Last updated on July 15, 2020
The Indian energy landscape is seeing a paradigm shift. Our journey from a developing nation to leading the global transition to cleaner energy sources has been rigorous but swift. India now stands at No. 5 in terms of total renewable energy, with an installed capacity of 72 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy—around 8% of India’s overall electricity generation. The shift to clean energy is inevitable, here’s a look at some of the key driving factors.
1) Climate change and the increasing energy demand: As the world’s fastest growing large economy, to sustain our growth, we need to exponentially increase our energy output. With the success of the government’s efforts in rural electrification, we will need to double today’s generation levels by 2030, and we cannot afford to have all this come from coal. The health hazards created by an increased consumption of carbon riddled fossil fuels would be another concern in addition to the climate change. Air pollution is the 3rd highest cause of death in India, ranking above smoking. A 2019 report by Health Effects Institute (HEI), revealed that air pollution, both outdoor and indoor, contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017. That, is alarming.
Keeping this in mind, we need to make discerning choices to incorporate more clean energy in our energy mix. Fossil fuels like coal account for nearly 55% of our energy requirements, renewable energy would need to replace a majority of the additional requirements generated.
2) Great resource potential: India has a geographical advantage, making it an ideal country for renewable energy adoption. With over 300 days of sunshine we have a realistically attainable potential of 750 GW of solar PV. We also have strong wind resource. And an attainable potential of 300 GW at 100m tower heights. Additionally, in a price sensitive market like India, pushing for a switch to clean energy makes economic sense. Electricity from renewables will soon be consistently cheaper than from most fossil fuels. According to the IRENA’s report on ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs’, by 2020 the solar & wind electricity costs will be the lowest yet, making it ideal for an economy like ours.
3) Reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports: Coal is one of the top five commodities India imports, adding to its trade deficit and hurting the valuation of the rupee. According to data from American Fuels & Natural Resources, a Dubai-based trader of U.S.-origin coal, thermal coal imports jumped 19 percent to 171.85 million tonnes in last year, post a two year decline. The fastest growth since 2014 in the coal industry, a sad statistic indeed. How then, can we tackle it?
The solution to the above conundrum seems obvious; increased renewable energy. It isn’t as simple though. Despite the exponential growth in India’s renewable energy capacity in the last few years, the industry still needs interventions to keep on this track. We need to create a robust system that can seamlessly integrate clean energy to the existing grid infrastructure to supplement and offer reprieve to our dependency on thermal power. But most importantly, we need to understand, account for, and address the variability of renewable energy through better grid management.
It is inexorable that intermittency will become a concern as renewable energy starts to account for a greater share of the overall supply. The lack of wind or cloudy days can be managed, though. India needs to utilise the transition period to better prepare itself for a more dynamic, fluid electricity grid. Adding measures like increased number of solar-wind hybrid plants, building enhanced evacuation infrastructure to transport bulk energy over vast distances, digitising the grids to react to consumer patterns, developing battery storage solutions and improving the DISCOM health will set us on the right path.
Maintaining momentum of our efforts to cut carbon emissions need appropriate technological and public policy interventions. While the renewable energy sector may not be able to reduce India’s coal dependency immediately, measured steps to better prepare the economy for a transition will help us get to the goal faster.2