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Asia’s richest man plans to invest $76 billion in green projects

© BloombergMukesh Ambani, billionaire, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd., pauses during a panel session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.
Mukesh Ambani, billionaire, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd., pauses during a panel session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.

The conglomerate led by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, announced plans to invest $76 billion toward clean energy projects, dwarfing an earlier commitment of $10 billion by the world’s biggest fossil-fuel billionaire.

Reliance Industries Ltd., controlled by Ambani, has signed pacts with the state government of Gujarat in India for a total investment of 5.96 trillion rupees ($81 billion), according to an exchange filing Thursday. Of this, about 5 trillion rupees would be used over the next 15 years to build 100 gigawatts of renewable power projects and a green hydrogen network, while 600 billion rupees will be for factories making solar modules, hydrogen electrolyzers, fuel cells and storage batteries, the filing said.

The remaining sum is to be spent in the retail-to-refining group’s new and existing projects, including the upgrade of its telecom network for 5G services and expansion of its consumer retail businesses. Reliance has already “started the process of scouting land” for its renewable energy power projects and has requested the Gujarat administration for 450,000 acres (182,110 hectares) in the arid Kutch region.

Though the investment pact is just a memorandum of understanding right now, it outlines the scope of Ambani’s green ambitions and is a big step up from the $10 billion investment over three years he had announced in June. Ambani is in the midst of transforming his fossil fuel-fed empire and pivoting it toward green energy and digital technology.

Ambitious Target

These projects will also boost Reliance’s target to make its operations carbon neutral by 2035 – an ambitious target for a company that derived 60% of its revenue from oil refining and petrochemicals.

The announcement follows billionaire Gautam Adani-led conglomerate’s pact with South Korean steel giant Posco to explore business opportunities in India, including setting up a green steel mill in Gujarat, with a potential investment of $5 billion. Adani has committed to invest a total of $70 billion by 2030 across its green energy value chain.

Both the billionaires and their ability to walk the talk on their green energy commitments are crucial if the Narendra Modi-led government has to achieve its target of making the country net carbon zero by 2070.

Like their global peers, Reliance and Adani groups, who made their fortunes from fossil fuels, are now aggressively expanding their clean energy footprint amid mounting pressure to join the fight against climate change.

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