Friday, April 12, 2024

Is India Renewable Energised?

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“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed”—Mahatma Gandhi

A recent report published by Niti Aayog highlights that India’s current installed electricity generation capacity of 275GW is significantly higher than the peak demand of 140GW. The capacity level of coal, which dominates as the primary energy source in India, is higher than its peak demand. Then, why is the country facing power shortage? Reasons are plenty, including:

  1. 1. High transmission and distribution losses at the distribution company (discom) level
  2. 2. Sub-standard health of infrastructure units supporting power generation facilities
  3. 3. Shortage of coal supply across all generation points due to connectivity issues
  4. 4. Unregulated price of imported coal

Owing to these and other pertinent issues, discoms, which purchase energy from these plaguing power generation units, face the problem of higher input costs, which ultimately affects the consumer! So when you face a power outage in your home today, don’t think that energy production is low – maybe the discom that supplies power to your home has refrained from buying adequate power from generation units in order to cut facility cost.

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That’s the reason why our honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi talks about the seven horses of energy. He emphasises on evolution beyond the plaguing areas to newer sources of energy generation like solar, wind and biomass (refer Fig. 1 for details). Today, India has more than 300 million people who don’t have electricity in their homes, and are still waiting for the first glow of light in their homes. In order to provide electricity to their houses, the country just can’t rely on traditional methods of power generation, and would need to look at expanding base towards renewable energy (RE).

In my recent trip to the Hindi heartland of India, I was confronted with situations which I had never seen while growing up in a metropolis. Power cuts lasting more than ten hours were just like a norm. As a solution, people resort to costly backup solutions like diesel generators, which pose great risks to both human health and environment. And to top it all, estimates suggest that by 2021-22 India’s electricity demand will be more than double the level in 2011-12. So how to solve this quagmire?

Fig. 1 (Source: Ministry to New and Renewable Energy)

The answer lies in exploring renewable energy resources, which are vast and largely unexplored. Forecasts show that India’s solar energy potential is greater than 750GW, while installable wind energy potential is 302GW (actual figure could be higher than 1000GW). The India Energy Security Scenarios 2047 report launched in 2015 shows the possibility of achieving 410GW of wind energy and 479GW of solar PV energy by 2047. The potential of biomass and small hydro projects is also significant. Thus, renewable energy has the potential to anchor the development of India’s electricity sector and reach the hinterlands not even thought of.

Now the question before the industry is “how do we reach economies of scale both by and through RE?” The government can provide the broad policy parameters and frameworks, but it’s the industry which needs to act and support these avenues towards a conclusive growth story. This will surely have a positive impact on India’s macro-economic growth with the lowering of revenue outflows for expensive fossil fuels, giving energy to the country’s Mission 2030 towards sustainable electric vehicle (EV) culture and, above all, creating an environment where every home can be lit up. Reduction in pollution and polluting agents would ensure a better, healthy life. On the social front, local employment possibilities would emerge and thereby reduce over-dependence on metropolis to create new jobs. We shall be seeing a lot of involvement from private and public enterprises, which will create newer, economically viable and growth-oriented Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Models.

To reap the benefits of RE, the government needs to set up infrastructure facilities, which, over a period, can replace or modify existing fossil-fuel-powered plants. Under the 12th five-year plan, estimates had suggested a trillion-dollar investment in energy grid requirements. With RE being a catalyst, the figure may go up even further. Therefore, financing RE would be a challenge. An experts group has been set up by the Niti Aayog to assess, utilise and enhance financing to achieve the first milestone of 175GW RE by 2022.

Renewable Energy Factfile

Over the last decade, renewable energy sector in India has seen an upsurge in the grid-connected power generation capacity. The essence of this change has been driven by the government’s focus on sustainable growth in order to make the country energy-efficient within a specified time period. Solar enjoys the first-mover advantage with advanced technologies, innovations and skill training initiatives driving growth in this sector. Enlarging the scope of the National Solar Mission symbolises both, and indeed encapsulates the vision and ambition for the future. This transformational change is, perhaps, the highlight of the last five years of activities under the Mission. And the government is leaving no stone unturned with innovative solar solutions and parks, RE-investor global forums, major grid-connected rooftop solar programmes, earmarking of Rs 380 billion in Green Energy Corridor Projects (refer the map in Fig. 2). The first Green Energy Corridor Project is already underway to connect Raigarh in Chhattisgarh to Pugalur in Tamilnadu. It has been taken up by Power Grid Corporation (PGCIL) and is being commissioned by ABB Group in partnership with Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) with layout cost in the range of Rs 43.5 billion. ABB’s statement on this project reads: “This link is a key element of integrating RE with the main grid. It will integrate thermal and wind energy for transmission of power to high-consumption centres located thousands of kilometres away, supporting electricity demands in the south and transmitting clean energy to the north, when there is excess wind power.”

