Asia’s richest man, Gautam Adani, made his vast fortune betting on coal as an energy-hungry India grew swiftly after liberalizing its economy in the 1990s.
He’s now set his sights on becoming the world’s biggest renewable energy player by 2030, adroitly aligning his investments with the government’s priorities.
As India grapples with climate change, the Adani Group, whose operations also span ports, power, farming and defence manufacturing, plans to invest $70 billion in solar, wind and other green energy projects over the next decade.
Adani, 60, has profited since fellow Gujarati Narendra Modi, India’s most influential prime minister in decades, took office in 2014.
The college dropout from a middle-class family fits the government’s need for “national champions,” both to meet domestic goals and as private sector partners in strategic projects outside India, said Mihir Sharma, an economist at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank
“It isn’t that government policies are shaped by the Adani Group so much as the Adani Group is a willing and able partner in what the government decides are its priorities,” Sharma said.
Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, having at times campaigned using a private jet owned by the tycoon, Adani’s net worth has shot up nearly 2,000% to $125 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. He surpassed Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to briefly become the world’s second richest man in September after a surge in the value of his seven listed entities
Adani’s businesses have won multibillion-dollar contracts to build ports, highways and power plants. The industrialist’s ambitions include developing drones and ammunition, the key to the government’s goal of boosting military-related exports to $5 billion while slashing costs for expensive imports.
Adani has also invested in agriculture, a massive priority for Modi, given the importance of the farm vote.
One of eight children in a middle-class family in Ahmedabad, in Modi’s west Indian home state of Gujarat, Adani began his career trading diamonds in the financial hub of Mumbai.
He returned home to join his brother in importing plastics before establishing Adani Enterprises in the 1980s, trading in everything from shoes to buckets. His career has known ups and downs: he was kidnapped for ransom in 1988 and survived 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai by hiding in the basement of a hotel militants were holding under siege
Though his wealth was built from coal mining and other heavy industries, early on, Adani recognized the promise of renewable energy, said Tim Buckley, director of Australia-based Climate Energy Finance, who has been tracking investments in renewables in Asia for decades.
Adani has capitalized on Indian government incentives promoting self-reliance and achieving net zero by 2070, recently receiving nearly $90 million in government subsidies to produce solar modules.
“I don’t think Gautam Adani thinks about climate science — but what he does do is understand the geopolitical and economic interests of India, and he positions himself to solve that problem for his own and India’s benefit,” Buckley said.
In December 2021, the Adani Group began exporting coal from Australia’s Carmichael mine after years of disputes with environmental groups. The project 300 kilometers (185 miles) west of the Queensland coast includes a rail line for shipping coal from the Galilee Basin to countries in Asia, including India.
Energy-hungry Bangladesh will soon start receiving a share of its electricity from an Adani coal-fired plant under construction in eastern India