in the early 2000s as the Indian government committed to expand electricity access. One of the key drivers was the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.

Coal is a cheap and abundant source of energy and well-suited for large-scale power generation. Harnessing its abundant coal reserves, India embarked on a journey to alleviate energy poverty, ignite industrial growth and improve the lives of millions.

By 2020, the number of Indians with access to electricity had reached 99%. Yes, fossil fuels improved the lives of billions.

Electric lighting has replaced kerosene lamps, improving indoor air quality and reducing health hazards. It has also extended educational opportunities by enabling students to study after sunset. Daily routines have been transformed because households can engage in activities once limited to daylight hours.

Electrical appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines made lives more comfortable and convenient. Women liberated from the drudgery of handwashing clothes and cooking over smoky fires, are better positioned for educational and occupational opportunities.

Industries ranging from manufacturing and agriculture to information technology have thrived with consistent power supply. As a result, Indian employment has grown at a rapid pace in the past two decades.

India’s progress in eradicating poverty and improving education, gender equality and sanitation aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

During the fiscal year ending March 2022, coal-generated electricity accounted for 72% of all electricity consumed by the country’s 1.3 billion people. In 2022-2023, this rose to 73%.

A famous social media influencer once said, “Facts don’t care about feelings.” And billions of Indians taking pride in their lunar accomplishment and enjoying economic improvements couldn’t care less about the hostility of Western leaders toward the fossil fuels that have made their future brighter.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK.

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Edward Katz
August 23, 2023 6:25 pm

That’s because reality and convenience will trump pipe dreams every time. Once Indians recognized what electricity could do to improve their living standards, they didn’t particularly care where it came from and still don’t. Only in the West do the environmental dreamers keep deluding themselves and others with fantasies of abundant energy from wind and solar.

Reply to  Edward Katz
August 24, 2023 10:50 am

I spent time working in India – the poverty in rural areas was stark – the lack of electrified modern day living unbelievable – I say good luck to them in their development via fossil fuels – long live King Coal

Tom Halla
August 23, 2023 6:32 pm

India is so large, people do not appreciate the number of fairly prosperous Indians. Sure, there are a lot of rather poor people, but a large number are as well off economically as many Europeans or Americans.

Reply to  Tom Halla
August 24, 2023 6:24 am

The amount of high-rise residential construction in places like Hyderabad will astonish people. The middle class in India has seen explosive growth over the past 20 years.

Reply to  kurtajohnson
August 24, 2023 10:53 am

Only if you are from the right side of town – the caste system is still very divisive

Reply to  Tom Halla
August 24, 2023 10:53 am

The rural areas I worked in, for a large international company, were poverty struck – no electricity, no clean water systems, no sanitation, poor health care etc etc – I wish them every luck using their indigenous fossil fuels to power their way forward

old cocky
Reply to  Energywise
August 24, 2023 3:23 pm

Apparently that’s improving.

One of my former colleagues is a Sikh gentleman from a farming family in the Punjab. He used to visit family there every few years, and told me that conditions had improved considerably each trip. He was quite impressed by the quality and ubiquity of the Indian mobile phone system.

He changed jobs about 10 years ago, so I don’t know if the continual improvement is still the case.

August 23, 2023 7:06 pm

Real, cheap energy is the key. That is why Democrat Party has been actively destroying both in America.

abolition man
Reply to  2hotel9
August 23, 2023 8:03 pm

Not just cheap energy; modern Marxist policies, which the DemoKKKrats espouse, are targeted at the middle class, that bastion of traditional values which are anathema to command and control governments!
You can see the results of their policies in Commifornia, where American blue collar workers have been replaced to a large extent by undocumented workers, largely from Central America. I know, I was one of the workers so displaced! In addition to a shrinking middle class, the state also boasts some of the highest levels of poverty and wealth inequality in the nation; and this is a state with one of the highest cost of living standards as well!
India has a great deal to be proud of; shrinking poverty, a growing middle class. I hope that they can be a shining example of how to achieve increased human wealth and liberty! Perhaps someday Commifornia will try to emulate their excellent education and economic policies!

Reply to  2hotel9
August 24, 2023 1:30 am

cheap energy is the key.

Thought I have to scroll all the way down to say that!

Reply to  2hotel9
August 24, 2023 5:29 am

Destroying real, cheap energy, heh? And the British Uni-Party is well ahead on that road.

Kevin Kilty
August 23, 2023 7:19 pm

Over the past few days there have been majority rude remarks about India and Indian engineers on a number of otherwise good news sites. I don’t understand the arrogance of Americans at times. We may fare no better than the Russians did a few days ago as we try to get Artemis to the moon. As it says on the Old Engineering building on campus “The control of nature is won, not given.”