Fig. 2: Different energy corridors with plans

In addition to the above initiatives and mechanisms, the government has launched some schemes like the solar pump scheme with a target of installing 100,000 solar pumps and programme to train 50,000 people for solar installations under the Surya Mitra scheme, no inter-state transmission charges and losses to be levied for solar and wind power, compulsory procurement of 100 per cent power from waste-to-energy plants, and renewable generation obligations on new thermal and lignite plants. Other significant initiatives include launch of improved cook-stoves; coordinated research and development activities in solar PV and thermal; and second-generation biofuels, hydrogen energy and fuel cells.

The ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has taken some proactive steps to exemplify the government’s dream in terms of green and clean energy. In this regard, the largest renewable energy capacity expansion plan in the world is being worked in India, with India now home to the world’s largest solar plant in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu. The Kamuthi plant has an electricity generation capacity of 648MW and covers an area of 10sq.m/km. It was built in eight months and is automated to the core, with robotic arms performing the cleaning duty daily. Prior to this, Topaz solar farm in California was the largest with 550MW capacity.

The ministry has earmarked certain key drivers for development of new and renewable energy platforms, which include energy security, electricity shortage, energy access, climate change and reduction in fossil fuel dependence. I think the steps taken in this direction are positive and sincere, and now with the industry already showing keen interest, the sector is slated to boom and take the new leap of faith.

Solving the energy security cauldron

Energy is a key ingredient to any developing economy, and for India it’s one of the foremost. India has its own challenges in terms of energy resources in proportion to its large population. While the country is home to nearly 17 per cent of the world’s population, it has only 0.4, 0.4 and 6 per cent of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves, respectively. This has led to the dependence on a large import volume, which is nearly 35 per cent of the annual demand. To create a better value chain, efforts are on to explore and exploit India’s oil, gas and coal reserves. However, there are innumerable structural issues.

India’s renewable energy potential is vast and holds a great promise. It is evident that an integrated approach towards developing domestic energy resources, and giving special attention to the ones in which India may have higher potential, has been engaging the attention of India’s economic planners. On the other hand, there is a large scope for effecting efficiency in energy-demand sectors. Electrification of this demand could also ease India’s import dependence, as there would be a shift from liquid fuels to coal and renewable energy. This is doable if India’s renewal energy potential could be tapped, and a major demand shift could be effected in cooking and transport sectors, which are presently heavily dependent on petroleum products. There is also an immense possibility of electrifying irrigation pumps as well as telecom towers, which presently consume diesel in sizeable volumes.

Against the backdrop of growing import dependence and difficulty in making structural changes overnight, the Indian economy is facing friction points—as is evident from the recent GDP growth numbers—and the energy scenario is going through hardships in righteous expansion drive. This is bringing in more stress to the energy ecosystem, as it’s putting great burden on the foreign exchange exchequer through import bills, and posing challenges in terms of low investments in the energy sector. Also, it affects the commitment towards providing uninterrupted power supply and adequate subsidies to the agricultural and farm sectors—the economy drivers of India.

These and many others factors in terms of economic stress in the category have catapulted the government to create the Energy Security Group 2047, with the principal aim of steering India towards energy efficiency, sustainable growth and uninterrupted power supply. The group shall also envisage policy, finance and technology considerations.

Enhancing energy security of the country seems to be the single most important objective of the national energy strategy. This calls for a multi-pronged strategy both around energy demand and supply, along with multiple facets of energy policy including pricing, regulation, distribution and an overseas strategy to obtain secure energy supplies at stable prices. Technology is also a vital input, particularly in energy efficiency. Therefore India’s energy strategy would necessarily comprise action on both demand and supply sides with due consideration to policy, finance and technology.

Moving beyond megawatts to gigawatts

To make our prime minister’s vision of sustainable growth a success, we need to collectively take some steps in terms of Green Growth, which means accepting RE forms as a part of life. Can we look at creating new Hybrid Parks in cities and towns, which harness both solar and wind energy together to drive maximum output? And options to reach out and put up solar panels at homes and offices? And putting up more and more solar panels over water bodies to minimise surface evaporation? The first step towards growth is to change ourselves towards acceptability!

As I sign off, I shall not leave you with a question but a thought: This Diwali (the festival of lights), can you drive change by lighting a poor family’s home with renewable energy? Can you bring light in people’s lives?

Shall wait to hear from you on your plans and how many did you impact!





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