Barun Barpujari

During the Climate Week Event in New York in 2019, India announced uplifting of its commitment to renewable energy generating capacity to 450 GW by 2030 from its earlier commitment of 175 GW by 2022 pledged in 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. As part of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, India has committed to install around 40% of its power generation capacity based on non-fossil fuel resources by 2030. By November 2020, the installed renewable energy capacity in the country has touched 90.39 GW with 38.43 GW sourced from wind, 36.91 GW from solar, 10.31 GW from biopower and followed by 4.74 GW from hydro (excluding large hydro> 25 MW capacity). Today, this represents about 24% of the country’s entire installed capacity, against 10% at the beginning of the decade. It appears that India is well on its way towards achieving and surpassing the 40% target. A commendable achievement indeed, owing largely to the push from the Central Government. It not only infused enthusiasm in the industry, but also prompted policymakers at the State level to promote clean energy development.  Further, the launch of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) in 2010 catapulted the Indian solar market into the global league.

However, the journey forward to achieve capacity augmentation to achieve the targeted 450 GW translates into an average of nearly 36 GW annually till 2030. This certainly is a challenging task, calling for a combination of policy and fiscal support and participation of the Central and State governments and its agencies, global institutions, domestic public and private corporate entities and customer/consumer participation.

For India, the transition to renewable energy is of vital importance from the additional imperative of energy security perspective considering that its dependence on import of crude oil is pushing upwards of 85% to meet its burgeoning energy requirement. Replacing fossil fuel with clean energy to combat pollution is another important factor. India is blessed with good solar and moderate wind resources which need to be capitalized upon. Biofuels could fuel the rural economy as well and therefore needs to be pursued with vigour.

The north-eastern States of India could power its rural and remote areas through a mix of solar and small hydropower mini grids and solar home lighting systems. In view of recurrent floods and landslides disrupting the grids, these off/localized-grid solutions will serve well. During the monsoon period, power could be harnessed from the hydro systems while solar systems would provide the energy during the dry seasons. This is essential to reach the benefits of modern education and medical offerings to the residents and also facilitate economic empowerment and transformation.

From 2016 onwards, driven by ever low solar and wind tariffs, capacity additions in an otherwise coal-dominated sector tipped decisively towards renewable energy. In a noteworthy development, the annual renewable energy capacity addition surpassed the addition in coal-based capacity in 2018 for the first time in the history of the Indian power sector. The gap between the costs of new coal versus clean power generation continues to widen in favour of the latter.

In transportation, renewables can be used in the form of sustainable biofuels, which will substantially reduce the import dependency on crude oil. By nature, whether it is biodiesel, bio-ethanol or Compressed Bio Gas (CBG), they ensure local circular economy – local production, localized distribution and localized consumption – thereby eliminating a lot of logistical losses across the value chain and ensuring energy conservation.

The worldwide EV market has grown dramatically in recent years, with the global stock of passenger EVs surpassing 7.2 million in 2019 from a modest 17000 or so in 2010. Nevertheless, the rise in renewable energy use related to EV deployment remains a slow process, due to the need to both shift the vehicle fleet and to install charging stations that are either directly linked to renewable electricity or planned in parallel with shares of renewables in electricity generation. Increased electrification of transport can help to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in the sector, particularly in countries that are reaching high renewable shares in their electricity mix. EVs also offer the potential for significant final energy savings, as they are inherently more efficient than comparable internal combustion engine vehicles.

Wind power saw a steady growth in India for about three decades (1985-2015) driven by incentives such as accelerated depreciation and generation-based payments and attractive feed-in tariffs (FiT). However, thereafter the wind power has lost its sheen due to various reasons like policy changes, project execution difficulties, curtailments, etc. Given that India has high realizable wind energy potential – 302 GW at 100 metres hub height and 695 GW at 120 metres as per the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE) estimates – the problems associated with the growth of the wind sector need to be addressed at the earliest so that this sector gets back on track.

India’s solar story has seen a phenomenal growth. From a meagre 0.16 GW installed capacity at the beginning of 2010, the installed capacity increased to just short of 37 GW by November 2020. However, in order to reap the full benefit from the solar story, domestic manufacture of solar cells and modules need to be encouraged under the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative through a clearly defined roadmap and strong policies.

Non-thermal renewable energy technologies (such as wind power and solar PV) also have a low conversion efficiency, but in these cases the energy loss is irrelevant, because any potential energy not harnessed by these technologies is never part of the primary energy supply, unlike with fossil fuels that are extracted for electricity generation and for the production of refined fuels. As a consequence, non-thermal renewables have higher primary energy efficiency. Additionally, the dissipated energy in fossil fuel power plants (unlike ‘lost’ solar and wind energy) manifests itself in increased emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

Based on these factors, improving primary energy efficiency (and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions) in the power sector can be achieved in one of two ways: either by improving the efficiency of thermal power plants (through greater thermal conversion efficiency and through direct use of residual heat, or co-generation), or by reducing transformation losses through a shift to non-thermal renewable energy technologies.

(Published on the occasion of the Sanrakshan Kshamta Mahotsav, 2021.)