For about 5 years I did contract work for a large Japanese chemical firm. We had 700 hundred engineers in the plant, campus of plants actually, where I worked, overwhelmingly from Asia. I thought the Indian engineers were quite impressive over all, and the reason was that they worked an internship every year in school — diesel engine overhaul plant, textile mill, foundry, etc. etc. By graduation they had plenty of practical experience, spoke English better than quite a few Americans and were very capable at handling people-problems, particularly with the overbearing American unionized workers.

I am very happy about the success of Chandrayaan-3 and that Indians have now 99% access to electricity 72% or which is from coal.

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  Kevin Kilty
August 23, 2023 7:25 pm

We had only 700 not 700 hundred, but wordpress won’t let me edit.

Reply to  Kevin Kilty
August 24, 2023 1:26 am

Yes , someone has screwed up the edit function and it aways says “you are post to quickly”, which is kinda the point of an edit.

At the same time you can do a new post and it works.

Reply to  Kevin Kilty
August 23, 2023 8:12 pm

I haven’t had your level of experience of working with Indian people Kevin, but I have found them generally affable, committed and ready to put in the work effort expected of them.

Exceptions of course as with all people, but I did notice the ‘entitlement’ attitude in younger generation new university degrees graduates.

But as I said, my experiences are not extensive.

Reply to  Mr.
August 24, 2023 1:36 am

I did notice the ‘entitlement’ attitude in younger generation

Human beings are very sensitive to the smell of rot, a survival trait. Those Indian youngsters were probably just reacting to their first contact with so-called Western culture. The Chinese youth are really bad at hiding it.
Europeans have been living in that stench for so long, only the fresh storm wind from Africa has a chance of reviving their own true cultures.

Dave Burton
Reply to  Kevin Kilty
August 23, 2023 10:04 pm

I’ve seen no rude remarks, in fact, nothing but admiration for the Indian engineers who soft-landed a lander with a robot rover on the moon, on a budget of less than US$100M.

I don’t think SpaceX & Musk are looking over their shoulder at the ESA, JAXA, or ULA. It’s competition from India which they probably worry about.

Reply to  Dave Burton
August 24, 2023 1:32 am

Nah, India did not do this on their own. Russia got India TO the moon. India buys their rockets. Stupidly RF sent their own south pole lander prematurely, without proper testing in a blatant attempt to pip India at the post.

That failed in a messy crash because of a stupid error in the timing of the slow down burn, which would have been caught if thorough testing was done. If they had accepted getting there second in a few months they would very likely have succeeded instead of wasting the entire mission.

Dave Burton
Reply to  climategrog
August 24, 2023 7:53 am

Are you sure? From what I’ve read, they used their own PSLV rocket.

Do you mean that some components of the PSLV are sourced from Russia (like our Atlas used Russian RD-180 engines)? If so, which components?

Richard Page
Reply to  Dave Burton
August 24, 2023 6:20 pm

I’ve been looking through the available specs on the PSLV rocket and I can’t find a single mention of anything sourced from Russia – it all appears to have been made in India, even the designs are developments of earlier Indian designs or prototypes. I would be exceedingly interested to find out what the Russian contribution was that climategrog knows about?

Reply to  Kevin Kilty
August 24, 2023 10:55 am

It’s not 99% access – I’ve worked there several years ago – the rural areas are still bereft of electricity, clean water, sanitation etc

August 23, 2023 8:10 pm

This is good news out of India. Do the Indians burn their coal as clean as possible? I have visions of India being quite polluted but in the end I really know nothing about the country.

Reply to  Bob
August 24, 2023 3:10 am

Coal burning has come a long way. There are systems to ‘carburate’ the coal to dust, then burn it like gas, there are heat recyclers using warm ashes to warm up things usually done with more fuel, bubbling the ashes through microbial ponds to recover precious minerals… There is quite a bit of interesting research going on, and India is taking part.
But as Tim the Tool likes to say, my knowledge on this rests on very old readings by which I filter tidbits and braggarts to extract current state of the art, so I’m probably out of date…

Dave Andrews
Reply to  cilo
August 24, 2023 9:02 am

There is an interesting series of 4 posts about developments in coal burning at

links to the other parts in that post.

Reply to  Dave Andrews
August 26, 2023 7:11 pm

The part of the URL fast=one should be fast-one

Reply to  ugaap
August 26, 2023 7:16 pm

I was not able to edit my comment. It should be
“The part of the URL fast=part should be fast-part”

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  Bob
August 24, 2023 6:02 am

I suspect India is where GE is selling most of the advanced ultrasupercritical boilers and turbines. They’ll have a modern fleet while ours limps forward and is eventually all decommissioned.

