Renewable energy lessons in the textile sector – from India to East Africa

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Soumyajit Kar, Programme Officer, International Trade Centre

The adoption of renewable energy in the textile sector is being catalysed on two fronts. On one hand, the value chain being extremely cost-sensitive, renewables promise manufacturers a significant reduction in expenditure on power. A 2019 SITA survey of 112 textile and apparel companies in East Africa revealed high power costs to be one of the principal deterrents to technology upgradation. On the other hand, large international clothing brands are increasingly trying to introduce sustainable elements in their supply chains, and clean energy is one of the principal focus areas. In an industry-wide trend, these brands are favouring suppliers who abide by international environmental standards while making concerted efforts to incorporate sustainable production practices, including renewable energy. It is thus in the economic interest of East African textile and apparel companies to go green.

The Indian experience in popularizing renewable energy for industrial production offers many lessons that can be incorporated and improved on in East Africa. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the textile industry was one of the earliest adopters, drivers and, hence, beneficiaries of using wind power. The success story of wind power in Tamil Nadu is one of active cooperation between the industry, the state government and the central government. In addition, in the last decade, the growth of solar energy capacity in India has been remarkable. This was made possible thanks to a conducive institutional and legislative framework, coupled with complementary growth in physical infrastructure to render the use of solar energy economically viable.

SITA’s new report tries to draw from India’s experience in renewables to evaluate improvements and replicability in East Africa. A majority of the five countries studied in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) have a commitment to completely phase out the use of electricity generated from non-renewable sources by 2050. At the same time, a large section of their population remains to be connected to the grid. These two factors, combined with the sharp downward trend in the cost of solar-powered technologies, present a unique opportunity to these countries in achieving universal electrification through a clean, cheap tool, such as solar energy. In some countries, wind energy is also a viable alternative, which can facilitate faster overall adoption of clean energy.

The countries studied in the report each has unique elements in their power market. Additionally, they differ in terms of the size and significance of the textile and apparel value chain in their national economies. These differences imply that a uniform policy solution to drive the use of renewable energy in these countries does not exist. The solutions need to be local and adapted to the operating constraints in each of these countries, involving thorough stakeholder engagement. In all of these countries, the share of renewables in the energy mix, both in terms of total capacity and generation, vastly exceeds that of India’s share. Nevertheless, the per capita availability of renewable energy in India is much higher.

Image by Roy Buri from Pixabay 

In India, from the 1980s, the government has taken legislative steps, and created nurturing institutions that provided the necessary policy support to a nascent renewable sector in the country. The case of the state of Tamil Nadu has been highlighted as one of the major success stories in using wind energy to achieve industrial competitiveness, and it is a testament to a productive collaboration between the central government, state government and private enterprise. In recent years, the use of solar energy has grown significantly in India, thanks to developments in physical infrastructure and photovoltaic (PV) cell technologies. Solar energy has also enjoyed much support from the government, in terms of specific policy instruments to boost its uptake and financing. Among East African countries while renewables make up the bulk of the energy mix the share of solar and wind energy is very little. All five countries, lying in the tropical zone, are endowed with rich solar resources, which renders solar energy one of the most efficient tools towards achieving clean universal electrification. Some countries, like Kenya, also have exploitable wind resources, making wind energy another viable option in the energy mix.

The report also lays out individual recommendations for each of the five countries’ textile sectors in adopting specific aspects from the Indian model, based on their power market and textile sector peculiarities. While a concerted policy, legislative and institutional support to the renewable energy sector is a universal lesson in catalysing growth, the choice of policy and legislative instruments is a function of a country’s binding context and constraints. The recommendations presented are preliminary and exploratory, designed to stimulate a productive policy and business discourse on renewables in the five countries.

The report is available on the website, on the in-text hyperlinks above. For any other information, contact Soumyajit Kar,

Featured Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.