Reply to  Bob
August 24, 2023 10:58 am

It needs to burn much more coal to get to where the west is

August 23, 2023 9:53 pm

Moon landing, … Nuclear weapons, … Airlines,… such old technology to worry about. Its been 50 years! Most of the designs can be googled. How may times a day does Delta Airlines outdo Amelia Earheart? When JVC was making VCRs pop culture said that Japanese businessmen would buy up Alaska, Hawaii and New York.

Reply to  KevinM
August 23, 2023 11:39 pm

Rocket science is still not easy.
NOTE: Russia tried the exact same mission earlier in this very week and failed.
In my experience, Indian engineers are hardworking and creative.

Reply to  MCourtney
August 24, 2023 2:11 am

Rocket science…

…is an engineering principle.
I was wondering, though; did some narcissist idjit in the Kremlin try rush theirs so they can land before the Indians, and, against all engineering advice, followed the science, and effed it up?
The kind of thing a political appointee would risk your reputation for, know what I mean…

Reply to  MCourtney
August 24, 2023 10:03 pm

As my former rocket science colleagues agree, rocket science is easy. Rocket engineering is hard.

Reply to  KevinM
August 24, 2023 2:07 am

…said that Japanese businessmen would buy up…

Japanese, Saudis, Chinese, Koreans, Baal Gateses… all much of a sameness, yeah?

August 23, 2023 11:29 pm

Don’t forget the aid India still receives from the U.K….

Reply to  strativarius
August 24, 2023 2:12 am

You mean restitution?
Nah! You actually mean “aid”, which comes as interest-bearing loans with extractive subclauses and genocidal legal proscriptions.

Reply to  cilo
August 24, 2023 4:43 am

You do seem full of it.

I know what I mean while you mentally masturbate

Reply to  strativarius
August 24, 2023 4:54 am

“”Nigel Farage says UK should not be ‘giving a penny’ to India after Moon landing””

Reply to  strativarius
August 24, 2023 10:59 am

I agree

August 24, 2023 1:23 am

an historic feat matched only by three other countries

No , they are the FIRST to land at the pole.

Peta of Newark
August 24, 2023 4:47 am

I never thought that good folks of India were very much into cheese.
Fermented milks, yoghurt and stuff maybe but not cheese.
Oh well, learn something new every day – and a coal-powered rocket is exactly the thing Wallace would have contrived

A Grand Day Out – Landing on the Moon – Wallace and Gromit

August 24, 2023 6:25 am

Well done, India.

August 24, 2023 10:22 am

India’s historic feat of landing a spacecraft safely at the south pole of the moon could NEVER be done using ONLY Wind turbine and Solar Panel electricity.

They couldn’t even provide the electricity to power the lights in the buildings and the computers used to DESIGN the spacecraft and all of the support system or to transport it to the launch pad and fuel it and launch it or guide it or land it safely on the moon…..Only hydrocarbons and nuclear energy could provide that electricity and fuel and supply the more than 6000 products derived from refining petroleum and that went into the project.

August 24, 2023 10:32 am

A blast from the past from the TOTALLY POLITICIZED “Physics dot Org” gang of Junk Pseudo-Science stooges, present company excepted if you reject their Junk Pseudo-Science Political agenda.

He who laughs last lands spacecraft on the moon while the loser sits in the cold and dark in the winter lamenting his foolish decisions.

India’s coal plant plans conflict with climate commitments…..BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
April 25, 2017, American Geophysical Union

August 24, 2023 10:47 am

The UK has sent India £2.1Bn since 2016 in foreign aid – they’re over and on the moon, whilst the UK political classes pontificate the definition of a woman – the West are imploding

August 24, 2023 10:49 am

Again speaking of “MOONSHOT,”…or maybe this one should be labeled “BUFFOON SHOT”…. another “Blast” from the past…..LITERALLY!! I wonder if they are having second thoughts “Down Under” about having DEMOLISHED a major COAL PLANT in South Australia.

South Australia NPS West Coal Bunker and Tower Demolition (courtesy WUWT archives)
comment image

Andy Pattullo
August 24, 2023 11:03 am

Three cheers for India and for politicians who put the needs and aspirations of their people ahead of “virtuous” posturing and the evil but widespread use of fear and imaginary threats to keep power for themselves and deprive the powerless of the necessities of life.

Josh Scandlen
August 25, 2023 4:19 pm

Let’s spend money we don’t have on a fake moon landing

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